Leadership

Practice Makes Experts

Practice Makes Experts

“Nothing can help the person who does not practice.” I read that in a Forbes article about public speaking tips. It made me stop and think about how easy it is to look at someone you admire and think they are a natural at something. The truth is that they worked very hard to be so awe-inspiring.

While there is debate over how much our innate abilities play a role in our successes, it’s clear that training is necessary to become an expert. And with any kind of training, practice is key to honing one’s craft.

My first full-time job after college was as a high school teacher. I had some practice during my schooling, but not enough to make me a true expert on the subject matter, and not enough to confidently manage classrooms of 28 different personalities 5 times a day. And then, there I was on day one, alone, responsible for over 100 students a day, and running the show. 

I’ll never forget how quickly I noticed that my first period public speaking class really got the short end of the stick. Each day they were my test subjects for the day’s lesson, which always went better the other times I would perform it later that day. So, I started to rehearse my new lessons the night before. That practice helped. 

When I got my first graphic design job many years ago, I didn’t know the software like I really should have for the position I landed. I had to create my own projects and practice every night to quickly get myself up to the level the position required. 

I used to be a very good pianist. I could sight read almost any song, and enjoyed playing at parties where people wanted to sing. After two decades of little to no practice, I got frustrated every time I sat down at the piano. I couldn’t play anywhere near like I used to — and that fact was maddening. Last year, I vowed to change that. By practicing a little every week and learning new things about music that I never had discovered before, I am slowly becoming a musician again. All it’s taking is a little practice.  

And even though I’ve taught public speaking to high school and college students, coached executives through high stakes presentations, and presented more workshops and pitches than I can count, I still practice my presentations over and over — until I know that I’m ready. 

And knowing when I’m ready has taken practice, too.

This post was originally published on January 20, 2020 and updated on February 26, 2021.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
Leaders Set the Tone

You Set the Tone

When you are a leader, you set the tone. I don’t care if you are leading a multi-million-dollar company or a meeting with two other people. When you’re in charge, you have immense power to influence those who look to you for guidance, direction, or inspiration.

Use your power well. Take that extra moment today to ensure you are setting the right tone when you communicate — in meetings, in private conversations, and in your written communications.

It only takes some self-awareness and an extra moment. The results are worth it.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
Theatre Cast Rehearsing

Trust and the Theatre

I’ll always be grateful for my training in theatre arts

One of the things it taught me is trust. I could always count on my fellow cast and crew members to be there when they were supposed to be there — to speak their next line, move scenery in place, or make a catch. There was such a high level of trust that the cast and crew truly did start to feel like a family by opening night.

Is there enough trust among your team members? If not, do the work to help them gain it. When people feel like their colleagues have their backs, both work satisfaction and productivity increase. 

Here’s another post about a good lesson from the theatre that can help you in business.

Know Your Audience

Know Your Audience

I teach and coach people about a variety of communication and leadership topics. No matter which topic we’re discussing, we almost always come back to discussing their audience. In fact, I always tell people that the first rule of good communication is to know your audience — really understand who they are. Whether you’re leading a team or building your own business, if you haven’t spent the time to consider the true needs of your stakeholders, you’re in trouble.

And by audience I mean real humans. Not just some demographics on a piece of paper. People want to do business with people and brands that they like, and who understand them. People want to follow leaders who have a purpose and a vision they can support. 

To achieve any goal, whether it be to inspire a team, sell a product or service, or convince a panel of experts to support you, you need to speak (verbally and nonverbally) in a way that connects with them. You can’t do that if you’ve only been thinking about your own needs and goals.

Always think first about your audience and consider what they need to hear from you. 

Photo by Jonas Jacobsson on Unsplash
Using Zoom for Rehearsing Presentations

Go Zoom Yourself

We all know that the more you prepare and rehearse, the more confident you’ll feel when giving a presentation or speech. Even if you’ve prepared and rehearsed a lot in your head, you still need to do it out loud. Trust me, you don’t want the first time you’re hearing your own words to be the same time your audience is hearing them!

Have a Dress Rehearsal

When you can, recruit a few people to give your presentation to. You can do this remotely over Zoom, or better yet in person once we are able to safely gather again. Your audience doesn’t have to be 100 percent representative of your final audience, although the more they think like them the better feedback you can get on the content of your talk.

Either way, ask them to evaluate you on:

  • Volume (too soft, too loud, just right)
  • Speed (too fast, too slow, perfect throughout)
  • Tone (appropriate for the topic, audience, and occasion)
  • Filler words (too many ums or uhs)
  • Gestures (appropriate amount, distracting amount, not enough)
  • Facial expressions (appropriate for the topic, audience, and occasion)
  • Slides or other visual aids (clear and easy to see and understand, supportive of you as a speaker and not distracting)

I could go on all day about things to watch out for, but the above list is a good start. 

No Audience? No Problem.

With every new presentation or talk, I use Zoom to record myself so I can experience my presentation with a critical eye. I can plan it all I want, but until I see how I am actually presenting it to others, I never fully understand where I need to make improvements or changes. For example, I’ll see when there’s something on a slide that is confusing or that doesn’t sync up with what I’m saying. I’ll also see when I’m not giving my audience enough eye contact. Most of all, I catch sections where I don’t have my thoughts together well enough and that I need to refine. It’s amazing the clarity I get from watching it back.

So, plan your presentation well, rehearse it a few times in your head and then at least once out loud. And then, fire up Zoom or any program that allows you to record yourself and your slides and visual aids, and hit the record button. Then watch it back.

I’m certain you’ll find it helpful.

Four Zoom Don’ts

When putting together my latest workshop, I had fun creating visual examples of the mistakes people make when they are on video. Here are the four top offenders I see quite often.

1. The Submarine Periscope

Zoom Mistake 1

If we can see more ceiling than we do you, readjust! Make sure your face is in the top two-thirds of the screen.

2. The Backlit Extravaganza

Zoom Don't 2

Make sure the room is well lit to avoid grainy video, but don’t put bright light, such as a window, directly behind you. Light yourself from the front.

3. The Double Doozy

Zoom Don't 3

Virtual backgrounds seem like a fun idea until they become distracting. If you use a virtual background, get a green screen or design a background that works well when you test it. And remember, keep it professional when your credibility is on the line. This is called The Double Doozy because the background isn’t the only problem. The lighting on my face is too dark as well. Ugh.

4. The Nose Hair Investigation

Zoom Don't 4

This is a flattering one, right? No, it’s not. Put your laptop on a stack of books or get a stand.

Test and Test, Then Look Your Best

Your video doesn’t have to be studio-quality, but with a little testing of viewing angles and lighting you can ensure you look your best on your next Zoom call.

For more tips, ask me about my new workshop on Remote Leadership Presence.

Good Zoom Positioning

Remote Leadership Presence

New Workshop Available: Remote Leadership Presence

Remote meetings are here to stay. My new workshop, Remote Leadership Presence: Bringing Your Best When Leading & Meeting Virtually is designed to help professionals be more effective when participating in, or leading, a remote or virtual meeting.

You’ll learn:

  • How to look and sound your remote best.
  • Virtual room video and audio dos and don’ts. 
  • Best practices for facilitating and leading remote meetings.
  • Tips for using technology like Zoom and Teams to make virtual meetings more engaging

Whether you are regularly conducing team meetings remotely or participating in online meetings or interviews, this workshop will give you tips you can use right away to improve your leadership presence. 

Running Time: 60 or 90 minutes, depending on audience size.

Get in touch if you would like to discuss a one-on-one session or a workshop for your team.

Communication Shortcuts Hurt in the Long Run

Shortcuts

There’s a difference between doing something efficiently and taking a shortcut. In business, taking a shortcut almost always means delivering something inferior, but more quickly or less expensively.

The same is true in communication. Shortcuts make it inferior and less impactful. They open the door to misunderstanding, frustration, and mistakes. All of these are costly in the long run.

Leaders who invest in good, clear, timely, and empathetic communication gain more trust from their followers. They have teams who know they matter. Those teams always outperform teams who don’t. 

And they don’t take shortcuts, either.

Photo by Vladislav Babienko on Unsplash

Personal Brand or Executive Presence

Personal Brand or Executive Presence?

Many people confuse these two terms, so here is my attempt to give some clarity.

Personal Brand

Your personal brand is how you market yourself — internally within your organization, or externally to prospects and clients. When you have established a strong personal brand, you are able to confidently and clearly communicate your passions, value, and unique qualities to others. 

A personal brand establishes or clarifies your abilities and capabilities clearly in the minds of others.

Executive Presence

Executive presence is what makes you a leader that others want to follow. It’s a culmination of character, attitudes, and behaviors that clearly demonstrates your commitment to your beliefs and values, and to the development and success of others. 

Executive presence ensures you look, sound, and act like a leader in the eyes and minds of those you lead.

Perception Management is Different from Manipulation

Both of these terms involve managing perceptions. But don’t think of either of them as manipulation. Sure, there are bad leaders who are good at acting like good leaders, and there are ruthless political schemers who inappropriately bulldoze others in pursuit of their own selfish objectives. That’s not what we’re talking about here.

Think of it more as knowing yourself so well — your passions, what you value, the value you bring to others, and your authentic purpose — that you are able to operate in a way that will clearly communicate and connect with others.

Just remember that a leadership title does not automatically give you executive presence. You need to do the work to clarify your purpose, and to act and behave in ways that make you credible, trustworthy, and inspirational.

Similarly, experience in your field or past successes and achievements don’t magically create a personal brand that others will see. It’s your job to tell others. And you can do it in a way that is true and authentic to you.

Being Authentically Charismatic

How to be Authentically Charismatic

When you think about charismatic people, who comes to mind? What qualities do you think of first? 

When I ask people these questions they usually bring up high profile executives and other public figures who are well known and people they view as comfortable in front of a crowd. Some qualities I often hear are outgoing, magnetic, influential, inspirational, fearless, and well liked.

The truth is that you don’t need to be fearless to be charismatic. And you don’t need to be an extrovert, or even outgoing, to have charisma. 

When you look up the definition of the word on Dictionary.com or Merriam-Webster.com, you’ll see words like, “…special personal quality…” or “…a personal magic of leadership…”. That personal quality is what you need to find and cultivate to be able to be authentically charismatic. 

What about you will make people want to follow you? How do you inspire and influence others in your own unique way? What gives you your own “special magnetic charm or appeal?” 

Find it, develop it, and then create your own, authentic way to show it to others. 

That’s when they’ll want to join your tribe. That’s when you’ll be authentically charismatic.

You can do it in a way that’s comfortable in the long run, even if looking at yourself in this way feels a bit uncomfortable at first. If you need help, let’s talk.

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