Turning a Faux Pas into a Win

The other day I was doing a training on leadership communication for a large client in the communication technology industry. Among their many products and services are video and teleconferencing tools. In the course of my program, we got to the part about facilitating virtual meetings, and as I clicked to the next slide, I suddenly heard a couple of boos from the crowd. I look up and realized my gaffe: my default visual was an image of people chatting on Skype – a direct competitor.

I apologized immediately, and said I had completely forgotten that this image was in the deck… then wondered aloud if my next image had the same problem. Click. Yup, up popped a picture of a conference telephone by another competitor, which was confirmed by a collective groan, “Oohhh!” as if their favorite batter had just struck out at the plate.

Now I had a choice to make: I could flush beet-red, babble a string of mortified apologies, and run out of the room in humiliation, or I could turn it around and make it a “teachable moment.” I opted for the latter, and explicitly shared this very choice with the group.

“Actually, I’m glad this happened, because it allows me to demonstrate some additional strategies in leadership communication, rather than just talking about them.” From there, I walked them through a sequence of steps, both in addressing my personal mistake, and narrating the conscious strategy behind each step I was taking in the process. I share it with you here, so that you can also learn from my mistake, and use the experience to your advantage, as I did.

First, I apologized. Not over-apologized, as I described as common habit among some people, especially women, in this earlier article. But the fact is, plain and simple, I made an undeniable, objective mistake, and it was my responsibility to own it. I wasn’t groveling, but still clearly sincere. My voice stayed even in speed and volume to indicate composure, and model the degree of drama that I believed was warranted by the situation, so they could follow suit.

Note that people will mirror your tension level: If you start calm in a crisis, others will follow your lead and stay calm, even if unhappy, which minimizes the damage. But if you start frantic, whether frantic with guilt or frantic with worry, the audience will infer that that level of drama is warranted, and they will feel a comparative degree of indignation.

Second, I briefly explained my original intention behind the mistake, providing just enough information to help them understand what happened and increase empathy. In this case, I explained that at the time I selected these images, my focus and biggest challenge was finding appropriate pictures with sufficiently high resolution so I could zoom it on the slide and still have the picture be in sharp focus, which limited my options based on the images I found on-line.

That doesn’t excuse the fact that I still completely forgot about the connection to the client’s product line, but hopefully that gave them an appreciation for the fact that my intention was to ensure that they had clear visuals, not grainy, as part of their experience.

Third, I offered a solution to the problem, and engaged the audience in helping me to solve it. “Let me offer this to you in return: From here on out, I will replace these two images with your products instead, and have them be the standard images when I present to other companies in the future. How does that sound?” I saw lots of head nods in the audience. Free advertising for them; who wouldn’t appreciate that?

Then I followed up with, “But I’m going to need a little assistance. Since I wasn’t able to find good, high-resolution images of (Product X and Y) online, I need one of you to send me some. Who here will volunteer to send them to me?” Half a dozen hands shot up in the air. Now, not only had I offered an agreeable solution, but I had enrolled the client’s enthusiastic participation in helping me execute the decision. Now we were partners, sharing in the responsibility to achieve the desired outcome.

Finally, we debriefed the episode. I had the audience reflect on public mistakes that they had made or had seen others make, and compare how they were handled compared to what we had just done. This gave everyone the chance to digest the experience, and consciously identify for themselves what I had modeled as positive strategies for handling mistakes. They listed them, so I didn’t have to, which helped it to sink in.

Ironically, something that could have completely undermined my image as an expert in leadership communication turned out to be a perfect opportunity to demonstrate that very expertise.

At the end of the day, several people came up to talk to me, and most of them referenced that lesson about how to turn a faux pas into a win. One woman said, “I really wanted to see where you were going to go with it once that second image popped up, but you handled the whole situation perfectly! I’m so glad we got to go through the process.”

Naturally, the nature of your error is going to determine how you need to rectify the situation. My unintentional “affront” certainly could have been much more detrimental if in a pitch rather than a training, but still would not be nearly as critical as forgetting the decimal point when drawing up budgets.

In the end, what matters most is how you respond in the moment. Keep your composure, acknowledge the error, apologize appropriately and sincerely, give only as much explanation as is necessary (sometimes none), then offer a remedy and see it through. This enables you to maintain control of the situation and lead by example, which helps you to build (or rebuild) trust, and reinforce your image and reputation as a leader.

********

Do you have questions or comments about the issues in today’s post, want to know how to apply them, or how to help others with them? If so, contact me at laura@vocalimpactproductions.com or click here to schedule a 20-minute focus call to discuss them with me personally!

What Does Your Personal Brand SOUND Like?

I just read a great article from Entrepreneur, as shared here, called “7 Signs Your Personal Brand Needs Work.” All seven signs, and the suggestions offered to resolve each, are insightful and important – I recommend reading the article for yourself. But as is common in such analyses, there is one critical factor for establishing your ideal personal brand that is once again missing from the discussion.

Topics such as being consistent with your brand messaging or being visible are extremely important, but tend to be addressed as if people will only get to know you on paper – or on screen. The focus is on the content or text of the message, if all of your social media pages make the same impression, and if you emphasize your vision for the future or are stuck touting past achievements. But what happens when you’re not just writing a Tweet, FaceBook post, blog, or e-mail?

In other words, what happens to that brand messaging when you’re talking to someone, real-time, maybe even (*gasp*) face to face? On a very literal level, what does it sound like when you share your idea, insight and suggestion? Is it as compelling to hear as it is to read?

So many people have terrific ideas and masterful skill sets, but their ability to persuade, compel, and inspire someone just by talking with them simply falls flat. There’s something “missing” in the delivery, which can translate to something missing from their personal brand.

This is the foundation of what I call alignment. Your words and your delivery must be equally strong and compelling, because your words convey your content, and your delivery conveys your intent behind the message. When both parts are reinforcing the same message at the same time, there is credibility to the whole message, and as a result, the credibility reflects back to you.

What do I mean by content vs. intent? Simple. The contents of your message, i.e. what you actually say and the words you use to do so, give the “official” meaning and purpose. The intent, in contrast, is your motivation and feeling behind why you’re saying it. For example, if you bump into someone, and say, “Oh, sorry…” in theory, that’s the right thing to do and should set things right again. However, there’s a huge difference between if you hurriedly mumble, “Oh… sorry…” as you hustle past, vs. if you exclaim, “Oh! Sorry!” and pause to ensure that the other person is okay, before heading off.

In the first way, your perfunctory apology (your content) comes across as recognizing that you’re supposed to apologize so as not to be considered rude, but not like you actually feel sorry or care about the other person at all, despite your claim of being sorry. You’re just saying “Sorry” because you feel like you have to (your intent.) The actual words don’t match the way they sound (or look based on your body language.) Your words (the content) claim to be sorry, but your message is out of alignment. At best, there’s a bare minimum of improvement in how I think of you if you give me that apology, compared to if you bump into me and then completely fail to acknowledge my existence.

The second delivery, however, seems so much more heartfelt, because your words and your delivery were in alignment. Once again, your words (content) claim to be contrite, but this time I believe that it was heartfelt, that you actually ARE sorry and genuinely want to apologize (intent). You stop to make eye contact with me, and the sound of your apology conveys much more sincerity and integrity.

So where does this tie into your brand?

Lots of people claim that they can speak well when they have to give a big presentation or are otherwise in the spotlight, and this shows what you are capable of when you believe the stakes are high enough to warrant that kind of focus and effort. But as far as I’m concerned, your reputation is what happens in the moments when you’re NOT trying; all those little moments when you’re not in the spotlight.

For example, when you think about who you want on your sales or project team, which of the following are you likely to choose (assuming equal technical expertise and quantity of participation):

  1. The person who often mumbles and seems to speak half-heartedly when contributing most meetings and calls, but can “turn it on” for formal presentations and high-stakes client or leadership meetings
  2. The person who always sounds focused and engaged when contributing in meetings and calls, and is equally engaged and engaging in high-stakes meetings

This may seem like a rhetorical question: after all, why would anyone opt for someone who only seems truly engaged part of the time, if – all else being equal – you could work with someone who seemed truly on board all of the time? Yet for as obvious as the choice may seem, when you look at your own participation in generic weekly meetings, for example, what does your participation sound like? Ask yourself the following:

  • Do you always speak loudly enough to ensure that all people can hear?
  • If there’s one or more people on conference call lines when the rest of the group is present in the same physical room, do you proactively work to ensure that they can hear everyone’s contributions, consistently?
  • Do you inflect lots of up-speak when you talk where it sounds like you’re constantly implying lots of questions and requests for validation into your speech even when you’re not?
  • Do you speak so quickly that you tend to slur some words together or mumble, making people have to ask you to repeat what you’ve said?
  • Do you give and receive constructive feedback in an antagonistic or defensive manner, or shy away from it completely?
  • Do you speak in an unnecessarily low voice without enough breath support so that your voice sounds gravelly or creaky, and you seem disinterested, tired, or not confident?

The challenge is that most of us are painfully unaware of our default speech style. We may know how we think we come across, but often what we see and hear in our minds is very different from how other people experience us. The brand and reputation that we think we are building for ourselves is very different from the reality of the brand reputation we’re becoming known for.

This is why it’s critical to gain an awareness of what your “default” speech style is like in these contexts, because for the most part, that’s what people will remember and what they’ll use to form their evaluation of your credibility and leadership, not what you can do in the rare instances when you absolutely have to. After all, what’s more likely: that they frame their opinions based on the exception, or the “rule”?

When in doubt, remember: That “rule” is at the foundation of your brand.

********

Do you have questions or comments about the issues in today’s post, want to know how to apply them, or how to help others with them? If so, contact me at laura@vocalimpactproductions.com or click here to schedule a 20-minute focus call to discuss them with me personally!

Dads: Raise your daughter to be a CEO

Father’s Day is coming up, so in the spirit of honoring the male role models in our lives, I’d like to share a special note with all the dads and other men (and women) out there about how to raise your daughters to be a successful, confident and happy future executive.

Over the years, I’ve spoken in front of myriad professional women’s groups, and coached women at every level and in every industry imaginable, and one factor regularly surfaces as having a major influence on their current levels of confidence and self-efficacy: their relationship with their fathers.

I often get asked how I’ve developed my confidence and sense of self, and more and more I realize how much of the credit goes to my father (and mother) for setting this foundation in me in all these ways and more.

Disclaimer: I am a linguist, not a psychologist, and this post is not intended to overgeneralize women, fathers, or anyone else. My goal is to raise awareness of some patterns of communication behaviors that can have lasting effects, and offer perspective and tools to help you avoid those pitfalls and promote happiness and success at home, in the workplace and beyond.

The most genuinely confident and effective women I work with typically have stories to tell of how their fathers set high standards because they genuinely believed that their daughters were capable and worthy of success at that level.

Their dads co-celebrated success and lamented failures together, and knew when the appropriate response was a consoling hug or a loving “kick in the pants” to stop the pity party, learn a lesson and do better next time. And they knew that there was a time and a place for each.

Here’s the thing: Your daughter may know intellectually that you love her and that your goal is to want the best for her, to reach what you see as her fullest potential. But the way these intentions are communicated often are interpreted in the exact opposite way: that love and approval are conditional, contingent upon perfection and successful attainment of whatever standard they believe you set.

There are so many little moments in life that can individually go unnoticed, but add up over time. Was she the MVP of her field hockey team or did she get the lead in the play, and if not how did you respond? Did you let her know if you believed these were even worthwhile pursuits in the first place? Did you think she went to the right university, got the right degree, got the right job, is dating or married the right person (and at the right age), and even (ugh!) did she feel like you thought she was pretty enough? These may seem like they shouldn’t be relevant, but dad, trust me, they are. More than you’ll ever know.

How do I know?

Dad (a music teacher) encouraged me to audition for all-state band (I played the alto sax), which I did all four years of high school, even though I only made it once. After each audition, we’d talk about what went right and wrong and how to do better next time.

He pushed me to take honors classes but didn’t flinch when I agreed to take AP history and Spanish but not calculus (thank goodness!)

(I’ll probably get flack for this, but I’m going to mention it anyway.) He also always told me I was pretty, even when my ever-fluctuating adolescent weight was on the top end of the yo-yo curve. To a teenage girl’s self-esteem, it mattered. A lot.

I know he hated the idea of me moving to Japan (twice!), and tried to talk me out of it both times, but ultimately supported the decision – and even came to visit once – because he knew it was something I needed to do.

When I decided to go for my PhD in my late 20s instead of getting a “regular job” he asked probing questions so we could discuss the pros and cons and the best way to make it work. And the discussions and interest continued, guilt-free, even when it took twice as long as expected to graduate.

As I went through romantic relationship after relationship, he never once gave me a guilt trip about my biological clock or his (undeniable) desire for grandchildren even though I was 40 before I finally met my husband. I’m sure that time frame was even harder for him to rationalize given that he and my mother met in high school and have been happily married ever since.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that we’d have long conversations full of intimate details and unfiltered emotions. He’s definitely not that kind of dad. But he’d show interest and ask how things were going. He’d offer advice when warranted and offer objective counterpoints when he disagreed, but ultimately he let me know that he recognized my efforts and intentions, trusted my judgment and respected my decision, even when we didn’t see eye to eye.

Most importantly, even when I had genuinely messed up, even though he was really upset with me in the moment, he never belittled me or called me names, and he made it clear that he still loved me.

So to all you dads out there, how can you communicate with your daughters in a way that builds her confidence and empowers her with the skills and perspective to be a successful leader?

    • Talk to your daughter. Don’t be afraid to initiate conversations, and ask tough and sometimes personal questions to help her think through things, then be prepared to listen. Listen to truly understand her motivations rather than to identify the holes in her argument and formulate your rebuttal.
    • Challenge her to try new things, and set ambitious but attainable goals. Celebrate victories, acknowledge and praise progress and efforts. Reflect on failures together, and recognize the difference between when to say, “it’s okay, you can’t win ‘em all” and “I don’t think you really gave it your best. What happened?”
    • Invite her to initiate difficult conversations with you, and encourage her to express when she needs help, doesn’t understand something, or otherwise disagrees with you, instead of hiding her true feelings.
    • Even when she does make a mistake or otherwise does something you don’t approve of, make it clear that the you think the decision or action was dumb, not that she is stupid. Then – possibly an hour or so later after you’ve cooled off – remind her that you love her and are proud of her no matter what.

If you can fine-tune your objectivity regarding this aspect of your relationship with your daughters now – no matter what their age or family or professional status – that sets a foundation for success that no fancy MBA can match!



Do you have questions or comments about the issues in today’s post, want to know how to apply them, or how to help others with them? If so, contact me at laura@vocalimpactproductions.com or click here to schedule a 20-minute focus call to discuss them with me personally!

Are You Media-Ready?

Nowadays, it’s not enough to be really smart, to be the boss, or to have brilliant ideas. It’s all about your presence, and how well you communicate those brilliant ideas, if you want others to see your vision and get on board.

Specifically, it’s about what I like to call vocal executive presence, and if you have it, you can master the Three Cs, to Command the room, Connect with the audience, and Close the deal, in any context.

Whether on camera, at the microphone or in person, your ability to look and sound like the right kind of leader will make or break the impact and success of your message. To ensure that you come across as confident, natural, relatable, and persuasive, you need to have an expertly crafted message and flawless delivery.

That’s why I’m excited to share with you “Capturing Your Confidence on Camera,” a six-part series of straight-to-the-point, down-and-dirty, DIY mini-videos that show you exactly how to turn any speaking opportunity into a home run performance. (And they’re just as applicable when you’re not on camera!)

Click here for more: (http://www.c-suiteadvisors.com/are-you-media-ready/)

Be The Speaker You’d Want To Listen To

Do You Really Know Your Audience?

One rule of thumb that applies to almost every aspect of life is that just because something is simple, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily easy.

When I was faculty at the University of Pennsylvania for a decade or so, teaching in a master’s program for educators, one of the rules of thumb I constantly reiterated was, “be the teacher you wish you’d had.”

That seems simple enough, doesn’t it? Yet so many of my students seemed to find it surprisingly difficult to apply in practice.

We can all recall boring lectures given by teachers and professors who seemed to be burnt out after years of teaching the same content day in and day out. For many, sadly, this seemed to be the rule rather than the exception.

But we can also recall those instructors who stood out, who made their subjects come to life, and lit a fire of curiosity and genuine interest in us that we never would have imagined possible in that subject.

This dichotomy is no different from what happens in corporate life.

When speaking to a group, whether in front of a camera, on stage or in the conference room, the seemingly simple rule of thumb is: be the speaker you’d actually want to listen to.

So why is it so difficult?

Click here to read more: http://www.c-suiteadvisors.com/be-the-speaker-you-want-to-listen-to/

Calming Your Nerves on Camera

You know the drill.

Your heart starts to race. Your palms start to sweat while your mouth goes dry. You remind yourself to smile and pray you don’t draw a blank at a critical moment.

You’re either about to meet someone on a blind date, or you’re about to speak on camera.

If you’re looking into the eyes of a blind date, sorry; you’re on your own. But if you’re looking into the eye of a camera, there ARE things you can do to calm your nerves, collect your thoughts, and knock it out of the park.

Actually, the more I think about it, some of the solutions to these problems aren’t all that different after all.

For starters, head-games are half the battle. And I’m not even talking about if someone else is playing games with you. (Remember, on a first date those games haven’t started yet.) I’m referring to the internal head-games – some people might call it head trash – that you play with yourself.

Let’s face it: You can be your own worst enemy. And you know I’m right.

Click here to read more: http://www.c-suiteadvisors.com/calming-your-nerves-on-camera/

Is Your Voice Camera-Ready?

Raise your hand if you hate the sound of your voice when you hear it on a video… I bet if we were in a room asking that question everyone would have their hand raised. But here’s the thing: It’s not actually your voice that’s the problem: it’s what you do with your voice that makes it hard to listen to, and undermines your authority and charisma.

Now that we’ve acknowledged the elephant in the room, let’s look at why it happens, and what you can do about it.

One common goal of any appearance on camera is to come across as a confident and charismatic leader, representing your organization, company, or industry. You want to draw people in and connect with the audience… all of which is much easier said than done.

With all that pressure, knowing your performance will be immortalized on video, most people get nervous on camera; that’s totally normal, even when you’re comfortable with your content. And we all know about putting on a “poker face,” i.e. not letting your facial expressions show your true feelings to the world. But your face isn’t the only thing that can put our feelings on display.

Your voice will tattle on you faster than a kindergartener.

So let’s look at some ways to project a strong, clear, compelling vocal delivery. (You can jump to the end and click the photo with the video link if you want to hear demonstrations of these concepts.)

Click Here for more (http://www.c-suiteadvisors.com/is-your-voice-camera-ready/)

Giving Back

Sometimes the most powerful messages are communicated not by what you say, but by what you do. Especially when you do it for others, with no expectation for anything in return.

Recently I had the privilege of speaking with Rob Lowe, host of the “Giving Back Podcast,” where we shared some stories about how we, you guessed it, give back to the community and the world.

Most importantly, I had the opportunity to get out of the spotlight myself, and turn it on to the Hope Partnership for Education, an AMAZING educational organization — far more than a plain ol’ “school,” whose motto is “breaking the cycle of poverty through education.”

It’s not just about working with high-needs populations. They’re transforming the community.

For example, in an area with a >50% high school dropout rate, their students — all high needs, often entering school several grade levels behind, academically — have a 95% graduation rate!

How do they do it, and how can you help, no matter where you’re located or what your current abilities are? Tune in to this inspiring podcast to find out.

You can go directly to the podcast episode here: GivingBackPodcast.com

Or listen on iTunes here (Episode 12: Breaking the Cycle of Poverty).

Thank you for making a difference in our our world! Please share this and help others take action on what they feel passionate about.

Here’s to a world of success,

Laura

Featured!

Featured! 8 Public Speaking Tips From The Best TEDx Speakers

I don’t know about you but I love quick and easy tips with links on the ones you want to explore further.

Jonathan Li, founder of Lifehack.org, has compiled a list of 8 Public Speaking Tips From The Best TEDx Speakers. Each tip is summarized in a simple quote from its TEDx talk, with links to the original videos. How great is that?

I might have a slight bias in favor of #6, but I think they’re all pretty terrific and I know you’ll have some major “a-ha moments” too.

Enjoy, and feel free to drop me a line and let me know your big take-away ideas (even if it’s not #6!) Love to know what speaks to you.

“A Game of Inches”: Leadership on Any Given Monday

“A Game of Inches”: Leadership on Any Given Monday

Recently, my family decided to watch Any Given Sunday, the 1999 iconic football movie starring Al Pacino, Cameron Diaz, Jamie Fox and a slew of other stars and unexpected cameos ranging from LL Cool J to Lawrence Taylor (of 1980s NY Giants fame), who comprised the fictional Miami Sharks, an extremely dysfunctional pro football team/franchise.

It looks at everything from money and egos to injury and politics surrounding the NFL. Not my typical first round draft pick for Sunday evening family time, but I was outvoted… and I’m glad.

While my husband eagerly took every opportunity to point out plays, dangers of concussions and other “teachable moments” to our 13-year-old son (who, unsurprisingly, was far more interested in the movie than the lessons), I was drawn in to the way the characters talked to each other, and when efforts at leadership succeeded and failed.

Most importantly, I couldn’t help but notice how much the challenges on the football field, in the locker room, and in the board room all have in common. For example:

  • Seemingly incompatible priorities held by ownership/management and the players/employees
  • Executives who viewed the players as property rather than as people
  • Star players driven by their egos
  • A young female president/co-owner trying to prove herself in an industry that is historically and undeniably a “man’s world”
  • Work-life (im)balance and resentment
  • Life-or-death (money or safety) choices
  • And of course, the coach who had to navigate among all these groups while trying to do his own job and keep it all together if they were going to have a winning season, which was what everyone wanted.

But what really “scored points” with me was the inspirational locker room talk coach Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino) gave to the players toward the end. (You can watch it here.) Talk about someone whose delivery is credible and authentic. His verbal, vocal, and visual (physical) communication are in perfect alignment, all conveying exactly the same message, and that’s what makes his team – and the viewers – buy into it… because they buy into him.

He describes football as “a game of inches,” and how those inches are everywhere. He drills into them that the difference between winning and losing is being willing to fight and die for that inch, and a crucial component in that motivation is knowing that the guy next to them is working for the same inch, working together to reach team goals that are bigger than themselves as individuals.

As he tells it, it’s “the six inches in front of your face,” that make all the difference.

While that summary may sound cliché, (watch the original clip, it was great, as was the rest of the movie), I started to think about the professional “inches” that are all around us. So often we get tunnel vision, focusing on the total yardage we need to score the big points in signing new clients, completing big projects, meeting sales goals, delivering killer presentations, or nailing the interview to land next big promotion, but lose sight of the inches in between.

The kicker is, your reputation drives much of your ability to score, even the likelihood of getting opportunities to score. But your reputation is built in the moments in which you are not typically trying to impress. Your reputation is built in the everyday patterns, interactions and experiences people have with you when there isn’t a formal audience, and you’re not officially performing. In other words, your reputation is built in the inches.

At work, those inches might be the way you give or receive negative feedback, your attitude (contributions, body language, or tone of voice) during the drudgery of the weekly Monday morning meetings, or the balance of confidence and humility you demonstrate in speaking with others above, below and beside you.

You gain or lose inches based on how proactive you are in getting to know other people in the office, offering to help others because it’s the right thing to do even if it’s not officially in your job description, and peacefully but diligently working through conflict rather than letting disagreements fester in silence and become toxic.

Those “six inches in front of your face” show whether or not you’re in the moment: during an important discussion, are you listening to someone so you can formulate your rebuttal, or are you truly listening to understand? Trust me, they’ll know the difference. And it will reflect on your reputation for integrity. And over time, it’s integrity that scores points.

So ask yourself: On any given Monday, are you mindful of how you choose to navigate the inches of the day? Because the person who is, is the one who will lead the team into the end zone, and to victory for all.