“The luck of the Irish” is a fun notion celebrated with lots of images of shamrocks and leprechauns this time of year in anticipation of St. Patrick’s Day. But when it comes to being seen as a leader, luck has nothing to do with it. As the saying goes, “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” So here are four easy steps (one for each leaf on your shamrock) to prepare yourself so that when the opportunity arises, you are ready to create your own “good luck.”
1. Project confidence
Whether your hands are steady or your knees are knocking at the idea of speaking to a particular person or group, project an air of poise and confidence. I’m not suggesting you act like a know-it-all or brag arrogantly about an accomplishment, but don’t let them see that you’re nervous. Rather, steady your nerves, take a few deep breaths, smile, make eye contact and own your material as you speak.
Even if someone asks a tough question, calmly acknowledge the premise and give the best answer you can. If you don’t have the answer on hand, matter-of-factly let the person know that you’ll get the answer for them as soon as the meeting is over. Showing grace under fire is a very compelling sign of confidence, and indicates that you have everything under control; you’re not panicking, so they shouldn’t either. That’s the kind of person people what to have in charge.
2. Do your research
When you’re going to meet with a particular audience, go beyond preparing your proposal or slide deck, and see what else you can learn about them as people. LinkedIn is a great place to start. How long have they been with the company or in the industry? What alumni associations do they belong to? What hobbies or connections do you have in common? The more areas you can find to relate to them, the more easily they will feel comfortable with you.
About five years ago I had set up a meeting with the VP of human resources of a company I really wanted to work with. The day before we met, I looked her up on LinkedIn, and to my surprise, discovered that her birthday was the very next day. (Who knew LinkedIn had birthday information?)
On the way to the meeting I stopped at the store to pick up a fun card. When we got together, I pulled the envelope out of my bag and said, “By the way, this is for you.”
She looked at me, a bit puzzled, then opened it up. When she saw what it was, her eyes widened in surprised, and with a big smile she asked, “How did you know?”
I just smiled and said, “A little birdie told me.” We’ve been friends ever since, and I’ve done tons of business with the company.
3. Rehearse Your Opening
One massive pitfall for most people is that even though they might plan what they’re going to say in the body of a presentation, when it comes to the introduction, they completely wing it. “It’s just small talk, welcoming people, and setting the agenda,” they think. “I don’t need to practice that.
Au contraire. It’s exactly that simple intro that you need to flesh out and rehearse. Although the concepts are simple, you can’t afford to trip over your words as you fumble for what to say. If the intro is clumsy and awkward, it sets a negative tone and gives a poor first impression, which will taint the audience’s view of the rest of what you’re going to say. Your image and reputation start out behind the eight ball, and then it’s up to you to come from behind rather than starting out front and simply maintaining a comfortable lead.
4. Speak in your best voice
The same way you choose your outfit carefully to dress appropriately for your audience, you should also dress your words in a “suit”-able voice. Your word choice might indicate what you want the audience to think, but your vocal delivery will tell people how you actually feel about what you’re saying. If those messages are conflicting, the voice of doubt almost always wins.
For example, avoid bad habits like “vocal fry,” which is when your voice sounds gravelly like you’re sleepy or not sure about what you are saying. Remember to pause frequently enough when speaking so that you can take another breath, refuel the air tank, and allow a nice, rich, resonant voice to speak in a way that sounds convincing and convinced.
Similarly, up-speak – the vocal pattern that sounds like you’re asking question after question even when there is no question in sight – can be another grenade to your reputation. That incessant question-like tone sounds like you are constantly seeking validation by implying, “Okay? You know? Am I right?” If you’re truly confident in your material, as any leader should be, you shouldn’t be begging for approval. Instead, use vocal periods, allowing your voice to drop at the end of each sentence. The declarative tone sounds like you own your material and are in control of the situation.
When you put these four practices together, you’ll project the image of a person who is strong, relatable, and effective. If that becomes your normal speaking pattern, your reputation will speak for itself, so when the right opportunity arises, you won’t need luck.
Now that’s the kind of person I want to have running my projects!
Do you have questions or comments about how to present yourself in the most effective way? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to set up a 20-minute focus call to discuss it with me, personally.