We talk to every client about the effect the nervous adrenaline produced by our amygdala can have on our bodies. Our brain senses fear and our system rapidly produces a defence – flight/fight or freeze, in short a way to get ourselves out of imminent danger. This short extract from the BBC shows former Olympian Matthew Syed, author of Bounce , explain how in a difficult situation getting into a conversation can help you to work through the nerves and focus on the subject in hand. Great advice and one we are happy to share.
Part 2: Good communication skills are vital for leadership
Do you feel public speaking has helped your career, or is it part and parcel of it?
I really see it as integral to career success. I bundle it in with all communications skills as a vital along with great stakeholder engagement and of course commercial performance. These three are the most important attributes to senior progression. If you do great things and you can’t articulate what you’ve done and your stakeholders aren’t aware you’ve done you won’t get recognition and get on. Good communication skills are absolutely core attributes they are essential. And you have to face your demons. Unless you are a trained actor (which few are) then you have to teach yourself how to appear to be confident– whether that is in a 1-2-1 with your line manager or in front of 5,000 people in the NEC!
Who are your public speaking heroes?
I have many but I am on the Go On board chaired by Martha Lane Fox and she speaks both informally and passionately with a natural style and is very humble about how good she is. The next is Dido Harding – the most amazing woman with a sparkling background of achievements. She, like Martha, is very humble and natural but she speaks from the heart in a candid style which makes her also a great speaker. She talks about fear and how when harnessed how it can help you do special things. At Lloyds we have some amazing women on our board like Carolyn Fairburn, Sarah Weller and Anita Frew.
Here at Lloyds I’m the co-chair of the women’s network which is another one of my passions. It’s called Breakthrough. The team behind the group developed a regular series of talks we call “Footprints in the Snow” where we invite a woman to speak to the group about what has formed them: their successes and failures, challenges and values as well as offer her top tips and advice for women who want to further their career. All three board members spoke brilliantly and honestly and encouraged openness and questions from the audience.
So I think some of the best speakers out there at the moment are women. They are humble, they are often prepared to be candid and speak straight from the heart. Without generalizing female speakers can often be very empathetic and be very aware of what the audience needs.
Any advice to women on public speaking?
Put yourself out there! Especially while you are young and not as confident, seize those opportunities and speak to small groups whenever you can. You never know there could be an invitation to speak to 5,000 people around the corner! It’s all about confidence. Ask yourself ‘do you know more about this topic than everyone else in this room?’ because quite often you do and so don’t forget that you know this. Remind yourself of this, practice, and remember that the worst that can happen is that you might be asked a question. Go in quietly confident (not cocky or arrogant) and chances are you will do yourself and your subject justice. And of course the more practiced you are, the more confident you will become. I really like this story told by Gary Player, which sums it up nicely:
“I was practicing in a bunker down in Texas and this good old boy with a big hat stopped to watch. The first shot he saw me hit went in the hole. He said, “You got 50 bucks if you knock the next one in.” I holed the next one. Then he says, “You got $100 if you hole the next one.” In it went for three in a row. As he peeled off the bills he said, “Boy, I’ve never seen anyone so lucky in my life.” And I shot back, “Well, the harder I practice, the luckier I get.” (from Golf Digest)
My thanks to Eva for such an open and honest interview
When working with nervous interviewees we often get questioned on our advice to arrive early to an interview. “If I arrive early”, one client insisted, “my nerves always get the better of me”. And watching the “Miracle at Medinah” unfold last night at the Ryder Cup it looked like such an opinion was going to get extra weight after Mcllroy’s dramatic late arrival.
McIlroy won his match, and seemed quite unruffled by the near miss of the game and the jibes from the USA supporters. It is testimony to his golfing prowess that he was able to perform in such a situation. He said, “I was lucky there was a State Trooper outside when I realized I was on the wrong time. He gave me a ride and maybe I was lucky that I didn’t have too much time to think about what was in front of me”.
Yet it wasn’t really lucky that a state trooper was outside his door. Probably something to do with the fact that he is an international golfing legend. The majority of us would struggle to get a police escort to a meeting or an interview, however much we pleaded!
As for the lack of time to think about what was ahead, well the European team had been talking strategy only the night before. Whatever he said on the day, McIlroy had put plenty of thought into what was ahead and a lot of training to boot. For the rest of us out there, this means that leaving it to the last second and ‘winging it’ isn’t really a viable option either. McIlroy didn’t ‘wing’ his golf, he works at it professionally everyday. What he really aced was dealing with the nerves such a precarious situation would’ve given him and knuckling down and playing the game as best he could. And that isn’t luck, but skill.
That really is the lesson we can learn from McIlroy. If you put the effort in and work hard at what you are aiming for then, should something untoward happen, you are less likely to fail. This work could be preparing your examples for interview questions, working on your posture and voice exercises or going through your presentation with a colleague or coach. Your nerves will have less power to topple your performance. But leave everything to chance in a bid to avoid feeling nervous and guaranteed you will get the nerves and do yourself an injustice. If McIlroy had planned to get there at the last minute, the chances are that it would’ve backfired.