Our Head of Voice at MSB Executive; Steven Maddocks shares simple tools and techniques to improve articulation. This is another part of our series to ensure impactful communication at online meetings.
Our Head of Voice at MSB Executive; Steven Maddocks provides tips, techniques and exercises specifically geared to great communication at online meetings. This video covers Intonation.
One of the side effects of having so many online meetings is that we cannot avoid seeing ourselves on screen. Some people find it distracting and others even say it makes them feel anxious.
This short blog is written to assure you that you are not alone. Many actors refuse to watch their performances and go to great lengths to avoid it. Recently Adam Driver walked out of an interview to avoid seeing himself on screen.
This may seem particularly strange for an actor. It feels a bit like a chef refusing to eat their own food!
Whenever we use video in our sessions with clients we always give a health warning. Most of the video we see is on television and film. As the end credits show there is a small army of people ensuring the actors look good (or sometimes bad). This includes a lighting team, sound team and a number of make up artists.
This can mean that even if we are doing a great job at our online meeting it might not look that way. If we judge ourselves by the standards of TV and video then we will always be disappointed.
More tips will follow on this blog to help us look as good as possible but in the meantime, a really good option is to get a desk light like the one we recommended in an earlier blog.
If all else fails, hopefully you can take some comfort from the fact that even the professionals with all their support teams often find it difficult as well.
In his excellent article in the FT, Tim Harford talks about “The problem with facts.” One interesting example he mentions is the famous claim during the Brexit referendum: “We send the EU £350m a week”.
He quotes Andrew Lilico, “a thoughtful proponent of leaving the EU”. At the time of the campaign Lillico felt that a more defensible figure should have been used, say £240m. In retrospect he feels the £350m figure was much more effective. It meant that the Remain side, by continually trying to rebut the figure, kept the focus of discussion on the (large) amount of money the UK was giving to the EU. Whatever the accuracy of the figure, the main point people remembered was that a lot of money goes from the UK to the EU.
The question this raises is what should have been the Remain side’s tactic? Should they have let this (in their eyes) blatant lie pass without being corrected? Or should they have found another way to rebut it?
Storytelling instead of rebuttal
This question is relevant in business. What happens when we are the subject of what we consider “fake facts”? This could be on a personal level, a company level or even as an industry. What do we do when someone unfairly questions the integrity of our firm? How do we react when someone tells us that the entire financial services sector is untrustworthy?
Complex situations require a mix of responses but one weapon we should not forget is storytelling. When you spend all your time in rebuttal mode you are a character in someone else’s story. If you can make your own story interesting and insightful you can move the discussion to the area you want to cover.
Basics of storytelling
In a previous post I spoke about the “Villain, Victim, Hero” formula and its potential to create a memorable story. This is one good option. Another is to think about the basics of a story: plot, characters and a problem that needs to be overcome. Get some structure into your message, find one or more characters that people will care about and show how you are overcoming some kind of challenge.
If you listen to Radio 4’s Today programme when they interview CEOs you hear this in action. The interviewers will challenge them with facts/judgements about their latest results. The CEOs who go into rebuttal mode may win the battle of facts but lose the war of public opinion. Listeners will only remember the negatives. Alternatively they can use the question to tell an authentic story about the challenges their company has faced and how they are dealing with it.
Of course you can use this for the purposes of confusion or distraction. But given the choice of the fact-rebuttal cycle or a battle of competing stories, I know what I would rather listen to.
“Our country needs strong borders and extreme vetting, NOW. Look what is happening all over Europe and, indeed, the world – a horrible mess!”
So says President Trump. Whatever you think about the personality or the policy, one thing is for certain: Donald Trump knows the art of storytelling.
Villain, Victim, Hero
One of the classic storytelling techniques we cover in our workshops is the Villain, Victim, Hero formula. It is so familiar to us that our brains expect it and respond to it. From bedtime stories as a child to Star Wars, the formula’s power is used again and again.
To summarise how it works:
Villain: this could be person, think Lex Luthor, or a “thing” such as the shark in Jaws or a volcano about to erupt.
Victim: the poor, innocent victim.
Hero: Superhero or ordinary person doing extraordinary things (or both in the case of Superman/Clark Kent).
To make the story more dramatic, make the Villain more dastardly, the victim more worthy of our pity or the hero more compelling.
Donald Trump uses this formal in a relentlessly consistent and simple way:
Villain: the establishment, “crooked Hilary”, “the swamp” in Washington.
Victim: You! The honest, decent hard-working ordinary soul.
Hero: An outstandingly successful businessman with stellar talents and dealmaking prowess…….
Instead of varying the message, Donald Trump is a master at giving more impact to his storytelling by repeating and strengthening the formula. He makes his villains ever more villainous. The victims and their suffering, “the horrible mess” from the tweet above, is presented in colourful and dramatic ways. And of course, the more dangerous the villain and the more wronged the victim, the more impressive the hero is!
Using storytelling in your presentations
We may not want to emulate Donald Trump but we can certainly learn from how he tells stories. If you have to present data and facts in a way that will have your audience paying attention, try to think about:
- Who is the Villain?
- How bad is that Villain?
- Who is suffering because of the Villain?
- What is the impact on the Victim?
- How can this be solved?
- What are the qualities of your hero?
Next time you hear a speech from Donald Trump listen out for Villains and Victims. You will hear what an impact storytelling can have.
Happy New Year to all! We hope that 2017 has been successful for you so far. At MSB Executive we have been reviewing our work last year. We are looking to understand what we did well, what we can do better and work on new ideas for 2017.
Thank you to all those who completed our Client Satisfaction Survey. Here are the highlights from the results.
All our coaching and training work is focused on helping people improve their performance at work. This made the following question perhaps the most important for us. The results were:
- MSB Executive’s work with me/my team has helped to improve performance at work.
88% of respondents Strongly Agree wth the remainder Somewhat Agreeing.
We will continue to focus on practical techniques to help people communicate more confidently.
Given what we do this is obviously an important area for us! The main points are:
- MSB Executive communicates well with me about my progress / progress of the team.
57% of respondents Strongly Agree wth the remainder Somewhat Agreeing.
- 100% of respondents Strongly Agreed that communication is good before and after training courses.
Some really helpful suggestions were received regarding feedback. People felt personal feedback was strong. With group training the request was for more specific feedback on weaker areas of the group as well as the positives. This has been noted.
Understanding our clients
This is another point we target strongly within the team. The results were:
- MSB Executive understands what I/we do.
80% of respondents Strongly Agreed and the rest Somewhat Agreed.
- MSB Executive listens to our/my priorities and focuses its work on the most important areas.
100% of respondents Strongly Agreed.
Dealing with MSB Executive
These question picked up on what it id like to deal with MSB Executive.
- MSB Executive is easy to deal with.
100% of respondents Strongly Agreed.
- MSB Executive offers good value for money.
50% of respondents Strongly Agreed and 50% Somewhat Agreed.
- I feel that my time with MSB Executive is used efficiently.
88% of respondents Strongly Agree wth the remainder Somewhat Agreeing.
- The training materials I received (notes, manuals, exercise booklets) were helpful.
100% of respondents Strongly Agreed.
Thank you to all those who replied for their thoughts, suggestions and insights. We were hugely appreciative of the many positive comments and equally glad to hear of how we could improve further.
Best wishes once again for a hugely successful 2017.
Martyn Barmby and the team.
Last week we enjoyed running a day’s team-building activity in the open air with the team at Bianca Sainty Personal Training. As well as looking at body language and posture we spent a large percentage of the programme exploring the speaking outside. In particular we worked on making yourself heard above the noises in a busy open air space.
On the day the conditions were perfectly challenging. In the park there was a tree surgeon felling branches with a chainsaw and someone mowing the football pitch. Along came a basketball game accompanied by amplified music. This is fairly typical London park noise and so most days a personal trainer will need to work hard when speaking outside.
Why is it important to be heard? First and most obviously so that the client can hear what you need them to do. Personal training can be quite intense and it would be a shame to break the momentum by stopping to ask for instructions to be repeated. Secondly it is all about trust. If you give directions in a clear, confident and audible way the client is more likely to trust that you are knowledgeable. Clients of personal trainers look for support from someone who can help them build their confidence so it is useful if the personal trainer exudes confidence.
The workshop covered many areas but here are 5 top tips for open air communication:
1. Face the clients
This may seem obvious but when explaining actions it is tempting for example to turn towards where you may want a client to run rather than stay facing them. In the workplace this often happens when a presenter turns their back on an audience to read their own powerpoint slide. First of all most people do not engage well with somebody’s back. Secondly people lip-read more than is realised and make up for gaps in what they have heard with what they can see. So always face your clients especially when speaking outside.
Like the body needs to stay hydrated for muscles to perform the vocal cords are highly sensitive to dehydration. Drinking plenty of water helps keep your voice strong and authoritative.
3. Voice from stomach rather than throat
Engaging the core isn’t just useful when performing physical exercises. It can really help increase the sound your body can produce. Standing in a strong neutral position, engaging the core and sounding from the diaphragm rather than the throat is key.
4. Keep the sun in your eyes, not your clients’!
It is natural to keep the sun behind us so that we can see clearly when speaking outside. This can mean clients are looking straight into the sun. As well as being uncomfortable this interferes with the lip-reading we mentioned in point.
5. Don’t stick your chin out towards your client.
We often feel the need to move closer to our clients to make ourselves heard by sticking our chin out. This puts a lot of pressure on the vocal cords which can lead to us losing our voice. Use you voice to reach out, not your chin!
One of our most popular workshops at MSB Executive is “Communicating Brilliantly Under Pressure”. We often like to look at famous public speakers and see what we can learn from the times when they have had to speak under great pressure. David Cameron’s last Prime Minister’s questions is a great example of how despite great pressure his rhetoric helped him to overcome his nerves.
How much pressure was David Cameron under? Well, PMQs is an intimidating environment at any time. We can then add the issue of Cameron’s legacy. By all accounts this is something that is extremely important to our former prime minister. As it was possibly the last occasion when UK and much international media would be focusing solely on him, the pressure to give the right message about legacy must have been immense. Add to that a packed house and his family watching from the gallery and it really was a major test.
How did he start? Well at first he look tense and a little hesitant. The ice was broken when he described his appointments for the afternoon: “Other than one meeting this afternoon with Her Majesty the Queen, the diary for the rest of my day is remarkably light.”
He swiftly moved on to give a particularly assured performance. The balance was very much towards humour and mockery of the opposition. He still managed to balance this with a seriousness of tone on points such as the importance of the work of MPs: “People come here with huge passion for the issues they care about. They come here with great love for the constituencies they represent. Yes, we can be pretty tough, and test and challenge our leaders, perhaps more than some other countries. But that is something we should be proud of, and we should keep at it.”
By the end, no one remembers the tense, hesitant start. As an audience we are used to people warming into their speeches and presentations. If you feel like you are taking some time to warm up to your theme do not worry. People will give you that time just as long as you have something interesting to say and say it with conviction.
It is also worth noting David Cameron’s artful use of rhetoric throughout his answers. The rule of three works neatly with phrases like: “I will miss the roar of the crowd. I will miss the barbs from the opposition. But I will be willing you on.”
Perhaps most notable was how he followed the recommendations of the father of rhetoric Aristotle by balancing logos with pathos and ethos. Logos, the logic, may have been thin on the ground for some who would have thought he was dodging the questions he was asked. Pathos, the emotion, was there throughout and brought to a crescendo when echoing his phrase to Tony Blair, saying “I was the future once.” Ethos, his principles, were repeated through his praise for fellow MPs and parliament itself.
When we are speaking we do need to have strong logic, but the emotion and principles are often what stays with the audience afterwards. Whether David Cameron’s performance will help establish the legacy he wants, only time will tell.