Monday, November 23, 2009

On Your Mark, Get Set, PUNDIT!

The Washington Post ran an America’s Next Great Pundit contest. Check it out!
When I looked at pictures of the two finalists I immediately had a bias. One was a white male, the other a woman of color. I thought to myself, I could cast my vote right now. After all we don’t we have more than enough, young-ish white males throwing around their views and opinions? But I wanted to be fair and I know that you can’t judge a pundit by its headshot. So I went through and read a bunch of the blogs, Op-eds and Q&A’s that these two pundit wannabe’s had posted.

The writing by our two finalists was fine, but to me, the woman of color, Zeba Khan, seemed to have a huge breadth of knowledge and opinions and covered a wide array of topics. She had a very clear and sophisticated, no nonsense style and though she was criticized for not being engaging enough, her writing reflected a lot of self –reflection and unique ideas. The male contestant, to me, relied on wit, sarcasm and glibness to such an extent that he obfuscated his actual opinion. I came away from reading his pieces thinking, “but what does he really think?” I get enough confusing messages from my friends, family and the media. I don’t need any more mixed messages, thank you very much.

I also watched a video interview with the last three pundits standing. Since I’m so all about presentation that was really important to me. I was surprised to see that the recently eliminated third runner up, Courtney Martin, was someone whom I’ve met a couple of times and is a friend of a good friend. She’s a great young feminist writer but fell a little short on the relate-ability scale.

But let’s go to the videotape. In my opinion, the interviewer/host from the Washington Post, did not do that great of a job with his questioning. Lots of ums and uhs and many of the questions were too long and too shallow. There was a separate video where the host gave each of the three contestants feedback. I have to point out my favorite part of that was the fact that before he commented on their performance, he repeated a version of my mantra - that in television it’s not just what you say but how you look and sound when you say it.

So how did they look and sound? To be honest, none of the three wishful pundits were very engaging or interesting to me. Kevin Huffman, our guy, came across as someone who deserved to be there. He wore a slightly smug smile and used effective body language (sitting very upright, legs apart, not crossed - taking up a lot of space. Hands in lap - tented not folded. He kept his answers short which made them seem weightier than they actually were. He also used a vocal tone that said I know what I’m talking about and I don’t really care if you agree with me or not. Very pundit-esque.

Both of the women had legs crossed and hands folded like good school girls. They gave thoughtful, if more wordy comments, so the host interrupted them more often than he did the male. They breathed a little less frequently which communicates a kind of anxiety to get a point across. And - I have to say- Courtney could really use my vocal workout CD. She has that higher pitched “Younger Generation” voice that is a tad nasal and can be very grating on the ear and can also be hard to take seriously.

Zeba, on the other hand, though her voice was on the high side, it had some resonance to it and she spoke with a tone of authority. She sounded earnest, thoughtful and had a great weight about her answers. (The host thought she should smile more and I kind of agree but I believe that people’s presentation style should be true to their natures and Zeba has a no-nonsense way about her which is in itself engaging. So who did I vote for? I went with my original gut choice, and am proud to say that it was not based solely on her being a woman of color. I voted for Zeba because she was a woman of substance, intellect and has a broad base of knowledge.

I usually try to shy away from the “we was wronged” game, but if the male wins, I’ll have to wonder: Are the judges and voters so used to glib white guy standard for pundits, that we have no tolerance or acceptance for anything else? Can’t wait for the results!!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Face to Face Communication Revolution!

I'm just getting into the social networking scene and it is pretty neat and awesome and effective. However, we have to remember that nothing can replace face to face communication. Human beings are visual and aural creatures. Based on the well-known study by Professor Albert Mehrabian, body language and vocal tone contribute to more than 90% of communication's effectiveness - two elements that cannot be experienced via blackberry, email or any other social media. Face to face communication is essential for creating connection, trust and loyalty. Several studies have discovered that people (men AND women ) take action based primarily on their emotions. It is extremely difficult to engage someone emotionally through written communication. Written communication is excellent for laying out logical information, which is important, but cannot take the place of face to face interaction in conveying emotion. No matter how much the human race has evolved, our brains still rely on our instinct to assess danger, trust and honesty. It's important to be able look into a person's eyes, hear the sound of their voice, see the confidence, or lack thereof, in their bodies in order to feel comfortable making major business decisions. There is also an exchange of palpable physical energy that takes place when people are in the same room with each other, an energy that cannot be replicated through video or teleconferencing. So join me in my campaign to not only celebrate and bring back face to face communication but let's raise it to a high art form!

Monday, November 9, 2009

It Stands to Reason

I just read an article in the November 9, Newsweek about the difference in cognitive growth, (basic language and speaking skills) of children whose parents reason with them and those whose parents command them. WOW!! I've been talking about these differences for quite awhile. When I work with supervisors in some of my leadership communication training. I often get the question: "Why can't I just tell them what to do? It's their job and I'm their boss." I usually tell them that of course they can demand obedience from their subordinate staff members but that it will come at a price. Usually the price is bad attitude; lack of motivation; unconscious or conscious sabotage; high turnover; increase in sick days; and the list goes on. Of course, some supervisors have the luxury of firing workers who exhibit those habits. But then, many employees these days are so protected by their unions that firing is not an option. This of course could lead to a conversation about how the unions have employers by the short hairs. But maybe it should lead to a conversation about how to develop leaders to adopt are more reasonable (compassionate) style of communication. Instead of demanding, ordering or even instructing something be done, why not try explaining the reasoning and the need behind it. It may on the surface look like it will take more time, but in actuality, it may save time, energy, stress, hard feelings, disciplinary warnings and pink slips. This of course does NOT mean to become a doormat and allow the employee to run the show by debating all of your requests. It simply means giving the employee sound reasoning behind your decisions. If the employee still wants to buck a request which you believe will improve your work place, bottom line or organization, then it's time to dust off the disciplinary code book. There are still many employees (and children) who have no problem doing just what they are told but I believe that these individuals might be happier and more productive if they were treated as though their imput and opinions mattered.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Total Body Enthusiasm

I recently saw a presentation where the speaker spoke about enthusiasm but failed to speak enthusiastically. That prompted me to think about how enthusiasm is communicated. It’s not always enough to believe in what we have to say. Because so much of our communication is non-verbal, we have to be able to SHOW listeners how much we believe in what we're saying if we truly want them to be engaged. Below are three tips for cranking up your enthusiasm quotient the next time you need to present.

1) FLUFF AURAS - Using your hands in an upward motion while you speak serves two purposes. It makes you look animated AND it has the added benefit of actually raising the energy in the room. I once heard it referred to as, fluffing your listener’s aura.

PRACTICE: Stand in front of a full length mirror. Make sure the arms are relaxed and slightly bent at the elbows, hands are open and facing upwards as well. Keep your gestures about your waist and coming from your heart center.

2) HIT THE SCALES – The vocal scales that is. We all know that monotone voices are the kiss of death. When you want to pump up the enthusiasm - pump up the volume and the variety. Think of your words and phrases like individual notes of music and sing! The most important words are the high notes the less important ones might be lower notes. Some phrases might come out soft and melodic, some might come out bright and bouncy.

PRACTICE - Find a poem, a song lyric or a well crafted speech. Choose the most important words in each sentence, then record yourself “singing” the selection several different ways. Exaggerate at first just so that your voice gets used to variety. And don’t forget to pause. Pauses are important parts of all music and all communication.
3) SMILE… This seems like a no brainer but you’d be surprised how quickly nerves can wipe a smile right off your face. Before you start a presentation or a pitch of any kind, remind yourself to smile. Write a note to yourself or draw a picture. And be sure to smile with your whole being. We all know how to turn the corners of our mouths up in the shape of a smile. However, it’s important to engage your eyes and your soul as well. PRACTICE: Look in a mirror. Imagine your closest, funniest or most supportive friend sitting across from you. Or imagine being in the most beautiful vacation spot in the world. What do your eyes do? What muscles in your cheeks are working? Keep practicing and remember that feeling the next time you need to sound enthusiastic!

Finally, one of the most effective ways to sound enthusiastic is to come from a place of contribution. Before you begin any speech, pitch or conversation, try to think about what you would like to give the other person. How you would like to connect with them, help them, inspire, or enlighten them. How you would like them to feel better, happier, safer, more informed, more connected, after hearing what you have to say. If you use the three tips above and come from a place of contribution you'll be sure to leave your listener wanting more.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

It's Not WHAT We Say...

Funny, the recent poll I just ran... okay so not that many people took it BUT..... the results were unanimous. People wanted most to improve the words they chose. Funny because.... the words we use account for only 7% of our messages effectiveness. 7%!!!! That's not to say that the words we use aren't important. BUT.... the way we sound and the way we look are even more important. Case in point. There was a facinating article in the New York Times recently It spoke about how all over Japan, CD's and videos of Obama's speeches were all the rage.... These speeches are being played all over Japan, in homes, shops and businesses. And they are being played by people who don't even understand English!!The times article states; "...there was a sincerity about Mr. Obama’s speaking style that listeners could perceive phonetically, combined with a delivery that was almost musical..... That seems to result in sensation, the kind of which you get from listening to good music,” So it doesn't really matter that they can't understand the actual words. Some of these listeners are moved to tears simply from hearing his intonation, rhythm and stress. Wouldn't it be fabulous if we could have that effect on people - in a language that they actually understand? The Times went on to say: " Other observers say that Japanese buyers probably feel as though they understand his speeches just from the nonverbal cues." which illustrates just how important our nonverbal cues are! When we can make our nonverbal cues consistant with our verbal cues we are truly communicating !