Friday, October 15, 2010

How to Shine

In order to truly shine, you need to get in touch with and celebrate what’s special about you.
When I work with people on interview skills and other communication skills, I usually start off by asking them to tell me about their strengths. Many people can't separate their core strengths from their job skills. And many others have never truly thought about the question. So many of us focus on the negative qualities we possess we become blind to all of our positive traits. When you get in touch with your positive qualities and infuse those qualities into everything you do - the way you walk, stand, dress and talk - not only will people will begin to take notice, but you will feel more authentic, vital and confident.
6 Steps to Bringing Out the Best in You! 
  1. Survey Yourself! I highly recommend taking the VIAcharacter survery at It ‘s a free survey developed by a team of well noted psychologists (including Martin Seligman) who are behind the study of Positive Psychology and The Happiness Project. This survey will identify your top five character strengths out of a list of 24 strengths. (my top 5 are creativity, spirituality, wisdom, social intelligence and leadership.)
  2. Create Stories! Once you’ve identified your strengths by either deep soul searching, asking friends or associates or taking the VIA survey, start thinking of stories in your life that illustrate those strengths. How did you use your strength to bring about a change? How do you use your strengths on a daily bases? Use these stories as a basis for your elevator pitch or job interview responses.
  3. Express yourself! Take a dance class, acting or improvisation class, sing Karaoke, paint, draw, sculpt, write! Whenever we do something creative (even if creativity isn’t one of our top strengths) one of our signature strengths will jump out to guide us through it – if we let it. You don’t have to worry about doing these things “right” you’re doing them to further get in touch with and express your signature strengths.
  4. Speak your strengths. What people react to most in a person’s individual communication style is consistency; does the way you look and sound match the words you are using. Adopt vocabulary and nonverbal skills that reflect your top strengths: If “hope” comes up big for you, try using phrases like “I hope to see you soon,” “I have high hopes for this project.” Be sure your voice has lightness to it and your body language is open.
  5. Dress your strengths. Probably since creativity is high on my list, I personally have an enormous wardrobe. I try to create a style that reflects the strength I’m going to utilize on any particular day. I'm not suggesting running out and buying lots of close, just be mindful that your clothes usually speak first so make sure they communicate a quality you'd like to lead with.
  6. Appreciate your strengths. Everyday express gratitude for the special combination of strengths you’ve been given. At the end of the day, write down what you're thankful for and which of your strengths pulled you through any challenge or activity that you succeeded at.

Follow these steps and I guarantee you will not only learn to shine but be a lot happier doing it.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Afraid to Sing Your Own Praises?

Do you hesitate when it's time to talk about your strengths or the benefits of your product or service? Just last week I was sitting at a table of professional coaches and therapists and when a discussion started about this topic, people still voiced the fear that telling someone your strengths was like bragging and it felt uncomfortable. This is a common issue for people,whether it's about answering questions at a job interview or pitching your product or services - people often equate promoting themselves with boasting. THIS HAS GOT TO STOP! There is a difference and hopefully I can make it clear in this blog post.

I find one of the most important ways to overcome "fear of singing your praises" or “fear of pitching”  is to shift your focus. Most of us focus on what a potential client or interviewer can do for us and less on what we can do for them. Focusing on what they can do for us makes us nervous and self conscious and taps into the “Are we good enough?” mindset. We get hung up on “Are we saying, doing the right thing to make the sale?” "Are we saying or doing the right thing to make them like me?"  Are we overselling ourselves, underselling ourselves? Instead, we should ask, “Are we saying, doing the right thing to show how excited we are about helping them.” And yes, as a job prospect, your focus should be on helping them (the company).  People do like to hire people that they like. However, they also want to hire people who will help their bottom line.

Ask yourself what I ask my clients; what value do you provide? I don’t mean what experience or education you've had or what product or service you offer or how your product or service makes people’s lives better. Most of us have learned to answer those questions. What I like to find out is why you want to be the one to provide that particular product or service. Why, faced with two people with similar resumes, should I hire you and not the other candidate? Answering the “why you” question gets you in touch with the passion behind why you do what you do and that is something nobody can judge or dispute.

Talking about how passionate you are about your strengths and skills, is not unlike the common communication strategy of using “I” language in difficult conversations. When you use “I” language, you tell people how you personally feel which makes it difficult for the person you are talking to to be offended or become defensive. Similarly, when you tell a potential client or employer how passionately you feel about your business or your skills, it’s difficult for that potential client or employer to criticize, judge or feel pressured.

There is a huge difference between talking to someone because you want to SELL something or WANT something from them and talking to someone because you are passionate about HELPING them. It’s why we have an easier time promoting our friends - we aren’t focused on getting the sale or the job but on sharing information we believe in.

There are other strategies for improving our ability to confidently sing our own praises:
  • Asking for feedback from current clients or friends who believe in what you do;
  • Working with a coach to develop confident body language and vocal and verbal messaging;
  • Videotaping yourself practicing various pitches or interview questions till you feel comfortable.
 But I feel the most important strategy is shifting your focus off of what you want to get from people and on to what you want to give.

Monday, August 16, 2010


We all want to be liked, right? And we’ve been told since childhood that in order to be liked, we have to be nice. But, I’ve recently discovered that many of my clients sacrifice effective leadership skills by trying to be too nice. Now, don’t get me wrong I’m not advocating becoming a super &%#@!! but what I am advocating is for you to be authentic.

I was recently coaching a client who had a good management job in a well respected corporation. He was extremely capable, talented and very NICE. His superiors wanted him to get communication coaching because he came across as a little unresponsive when interacting with clients and had a serious “whatever-ing” problem.

As I started working with him, I found out that he had been a competitive athlete. That got me thinking. Where was the edge? Where was the aggression? A person doesn’t usually spend a lifetime being competitive and then suddenly turn into a teddy bear. As I continued to probe, he admitted that he was working hard to “fit in” to the corporate culture by being “nice.” I totally understood his dilemma but unfortunately, the result was that he was only bringing 75% of himself to the job.

It is important to get along with others but if in doing that, you are not utilizing your core strengths then everybody loses. What he was doing was holding back opinions and comments because he didn’t want people to think he wasn’t nice. The result? He had turned into a generic manager clone; capable but not interesting. Nice but not powerful. That’s why he came off as unresponsive with clients because he was afraid to express his true opinions. And that’s why he resorted to the “whatever” tone – he was not comfortable expressing all that he had to express.

I gave him language choices and techniques to help him express his opinion and feedback in a assertive, supportive non aggressive way. I gave him techniques on how to acknowledge other people’s opinions in order to create room for him to express his own I also worked with him on different techniques to bring more power and passion to his vocal tone. Will this turn him into an ogre or tyrant? Not at all, it will allow the him to bring 100% of himself to work instead of 75%. That will be more comfortable for him and much more interesting for his coworkers.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Rules of Engagement

How many times have people come up to you at a networking event and launched into a monologue about what it is that they do? It's happened all too often to me. Research has shown tht it can take up to 12 visits to undo a negative first impression so if you turn off someone at a networking event, you may never get another chance to impress them. This is especially important for all of you network markerters out there. Because if you happen to meet a perspective client who has had a negative experience with someone else selling the same product or service as you, you'll have a  much harder time engaging that person. So... let's talk about engagement. How do you like to be approached at a networking event? What are things that make you want to continue a relationship with the people you meet?  For me, it's about how well they are able to engage me; make me interested, not just in their business but in them as a person.

One of the first rules of engagement is to ask questions:. BUT the most common question we hear at these events is: What do you do? That question is asked because we think that's what we're there to do. Find out what everyone does. And to a large extent that's true but that question is a trap! It leads to boring and awkward moments  - unless you know how to answer it. The problem is, as soon as we hear that question we feel like we have to answer it right away. But answering it right away paints us right into a little box. Oh.... you're a life coach? A financial advisor... a... blah, blah, blah..And we actually hate putting ourselves into little boxes so the answer is usually given quickly and uninterestingly. Guess what? Just because someone asks you a question, it doesn't mean you HAVE to answer it right away! Think of yourself like a politician! Do they ever give straight answers?

I like to answer that question with a statement of some kind that gets people engaged first, then I'll tell them what I do. For  example I'll say:. "I am passionate about improving the art of face to face communication.... I'm a communication coach and trainer. OR "You know over 90% of communication is not about the words we use?" I work with people to improve their nonverbal behavior skills. I'm a communication skills.....

 Once the initial nicities are out of the way, it's still important to ask questions. Recently, I've been asked some pretty interesting ones, like, " What made you interested in teaching communication skills" "What's you're most memorable client experience?" These are questions that force the person to dig a little deeper for the answer. And the answer will reveal more about the person than the normal facts about their business. Asking questions like that also says a lot about the person asking the question. It immediately makes them seem more interesting and interested. Other questions in that vein: What gets you excited about your work? What do you like most about what you do? Can you think of any others?

It's amazing what engagement will do to a conversation. It gets us out of that rut of reciting our title and job description which usually comes out sounding canned and boring. Let me know ways of engaging that work for you. I'll be posting some other engagement techniques soon!

Monday, June 7, 2010


Remember when that expression was all the rage. “What..Ever”! Well, I’ve been working with a lot of really wonderful, successful and interesting people lately but many of them use a tone of voice that I have dubbed “Whatevering…” It’s a tone that sounds like the speaker is bored out of their mind with what they are saying and is sure that what they are saying will bore the listener. Guess what? It usually does. It’s hard to describe the tone but you know it when you hear it. There’s a certain consistent rhythm to each sentence and it usually starts at a low pitch, hits one or two high pitches in the middle then drops to a very low pitch and low volume at the end. Sometimes "Whatevering" is mixed with "Upspeaking" to produce a combination of boredom and lack of confidence. A dangerous combination!  There are many reasons people fall into this pattern and many ways they can rid themselves of it. However, one of the surest ways is to value what it is you have to say and think about your conversation as a gift. If you are engaging someone in conversation or presenting them with information, think about what it is that you are sharing with your listener(s), have confidence that what you are sharing has value and concentrate on how what you are sharing will impact the listener’s life. This will not only energize your voice, but it will energize everything else about you so that you look forward to all your communication. No matter what it is that you have to communicate, you can discover the value in it. Give it generously and enthusiastically like you would any gift you feel is valuable and I guarantee you that your voice will begin to communicate that value and “whatevering” will be a thing of the past.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Change Your Voice, Change Your Life

I love those special moments when I'm teaching and I get chills because I just witnessed someone make a huge transformation right before my eyes. It happens most often when I'm working with someone on their voice. It happened the other night as I taught a small class at Fashion Institute of Technology. I often do an exercise where I have students/clients read and interpret a short speech from a famous movie or by a famous politician. As I worked with a very shy young woman, I coached her to use her diaphragm, and feel the words of Martin Luther King. On her second or third try, the soft, timid, monotone was replaced by a strong, solid, passion filled oratory. We saw her body fill with confidence, her eyes begin to shine and I knew that she had suddenly touched a part of herself that she didn't know she possessed. It was priceless. I love that a simple physical shift can have such a profound effect.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Meetings: Can They SEE What You're Saying?

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote “What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.”

How true! Because we humans still possess remnants of our old reptilian brains - the part of the brain that deals with instinct, our first reaction to people or situations is usually based on visual cues. Given the choice between visual and verbal information, our brains will believe the visual over the verbal. That is why it is so important to be acutely aware of behavior that will send the wrong message.

This was clear to me at a meeting I once attended. The meeting was being conducted by high level administrators of a city agency, Agency A. The purpose of the meeting was to introduce information about a program that was being instituted to ease friction between Agency A and another agency, Agency B. Agency A has always been perceived as being in the position of power and has usually communicated with Agency B in an authoritarian and judgmental manner. On the dais in the front of the room sat five high level administrators from Agency A. Crowded around in a u-shaped table arrangement were about 30 plus staffers from Agency B. Tension was high. Old baggage filled the air. The new initiative was unclear to some, suspect to others. I was in charge of creating a training module to help make communication between these two agencies more effective. What I saw made me realize that my task would be an uphill climb. As one of the administrators proceeded to speak, I observed several things he “did” loudly that made what he “said” difficult to hear.

Problem 1: The gentleman was leaning very far back with one arm draped over the back of his chair. My instinctual brain read that posture as being aloof, uncaring and much too casual.
Fix: A more effective position would have been to sit slightly forward with his chest/ “heart center” open and directed toward his listeners showing interest and openness.

Problem 2: His eyes were either on his paper or on one or two spots in the back of the room.
Fix: Since the listeners were spread out in a u-shape all around him, it would have been more effective to scan the room, giving 5-10 seconds of eye contact to each section of the audience.

Problem 3: Most egregious of all – HE WASCHEWING GUM! As he laid out the new policies for improved relationships between the agencies, he was performing an activity that most teachers and parents drummed into us as being the height of rudeness. I could only imagine how instinctively turned-off some of the staffers from Agency B must have felt.
Fix: If you don’t know, ask your mom!

In addition to the visual cues, the vocal cues were not much better.

Problem 4: He spoke in a slow low pitched monotone.
Fix: Vary your vocal pitch, rhythm and volume. There is musicality in the English language. Find it. The sound and tone of your voice is the second most important factor in delivering effective communication.

Problem 5: He used language riddled with jargon.
Fix: Even if you believe 99% of the people in the room understand your acronyms and jargon, spend some time breaking it down for the 1% who may not.

Was this a rude, uncaring, arrogant man? Or was he a man unaware of how loudly his behavior was speaking? I eventually learned that he was the latter- a tech savvy, hard-working individual with good intentions and poor presentation skills.

However, it can take as many as 12 encounters to undo a negative first impression. Not too many people are going to be willing to give anyone 12 chances to change their opinion. In this day and age, with opportunities for face to face communication becoming rarer and rarer, it’s time for all of us to become more aware of the things we are doing that drown out the things we are saying

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Words for the Wise

Even though over 90% of communication is non-verbal, the words we choose to use are still extremely important in creating our Verbal Essence. A large majority of the population is visually oriented. Hence Aristotle's quote: "The soul never thinks without a mental image." Whether your selling someone on an idea or just trying to clarify a point, it's very helpful to use language that will help the listener form a picture in their minds. In addition to choosing visual words, it's important to stay away from words that rob your conversation of its power and impact.

Words to Lose
1) It’s interesting how many of my clients use the words “Maybe” and “I think” before they express an opinion they hold strongly or before they say something positive about themselves. It weakens whatever comes after it. Instead use words like – I believe, I know , I am.. or just state the opinion.
Example: “I think I’m really good at helping my clients reach their financial goals” vs. “I’m a real cheerleader for my clients and 70% of them reach their goals within the first year.”

2) Get rid of your “but” – We all have the habit of stating a positive thought or expression and connecting it with the word but. That negates the positive nature of the original statement. The listener doesn’t hear or believe the positive statement and will concentrate instead on the negative statement that comes after the but. That goes for self-talk as well. How many times do we say to ourselves, “That was a good interview but…. I wish I had….” Our brain doesn’t acknowledge the “nice interview” part. We obsess over what comes after the but.

3) Lose the word “Not” whenever possible. Especially during a sales pitch and in self-talk. There is psychological evidence that our brains do not process negative words. In other words, when we say we are not going to do something, our brain dismisses the word not and absorbs the rest of the sentence.
For example. If I tell you NOT to think of a fresh, moist, slice of rich chocolate cake… what image pops into your head. So instead of talking about what you are not going to do, rephrase the sentence to express what you are going to do instead.

4) Other words to lose are the generic words that have lost all real meaning. Like – “great” ,“nice” “fine”, “like” They are like empty calorie foods. They take up space but don’t really do anything to help your listener understand how you really feel about anything. So instead of saying what a “great” job somebody did, talk about how the specific task that the person accomplished showed how organized, forward thinking or persistent they were.

5) Words to Choose: The 12 most persuasive words based on a YALE study: You, Money, Save, New, Results, Help, Easy, Safety, Love, Proven, Guarantee, Discovery. Try them out the next time you do a sales presentation.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Communication Overload?

This holiday season, I really felt that I needed to give my brain a real vacation away from my business. As an entrepreneur, it's me and my business 24/7. Maybe I should have chosen not to check my email. But because I have a blackberry, I was constantly aware of emails coming in, people posting on facebook and linkedin and new twitter followers. Everytime I picked up the phone and saw some activity, I felt a small twang of guilt. Shouldn't I be doing something too? Shouldn't I be sending out holiday newsletters, blogging, tweeting? But what about the mental vacation I so desperately needed?? I stuck by my decision not to work but was it really a vacation? Not at all. Because I was working hard. Working at managing all the guilt and all the "Shoulds." that came from my not working. I also spent time wondering if my guilt was a result of a poor business attitude? Do I have a problem with being productive? We all struggle with whether we could/should be doing more but... Is it possible to do too much?

I am all about communication. I work hard to help people make their communication more effective. But can we Overcommunicate?? Are we sending, receiving, expecting too much from electronic communication? There are now business owners who send out daily newsletters. WHY? Why do I need to hear from someone everyday? Just wondering? Most people I speak to about this agreed that they felt overwhelmed by the amount of "electronic communication" they receive but it's become a kind of addiction. How many times do we pick up the phone anymore? How many meaningful face to face meetings do we engage in? I'm embarrased to admit that I fall prey to this myself. Last night, I emailed a close friend of mine because I had a question for her. I repeatedly checked my email to see if she had replied. She didn't. This morning I woke up realizing that I never even thought of picking up the phone. The thought never crossed my mind!! How sad is that? And this is a close friend. All this social media and electronic communication is efficient and effective but I really would love to champion two things: 1) sanctioned, guiltfree downtime. and 2)more face to face communication.

Let me know what you think.
(Photo "Mail" by Claire Olivia Moed)