Monday, December 5, 2011

Communication Itch

How many times do you sit at a meeting, have dinner with a friend or are on the other end of the phone with someone and feel as though you are sitting on what you REALLY want to say? I’m sure we have all done this to some extent. In today’s blog post, my intern Narmeen Iqbal, talks about how she dealt with this situation which she calls the “Communication Itch”

Surely, all relationship experts agree that communication is the key to a happy, healthy and long lasting relationship. Though I can’t help wondering how many of us actually use this powerful tool to transform our relationships.

I once suffered from what I would like to call a, “communication itch” meaning that I wanted to express my true inner feelings in some way but I always found non-constructive ways of going about it. For example, one of my best friends frequently would call me or wanted to see me whenever she needed help with something but never to ask about my wellbeing, for a while I let this behavior slide by thinking that she might realize it on her own. As time passed by I started to distance myself thinking that there is no point telling her that I feel used by her. One day she asked me if I wanted to hang out and I agreed, however, I didn’t make an effort to talk much. Basically, I was giving her the silent treatment thinking that I was punishing her for using me for her own purposes. This went on for quite some time.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Stepping in to What You've Honed

What a pair of shoes taught me!

I recently coined the expression, Own it While Who Hone it, and based on the amount of retweets I get, that phrase seems to resonate with a lot of people.  A few weeks ago while getting complimented on one of my favorite pairs of shoes, I realized that those shoes literally exemplify the act of me owning while I honed.

First a confession: I’m a Sale-aholic. The words “Marked down”  “On Sale” and “Discount Store” are like crack Cocaine to me.
I bought the afore mentioned shoes pictured on the left several years ago. I was in one of my favorite close-out stores, National Wholesale Liquidators, which has since “closed out” its Manhattan location. (To this day, it’s hard for me to go to lower Broadway without becoming filled with grief.) But I digress. These shoes had been carelessly tossed in a bin with other designer shoes. I picked them up and thought “wow, these are cute. “but soooo not me” I tried them on anyway. They fit perfectly and there was something really hot about them, but they were “SO not me” For business wear, I tended to go more “traditional” and classic.  “when and where would I ever wear these shoes”  Then I looked at the price and my sale addiction kicked in and I thought, at this price! I can’t NOT get them…” I brought them home and hid them in my closet. Months went by. One lovely summer day, I needed to go to an interview for a volunteer position; one that I was ambivalent about accepting. So I decided that, since no one there knew me, I would try on a slightly different persona – a persona that was comfortable wearing those shoes. It felt great! I LOVED being that person. (I was approved and wound up accepting the volunteer position) That might have been the end of the story. 

However, the day of my shoe debut, I had called a friend who has known me for a very long time. We met for a quick coffee after the interview. She didn’t comment on my shoes one way or another. Of course, since I was still unsure about this new persona I was trying on, I took her lack of commenting as a negative.( go figure!)  I put the shoes back in my closet and did not take them out again for SIX YEARS!!! I kid you not!
SIX YEARS went by with me glancing at the shoes from time to time and wondering why on earth I had bought them, why I was keeping them and most importantly would I EVER wear them again.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Is Your BULLY- Button Showing?

4 Strategies to Neutralize a Bully

October is anti-bullying month and I know we’ll be hearing and reading about bullying in all forms. As a business communication skills expert, I’d like to look at how bullying shows up in the work place and among “friends” and colleagues and share some tools that might help fend off the bully in your midst.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

10 Strategies to Boost Sales

by Julie Steelman
Adapted from her new book, "The Effortless Yes"

Dear Readers: Whether we're technically in "Sales" or not, we're always selling. Sometimes it's just selling an idea to a friend which has very low stakes and sometimes it's selling our product or service and the stakes are a bit higher. So for this post, I asked a friend of mine,  a real sales expert, to share some tips about boosting our sales results. Enjoy - Robyn

Want to know the real reason small businesses fail? It's because entrepreneurs--particularly women--are allergic to selling. They hate selling, fear selling, or find it distasteful or disingenuous. As a result, their revenues stay flat or decline over time.

But there's an easy and effective way to cure "selling allergy." There's a way to make selling both enjoyable and profitable. Here are 10 strategies to get you started:

Thursday, August 18, 2011

How to Hone What You Own

Recently after a presentation I gave for a group of female financial advisors a young advisor approached me. I had spoken at length about the importance of creating and preparing a value proposition. A value propositions is similar to an elevator pitch. It’s an opportunity to tell another person the value that you bring to the table. To let them know how your experience, skills and expertise will help improve their lives or bottom line. This young woman was new to the business and felt because she didn’t have any real experience, she didn’t know how to go about creating a effective value prop or how to answer the question, how long have you been doing this? I often get this or related questions. So... here's my answer.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Never Underestimate Power of Networking!

Last year I made a commitment to attend at least 3 networking events a month. Sometimes I had to really drag myself out of the door and often once I got to the event, it seemed like a colossal waste of time. BUT I recently found out that you NEVER  know what one seemingly wasted networking event can lead to.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

What the Heck is Presence?

When I do one on one sessions, I sometimes go to my clients. I recently did a session at a client's apartment and when I walked in, she exclaimed that my presence was so large it was strange having me in her space. No, she was not calling me fat! That made me wonder what presence actually is and where it comes from. So I went to the dictionary. Presence(n): Impressive appearance, quality or bearing. Why do I have presence? Is it what I do? or what I am? How I dress? Or how I feel?

Having a powerful presence does NOT mean strutting into a room making a grand entrance, striking a pose and speaking at the top of your voice. Doing that is sure to get you remembered but not necessarily for the right reasons. A powerful presence can be the afore mentioned scenario providing that grand entrance, pose and voice are consistent with who you are and what you represent, but a powerful presence can also be a quiet presence. 

To me, people with presence exude confidence. They  seem rooted, secure; aware of and in control of their external appearance and at ease with who they are. Presence, therefore, is communicated both from the inside and the outside. And you can develop a more powerful presence by working on it from the inside out AND from the outside in. When I work with people, I work on both at the same time.
Many people could have (and probably did) talk to me till they were blue in the face about being more confident during my "Shy" period (see previous post), but by my high school drama teacher forcing me to act confident while speaking powerful words was much more effective.

So… is it about faking it till you make it?

Yes, and No. Something about that phrase makes me cringe. The language we use to describe our learning process is very important. One of the most pervasive feelings successful professionals struggle with is the feeling of being found out to be a fraud. It’s a very common and self-sabotaging feeling. So using the word “fake” to describe a way of working on your presence, does not feel helpful. I prefer a phrase that I coined: 

“Own it while you hone it”

So for all of you who want to develop more presence... pick out a "role" or "character" you'd like to play in certain parts of your life and then Own it! Let me know how it goes!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Presence... Maybe You're born with it, Maybe it's Maybelline!

Do you ever have the feeling that people are looking over you, behind you, around you - everything but AT you? Do you ever long to walk into a room and be that person everybody notices? Do you ever yearn to be the person at a meeting that everybody listens to? Whose ideas are almost always acknowledged even if they aren’t acted on? If so, you might want to work on developing a more powerful presence! I am very proud to say that having a powerful presence is one of my strengths and I’m passionate about helping others develop theirs. For the next few posts, I’ll be talking about the power of presence and how to achieve it.

Can you develop presence? Aren’t you just born with it?
You remember those Maybelline commercials? “Maybe she’s born with it or maybe it’s Maybelline.” Well, I’m an avid believer in mascara. Rarely leave home without it. And when it comes to presence, like thick eyelashes, if you weren’t born with it, I believe with enough “Maybelline” you can look like you were.
I often talk about how I was a painfully shy child and adolescent and how I overcame that through my pursuit of acting. My very first role as an actress was in an experimental play called The Infernal Machine by Jacques Cocteau. I played the character of the Sphinx – the character was described as: “the most mysterious criminal of all times” “the enigma of all enigmas”, “the human monster”, “the bitch that sings”
For a shy 14 year old who had just taken the biggest leap of her life by spontaneously auditioning for “a” role in a play at the boy’s school down the street,  reading that description was quite a shock. But I was determined to change my personality so I decided to go for it. The “hippy” male director pushed me, cajoled me and humiliated me into creating a presence with the Sphinx. But, the truth is, each time I pushed myself to speak a little louder, stand a little stronger, unleash more emotion, I felt fantastically present. I truly believe that being cast in that role at that time altered the course of my life. And that is why I know presence can be learned. Next week, I’ll talk about what a powerful presence is. 

Is there something in your life that affected your personality? Tell me about it.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Business Lessons Learned from Word Mole

I recently hired a business coach. Something I had resisted doing for some time. I resisted for several reasons ; I didn’t trust it was worth the money; what if the one I choose wasn’t the “right” one; and ultimately, I resisted because I felt; I SHOULD be able to do this by myself and involving someone else in my business would feel too uncomfortable and might get messy! Now I know from my many years of training (and life) that messiness and discomfort are a part of growth. Heck, I teach it myself! But it’s still a hard concept to embrace. That’s why it was enlightening to get a concrete, literal lesson from an unexpected source – a smart phone game called Word Mole.

I was standing on the restroom line to a screening recently playing a game on my Blackberry when a stranger asked me if I was playing Word Mole. I wasn’t’. She said something about being obsessed by Word Mole, a stall opened up and that was the end of the conversation. However, curious and competitive as I am, I went back to my seat and started to explore Word Mole. I had tried it before but couldn’t figure out how to get it to work. Now I was determined. I finally figured out the logistics and thus began my decent into utter frustration. For those of you who haven’t been sucked in, Word Mole is a game where you are given a “garden” full of letters and have to make as many words as you can within a certain amount of time. You get points for the words you make and of course the more letters in the word, the more points. HOWEVER, the rules state that you are supposed to use letters that are connected to each other in some way. IF you don’t use letters that are connected, a mole comes out and creates a hole in your garden where no letters can grow until you use a letter next to the mole hole. Got it? So, I diligently worked my garden creating what words I could find. It was painful. First of all, they give you precious few vowels so with time clicking away, anxiety would set in and my mind would go blank as I tried to create point rich words and still have each letter touching another. Time after time I had to settle for cheap 3 and four letter words. “ran” “That” “dig.” “Sex” was a good one cause the “X” was worth extra points. If you manage to rack up 50 points in 2 minutes you get to go to the next level But each subsequent level requires you to earn 10 more points in the same amount of time! More anxiety! With my baby words, I would sometimes make it to the next level, but seldom to the level after that. WHY? Because I was determined to play only by the strictest of the rules! The alternative, of having a mole dig a hole in my garden seemed untenable! Whenever this would happen inadvertently, I freaked out and spent gobs of extra time looking for ways that I could repair the hole. I didn’t care how much harder doing it “by the rules” was. I was determined to beat the game while creating the least amount of messiness. (Not only was I determined to do it “by the rules”, I refused to succumb to “cheating” by looking for hints or tips on line.)

Then one day I saw an opportunity to form a juicy 6 letter word . it required using a letter very much not connected to any other letters I was using – AND (Palms sweating) I DID IT! That word was worth so many points that I instantly advanced to the next level. And guess what? The sky didn’t fall! Hmmm… What did this mean? Then, desperate to finish the new harder level and advance, I again experimented with recklessly creating mole holes in my garden. Sometimes I had as many as 3 holes at a time before I could fill them up and nothing bad happened! I was advancing further and further. I actually was able to complete a “Season” and was invited to start another Season. I didn’t even know there were Seasons! So what was the lesson learned? You’ve probably figured it out.

In business and in life, we often continue to do things according to rules that we make up and enforce upon ourselves. Those rules are often rules that keep us feeling safe; rules that lessens any messiness or discomfort. We also tend to ignore the fact that playing by those rules and feeling morally superior by not “cheating” (read asking for help) can create senseless anxiety. Exactly like my experience with Word Mole. The rules never said: DO NOT CREATE HOLES. The rules merely said that creating holes caused consequences but there are ways to deal with those consequences. What I learned was that by creating those consequences, I was able to achieve better results. I’m hoping that my experience with my business coach will reinforce that lesson. And my advice to you: experiment with creating holes in your garden. Who knows what it could lead to.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

You Don't Have To Be Dynamic 24/7

  In February, I had the honor of being one of the many fantastic speakers at Tory Johnson’s Spark and Hustle conference in LA. My topic: “How to Go From Shy to Dynamic: For those of you who don’t know, I was painfully shy as a child and have gone on to become a speaker, trainer, coach and crusader for improving the quality of face to face communication.

The day I was scheduled to speak at Spark and Hustle was the longest day of the conference. It started at 8 am and I was schedule to speak at 4:45. Fabulous speaker after fabulous speaker shared, inspired and educated the audience of some 200 female entrepreneurs. I sat at one of the tables with about 6 other ladies, some participants, some speakers. We chatted, shared and learned together throughout the day. Then it was time for my presentation. I opened with music - a rousing rendition of “This Little Light of Mine.” (more about that decision in another post) I hit the stage and delivered my presentation with the type of energy that was consistent with my topic; for those 20 + minutes, I was fully committed to being dynamic! The response was terrific. At the end, I had everyone on their feet claiming their space and shouting out how wonderful they were.

But what really fascinated me (and the reason I’m writing this post), was what happened when I got back to my table. My table mates were in shock! They couldn’t believe that the person who had been sitting with them for the past 9 hours, was the same person who had taken the stage! Their reaction really made me think. First, of course, I went to the “bad” place. “Wow, do I come off as incredibly boring and insecure when I’m not on stage?” Then after I talked myself down from that ledge, I thought… “How could I have and why would I have brought that same level of dynamism to my “role” of conference participant? To me, it would have been inappropriate – not to mention thoroughly exhausting!

As a matter of fact, one of the first things I mentioned in my presentation that day was that in order to go from Shy to Dynamic, we need to learn certain skills and arm ourselves with certain tools that will make us a dynamic presence when we need to be. Once we master those tools and skills, we can choose when and where to use them. Just like not every job a carpenter tackles will require a band saw, not every situation we encounter will call for the same type of presence. In short, we don’t have to be dynamic 24/7. But good communicators like good carpenters should have the best tools at their disposal. Bottom line, it’s important to learn to be dynamic… (in your own way) but it’s just as important to know when and where to bring that dynamism out!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Spark and Hustle LA.

Had a wonderful time Sharing AND Learning!
Sorry the video cuts off so abruptly. My camera ran out of battery. Hoping to get the rest of it from a friend who was taping. Thanks Lisa!! Here's what I talked about.

Claim Your Space!
60 to 80% of communication is nonverbal. Your visual and vocal message needs to be consistent with the words you are saying. If they are not, we tend to believe the visual and vocal over the verbal. How we walk, stand and sit communicates our level of confidence to the outside world BUT walking, standing and sitting in confident postures also helps us FEEL more confident. Practice taking up more space when you stand, sit, walk and gesture.

Speak With Power!
The quality tone and inflection of your voice is responsible for 38% of your message. Habits like – Up speaking, (everything a question) Drop speaking (losing energy at the end off a sentence) and Whatevering (boring sing song) weaken your message and make you sound less than confident. Learn to breathe from your diaphragm to add a deeper resonance to your voice and think about savoring your words and giving them as gifts!

Voice Your VALUE!
In addition to looking and sounding good, knowing and being comfortable communicating your Value is extremely important. What are the core character strengths and values that set you apart from your peers? Make sure those values and strengths come through loud and clear in your communication.

If you missed Spark and Hustle in LA check out the rest of the tour at

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Interview Tips to Remember

You’ve got a big interview coming up! You’ve revamped your resume, researched the company picked out an outfit. What more can you do?

I’ve recently coached several vastly different people for interviews and in each case, the before and after were remarkable. I’d like to pass on some things they learned from our sessions.

1) Remember: Bring Your Personality
So many people feel they have to strip away their personality as soon as they don their interview clothes. Not so… Many interviewers sit in a room all day talking to job applicant after job applicant. Imagine how boring that might be. Bringing your personality to the interview is one way to be memorable.

Instead of - walking in as though you’re going to a firing squad, sitting down, folding your hands and staring at the interviewer awaiting questions.
Try - walking briskly in, (always give them a few seconds to “check you out”), sit toward the front of the chair with your chest slightly forward. * SMILE and start the conversation yourself! Comment on their office, something their wearing and yes, maybe even the weather. As long as your comment is positive and authentic, it could really serve to break the ice and make you both feel more comfortable and engaged.

*To learn more about body language, check out my nonverbal communication video series

2) Remember: It’s a Conversation not an Interrogation:
There’s a tendency for people to make interviews like one person tennis games. The interviewer serves, the interviewee gives a one sentence answer which lands with a thud on the other side of the net forcing the interviewer to bend down, pick up the ball and serve again. That gets a little tiring and would be really boring to play or watch.

Instead of - answering the interviewer’s question with the answer, the whole answer and nothing but the answer.
Try - giving the answer and then bridging your answer to a topic that highlights your strengths.

Q. What social media sites do you feel are essential?
A. I really like working with twitter, facebook, linkedin, digg and several other of the popular sites. (Fine answer but don’t stop there!) I also work with a lot of the applications that simplify and aggregate content because I like to be as efficient and effective as possible. At my last job, I was able to increase the companies’ unique users by 40% in three months. (PAUSE - If there’s no sign that the interviewer wants to interrupt, add) - I know that this company prides itself on being transparent and I’d love to apply my skills toward your social media marketing. (I know this example might sound bogus to real social media folks but I hope you get the picture.)

Of course, you also need to be aware of talking TOO much! (I'll talk about that some other time)

3) Remember: They Really Want you to be Right for the Job:
When you send out hundreds of resumes and lose out on interview after interview, it’s very normal to get negative, discouraged and bitter. Trust me, I know. As an actor I probably got less than 1% of the roles I auditioned for. However, it’s very important not to bring that bitterness into the interview. One piece of advice that really resonated with a current client was something casting directors always say: They really want you to be good! Think of how much easier their job would be if they found the perfect candidate without a lot of hassle. Although it may not seem that way, it really is not in their best interest to call you in just to waste both of your time.

Instead of: Answering questions in a monotone voice that sounds like you’ve said the same thing a million times. (My clients were particularly struck by how their voices and vocal tone came across on video)
Try: Infusing your voice with energy and passion. Letting them know that you love what you do and can’t wait to do it for them.

Instead of: Getting defensive when they ask you about your experience.
Try: Feeling proud of everything you’ve done and grateful for the opportunity to share information that is going to prove how right you are for this position.

And remember you’re sizing them up too. Is this really a place you want to be for the next few years, few months or even few minutes? Remember to ask questions and check out their body language, strengths and personality.

For more tips and answers, leave me a comment here or on facebook or listen to my interview on Blogtalkradio

Happy Interviewing!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Why Obama Needs Me as a Speech Coach!

After seeing the movie “The King’s Speech”, I was inspired to finally write something I’ve been wanting to write for several months. I want to coach President Obama on his speeches! President Obama is a great speaker. There’s no denying that. It’s partly why he is where he is today. So what the heck am I talking about? What could I do to improve on greatness? First of all, the oratory style that effectively swayed voters is not the same oratory style that he is using now. And even if it were, that style has its limitations. I know President Obama is extremely intelligent and I believe in his ideals and his leadership. But ever since he’s taken office, I’ve been dying to work with him on some of his oratory habits. Tiny habits that I believe make him less effective as a leader. Here are three things I would work with him on:

1) Cadence: A lot of people have trouble finding musicality in their voices and end up sounding monotone most of the time. Obama does not have that problem. He has plenty of musicality; however, it’s as if he keeps singing the same line of the same song over and over. Obama’s cadence is very predictable. When as listeners we hear the same cadence and rhythm over and over, it sounds like the speaker is being disingenuous and further more it’s hard for us to get a grasp on what he really wants to emphasize. (I’d also work on his whistling “s”)

What I would do: I would give him passionate speeches to read, record them and force him out of his normal rhythm. I would help him savor every word; Make him visualize and feel every word he was saying instead of thinking and intellectualizing them.

2) Facial Expression: For most of my clients, smiling is a challenge. I have to constantly remind them to, ever so often, turn up the corners of their mouth! Smiling is known to increase likeability and to engender trust but too much smiling can make you look like a fool or a snob. President Obama, has the “problem” of having a mouth that even in repose seems to look like it’s smiling. For a president, this is a detriment. When people are angry, depressed and fearful, they do not want to feel as though their president is not taking them seriously.

What I would do: I would work on all of Obama’s other features to have them express deeper emotion. I would show him how the way he tightens his lips after every sentence can accentuate the upturned corners of his mouth turn it into a smug smile. I would teach him how to communicate with his eyes and his brow line. I would help him to see that he tends to tilt his head as he speaks which is not nearly as powerful as if he were to keep it straight.

3) Posture: Standing and sitting up straight is something our mother’s and teacher’s constantly drilled into us. But sometimes that advice can backfire. Standing and sitting bone straight often makes people look stiff and aloof. These are two qualities that Americans don’t seem to appreciate in their leaders. We want leaders to be powerful AND approachable.

What I would do: I’m not suggesting Obama learn how to slump but I would encourage him, whenever appropriate to lean forward a little more. Having your heart center exposed and leaning toward the person (or camera) you’re talking to, makes your listener feel more engaged. So I’d have our president stand more on the balls of his feet and sit with his heart center coming forward and use arm gestures that emanate from his elbow with upward sweeping motions.

So please, if you happen to be speaking to the president or any of his people, can you tell him where to find me? If the King of England could hire and rely on a former actor who intuitively knew and then trained in how to help people improve their speech, surely the President of the United States could do the same. I’m ready, willing and able. It’s the least I could do for my country!