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Relaxation: the silver bullet in communication


Remember the showdown scenes in the old Westerns? Two gunslingers facing off at high noon? You knew the good guy was going to win by the squinting eye, the clinched jaw, the taut muscles.

Ever feel like you’re starring in that scene – except that it’s set in an office or conference room instead of a dusty street? Take your communication tips from John Wayne and you’re going to end up the loser. It’s a fact. Studies show that when two strangers meet, the one who is most physically relaxed is perceived by both as having the higher status. In a group setting, the most relaxed person is most likely to ultimately become the group leader.

So, you see, personal power doesn’t come from being so intense you seem wound tight. And it certainly isn’t conveyed when you’re being nervous and fidgety. Power comes from being able to relax. When you’re comfortable with yourself, you telegraph confidence and self-esteem. Stay calm physically, mentally and emotionally and you’re in control.

Relaxation is one of the Five Great Skills® at the core of VoicePro’s approach to effective communication. They’re skills anyone can learn, practice and use to present themselves and their ideas. What are the other four skills? Let’s take a quick look.

  • Energy. When you communicate with authentic conviction, people see confidence.
  • Expression. It’s in your face, your voice and your body language, and it’s crucial to the understanding of your message.
  • Organization. When you put together your message in a powerful way, you create strong personal influence.
  • Focus. It shouldn’t be on your message or your own concerns. Your focus needs to be on others. That’s how connection is made.

Want to know more? Visit us at www.voiceproinc.com and even watch a video on the topic with our own Luanne Paynick. Just register to for a free membership – it only takes a minute.

And the next time you find yourself striding into your own OK Corral , take a moment to settle yourself. Take a deep breath and loosen up. Relaxation may be just the silver bullet you’re looking for.

Getting Your Ducks in a Row–The Art of Facilitation


America’s eyes and ears were on the health care summit that took place in Washington last week (Thursday, February 25, 2010). Political affiliation aside, I believe President Obama did a heroic job of facilitating the day-long session, as he struggled to bring two incredibly polarized groups together in some kind of consensus.

While the outcomes of the summit, and its ramifications for the country, won’t become clear for a long time, I also believe it has given us a great opportunity to review the principles of facilitation. At one time or another, almost all of us find ourselves charged with facilitating a group session, and it can be a wonderful experience. At the same time, it requires a clear understanding of your role and a willingness to go out on a limb to assure a satisfying conclusion for everyone involved.

As the facilitator of a group you are more than the guardian of an agenda. You are the coordinator and the director of the discussion. You are the keeper of the process. You must make clear what’s expected of each individual and make sure everything proceeds as planned. Even though you will be working with a diverse group of personalities, it is up to you to keep the group focused so that objectives are met. In short, it’s your job to keep your ducks in a row–everything and everyone on track.

Getting Things Started

Your opening remarks provide you with an opportunity to set an energetic and positive tone. Build rapport with the group by stating your own objectivity; you’ll sabotage the whole affair if they think you have an axe to grind. 

Here are some guidelines for getting off to a good start:

  • Announce the topic of discussion is and explain why it’s important.
  • State the goal of the session: We’re here to determine whether or not to go forward. Or: When we’re finished here, we’ll have a new contract. Or: By the end of today, we’ll know what we agree on and what we don’t. Ask for agreement on the goal; watch for nods that signal acceptance.
  • Lay out the framework and ground rules. Explain how you will make sure the rules are followed and that it’s your responsibility to do so. 

During the Meeting

To put it mildly, our legislators at the health care summit didn’t enter into the discussion in a neutral frame of mind. Rarely does anyone come into a facilitated session totally impartial. People come with their energy, expectations, interests, perceptions, concerns, and emotions on the line. Drawing such disparate individuals into a cohesive group allows the facilitator to draw on the collective diversity of each member.  For a cooperative and highly interactive environment that yields successful results:

  • Involve everyone. Recognize their diversity, value it, and encourage open communication.
  • Establish listening as an important part of everyone’s responsibility. To keep the process moving smoothly, it’s important to reinforce the fact that points of view can (and usually will) differ. At the same time, recognizing and respecting the other person’s view does not require you to agree with it.
  • If something is unclear, ask for clarification, then occasional summaries of what has been said.
  • When it seems you have agreement on a topic, test for consensus.
  • Recognize and manage disruptive behaviors by not permitting excessive examples, time domination, digression to personal agendas, interruptions or intimidation.

Keep Your Eye on the Prize.

If things get tense and emotions erupt, keep your cool. Sit back, relax your shoulders, and breathe. Remind the group what they’re working for and the value a good outcome will have for everyone. It sometimes becomes evident the stated goal won’t be reached in this meeting. If that’s the case, stop, regroup, and set a new goal—one that’s more realistic and can be achieved. At the end of the session, summarize succinctly, indicate next steps, and thank everyone for his or her respectful participation.

The strength of your leadership can be a huge influence on the success of a high-stakes facilitated session. By keeping your eye on the prize, you can mold and shape a process that leads to outcomes beneficial to everyone involved.

 I’d love to hear your stories. Keep me posted.

Image by Jocelyne H

Crib Notes – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly


Sarah Palin took considerable heat last week – for using crib notes scribbled on the palm of her hand during a speaking event in Nashville. I first heard about this on a radio program, where the pundits were ripping her to shreds for using simplistic notes during a Q&A.

I did a little follow-up on CNN, and through an article in The Huffington Post, and came away thinking “Big deal!”

Now, I am not here to promote or criticize Sarah Palin’s politics. Nor am I going to comment on the content of her speech, or her Q&A responses (That might be like sticking my head in a bear trap). However, I do want to comment on Palin’s use of notes, both during her formal presentation and during the Q&A.

good communication skillsNOTES ARE GOOD!

Even the most seasoned professional speaker, an expert on the topic, can benefit from a few well-organized (but brief) notes. Notes can be used to get you back on track if you lose your train of thought, or if you’re distracted by things going on around you.

Even if you know your topic inside and out, single word reminders can keep the flow of your conversation moving in the direction you intend – for the sake of your audience. Notes can be a very effective tool for punctuating a point with a pause. Simply pause, refer to your notes, refocus on your audience and continue to speak. Not only will you accentuate your point, but you will slow down enough for your audience to process and absorb your content. Notes can give you the opportunity to take a breath (breathing is a good thing). Simply look at your notes, breathe, refocus on your audience, and continue on.

bad communication skillsWHEN GOOD NOTES GO BAD!

Your notes should not be a “novel” from which you retrieve your information. They should be anchors, reminders, or transition points that you speak to in an unscripted manner, keeping the conversation with your audience engaging and personal.

Reading from a pages of text, or an overcrowded PowerPoint, are sure ways of killing the audience engagement you are trying so hard to garner.

ugly communication skillsTHE UGLY!

Don’t try to hide your notes from your audience. If you use them properly, your audience will have a sense that you have prepared, are organized and are focused. They will appreciate the effort you have made to deliver your information succinctly and accurately. Unfortunately for Sarah Palin, sneaking a peak at her palm left her audience wondering about her credibility and her expertise.

So keep some things in mind when preparing your talk:

  • Know your audience.
  • Determine your objective.
  • Consider why your audience would want to take the action you are requesting. (In other words what’s in it for them?)
  • Determine your key points, supporting information, introduction and close
  • Prepare a a bullet point outline for your talk 
  • Use your notes as a guide, not as a text
  • Breathe deeply, relax, and enjoy the interaction with your audience

Speaking notes can be a great confidence builder. And when you feel prepared, you’ve got success in the palm of your hand.


Who’s the Super Bowl MVP of Communication?


MVP communication skillsWho dat? Who dat?  Who dat says they’re gonna lead those Saints? 

They call the quarterback of a football team the field general, and Drew Brees, quarterback of the New Orleans Saints, scores big points for leadership.  Communication plays a key role.  No, we haven’t been in the huddle, and we know he’s not doing PowerPoint presentations in the locker room or writing project outlines and meeting agendas.  Still, we’re willing to bet our souvenir program that the communication skills he shows in public statements mirror his team interactions.  How about a little post-game analysis of his post-Super Bowl interview? Our playbook? Some tips for effective partnerships (find more at VociePro®)

Seek common ground 

Brees spent four years building a bond with his teammates. Their common ground?  A desire to prove their worth. In the interview, he addresses the fact that most of the core of the current roster had joined the Saints as free agents after being released from former teams. “Obviously they were free agents because their other team didn’t want them anymore, thought they couldn’t play anymore and said ‘heck with them…we just all looked at one other and said, ‘We are going to rebuild together. We are going to lean on each other.’”

Of course, Brees brought the whole city of New Orleans into partnership, too. “Four years ago, whoever thought this would be happening? 85 percent of the city was under water…We played for so much more than just ourselves­; we played for our city. We played for the entire Gulf Coast region. We played for the entire Who Dat nation that has been behind us every step of the way.”

Keep the lines of communication open

One Super Bowl translation of this concept could be: look for solutions, not someone to blame.  The Saints failed on a fourth-and-goal conversion near half-time that left them on the wrong end of a 10-3 score.   Pundits started sensing a blowout, but not the Saints.  Surely, Brees’ public comments echo the sideline focus on looking ahead, not behind. “When you get down that far and come away with nothing it’s disappointing, but we needed momentum going into halftime…the defense got it right back for us, and we at least had an opportunity to go down and score points …”  In the half-time locker room, still down 10-6, discussion apparently continued to center on goals instead of shortcomings.  The result? They opted for the gutsy opening move of an onside kick that that paid off in a Super Bowl Ring.

Give respect and appreciation

Let’s start with the game stats: in a 1300-word interview Brees used the word “I” just nine times.  The word “we”?  Try 59 times.  But communicating partnership is about more than pronoun choice.  Brees was quick to give credit where credit was due. “…we just all looked at one other and said, ‘We are going to rebuild together. We are going to lean on each other.’ That’s what we’ve done the last four years and this is the culmination in all that belief…So forever now, all of us, we will walk together as Super Bowl champions, world champions and bringing home the trophy to New Orleans.”

 Take a minute…right now.  What’s your game plan?  How can you be a better communicator, a better partner, a better leader?  Write it down…and we’d love for you to post it here or contact us.

Image by dewittrobinson
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