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3 Leadership Lessons From Tina Fey


Voice Pro Inc, Communication, Leadershipby Scott Danielson



Voice Pro, Tina Fey, BossypantsIn real life, Tina Fey is an Emmy winning writer, actress, and producer. This can be difficult to imagine given that her 30 Rock character, Liz Lemon, is completely clueless, especially when it comes to leadership. Once I began listening to Fey’s autobiographical audiobook, Bossypants, imagining Fey as a strong leader was nearly impossible. The more I heard Tina speak about her experiences, the more it seemed like Liz Lemon was a conduit for Fey’s personality. 

Despite describing her own book as “tales of cowardice”, Fey still offers some valuable leadership advice she learned from Saturday Night Live (SNL) producer Lorne Michaels. While these tips might seem TV specific, Lorne’s advice is applicable to leaders everywhere.

#1 Leadership Is Often About Discouraging Creativity

Considering the level of creativity required for a show like SNL, the idea that Lorne Michaels would turn down creative ideas seems counter-intuitive. That is, until Fey explains. One sketch, for example, called for a plain muffin on a white plate from the props department. Instead of accepting the simple design, the props department went wild and made a giant Santa muffin. Lorne then had to explain that what the scene needed was a simple muffin on a white plate.

Lorne’s advice is a call for balance. If your office is full of creative people, you will have to temper their wild ideas and maintain a practical point of view. On the other hand, an office that focuses entirely on productivity and ignores innovation will stagnate and fall behind. It’s up to the leader to maintain a sense of equilibrium.

#2 “We’re Ordering Dinner”

Using herself as an example, Tina explains Norm’s gentle style of critique. During an anthrax scare at NBC, shortly after September 11th, Fey happened to be working in the building.  When the story broke on TV, she escaped to her home, presumably to live out her final hours. There was no indication that anything was wrong with her.  A couple of hours later she received a call from Lorne: “We’re all here…we’re ordering dinner.”

As Fey is quick to point out, Lorne never said she was acting irrationally or told her she was being stupid. He simply offered her a guilt-free way to get back to work (She readily accepted).

Shaming your employees after truly foolish behavior is overkill. Unless, they’re completely oblivious, the guilty ones are already busy criticizing their actions. Instead, throw them a lifeline. Let them know their mistakes are forgivable and they’ll be able to rejoin the group without judgment. 

#3 When Hiring, Mix Harvard Nerds With Chicago Improvisers. Then Stir

Every workplace needs a diverse staff, especially the writers’ room of a sketch comedy show. Lorne Michaels has perfected this technique by grabbing the best from the famous Second City improv company in Chicago and comedy writers from Harvard University. The end result gives Saturday Night Live its famous blend of ridiculous characters and clever satire. Fey has followed suit in 30 Rock’s writer’s room by filling it with the aforementioned Improvisers and Nerds and even “two dirtbags.”

If the success of both shows is any indication, a diverse staff is not only crucial for a balanced office but also diverse ideas. Fey explains what SNL would be like with nothing but Second City alumni:

“To generalize with abandon….If you have nothing but improvisers, the whole show would be loud drag characters named Vicki and Staci screaming their catchphrase over and over, ‘YOU KISS YOUR MOTHER WITH THAT FACE!?”

Just like a successful TV show, a good company needs employees who balance each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

Though her signature character may blurt out phrases like "aw nerds" and "blerg," Tina Fey's life in showbusiness has given her some unique and powerful insights about leadership. So learn from Lorne, just like Tina did, and start leading more effectively! 

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Imagine Provided By Michelle Wright

Choking: 5 Lessons From Olympic Losers


Voice Pro, Public Speaking, Communicationby Leslie Dickson


London Olympics, 2012In the gold medal rush of the Olympic games, we love to see the historic victories, the powerful stories, and the come-from-behind finishes. But experts tell us there’s a lot to be learned from the losers – as painful as the lessons might be. A book called Choke by Sian Beilock, which was recently reviewed in Smithsonian magazine, is a study of why athletes choke. Simply put, the stress of high expectations interferes with the winning mindset of their long, hard training.   According to Beilock, top athletes literally think too much. Here’s how it works. Through the physical practice, athletes have trained their mind to bypass the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain where much of our conscious thought – and nervousness -- takes place. Instead, they’ve developed a sort of “muscle memory” of the mind. Under pressure, the rattled athletes revert to “normal” thinking patterns and lose that edge. 

Sound familiar? It should. It happens to many of us in presentations, the work world’s performance sport. The crowd gathers, all eyes are on us, the stakes feel higher and higher and higher…just without the international judges and scoreboard. It’s so similar, in fact, it got me to thinking about strategies for fearless presentations that mirror athletes’ choke-proofing concepts.

#1 Train hard.

If you’re going for the gold you don’t – you can’t – wait until the night before the games to get started. Allow plenty of time to get your presentation ready, look for ways to sharpen it and then practice to get comfortable with your message. You’re helping develop that mental muscle memory we talked about.

#2 Let go of the defeats.

The Smithsonian article recounts the story of Dan O’Brian, the odds-on favorite to be American decathlon winner in the 1992 Olympics. He choked in the trials and didn’t even make the team. O’Brian reports that he watched the video of his defeat over and over as his way of putting the past behind him and moving ahead. In 1996, O’Brien won the gold medal. The same is true for all of us. A win starts with a decision not to let past performance hold us back. 

#3 Check your stance.

Like golfers and runners, speakers need to find their form. A sturdy, open stance makes you feel as strong as you look. When you’re hunched and drawn up small it’s a sign of – and an invitation to – the “yips”.

#4 Run the game in your mind.

A reporter who saw the great American athlete Jim Thorpe relaxing prior to the Olympics asked him what he was doing. Thorpe replied that he was practicing the high jump in his mind, and he’d just seen himself clearing the winning height.  In the actual completion, he did.   

#5 Don’t overthink it.

According to Beilock, golfers are told to distract themselves from stress by focusing on the dimples on their golf balls. I recommend concentrating on your audience and what you want them to take away – not what you’re going to do. 

Next time you step up to the presentation arena, remember this gold medal game strategy: a winning presentation is all in your head.

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The Amazing Spiderman: 3 Tips For Updating Your Speech


Voice Pro Inc, Communication Skillsby Scott Danielson



Voice Pro Inc, Public Speaking, Communication SkillsOver the Independence Day weekend, audiences around the globe flocked to see the new incarnation of America’s favorite wall crawler, Spider-Man. Before the movie was released, however, critics and fans alike asked if a new Spider-Man film was even necessary. A fair question, considering the previous incarnation of Spider-Man had already been completed, granted somewhat disappointingly, only five years ago. Would the material feel fresh? Could a new cast and crew produce the same thrilling experience of years past?

Speakers and business presenters have similar problems. Unless you’re unveiling a new product or announcing a scientific breakthrough, the chances are good your material isn’t all that new. How can you hope to engage your audience if they’ve heard it all before? Take some lessons from Spider-Man’s latest adventure.

#1 Keep the Core

There are some things you cannot change about Spider-Man. He’s a teenage nerd who was bitten by a spider that gave him superhuman strength and the ability to stick to walls. He swings around New York using rope-like webs, and he embraces the life of a hero after personal tragedy. These are all familiar aspects of the character. They’re also the core of Spiderman’s appeal.

If you change your core message or tried-and-true selling points, make sure the change is a necessity and not an obligatory change. In VoicePro®’s Speak Present Influence ™ workshop, many of our clients believe critiques of their presentations are a call to start from scratch. Not, so. Unnecessary change is an easy way to lose your target audience. Instead, try honing in on your central theme (at VoicePro® we call this a Throughline) and build around it. This way your message remains not only intact, but fresh at the same time.

#2 Put Your Own Spin on It (Pun Definitely Intended)

With critics already geared up to declare this Spider-Man movie superfluous, director Marc Webb (perfect, right?) and company knew they’d have to make it their own. To do so, they gave Spider-Man a sarcastic sense of humor, put him on the run from the police, added a new villain and love interest, and delved into the mysterious past of his parents. It’s still a Spider-Man story, but it’s certainly a departure from the previous films.

When you’re speaking in front of a group, personality is the easiest way to stand out. Take Rory Sutherland, a British advertising executive and successful TED speaker. For those unfamiliar with the conference TED is a nonprofit dedicated to spreading worthwhile ideas from entertainment to scientific breakthrough. Participants now speak on a variety of issues at conferences around the world and earning time to speak is considered a great honor. Although his speeches are filled with powerful data about the power of perspective, Rory stands out because of his excellent use of humor and storytelling abilities. The end result is speeches that are likeable, memorable, and effective. If you want a more memorable speech, don’t look for statistics, look for humanity.

#3 Don’t Forget To Have Fun

Portraying an iconic character like Spider-Man isn’t easy, especially if you’re British. Although nobody doubted his acting prowess, fans were concerned about the British born Andrew Garfield donning the red and blue spandex. Thankfully, Garfield won over nay sayers during his public interviews. At the San Diego Comic Con (a huge convention that focuses on all things superhero), he entered a panel discussion as an audience member in a store bought Spider-Man costume and gushed about how he looked up to Spider-Man as a kid. On the Daily Show, Garfield revealed a photo journal he made of himself doing comical things while in costume (i.e. using a public restroom). He needed to cut loose, he told Jon Stewart, because, “no one wants to hear you complain about being Spider-Man.” He even acknowledged that he too would be concerned if a Brit were cast in this iconic American role.

Garfield’s PR was brilliant because it revealed his love for the character. He fearlessly addressed criticism right up front and displayed a great self-deprecating sense of humor.

A stiff speaker is difficult to watch or get excited about.  So set the tone and let your audience know it’s okay to have fun. One way is to tell a story where you’re the butt of the joke. The audience will realize you don’t take yourself too seriously and that your presentation will have its lighter moments.

Whether you're touching up a sales pitch or refining your latest speech, you don't need to start from scratch.  Instead try for a Spider-Man inspired reinvention. Add humanity and humor to infuse your presentation with memorable new life.

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Contact us for more information about VoicePro workshops.

Image provided by kuruvata

The Body Chemistry of Successful Leaders


Voice Pro, Posture, Communication Skills

by Leslie Dickson


Voice Pro, Posture, Body Language, Communication SkillsIt’s intuitive that comfortable, natural body language is the strong foundation for presentation skills and executive presence. But now it seems proven by science – as seen in the work of Amy Cuddy, a Harvard Business School professor. Her research, which I saw in Wired Magazine, suggests that body language doesn’t just convey power to an audience, it actually makes you more powerful.  

Let’s review the biochemistry. Strong leaders (men or women) exhibit high levels of testosterone and low levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol. Taking control of a leadership position, raises the first, lowers the second.  

Now here’s the surprise. When Cuddy’s research subjects stood tall, with arms and legs stretched out instead of hugging close to the body, their testosterone rose and their cortisol dropped. They felt more powerful simply by striking a more powerful pose. 

The truth is, we’ve known the power of body language all along. VoicePro® Clients experience the transformation every day, even those who are skeptical in the beginning. Now there’s data to explain it. Here are a few more ways to use body language to be a more effective speaker and leader – and I invite Professor Cuddy to get started on the biochemical foundation for the observable facts.

  • When sitting, own your space. Don’t slump and keep your body open. Spread your meeting materials in front of you. It conveys that your confident and ready to engage.

  • Breathe deeply. It will calm and focus you. 

  • Be aware how hand gestures betray your emotions. Wild movement betrays nervousness; clinched fists signal anger or frustration.   

  • Make eye contact. It will help you engage an audience when speaking and focus your attention on others when they are. Remember that a smile or nod in response to a speaker signals that you’re hearing.

Are you ready to strengthen your presentation and leadership skills? First, strike a strong pose for two minutes. Then give VoicePro a call and we’ll talk more.       

Get communication and leadership advice from VoicePro on Twitter!

Contact us for more information about VoicePro workshops.

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