Raising the Stakes to Connect
I could see that she was a caring and honest leader, a woman who brought her integrity to work with her each day, who people trusted. But she spoke so quickly and her voice was so soft that it was hard to stay connected. I found my mind wandering, chewing on the million things left on my to-do-list. I wanted to be there for her, to be present, but it was hard.
Like this leader, many of us run into this challenge in our meetings, presentations and difficult conversations. We want to do a good job and we’re working really hard, but we’re having difficulty getting our message across. And if we want to make an impact, we’ve got to find a way to better connect to those around us. To own our power. We cannot afford to hold back.
Often when people talk about presenting, they get very prescriptive. “You need to speak up. Project more. Slow down.” And yet I’ve found that prescriptions like that don’t usually work, they simply mask the core of the problem. When someone, applying the prescriptive advice, goes to “speak up” they start to hyper-focus on their voice and all the things they’re doing wrong, and connect even less. The point is connection. Without connecting, it doesn’t matter how loud you speak, you won’t be heard.
At the core of the problem usually lies a confidence breach, something that all human beings have experienced at one time or another, but simply telling ourselves to “be more confident” doesn’t usually solve the problem. Confidence, I’ve learned, is rarely based on reality, but rather our perception of reality. We can be brilliant, talented and caring individuals and not recognize that part of ourselves in the mirror. Channeling old SNL sketches, repeating “I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!” is far from a quick-fix. We’ve got to find a way to get out of our own way in the moment – not 10 years down the road after a ton of therapy.
Something I’ve learned that makes a big difference in owning my power and taking the focus off myself, is to raise the stakes. When we raise the stakes, our body and voice automatically follow suit without us having to direct them. So instead of focusing on myself – on slowing down or talking louder – I can stay 100% focused on connecting with the individuals in the space with me. Paying attention to what they need. What’s happening for them.
When I tell myself, “I need to make sure that the woman in the back row understands how important this is.” or “If he leaves this meeting without understanding how critical he is to the success of this project, then I’ve failed.” forces me to speak more clearly, to articulate, and to slow down. I invest myself in their connection.
If my job, when I present, is to ensure that they really get what I’m trying to communicate rather than simply cover the content, then I have to be paying attention to the impact I’m having at all times, there’s no room to focus on myself. I have to speak slowly so that they can stay with me. I have to have access to the full range of my voice, not just to be louder, but to connect. Silence can be more powerful than a scream, and a whisper can hold people in the palm of your hand – if done to connect.
Whether you find yourself in a one-on-one meeting, speaking to a small team of 7, or presenting to thousands, your job is connection. Focus all your attention on the human beings in the space with you and make sure that nobody leaves that room without knowing in their heart and soul what you need them hear. For if they don’t hear you, you’re pretty much talking to yourself. The stakes are high.
Don’t worry about slowing down. Don’t worry about talking louder. Focus on one thing alone: Connection.
Imagine the impact you can have.