Communication is key in our connected world, yet it still doesn’t come easily to many of us. Eloquence comes from confidence, and confidence is something that can be learned and refined – with a little self-awareness and practise. ‘We’ve all been in situations where we’ve seen someone get it wrong,’ executive coach and motivational speaker Luke Cunliffe tells RISING. ‘You need to adapt your style to the situation. You don’t have to be a chameleon, but you do need to be agile to be a skilled communicator.’
The better you are at communicating your vision, the more likely you are to see it realised…
1. Think On Your Feet
You may remember the scene in The Terminator in which Arnold Schwarzenegger stands at the end of a hallway with his eyes gouged out. ‘The owner of the building shouts, “Is there a dead cat in there?” and you see the Terminator scroll through a list of possible replies until, “F*** you, ***hole,” appears – and that’s what he says. I would never use or recommend using that language to a client, but you should think about responses in a similar way,’ says Cunliffe.
So your responses have to be appropriate for the context, and professional, but you need to develop the ability to access and go through that list quickly to choose the right response for the outcome you want.
2. Talking Face To Face
Improving your own communication skills comes from observing others. Visual cues are vital, so keep your body open – no crossing your legs or folding your arms – and act appropriately. Smile if that’s the right thing to do, or act with gravitas if a serious tone is required. And then there’s eye contact. ‘I’d say two-thirds eye contact is appropriate, because you don’t want to stare,’ says Cunliffe. ‘When people talk they spend 50-60% of their time looking at their subject, but when you’re listening you will look at the person talking for around 80-90% of the time. As a speaker, think about how much more impact you’ll have if you can look at your subject ten per cent more. You’ll appear more confident, eloquent and trustworthy.’
‘If you lock eyes you’re locking horns, and locking means closing someone down’
The rules are slightly different if the conversation is confrontational, of course. ‘If you lock eyes you’re locking horns, and locking means closing someone down,’ says Cunliffe. ‘You must remain open and civil, and have eye contact without holding it. It needs to be assertive but not aggressive. Trust your intuition, too – if someone’s saying one thing in words but something else with their body language, trust the body language and respond to that.’
3. Bring Out The Adult In Others
Communication is easier if you’re dealing with someone on a level, which is where a form of therapy known as transactional analysis (TA) can be useful. This says that in any conversation the people involved will take the role of parent, adult or child. Within that there are controlling or nurturing parents, and there are rebellious or compliant children.
‘The ideal conversation is adult to adult, for those involved to speak, listen and hear each other,’ says Cunliffe. ‘But lots of managers take the role of parent, and lots of staff members take the role of child. That’s why you’ll hear a lot of people sound dismissive – “Yeah, yeah, I get it” – and then rebel against you later on. If you think about family dynamics you’ll see how things can go wrong, particularly because people slip into the roles they’re used to assuming. You’ll be a more skilled communicator if you’re able to bring out the adult in others.’
4. Hack The Phone
A lot of business communication is via the phone, but you don’t have any visual cues, so you need to pick up on the aural ones – when you’re deprived of one sense the others are heightened. So listen out for changes in tone, pace or octave. By listening for these things in others you’ll become better at controlling your own telephone voice.
‘Ask more questions, especially open questions, to gauge how people perceive what you’re saying,’ says Cunliffe. ‘Pause to allow them to ask questions – good communication isn’t a monologue. And think about your tone of voice. You’ve almost certainly been in a situation where someone is in tears on the phone and they’re trying to hide it – maybe they’ve been delivering bad news or vice versa. Think about how you handled that and what you might do better. You need to be able to manage any conversation, no matter how difficult.’
‘Any great speaker – whether it’s Churchill or Mandela – had an absolute belief that what they were saying was true’
5. Coping With An Audience
There are two main questions when it comes to public speaking: what does a great public speaker do? And why is public speaking difficult? ‘Essentially it’s the same question from a different perspective: the audience and the speaker,’ says Cunliffe. In short, by studying others with an analytical mind you can enhance your own public-speaking skills.
‘Work on voice projection and vary your tone, using clear, powerful and action-orientated words, and make sure the pace is appropriate for each section of the content,’ he says. ‘Rehearse in front of a mirror to check for any potentially distracting physical traits. Don’t be statuesque, but don’t be don’t be doing somersaults either. Public speaking is not theatre.’ Basically, you must be authentic. You don’t want your audience thinking they’re getting a fake ‘stage’ version of you.
‘One other thing with any great orator – Churchill, Mandela, Ghandi – is that they had an absolute belief that what they were saying was true,’ says Cunliffe. ‘Even if it wasn’t, they were utterly convinced. You can lie and be dishonest, even if it doesn’t show, but you won’t have the same conviction. What you’re saying won’t have the same power. And you won’t have as much charisma.’
WHAT NEXT? Cunliffe runs a course in public speaking and he’s often asked: ‘Can I teach charisma?’ ‘The usual answer is no,’ he says. ‘So what is charisma? It’s something you see from someone when they’re in the room with you, so it must be their behaviour. Can you teach, and learn, charismatic behaviour? Absolutely.’ There will be times when you’ve been charismatic, maybe one-on-one or in a small group. Think about how you said what you did, and then trying applying that the next time you need to communicate…