He was waiting in the back of the room after I gave a speech. I noticed him out of the corner of my eye, a young man who obviously wanted to ask me something. If you’ve spoken to large groups, you’re used to this. Someone who has a question but didn’t get called on during the Q&A or who only wants to raise a question privately.
When I turned to him, he shifted to the other foot, his nervousness seemingly evaporating with the movement. He confidently asked a question that I have heard in various forms over the years. “Skip, you’ve been the CEO of some large companies. What do I need to do to get promoted at work?”
It’s a simple question and the answer could be extensive. There’s so much to learn about leadership that it’s almost a paralyzing question.
Fortunately, it wasn’t new to me and so I had a ready answer.
“Work harder on yourself than you do on your job.” -Jim Rohn
There really are three skills that I think help you stand out at work. When these three skills are mastered, it isn’t always apparent why the person is promoted. It just seems natural.
In other words, sales skills. Many people think of sales in the wrong way. They think of it as manipulation or “pushing something.” The greatest sales people, persuaders, and influencers are not pushing a false narrative or unethically exploiting others. They are great listeners, look for ways to help solve problems, and are genuinely interested in others.
Influence is a complex skill worthy of filling volumes of books. It is not only based on what you do, but on who you are. Helping others become influential is one of the major goals of this website. It’s my hope that regular readers will see their persuasion and influence grow over time.
“The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.” -Ken Blanchard
In other words, public speaking. It may be in small groups or in large ones, but those who overcome the fear of speaking – and become good at it – are significantly more likely to see promotions than those who don’t.
Over ten years ago, I found myself in a class for leaders and managers. After building rapport and working to create a safe environment of trust, the class facilitator decided to have us go around the room and share our insecurities and fears. The coach was specifically homing in on our weaknesses and asking for us to be transparent with others in the room.
As we worked around a small circle, one woman was visibly nervous. When it was her turn, it was as if someone flipped a switch and turned her red. She stumbled over her words as she explained how fearful she was to speak in public. Even in a safe situation with supportive friends, she still was nervous to share. We learned that she even had nightmares where she was in front of a room, perched behind a podium, and she misplaced her notes and looked out at a sea of unforgiving faces. Another attendee encouraged her and told her that she was better off avoiding these events so she didn’t trigger her fears.
The fear of public speaking grips many people who avoid it at all costs.
I want to share why this “avoidance thinking” is toxic to aspiring leaders.
“Fear the fear of public speaking and do it anyway.” –Arvee Robinson
Recently, I spoke to my local chapter of Toastmasters and shared 7 reasons why learning to speak in public is vitally important.
1. Overcome your fear.
There’s enormous power in mastering and overcoming a fear, whatever it is. I can recall the smile on a new rock climber’s face when he conquered his fear. “I have never felt so alive and free,” he said to me soon after completing his climb. That same feeling happens if you overcome a fear of public speaking, and – at least to me – it’s a whole lot easier than climbing a mountain.
“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak, and to sit down and listen.” –Winston Churchill
When you not only are able to overcome your fear but also become proficient at it, then your confidence soars. Confidence is often more compelling than competence. I don’t know what happened to the nervous woman after the class ended, but during the few days of our classes, she saw remarkable improvement. You could feel her confidence building.
“Competence without confidence just doesn’t cut it.” –Derek Lewis
Great public speakers attract opportunities. Why? Speaking makes you visible. You’re in front of the room, so that’s rather obvious. But the fact is that your credibility is enhanced. You become an expert.
“It’s all right to have butterflies in your stomach, just get them to fly in formation.” –Rob Gilbert
Leadership is all about influence, about persuasion, about taking people from one point and moving them to another. Speaking is part of that process of persuasion and often the most powerful part. Anything that helps increase your influence is generally a good move.
“All the great speakers were bad speakers at first.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
When I was growing up, I spent many weekends camping with my Boy Scout Troop in pursuit of my Eagle Scout badge. One thing I remember about those trips was the campfires and the stories we told. From the scary to the hilarious, those stories created an environment as we entertained each other. No devices, no distractions, just stories.
We may live in a different time, but the power of story remains an important part of memory, of persuasion, and of leadership.
My whole life I’ve been a student of success. Many people are surprised to learn that it’s not always technical expertise, extensive training, or even the highest I.Q. that creates sustainable success. There are a range of other skills that are critically important.
Author Judith Glaser is an expert in conversations. Her new book, Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results makes the latest research from neuroscience accessible and practical for all of us to apply immediately. Judith is the CEO of Benchmark Communications, Inc. whose clients range from American Express to IBM. She helps people boost Conversational Intelligence (C-IQ). I reached out to her to learn more about her work.
“Everything happens through conversations!” -Judith E. Glaser
Most of us think of conversations as casual, but you reveal that they are much more than what they appear. What has your research revealed about the power and importance of conversation?
Conversational Intelligence is the intelligence hardwired into every human being to enable us to navigate successfully with others. Through language and conversations, we learn to build trust, to bond, to grow to each other, and to create our societies. There is no more powerful skill hardwired into every human being than the wisdom of conversations.
Conversations are not just the words we use when engaging with others. Our 35 years of research shows that conversations are the golden thread that keeps human beings connected relationally, neuro-chemically, and energetically. Our brain has the ability to ‘signal’ us when the connection feels like ‘distrust’ or when we feel ‘trust.’
Conversations happen like this:
Our conversations take place against the backdrop of our brain chemistry. Our state of mind – and our level of trust and distrust – directly impacts what kinds of conversations we have and how we interpret them. Equally so, our conversations impact how much we trust someone, or don’t.
Brain chemistry is like a symphony, moving us to higher or lower levels of trust or distrust as we converse with others. The brain is where trust lives or dies, and if we are threatened during our conversations, we activate the distrust networks, and if we are feeling trust, we activate the trust networks. According to Angelika Dimoka, Temple University, Fox School of Business, distrust takes place in the lower brain (the amygdala and limbic areas) and trust takes place in the higher brain (the prefrontal cortex).
In other words, the distrust, or fear network, closes down most of our thinking brain, giving power to our emotional and action brain, while the trust network opens up access to our executive brain – the neo-cortex and prefrontal cortex.
“Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.” -Carl Jung
All human beings, from the time they were born, can access 3 Levels of Conversation. We are hardwired for all 3.
Level I: Informational conversations are transactional – we are most interested in giving or receiving information. These conversations remain at Level I, and don’t activate fear networks, stimulate questions about the impact of the transaction, nor lead to deep exploration of consequences or building strategies and plans. This level is informational.
Level II: Positional conversations are designed to bring clarity, understanding and influence how the other person feels and thinks. We advocate our own opinions and inquire into others’ perspectives. If this inquiry is based on shared curiosity and respect, conversations will be healthy, and the networks of trust will be activated.
But if one or more participants are more focused on making a point or taking a stand, conversations turn to debate, signaling to our brain that we are dealing not with a ‘friend’ but a ‘foe.’ In response, the brain releases cortisol and closes down, or the amygdala becomes hijacked.
Copyright Judith Glaser. Used by permission.
Conversational Intelligence enables us to learn to control this release. Rather than jumping to conclusions, we can instead “wait and see” how the other person reacts. If the other person shows trust, fairness, or reciprocity, then we can sustain healthy brain chemistry and build trust, creating a culture where people are open to share, discover and co-create.
Level III: Relational Conversations build meaning and create connections, which release oxytocin, the bonding hormone. When we care about what others think and feel, our brain senses not only safety; the prefrontal cortex ‘reads’ oxytocin as a signal to trust and open up. As a result, our conversations become innovative, co-creational and energizing. These conversations are the most likely to result in higher levels of partnering, trust, and innovation.
“Those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” -J.F.K.
All of us love a good story. We are swept into the latest book or blockbuster film or we are enthralled by a particularly talented storyteller in our office. Those who tell a story well have our attention.
Leaders should strive to be good storytellers, painting a vivid scene and picture of what’s ahead. That’s the art of persuasion and influence. It’s also the skill of most sales leaders, who use narratives to explain a difficult concept. We are creatures who love a good story.
“At the end of the day, people follow those who know where they’re going.” -Jack Trout
You witnessed, first-hand, the power of a sales story when you purchased some art. Would you briefly share that with us?
Sure. Last summer my wife, Lisa, and I were at an art show in Cincinnati. She was on a mission to find a piece for our boys’ bathroom wall at home.
At one point we found ourselves at the booth of an underwater photographer named Chris Gug. Looking through his work, Lisa got attached to a picture that, to me, looked about as out of place as a pig in the ocean. It was a picture of a pig in the ocean! Literally. A cute little baby piglet, up to its nostrils in salt water, snout covered with sand, dog-paddling its way straight into the camera lens.
When I got my chance, I asked the seller (named Gug) what on Earth that pig was doing in the ocean. And that’s when the magic started.
He said, “Yeah, it was the craziest thing. That picture was taken in the Caribbean, just off the beach of an uninhabited Bahamian island named Big Major Cay.” He told us that years ago, a local entrepreneur brought a drove of pigs to the island to raise for bacon.
Then he said, “But, as you can see in the picture, there’s not much more than cactus on the island for them to eat. And pigs don’t much like cactus. So the pigs weren’t doing very well. But at some point, a restaurant owner on a nearby island started bringing his kitchen refuse by boat over to Big Major Cay and dumping it a few dozen yards off shore. The hungry pigs eventually learned to swim to get to the food. Each generation of pigs followed suit, and now all the pigs on the island can swim. As a result, today the island is more commonly known as Pig Island.”
Gug went on to describe how the pigs learned that approaching boats meant food, so they eagerly swim up to anyone arriving by boat. And that’s what allowed him to more easily get the close-up shot of the dog-paddling piglet. He probably didn’t even have to get out of his boat.
I handed him my credit card and said, “We’ll take it!”
Why my change of heart? The moment before he shared his story (to me at least), the photo was just a picture of a pig in the ocean, worth little more than the paper it was printed on. But two minutes later, it was no longer just a picture. It was a story—a story I would be reminded of every time I looked at it. The story turned the picture into a conversation piece—a unique combination of geography lesson, history lesson, and animal psychology lesson all in one.
In the two minutes it took Gug to tell us that story, the value of that picture increased immensely. It’s the kind of story that I now refer to as a “value-adding” story because it literally makes what you’re selling more valuable to the buyer.
“Everyone is necessarily the hero of his own life story.” –John Barth
I could probably give you dozens of reasons, but here are my favorite 5.
Storytelling speaks to the part of the brain where decisions are actually made– Human beings make subconscious, emotional, and sometimes irrational decisions in one place in the brain and then justify those decisions rationally and logically in another place. So if you’re trying to influence buyers’ decisions, using facts and rational arguments alone isn’t enough. You need to influence them emotionally, and stories are your best vehicle to do that.
Stories are more memorable– Lots of studies show that facts are easier to remember if they’re embedded in a story than if they’re just given to you in a list. And you can prove that to yourself right now. All of you reading this know that by this time tomorrow you won’t remember this list of 5 things. But you will remember the story of Pig Island. And next week, next month, or next year, you’ll be able to tell the Pig Island story and get most of the facts right. But you won’t remember any of the 5 things in this list.
Stories can increase the value of the product you’re selling– as you saw in the Pig Island story.
Stories are contagious– When’s the last time you heard someone say, “Wow! You’ll never believe the PowerPoint presentation I just saw!” Never. But they do say that about a great story.
Storytelling gives you a chance to be original– Most buyers have seen every pitch, tactic, and closing line in the book. They’ve heard them from you, your competitors, and the last three people who had your job. Storytelling gives you a chance to go “off script” and say something they won’t hear from anyone else.
Many people may think, “Oh sure, a sales person should be a good story teller.” But you turn that around and say it’s more important to have a buyer tell their story. I love that. Tell us more about that.
I figure if you don’t hear their stories first, how will you know which of your stories to tell?
A colleague of ours, Mike Weinberg, says it this way: “You wouldn’t trust a physician who walked into the examining room, spent an hour telling you how great he was, and then wrote a prescription, would you?” Of course not. Then why would a buyer accept the recommendation of a salesperson who did the same thing?