How to Build Trust in Your Team

Once there was a businessman on a routine domestic flight.

Though a seasoned flyer, he felt tense when, shortly after takeoff, the pilot asked everyone to stay in their seats with belts fastened. Moments later the pilot announced there would be no beverage service due to unexpected turbulence. People looked worried, and soon some were shrieking with alarm as a storm bounced the plane erratically.

Nearby, the man saw a little girl sitting all alone, but acting totally calm. When the plane jolted she closed her eyes briefly but eventually started reading, looking out the window, or fiddling with toys until the shaking subsided.

After the flight, the girl waited quietly as others exited. When the man approached and asked how she could be so brave, she said:

“My dad is the pilot, and he is taking me home.”

Weather the Storms

Does your team trust that you are taking them home?

When the clouds form and turbulence comes, do your people trust you to guide them through? Building trust may not be on your regular “to do” list, but it can cement a foundation so you can build high and strong.

Here are five tips to increase trust in your workplace or family today:

1. Show your vulnerabilities.

Great leaders are connected leaders, and people relate more with your weaknesses than your strength.

To truly connect with people you serve, it’s important to share not just strengths and victories but struggles and setbacks. Admit your mistakes. Apologize. Be proactive about gathering negative feedback. And use your own errors to teach or encourage others.

2. Regularly delegate authority.

Give trust to get trust.

If you run a regular staff meeting, occasionally have others develop the agenda or lead the discussion. No one enjoys a micromanager who constantly takes credit or dominates others. Step back into the shadows and you will build a wealth of relational currency.

3. Be transparent about money.

Sharing financial information can be a huge boon to the bottom line.

However, a 2016 study found that only 25 percent of privately held companies were sharing financial information with all of their employees. Whether your firm is publicly-traded or privately-held, the time you spend explaining and talking about results will allow team members to feel they are a valuable, integral part of your circle. And it helps people understand how they can positively impact the financial performance of the business as a whole.

4. Operate from a visible set of values.

If your firm lacks clear values, define them.

Mount them on walls, design strategic symbols to communicate them, or put a face on them by sharing testimonies of team members who are living the values. People thrive when they have context for their work and its importance to the bigger picture.

5. Don’t let difficult issues linger.

When times get tough, the clock on your credibility starts ticking.

Don’t allow difficult situations to corner you – instead confront them head-on and get your team involved too. The formation of problem-solving groups can energize your staff and provide opportunities to reward creativity and individual contributions. Groups can be tasked with brainstorming strategies or exploring new models.

If your “difficult issue” is a person, be intentional about heading off conflicts immediately. Be hard on the problem and soft on the person. Be assertive but courteous, addressing specific complaints and providing clear expectations about the response and timeframe needed to resolve them.

Trust is built through daily interactions and intentional gestures. You have many opportunities to gain trust each day. Work hard in the small things and you’ll weather storms with confidence!

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Perseverance: How to Know If It’s Time to Quit

Over the last two years, there has been a great buzz about 37-year-old tennis phenom Serena Williams.

Williams has 23 Grand Slam titles and a dominant career ranked number one for 319 weeks over 15 years. In 2017, Williams gave birth to her first daughter. Many wondered how motherhood would affect her career. Would she return with the same fight? Would she return at all?

Williams roared back to the semi-final of the 2018 U.S. Open and quickly regained top 10 rankings. Fans worldwide were inspired by her courage and moved by her transparency about her struggles.

Faced with a Crossroads

In life, you will face discouragement, wondering, “Is it time to quit? Should I alter my path or press on through resistance?”

On one hand, redirecting can be wise, helping you avoid harm or consider better alternatives. Conversely, quitting might weaken your character or prevent you from realizing an achievement that’s closer than you think.

Walter Mallory, an associate of inventor Thomas Edison, was expressing regret that the first nine thousand experiments with a battery yielded few results. Edison had a different perspective:

“Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results! I have found several thousand things that won’t work!”

To Fish or Cut Bait?

Politician Newt Gingrich said, “perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.”

Pressing on in a project can build character, enhance your skill set, and build confidence that can only come through trial. The best leaders are those who’ve been tested.

When tempted to quit, ask yourself whether other alternatives seem tangible or rewarding. Does a change seem realistic? Could you tweak certain variables to make a situation more bearable? Perhaps your moments of greatest discouragement are those when you’re actually closest to breakthrough!

But whoever said “quitters never win” may have been wrong. Quitting is scary, but sometimes continuing is worse. Stubbornness can destroy important relationships, blind you to better alternatives, or make you oblivious to your destruction. It might be time to quit when:

  • Continuing will destroy friendships, family, health, or your character
  • Despite loads of effort, you don’t see results
  • You find yourself growing numb to red flags
  • The proceeding may eliminate other options
  • You’ve lost all joy or energy

In 2010, Mexican golfer Lorena Ochoa shocked fans when she retired at 28. At that time, she was ranked number one in the world, a winner of two major championships and millions in prize money.

An impulsive decision? Ochoa says no. From early in her career, Ochoa wanted to marry and raise a family without golf, projecting about 10 years on the tour.

“ . . . For me, getting married and having a family, that was more important,” Ochoa said. “Now that I’m a mother, I wouldn’t change that for anything in the world and I feel blessed. I’m really, really happy that I made the decision at the right time and now I can enjoy 100% this second stage of my life.”

Looking back, Ochoa said knowing there was a definite “end” actually helped her game:

“When I was in a difficult position and I was either upset or tired or angry or disappointed, I keep saying, ‘OK, y’know I have three or four years left. I’m going to do it and continue and I’m going to put everything into it’ . . . When I look back and I see what I did, I just feel even luckier because I made the right decision at the perfect time.”

Ochoa’s courage may inspire you to think of it this way: perhaps it’s time to quit when saying no to the good means you can say YES to the best.

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Avoid These 3 Management Blunders (with Four Teamwork Tweaks)

Want to liven up your next dinner party?

Just ask people for their “worst boss” stories. Here are some painful (anonymous) stories from those who’ve lived to share:

“When I was an intern at a PR firm, my manager would make me run her personal errands (pick up dry cleaning, ship things, drive her and her friends to SXSW events, etc.). She would get my attention by calling me ‘Intern.’ Needless to say, when they asked me to stay on full-time, I politely declined.”

“I once had a boss who multi-tasked in meetings by being on her phone and present in the meeting. In both 1:1’s and in group settings she would shift her attention constantly from the speaker to her phone—back and forth, back and forth . . . At first, I just thought she was extremely busy, and it was the only way for her to get everything done—until one day, I caught her doing crossword puzzles on her phone while doing a check-in with me.”

“I once had a boss who, while I was replying to a question addressed to me by their boss in a meeting, actually put their hand less than an inch in front of my face to silence me so that they could answer instead.”

Whether you’re the CEO, an intern, or a new manager, working with others is a key part of success in every job. But managing well while empowering others requires a delicate balance.

Beyond learning the names of your interns, here are four tweaks you can make in your leadership.

Listen

Good listening is essential to management, and it begins long before you start a meeting.

Keys to listening well include generating questions in advance, keeping an open mind, and not jumping to conclusions before or during conversations. Don’t assume you know what someone is thinking; instead, listen with the intent of understanding before “solving.” And give your team conversational breathing room by personally checking in for “no good reason” on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. You may be surprised by what they share!

Pair Criticism with Compliments

The Harvard Business Review says a good rule of thumb is to give more praise than criticism, but surveys show that 40% of respondents claim they never gave positive reinforcement.

People need a balance of both praise and criticism in order to thrive. Top performing teams typically give five positive comments for every critique.

Distinguish Between Personal and Organizational Issues

Employees will have challenges, and it’s your job to address them.

But workplace problems are typically either personal or organizational and treating them differently can be hugely helpful. Personal problems should be handled with compassion and accountability. But organizational issues may involve hiring, restructuring, or strategic planning. Don’t confuse bad attitudes with bad workflow policies!

Finish Meetings with a Question

Want to boost communication in your team?

Conclude every meeting with this question: is there anything else? Whatever is top of mind (concerns, challenges, excitement) will bubble to the surface quickly. This question signals you care and gives people permission to share things that aren’t explicitly on the agenda. Try it and see what happens!

From mediating personality clashes to enabling great leaders, your management skills are the key to growing great teams. Keep the conversations flowing as you encourage others, and your business will flourish.

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How to Keep Your Business Focused Through the Subtle Danger of Mission Drift

Life is full of good opportunities.

Good books to read, good events to attend, good projects to pioneer. But good things can knock us off track in pursuing the very best.

What does “the best” look like in your leadership?

It means doing what you are uniquely called to do in the style that is distinct to your personality, position, and organizational DNA. Living “the best” in leadership means that your most important job isn’t to manage the budget, to develop new products, or even to lead your team.

Your most important task is to continually cast vision.

The subtle tension every leader will face is the reality of mission drift. Mission drift happens when we are pulled off of our message or our mission, whether intentionally or accidentally. This can be an irresistible force that results in loss of momentum or a crisis of identity, so strategic leaders build in measures to continually recalibrate. If you don’t prioritize vision casting, you may end up navigating a ship that’s going in an entirely different direction than you intended.

How can you build strategic safeguards to keep your organization focused? Here are a few steps.

One Key Leader

Begin by enlisting one board member or key staff person who is committed to alignment.

Be sure they buy into your team’s mission and charge them with safeguarding its integrity. When opportunities arise that may detract from the mission, it’s great to have someone speaking up (perhaps against the majority!) or analyzing decisions from a broader perspective.

A Focused Core Team

Do everything you can to focus your core team around the mission.

Set times to swap stories about where you recently saw the “mission win” and publicly acknowledge those who are keeping the main thing the main thing. Exit or discipline people who don’t, even if they perform well in other areas. If your core team is sold out to the mission, it will pay bigger dividends in the long run.

A Culture of Mission

Your mission should be more than a vague concept on your website, but a regular part of the professional experience.

Use stories and symbols to embed purpose in your culture so people encounter it daily:

  • Mount core values on the walls. Use them as a guide for decisions and a platform for sharing new initiatives.
  • Design strategic symbols (racetracks, funnels, etc.) to communicate process. 65 percent of people are visual learners, and concepts become memorable when they’re connected with an image.
  • Put a face on success by sharing testimonials (in person or through letters) from people who have been positively affected by the vision. Illustrations exemplify goals and make heroes of people who are living the mission.
  • Use slogans to cement conviction. Ritz-Carlton hotels use the motto, “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen” to exemplify the anticipatory service provided by all staff members. Simple slogans, shared repeatedly with conviction, can motivate people to do things they would normally never do.

When coaching your team, provide concrete actions that explain how you’ll achieve your vision.

Use results-oriented descriptions (like, “you’ll know you’ve done a good job when _____.”) Outline action steps to take and celebrate mile markers achieved. Enlist creative people who can help you celebrate daily victories.

Wandering is natural. If you don’t strategically refocus people around a singular vision, your organization will fail to thrive. Lean on these strategies and safeguard your team from the dangerous drift that every leader will face.

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Use Game-Based Learning to Train Your Employees

Ethel Merman thought people should lighten up to really live, crooning these lyrics in 1931:

“Life is just a bowl of cherries: don’t take it serious, it’s too mysterious . . .

Life is just a bowl of cherries, so live and laugh at it all!”

Is life all fun and games? Definitely not.

But leadership experts are finding that one of the best ways to train people is by helping them laugh and compete as they learn through play.

United States… Gaming?

Recently, the US Army employed “serious gaming” to address challenges in their leadership training.

While soldiers were very capable in weapons and war strategies, the Army found its forces need to grow in their soft skills by increasing familiarity with the values, norms, and cultures where they were deployed.

First Person Cultural Trainer, a gaming simulation, was developed specifically to help junior leaders understand the consequences of their speech, body language, temperaments, and choices. Trainees used a 3D avatar to interact and work with individuals in a foreign community and to gain feedback on how their choices affected their ability to build rapport. Students progressed through four levels of gaming to build communication, interpersonal, and intelligence gathering skills.

Games for the Win

Advances in game-training strategies have steered many organizations toward a more recreational focus in their corporate cultures.

Games and stories are a fundamental part of human life: according to one study done by Essential Facts, in 2016 more than 60% of households in America had someone playing video games regularly. Humans excel in games because we love reward-based challenges, especially when objectives become progressively harder or more addictive!

To embed gaming in their corporate training culture Cisco used a “LiveOps” call center to challenge competing agents, ultimately reducing call time by 15% and improving sales by an average of 10%.

A Colorado restaurant gamified its objective to increase sales of specific menu items. When they sold a 4-pack of cinnamon rolls, staff could play online “point-yielding games,” and reward points were redeemable for a branded debit card. One study estimated this restaurant realized a 66.2% ROI due to the increase in sales productivity.

Why do games work? Game training is effective because it:

  • Motivates employees to surpass expectations or to complete training exercises
  • Allows people to fail and try again without negative repercussions
  • Makes time for real-time reflection and feedback sessions
  • Grows individual confidence in carrying out tasks (as people practice, break challenges into micro-learning segments, and accurately perceive their ability to succeed)

Game Options of Your Own

Want to improve productivity or increase the cost-effectiveness of your team training?

Games offer hands-on, motivating opportunities that can be used over and over. Purchase simulations like GameLearn training platforms, or consider three hands-on options of your own:

1. New Hire Scavenger Hunt.

Whether it’s a physical or online hunt for facts, facilities, or people, get people competing and moving and calm their nerves in the process.

2. Product Knowledge Mix and Match.

Employees take turns being introduced to a variety of customers (including purchasing needs, budget, or personal background).

Players then compete to match the best product to each customer while negotiating a deal or completing the sale.

3. “What If” Training Simulations.

These games give teams the opportunity to explore hypothetical situations.

If they made XX decision, what would happen? Assign real-life tasks and challenges, allow teams to collaborate and present options, and process together about the benefits or consequences of the strategies they chose. Added bonus: supervisors learn alongside employees and gain hands-on experience in leading their teams!

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True Empathy Can Win the Day

 

A farmer had a litter of puppies for sale. As he was driving the last nail into his advertising yard sign, he felt a tug at his overalls. “Mister,” said a boy at his feet, “I want to buy a puppy.”

“Well,” said the farmer, “These puppies come from fine parents and cost lots of money. How much do you have?”

The boy dropped his head momentarily, then drew several coins from his pocket. “I don’t have much, but is this enough to take a look?”

The farmer paused reluctantly but before he could answer three puppies rolled out of the doghouse. One tiny, awkward pup hobbled behind. The boy’s eyes lit up. “I want that one,” he exclaimed, pointing to the runt. The man shook his head solemnly. “Son, that puppy will never be able to run and play like the others.”

The boy rolled up his trousers to reveal a steel brace running down both sides of one leg. “I do want that puppy. I don’t run too well myself, and he’ll need someone who understands him.”

That day the boy won the puppy because he moved the farmer’s heart. Why? Because empathy impacts people. Researchers define empathy as the ability to sense other people’s emotions and to imagine how they might be thinking or feeling. Empathy is essential to human interactions because it allows us to connect in authentic ways and to offer helpful words, comfort, or assistance. Empathy is essential in every human interaction but is especially significant for those in customer service.

Empathy Begins with Real Listening

Would you like to be more successful in minimizing difficult situations or by helping customers overcome their hesitations as you’re trying to make a sale?

All empathy begins with real listening. As you listen with empathy, ask questions like:

  • “How is this situation affecting you?”
  • “Can you tell me more about _____?”
  • “What do you think would be your ideal outcome here?”

As a person processes, take care not to interrupt. While you may not be equipped to address their concerns, asking empathetic questions can shift your focus to listen more effectively, opening new lines of communication and diffusing tension so everyone can move forward.

Empathy involves reflective listening, using phrases that demonstrate your understanding. Phrases that show customers you are taking customers seriously might include:

  • “I can understand how frustrating it is when . . .”
  • “I see this is very complicated/upsetting.”
  • “I’m sorry to hear that and I’ll do my best to help.”

Pair Compassion with Action

As you communicate compassion, be ready to follow your words with action.

Take ownership of a situation by following up immediately, by referring it to a superior, or by positively addressing both the person and the problem. Phrases like, “ok, we can fix this,” or “let’s get this sorted out right away,” will reassure customers you’re taking ownership of the problem.

Action-based empathy also means thinking outside the box for large-scale change. Erin Henkel, portfolio director at the IDEO global design and innovation company, says often positive innovation begins with empathy:

“Effective companies need employees who constantly imagine themselves in the customer’s shoes. As they make the customer’s problems their own, they are better able to meet expectations, make necessary changes, and to retain customer loyalty for another day.”

Being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is a hallmark of intelligent leadership and of excellent teamwork. Work hard to grow empathy and you will open new lines of communication, create greater understanding, and help everyone achieve common goals.

 

 

 

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Use Self-Mailers to Boost Your Visibility

 

Looking to target prospects with confident, eye-catching designs?

Consider a self-mailer that you send through the U.S. Postal Service’s EDDM (Every Door Direct Mail) program. This cost-effective marketing solution helps you target individual zip codes or carrier routes for a significantly reduced cost.

What is a Self-Mailer?

A self-mailer is something that can be mailed without an envelope, including anything from a simple postcard to an elaborate booklet.

Self-mailers are a great medium for stunning photos and eye-catching graphics. While e-mail inboxes are currently overflowing, physical mailboxes are not. A splashy, bold design holds great potential to be seen and shared!

A superb self-mailer can have several advantages over envelope mailings:

1. Self-mailers cost less.

Self-mailers are simple: often, they have just one sheet of paper (no need to stuff envelopes or match the contents of your letter with its packaging). Postage can be cheaper for a self-mailer, especially when you use postcards or fold-over flyers.

2. Self-mailers are more likely to be seen, remembered, or shared.

While envelope mailings are typically opened and read by just one person, self-mailers are often passed along to others or laid in visible places like the kitchen counter. Coupons or event invitations are placed on the fridge or in strategic visible locations. The bold graphics and easy accessibility of self-mailers can help people remember your message long after it’s been sent.

3. Self-mailers help you connect with loyal customers.

Whether you’re promoting an event or sending product notifications, targeting previous customers can dramatically increase response rates. Self-mailers send a personal message in a vibrant, practical package.

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Self-mailers can be used as postcards offering discounts on home maintenance and repairs, as fold-over letters from community leaders, as fundraising pieces from non-profits, as brochures and pamphlets, or even for product inventory catalogs.

These flexible products bring a clean design, a clear message, and concrete results. Looking for EDDM tips or for full graphic design services for your mailer? We’ve got years of experience and we’re just a phone call away. Give us a call today!

 

 

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How to Chart Your New Future

Looking to grow personally or professionally, but not sure where to start?

Last week we examined the incredible benefits of lifelong learning. Increased cognitive function increases the health of the entire body, and continued education sparks social engagement (as we learn from and WITH others) that brings confidence and delight. Research suggests that people with strong social connections tend to be happier and live longer.

Whether you feel supported by your employer or not, here are four simple avenues that will enrich your life and help you grow:

  1. Stretch Yourself.

The first step in continued growth is to assess your buy-in.

Check out last week’s article for more detail on jump-starting your own motivation.

  1. Ask Others to Stretch You.

Baseball legend Yogi Berra commented, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up somewhere else.”

Perhaps one of our greatest obstacles is our lack of perspective. In the daily grind, it can be hard to identify or address our weaknesses and our virtues. Consider a coach or mentor to help you assess where you’re at and chart intentional steps toward positive change.

Can you find someone in your company who might have coffee with you on a monthly or quarterly basis? Is there someone in your field or professional network (even LinkedIn) who might fill this strategic role? Is it worth contracting a life or career coach (or even an organizational consultant) to help you maximize potential? Surgeon Atul Gawande makes this compelling argument:

“Élite performers, researchers say, must engage in ‘deliberate practice’—sustained, mindful efforts to develop the full range of abilities that success requires. You have to work at what you’re not good at. In theory, people can do this themselves. But most people do not know where to start or how to proceed. Expertise, as the formula goes, requires going from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence to conscious competence and finally to unconscious competence. The coach provides the outside eyes and ears and makes you aware of where you’re falling short. This is tricky. Human beings resist exposure and critique; our brains are well defended. So, coaches use a variety of approaches—showing what other, respected colleagues do, for instance, or reviewing videos of the subject’s performance. The most common, however, is just conversation.”

  1. Read.

Reading is one of life’s simple pleasures and a commonly overlooked asset.

Reading broadens perspective, improves memory, and dramatically reduces stress. Make a point to read professional development articles, books on business topics, or personal development pieces that will sharpen your skills or spark curiosity. An energized mind is a productive mind, so dedicate time each week to read or listen to audio books (maybe as you sit in traffic) and you won’t regret it!

  1. Pursue Life-Giving Conversations. Most people are experiential learners, growing confidence and skills as they participate rather than passively consuming.

One way to proactively engage your mind is through conversations, like book clubs, professional networks, or even loose business collaborations. Where are you connected or how could you grow in this area? Surround yourself with like-minded peers through opportunities like 1 Million Cups, TED Talks, MeetUp groups, and more. If nothing else, look for volunteer opportunities and connect with people on a casual level. Make friends, spark ideas, and find financial and professional support in areas you may never have considered.

Ready to shake off that slump or add spring to your step today? Let these adjustments chart a new course for growth in your career and future. Every moment is valuable and so is your potential. Steward it well and keep growing for life!

 

 

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5 Ways to Skillfully Handle Criticism With a Smile Instead of a Frown

This work is sloppy and does not meet the needs of the company. You’ll have to completely rework it.”

“Is this all you’ve gotten done for today? You’re going to have to step up your pace.”

“Why didn’t you follow the instructions I gave you? This is terrible work.”

“I liked your old hairstyle better.”

Criticism, no matter how delicately someone gives it to you, hurts.

Being criticized makes us feel worthless, painfully vulnerable to our own negative thoughts and unsure of our abilities. Some inexperienced managers think criticizing their employees will incentivize them to work faster and harder but, of course, we know this tactic is the absolutely wrong way to motivate employees.

Scientists speculate there is something instinctual, or innate, about our adverse reaction to even mild criticism. Just like the human body is hard-wired to instantly move into a “fight or flight” state when confronted by danger, our psychological self (psyche) reacts to criticism defensively. In other words, being physically struck closely parallels being verbally “struck.” Our heart and breathing rate increases and we may start perspiring as our internal temperature rises. Depending on the type and level of criticism we hear about ourselves, some people tremble, feel extremely anxious, and may even start crying.

How to Give Criticism Positively

Before you criticize a family member, friend or fellow worker, stop and think about how you could rephrase what you are going to say to sound more like constructive criticism.

Examples of constructive criticism include:

  • (When someone fails to complete a project on time): Next time we have a project to work on, we’ll make sure there are enough resources and time for you to finish it as planned. In fact, perhaps we can schedule the project in advance so you are not inundated with work?
  • (When someone has been “slacking” in their work): You’ve done a great job reaching several goals lately. Nobody can achieve every goal they set for themselves so don’t let this affect your sense of accomplishment. Maybe your goals are a little too aggressive?
  • (When someone isn’t contributing to a group effort): I’ve noticed you haven’t wanted to take an initiative lately. I would really like to see you take a leadership position because I think you have the talent and skills to be successful.

5 Ways to Handle Criticism Positively

  1. Objectify Yourself

As soon as you realize you are being criticized unconstructively, step away from your emotions by imagining yourself as a life-size cardboard cutout.

Wait until the person criticizing you leaves before allowing yourself to think about what they said. Consider who criticized, what they criticized you about, and whether it was actually warranted. Remember that people who are criticized are usually doing something new, different, and possibly daring.

  1. Don’t Cross Your Arms

Adopting a defensive posture may provoke the criticizer into extending their critique of you.

Simply stand with your arms at your sides, nod, and show that you are listening.

  1. Learn from Criticism

Is there a grain of truth in the criticism you received?

Don’t let strong emotions cloud your ability to judge truths about yourself. Many of us say or do things that are not in our best interest but fail to realize our error.

  1. Get Feedback from a Friend

Tell a trusted friend about the criticism you received.

Getting another opinion can help mitigate the negative feelings you experience from a criticism.

  1. You Control Your Emotions and Thoughts

Nobody is in control of what you think or feel.

The way you think and feel about criticism is all up to you, not the person who criticized you.

“Criticism is something you can avoid by saying nothing,
being nothing, and doing nothing.”
~Aristotle

 

 

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Use Great Body Language to Speak with Success

Ramona Smith, a 31-year-old Houston teacher, has faced many challenges, including coaxing her son through cancer and struggling through a divorce.

But Smith believes life is about more than what knocks you down, it’s about the lifelines people offer to help you back up.

One of Smith’s lifelines was the mentorship she found in Toastmasters, a non-profit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership. In her 2018 speech, “Still Standing,” Smith posed as a fighter on stage and talked about surviving round after round with life but bouncing back again. Her accomplishments include dropping out of college four times (before graduating at the top of her class) and, most recently, being crowned the Toastmasters World Champion of Public Speaking in Chicago.

Smith outlasted 30,000 other competitors over six months of competition before being named the champion in August. Her success comes not only from her will to fight but from one speaking technique that helped her connect:

“If my hands are open to the audience, and my fists are not closed, and my arms are not too tight toward my body, it just makes the audience feel more connected, like I’m really open,” Smith said. “I’m vulnerable, and I want to give you all of me. And it makes me look relaxed and comfortable.”

Dananjaya Hettiarchchi, a human-resources specialist who won the Toastmasters competition in 2014, broke down the effectiveness of this technique:

“If you really concentrate, when you look at the inside of your palm, your eye relaxes,” Hettiarchchi said. “And a lot of great speakers, they open their palms towards the audience, showing more openness. And that allows the audience to connect with the speaker better, as opposed to showing the back of your hand.”

Best Body Language for Effective Presentations

If a simple gesture can have such an impact, what other nonverbal communication can increase our impact? Check out these tips from some of the world’s most personable communicators to increase your own credibility.

DO:

  • Open your hands toward the audience to relax and connect.
  • Use facial expressions with purpose. Sometimes when we’re nervous our face freezes up. If you don’t have an expressive face, work with a mirror to see how your expressions reinforce your message. Give your entire talk silently (while forming each word) and let your face do the communicating!
  • Maintain intentional eye contact. Leaders who speak over people’s heads or get buried in their notes seem impersonal or insincere. When you speak, move from face to face, making eye contact with one person at a time to ensure your audience is engaged. When answering a question, use extended eye contact to convey sincerity.

DON’T:

  • Hide, clasp, or fidget with your hands. This implies you don’t believe what you’re saying, or shows meekness that fails to command attention. Instead, keep your arms forward in an open manner. Use your hands to explain your point through confident, concise movements.
  • Plan your gestures in advance. Physical expression in presentations should arise spontaneously. Though body language is important, planned movements will seem awkward or inauthentic. Instead, plan key moments where you might take a different position in the room or how you will use visual aids to keep communication transparent.
  • Roam aimlessly or exhibit poor posture. Body language communicates a lot about your character, so pacing can make you seem jumpy or slumped shoulders may convey discouragement and apathy. Instead, move with purpose in your presentations. Aim for a neutral position, sitting or standing tall like a string is connecting your head to the ceiling.

Remember, the most important visual you can show your audience is yourself! Sharpen non-verbal communication skills and reap the benefits of credibility and respect!

 

 

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