Dec 06 2016

You talk funny…and so do I

Published by under Musings

dreamstime_s_32853848Preparation to facilitate a workshop in India got me thinking about the differences in how we humans communicate with each other, and how that influences the kind of relationships we have with each other. Every culture has its unique language, both verbal and non-verbal. The culture may be that of a country, a state, a city, or even a family. It could be the culture of a political party, a company, or a company division. Culture is deep-seated; it sets expectations for how we behave around each other and what we can expect in the way of vocal expression, or lack of it. Many of the issues we face as a species becoming a global society have to do with the non-verbal cues we use in our preferred cultures and how that speaks to or alienates those of different cultures.

dreamstime_s_38864974Traveling through Bangalore, I am struck by the cultural differences between this city and home in the US– cows in the street, bright, bold color everywhere, women in saris working at a construction project, and street vendors selling unfamiliar vegetables. I am also struck by the presence of American companies such as Domino’s Pizza, international tech companies, and European musicians performing at festivals. The world is changing, cultures are mingling.  And, the greatest concern of workshop participants in San Jose is no different than those in Bangalore– “How can I get my ideas heard? How can I, as a leader, influence others?”

There is no time like the present to practice clear communication, but this means not just clearer talking; it is equally important to take the time to know your audience, whether you agree with them or not, are from the same culture or different ones.  By listening to them, you will better understand what they are interested in. By taking the time to study them, without judgment, you will learn about the non-verbal language that speaks to them beyond your words.  You will also be more able to create a delivery that they will hear.   In addition, there is lots of online learning in accent reduction, or learning foreign languages, and even etiquette. Will that help in a situation where there is a great divide, such as in the split the US demonstrated in the recent elections? Yes. We obviously don’t know each other well enough.

Above all, the most important questions you can ask are these:

  • What is my intention in this conversation, the aim that guides my action? Am I just focused on being heard or, as late night talk show host Trevor Noah  asked on a recent show, “are you trying to communicate as effectively as possible with another human being?”

If the latter, it’s a dialog, not a monolog, a very different kind of communication– one that builds relationships. And isn’t that what the world needs now?

For more on this topic, please see The Three Ingredients of a Meaningful Conversation
Photos by © Kadettmann |, and © Atholpady |

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Oct 19 2016

Your voice on conference calls: How to show up when no one can see you

Published by under Presence,Vocal Image

dreamstime_s_18638726Recently, I facilitated a workshop for a group of people who work in their pajamas.   One of them told me that she will do her hair and makeup for the rare call when her customer turns on her video camera, but normally she doesn’t have to worry about being seen. What she has to worry about is being heard, and being heard well enough to make an impact.  Sound familiar? According to Globalworkplaceanalytics,  currently, 50% of the US workforce holds a job that is compatible with at least partial telework and approximately 20-25% of the workforce teleworks at some frequency.

Although convenient, teleworking presents big challenges for vocal impact. Some of these are gauging the interest and response of others on a call when you can’t see them, getting a chance to voice your opinion when others are louder or more aggressive on the call, and making sure that you are more important than email.  The sound of your voice has risen to an importance rarely realized before. If you need help making your voice heard, here are three areas to explore:

  1.  Get to know your voice.  What do you know about how others hear you? In the work that I do, I find that most people have very little concept of how the sound of their voice is perceived by others, and yet it does create a perception. Think about someone you know well. What can you say about their voice? Is it high or low, rich or thin, strong or weak? Record your own and listen for the same things. Then pay attention to how people respond to you. Where are you effective and where are you not? You can use exercises on this blog to create the voice you want, but you have to know what you are working with first.
  2. Be expressive. Research has shown that people are not engaged  because the emotional elements and stimuli are removed from most conference calls. When people are on mute, their immediate response to humor is gone. When people are not on the screen, you can’t see their facial expressions. And when you only see slides, you don’t get the same sense of connection with other humans. Therefore, if you want people to listen, try taking some steps to enhance the human side of meetings, add what’s missing to your voice, and encourage others to do the same.
  3. Prepare to participate. Always go into a meeting with the intention to participate and pipe up at least every 10-15 minutes. If you own the meeting, make sure you have prepared a real opening and close to the meeting and that you have an intention for the meeting that you can use to keep people on track and involved. Invite participation and interaction by asking others to prepare to present as well.  If you don’t own the meeting, always be prepared with relevant questions or comments that you have thought through in advance.

Of course, many people you speak with have bad habits around being on conference calls. You probably can’t change those, but if you create a more interesting voice and align it with a clear intention, and always prepare to participate, you have a much greater chance of catching the ear of the listener on the other side.

Vocal Impact Tip: How to make them choose you over email


How to be more expressive


Your (Executive) Presence is Required

Photo © Diego.cervo | – Frustrated Colleagues Playing At Conference Call

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