Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Digging for Communication Gold

I’m captivated every 2 years when the Olympics roll around. Winter or Summer, I’m hooked.  It’s such a testament to the human spirit and to our incredible potential.

I was struck by footage of Michael Phelps studying video of a previous race. It was amazing to me (and to the announcers) that someone who had already accrued 21 gold medals was still striving to study and improve themselves. How many of us can say the same?
One of my favorite Olympic commercials this year is this one for Dick’s Sporting Goods its tagline - “Gold… it’s in all of us. But only some have the strength to dig it out.” 

I guess you could call me a gold digger because one of the things I love about my work is the thrill I get helping to uncover the gold buried in others. How much of your gold have you unearthed?

3 ways to dig for the gold in you:
 ·         Go Prospecting:
o   Set aside some quiet time for yourself and think back on your eight-year old self. What did he/she dream about? What seemed vitally important to you then? Often, the raw material for your gold medal self, was forged around that time.
·         Start Mining:
o   Make a list of all the positive things anyone has ever said about you. Really give yourself time to think and reflect. We are always so quick to remember the negative things people say (Don’t beat yourself up about that. Our brains are actually wired that way) but keep digging until you can unearth as many positive things as you can remember. Write them down.
o    Also make a list of feedback you’ve gotten that was not that positive.
o   Then do some above ground research. Become hyper vigilant in looking for feedback you get on a daily basis. Including your own internal feedback. How comfortable are you in a particular situation? With a particular type of person? Delivering a particular type of communication?
·         Start Polishing:
o   Take the positive raw material you’ve unearthed about yourself - your purpose that you discovered from your core 8-year-old self and the positive qualities you’ve mined from positive feedback you’ve gotten. And with it…

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

A Whiz Kid and a Villain Enter a Presidential Race... Communication Styles of our Candidates

“To effectively communicate we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” Anthony Robbins
When preparing to write my book on presentation skills, I developed my own communication style assessment tool called ActorTypes. Watching this year’s political drama unfold, it struck me that this is the first presidential battle in my lifetime that had such diametrically opposed ActorTypes running against each other. This race is a battle between a dyed in the wool Whiz Kid, and an unmitigated Villain. But for those of you who haven’t attended one of my workshops or presentations or read my book, Standing Ovation Presentations, let me explain what ActorTypes are. 
Having spent over 20 years as a professional actor and 10 years as a professional writer for TV and film, I realized that there are certain “types” that actors and their characters fall into – thus the term typecasting. As I began teaching public speaking and communication skills, I noticed that those types also appear in “real” people. After considering the characters I saw in both the scripts I auditioned for and the Daytime Drama shows I wrote for, I came up with nine common ActorTypes. They are based on 9 character types you see every day in movies and on TV; the Hero, Villain, Super Hero, Ingenue, Super Model, Comic, Whiz Kid, Buddy and Curmudgeon)

There are certain strengths each type possesses and of course certain weaknesses which I call Fatal Flaws. Here’s a brief description of the positive qualities associated with our current presidential candidates.

Whiz Kid: Believes Knowledge is power!

  • Has a failsafe memory for facts
  • Loves doing research
  • Is dependable and responsible
  • Is organized and exacting (who else would date notes left for a child)

Villain: Loves to be hated

  • Has a quick wit and a sharp tongue
  • Has an answer for everything; likes to have the last word
  • Has own type of charisma that can make people uncomfortable
  • Compels an audience to pay attention

Now let’s look at the Fatal Flaws of these two types.
Whiz Kid:

  • Can come off as cold and unemotional
  • Doesn’t pick up social cues easily
  • Stresses facts over feelings
  • Can be dismissed as being boring

  • Can be alienating and hurt people’s feeling
  • Won’t admit when wrong or doesn’t know something
  • Arrogance can turn people off
  • Can be all bravado and no substance

So how do these two match up? Who will be the victor? I think it depends on how successful they are at mitigating or covering up some of their fatal flaws. 

During her last presidential run, Hillary’s Whiz Kid ran against Obama’s Buddy/Hero. That’s an almost impossible match up for a Whiz Kid to win. During that election, she tried to mask her Whiz Kid qualities by taking on the qualities of a Super Hero. That backfired because, turns out Americans don’t really like female Super Heroes. Surprise! So we turned her into a Villain.

After reading and listening to stories by people who know or have met her, I believe Hillary actually has quite a bit of the Buddy ActorType in her (Most of us are more than one type) but her strong Whiz Kid qualities somehow make her feel that it’s “illogical” (to quote the quintessential Whiz Kid, Mr. Spock.) to show her Buddy qualities during such an important job interview. But I’m really hoping that she sees the light.

I’ve worked with many Whiz Kid clients helping them prepare for job interviews. They often withhold valuable information about themselves because they assume it’s obvious. After all, it’s on their resumes. Why do they need to talk about it? Or they think, why do I need to show my personality, I’m applying for a serious job. 

One of my favorite quotes is one I recently came across by Dale Carnegie. He said. “When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic but creatures of emotion.” Something all Whiz Kids need to remember.

In order for us to trust, like and know a person, that person must touch our emotions. Villains are very good at touching and triggering emotions. Whiz Kids not so much. My advice to Hillary - talk to us in stories. Use metaphors, analogies and vivid language to help us see what you see. I enjoyed Hillary acceptance speech. I thought it was one of her best speeches yet. However, she can and should be better. 

I heard Chelsea speak about her grandmother at a fundraising event earlier this year. It was heartfelt and moving and touched everyone present. She painted a very vivid picture of a strong resilient woman who’d triumphed under tremendous hardships. When Hillary referenced her mother in her acceptance speech, it was one sentence spoken fairly quickly. When she mentioned her own bad times, she flew over the words, with a smile no less. She didn’t “experience” them. I want her to let us know how she feels. Contrary to some popular beliefs, there is a place for feelings in the workplace and in presidential elections. I know it could be opening a can of worms but I’d even love for her to bring in how she felt during all the Bill/Monica et al. scandals. I don’t need to be all up in her personal business but I would like to hear her once just acknowledge that pain. 

Having a Villain ActorType is normally not a bad thing. It can be very powerful. I coach my clients who embody those qualities to use them wisely and judiciously. I work with them to polish and mitigate any fatal flaws that may hinder their effectiveness. 

There are people who love to brandish the words “real” and “authentic” when it comes to politicians and personalities. But as I wrote in another post, what’s the point of being “authentic” if your “authentic” is ultimately not effective. Our Villain candidate is doing very little to mitigate his fatal flaws and he is being hailed for being real and authentic. Will the blatant flaunting of his fatal flaws continue to be effective? We’ll have to wait and see. 

If you’d like to know your ActorType, you can take my quick ActorType quiz here.  

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Why "Be Authentic" is Bad Advice

I’m not sure when the word authentic became the ubiquitous adjective it is today. (I somehow suspect Oprah had something to do with it.) Nowadays, it’s almost impossible to read anything or listen to anyone speak about communication, leadership, presentation skills, interview skills, branding, or even relationships without the word authentic being spouted – repeatedly.

I was at a live interview recently where social psychologist Amy Cuddy was speaking about her new book Presence with author Susan Cain. They must have used the “a”-word at least a dozen times. Now I have HUGE respect for Amy Cuddy and have shared her YouTube video on Power Posing a gazillion times but hearing the two of them use authentic with no clarification surprised me. (I'm happy to say that in her book, she DOES clarify what she means by authentic and it's very interesting.)

It was interesting that Ms. Cuddy explained the difference she sees between the word Presence, the title of her book, and Charisma. (She explains presence as more like the quality and ability to be present and connected to your environment and your listener – which can be a learned skill and charisma as an often innate charm which can sometimes be shallow and abused.) 

I’ve been feeling for some time that someone needs to start a conversation about the difference between being “your authentic self” and being “your effective self.” So here goes!

Let’s start with the Webster definition* of the word. Authentic:
  1. worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to or based on fact 
  2. conforming to an original so as to reproduce essential features
  3. made or done the same way as an original
  4. not false or imitation:  real, actual
  5. true to one's own personality, spirit, or character
(*Bolding and numbering is mine, but the order is accurate. Interestingly, there is an obsolete definition of authentic- “authoritative” that was listed as #1 and a musical definition was #4.)

I believe most people, when they use or hear the phrase “be your authentic self,” think of definition #5 - true to one’s own personality, spirit or character.
The unfortunate problem I see with this definition is the tendency for people to take it too literally. Some people feel that it’s out of “character” for them to dress a certain way or wear their hair a certain way so they don’t. They can assert that it’s their “personality” to use a certain language or tone of voice, to not smile, to keep to themselves, to push the envelope - so they continue to exercise that part of their “personality” regardless of whether it’s effective or not. This gives rise to thoughts and statements like – “I’m being authentic, it’s their problem if they don’t like it.”  But is it really their problem? When you don’t get the job you want, the promotion you may deserve, the work environment you cherish,  the client you need or the second date you crave – who suffers?
Let’s be honest, there are times when being yourself is not being your best.
 When being that definition of authentic just doesn’t work! 

As a communication expert who dabbles heavily in brain science, the fact is, there are certain visual, vocal and verbal habits that are more positive, receptive and engaging to the average human brain. To not recognize and take these norms into account is a gamble. Sometimes gamblers win but odds are against them. 

I believe we as thought leaders, branding experts, coaches and the like do a disservice when we tell people just be “authentic.”– without explaining what we mean by authentic.
First of all, I think the word genuine is more appropriate in many of the instances where authentic is now being used. It IS VERY important for people and brands to be genuine  - (defined as “free from hypocrisy or pretense : sincere” or “sincerely and honestly felt or experienced”)
But if we must use the word authentic, I believe the more accurate definition is definition # 2 - conforming to an original so as to reproduce essential features.

This definition of authentic can mean “reproducing the essential features” of the “original” YOU but turning those features into a YOU 2.0. This way you can still feel authentic AND be more effective.
I was an incredibly shy child.  Even after pushing through my shyness to be an actress and to teach communication skills like I do now, a huge part of my personality is to not speak up and to avoid the spotlight.  But as a business owner I had to eventually ask myself. “How’s that working for you?” It wasn’t. 

So I ask you, when you think of your authentic self, is it working for you? If not, identify the “essential features” that make up YOU and highlight, polish and reproduce those features. Then lose or mitigate any features that get in the way of your being effective to create YOU 2.0.  It doesn’t make you any less authentic. According to Webster’s definition #2 you are still conforming to the original.

An Important caveat:  I was sharing my thoughts about this with a colleague. She told me she had a co-worker that she just couldn’t win over with her warm and friendly style which is very authentic to her. It’s important to realize that creating a You 2.0 doesn’t mean everybody will find your presentation or communication style effective. When you find people who don’t respond positively to You 2.0 you have two choices – accept that everyone is not going to like you OR if the relationship is an important one, learn the art of subtly adapting to match their style. Just like you wear different styles in 90 degree weather then you do in 17 degree weather you need slightly different styles with different people. But that’s a topic for an upcoming post.  When being Authentic Just Isn’t Working!” Stay tuned!

Please feel free to share your opinions I know you have some. And if you want help on how to go from YOU to YOU 2.0 contact me.