Connecting the dots between customers, colleagues and community
Mari Pat's Communication Missive Vol. 5:  Seven communication practices for personal success

 March 2010
Greetings Colleagues, Clients and Community Members,

The arrival of Spring signals an opportunity to refresh skills and try
on new techniques to improve your personal communication.
In a down economy it becomes more important than ever to be at
your best, get noticed and be remembered.  In this edition of my
newsletter I will focus on elements of your personal
communication that will help you accomplish those goals. I'll
review best practices that will get you noticed and remembered
positively after a networking event, job interview or even within
the environment where you currently work.

Spring forward, try a few new techniques and see what
results.  Good luck!

Mari Pat Varga
Writing is editing
Review to get it right!

I often hear business professionals complain that they are not good writers.  I ask them to consider that what they might be saying is they are not good editors.  Writing is editing.  It is the discipline of going over what you have written - at least twice.  First time you catch the typos.  Second time you finesse the sentence structure.  And if you stay with it for a few more reviews you may even turn your memo, article or column into a compelling piece of writing.  James Michener once said, "I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter."  Strong, competent writing skills
will get you noticed!

Anchor your message with a visual

You have the ability to be a stronger communicator when you tap into the power of a poignant and memorable visual - a prop, an illustration, a photograph or symbol.  Each of us possesses separate cognitive systems for processing visual and verbal material.  Our capacity for meaningful learning increases when we tap into the power of both.

Bottom line - a picture can be worth a thousand words.  Recently I was working with a client who wanted to emphasize the importance of looking beneath the surface of a persistent problem to better understand what systematic issues might be causing the problem in the first place.  She brought an onion on stage with her and slowly peeled away the outer layers of the onion to reveal - one by one - what those systematic issues were.  The "peeling the onion" visual helped the audience understand and remember the action she was recommending.

What point do you need to make with your audience or team?  Is there a visual
that will help you secure meaning with your listeners?
Gather Stories that Paint a Picture

A good communicator is a good storyteller.  I encourage all my clients to develop their story-telling abilities because emotional content plus factual information = memory.  That is what stories, illustrations and anecdotes do - they add a layer of emotion to your facts that help your listeners remember. 
Not long ago a client shared with me that he was struggling to keep his team engaged and focused on a core initiative as the organization at large went through many internal changes that were distracting and de-motivating to employees.  He told me he wanted to get them "to see the finish line and give it all they had in the final stretch" of the project. 

It brought to mind a story I had heard from Jockey Kent Desormeaux, who rode Hold Me Back in the 2009 Kentucky Derby and rode the 2008 winner, Big Brown. Desormeaux said that his strategy for winning was to play a "slide show" in his head during the race.  That series of slides portrayed him as a child, lost and wandering, trying to make his way through a blinding fog and then through a thick forest until suddenly he turned a corner (the home stretch) and there was a wide open field and standing open-armed at the wire was his mother.  He went on to explain that the imagery in the storyline helped him to race for the finish line with a great hunger and desire.  My client liked the story and used it at his next team meeting along with showing footage of Kent Desormeaux's 2008 Derby win. He told me later that his team ended up adopting their own battle cry inspired by his story:  "Out of the fog and down to the wire!"  Posters and banners went up everywhere and they ended up beating their project deadline by one week.

Keep a journal and write down the stories you encounter every day.  Clip newspaper
articles that inspire you.  Look for opportunities to share the stories you feel will
make a difference.

Cardio Kick-Boxing or Corporate Interview
Make first impressions count

Recently I went to take a cardio kick-boxing class I attend on a regular basis.  It is normally taught by an energetic and very fit young woman named, Anne. As a bunch of us were mingling and waiting for the class to begin, a rather disheveled man came in to the studio space and appeared to be getting organized to teach the class.  He looked as if he had just rolled out of bed, was in need of a shave and could have benefitted from running a comb through his long, stringy hair that seemed be be flying in many different directions.  He wore what appeared to be sweat pants and a t-shirt left over from the '80's and capped off the outfit by tying a tattered red bandana across his forehead.  His t-shirt, likely purchased when he was 20 pounds lighter, revealed a protruding belly.  He explained that he was the substitute instructor.

The reactions from the people in the class varied.  There were several who rolled their eyes in disbelief and left the room clearly deciding this was not the instructor for them.  Some just looked shocked and others, like myself, held back a smile convinced that the "candid camera" folks would jump out any minute and say, "surprise!"  The
scene would have been good fodder for a Saturday Night Live skit.

And, here's the was a good class and he was a good instructor.  After those of us who remained got past the shock of his appearance, we committed to getting what we had come for - a good workout - and he delivered.

So, what is the moral of this story?  I am not sure other than to say - first impressions do matter.  This instructor's haphazard appearance turned some people off and they left - not even giving him a chance - while the rest hung in there but likely driven more by our own desire to exercise rather than necessarily putting their confidence in him.
None of us want to judge people prematurely.  We all wish we had multiple opportunities to make a good first impression but experience tells us we often don't.  This funny fellow at my gym may seem an extreme case but in my years as a hiring manager I saw examples of this time and again - well meaning people who made the wrong calls about what they wore, how they behaved and what they said. Everything speaks.  Everything tells a story.

In this tough and competitive job market do everything you can to communicate your competence and confidence - don't leave room for interpretation.  If you are unsure about the impression you make.  Hire a coach.  Clean up your image by working with a fashion consultant. It will be worth the investment to ensure you are remembered - in a good way.
What can you learn from OSCAR?

Besides the fashion, one of my main motivations for watching the Academy Awards each year is to listen to the acceptance speeches.  In this forum you witness the best and worst of the genre.  All of us, at one time or another, are put in formal situations where we need to acknowledge accolades, accept an award or demonstrate appreciation.  Doing that with grace, humility and humor is an art and requires thought and practice.  This year's standout for me was Sandra Bullock - a popular actress but one who many thought didn't quite deserve the industry's highest honor for best actress and she knew it.  Her speech began with, "Did I really deserve this or did I just wear you down?"  Beginning by addressing the
objection was endearing and she proceeded to acknowledge her fellow nominees and the selfless "moms" who inspired her character in "The Blind Side."  She was honest and focused more on others than herself and that approach made her acceptance speech memorable!

Tap into these sorts of award shows to observe what works and what doesn't.
Watch one TED talk per week

If you want to learn more about how to powerfully communicate an idea in 18 minutes or less visit the vast array of TED talks at  TED is a small nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading and what you find on their site are  "Riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world."  TED started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design.  At least once per week I like to visit the site and at a random pick a speaker and listen.  Without fail, I learn something new.  Without fail, I learn about how to be a better communicator.  Tune in.
No Excuses, ever

To differentiate yourself in a crowded marketplace it takes confidence and commitment.  One of the best ways to undermine that confidence is to make excuses - to focus on the negative rather than the positive.  There is a wonderful quote from Mike Murdock that shares, "You will only be remembered for two things - the problems you solve or the ones you create."  Pay attention to your personal communication.  Are you framing what you say and how you say in a way that demonstrates a solution-focus?  We all gravitate towards people who
provide solutions, make things better and frame problems positively.

We often don't even hear ourselves saying things like:
  • "Not sure if I answered your questions accurately."
  • "I'd have done a better job if only I'd gotten the report sooner."
  • "I hope this meets your needs.  I wasn't sure it was what you were looking for."
  • "This is going to be difficult."
These types of phrases serve to create doubt and burn a hole in your credibility.  Much better is to say:
  • "I trust my responses have helped.  What other questions might you have?"
  •  "This report's key strength is its snapshot of the global market and with the benefit of some extra time I am confident we can fine-tune it and add a strong local market component."
  • "Here is my initial draft.  I worked to capture the 3 major elements of our strategy.  Let me know if it works for you and what adjustments if any, you'd like me to make."
  • "We understand the challenges and have the
    commitment to work through them to get the job done."
Avoid excuses and instead focus on what you know is possible. That stance will allow others to see you as a problem-solver rather than a problem-presenter.

One on One with Mari Pat:  A 20 minute complimentary telephone consultation through
April 2010.

If you are ready to take your communication skills - whether interpersonal or presentation to the next level -
book a 20 minute complimentary consultation with Mari Pat.  What is the one question you've wanted to ask
a communication coach?  What might help you better prepare for an upcoming job interview?  What is the
one communication skill you'd like to fine tune?  Get started with a twenty minute session will help you discover if
working with a coach is right for you.
Thank you for your attention and time.  Let's keep the lines of communication open!

Mari Pat Varga
Varga & Associates, Inc.