Up Front Communication

Helping people and businesses through the art of communication

Lost the groove

It is remarkably easy to get out of a solid groove.  The groove you lost may have been one centred around a good habit you had, or one for a skill you built up and were maintaining.  Either way, we can break out of these with surprising rapidity, losing the characteristic we worked so hard to establish.

You have probably heard the expression “it’s like riding a bike.”  Have you ever climbed back on a bike after a long hiatus from riding?  I have.  It was hilarious and dreadful at the same time.  I wobbled back and forth, found the breaks touchy and unnerving, and couldn’t make the sort of confident, sharp turns I remembered doing as a teen.  Granted, it only took a few minutes to get most of my old riding skills back, but sharp turns eluded me for a good day or two…or three.*

Speaking, writing, making good conversation, interpreting messages – these are skills that are effortless when we’re in our groove and damned difficult when we aren’t.  We often take our ability to make conversation or write a good blog post for granted, but neither of these things are easy.  The longer we wait to resume those activities, say by hosting a dinner party with friends from different social circles, the harder and more intimidating it becomes and the more we avoid it.

I was recently jarred out of my blogging groove by some business regarding a family-owned company that my husband and I were involved with.  The situation completely sucked away all my reserves of mental and emotional energy.  Despite the fact that this commotion had very positive effects for my own family, it was still exhausting.  I cut myself some slack for a couple of weeks while my husband and I worked our backsides off dealing with the problem.  Sometimes you have to cut yourself some slack.  But the slack got away from me; I went from giving myself some time for a mental vacation to making excuses not to blog or even go online to falling back on the worst excuse of all: “I’ve got nothing to say.”  Last night I was whining about it to my husband.  He said I needed to clean up my office (which became a disaster over the past month) and then sit down and post something.  Anything.

He was right.

If a groove is worth developing, it is worth maintaining. It’s harder to re-establish one than it is to simply keep it going.  I continued giving lectures and professional workshops during my maternity leave so that I could maintain my skills as a speaker and instructor. I’m posting this naval-gazing drivel because it is better that I get off my backside and put out one whiny, self-indulgent, “reflective” piece and then get on to making good stuff than it is to sit around and wait for perfection.

If you have lost your groove, don’t expect to produce perfect work while you are getting back into it.  It isn’t easy to watch yourself produce crap where you once produced shiny gems.  But you need to do it.  So put on a noseplug, clean your office, and produce some crap so that you can get back into the habit of producing gems.**


*My anxiousness about falling and getting some nasty abrasions fuelled the slow return of the making-sharp-turns ability.  I can be spectacularly clumsy and have picked out an unreasonable amount of gravel from my knees.


**For the record, this post is going to embarrass the hell out of me shortly after I hit the “publish” button.  But I’m hitting that button anyway because it is important that I do.  The Groove demands it.

Analysing the interview: Justin Trudeau

The other day I was working with a client, and I gave him a section from a political commentary article to read aloud.  He glanced over the article, which was about Justin Trudeau and the recent Liberal Party leadership race.  We briefly chatted about Trudeau’s famous father and the current buzz around the newly elected Liberal Party leader.  My client said that he wasn’t too sure about Justin Trudeau;  I replied “I don’t think Trudeau is too sure about Trudeau.”

After we were done for the evening, I thought more about what I had said and why I said it.  After all, I actually know very little about the man, not having following his political career with much interest.  This man has many factors in his favour when it comes to establishing a high-office political career.  He is well-practiced: the Liberal Party has been grooming him for this for some time and he is already familiar with the glare of the media lens.  He is a young, fresh face for a new generation of voters.  He is tall, handsome, well-educated, and well-spoken with honed presentation skills – these give him the sort of charisma politicians need to sway voters.

My opinion was formed based on an interview between Peter Mansbridge and Trudeau which I watched the night before. There was something odd about that interview, something that made me feel that Trudeau is as yet too green in his career to be able to make a reasonable stab at the position of Prime Minister.  The feeling of unease came almost entirely from the way Trudeau spoke during the interview.

As I am a big fan of analysing performances to figure out why they have the effect they do, I will give you the analysis of the interview and how it affected my opinion of him.

In the interview in question (you can watch it here), I saw a young man  – a young man who is being called out by his opponents as lacking in experience and judgement – take on an air of erudite casualness that seemed more appropriate for the owner of a social media start-up than for a potential Prime Minister.  He sits far back in the club chair, which brings down the energy of the room and the viewers.  His shirt sleeves are rolled up, reinforcing an image that is more “Google-employee” than “party leader”.  I suspect the look was intended to radiate calm confidence, but for me the confidence came across as forced.  Casualness is not the same as confidence, and it looked as though he was trying just a little too hard, which made me wonder just how confident he really is.

Next was the manner in which he spoke.  He has a pleasant voice and uses gestures well.  I thought he spoke particularly well during the pre-interview segment, in which Trudeau and Mansbridge conversed while walking down an Ottawa street.  It could be that the physical activity of walking helped focus Trudeau’s energy.  During the sit-down interview portion, however, there was a marked change in the speech style.  His energy seemed to get the better of him and his rate of speech kept increasing as the interview went on.  He clearly called on his stage training in terms of breathing, but eventually the pace caught up with him.  By the end of the interview, I found his breathing distracting.  Additionally, his tone began to lilt upwards more and more often as the interview progressed.  The sincere passion that his voice had at the start was replaced with notes of dismissive incredulity.  Combine these two changes with eyebrows that were usually knit upwards, and I was left with the impression of a breathy, wide-eyed man making his first foray into local politics.  This does not exactly inspire confidence in this particular voter.

Initially, I was prepared to like what he had to say in the interview.  Unfortunately, by the end of it, I felt as though Trudeau himself was uncertain of what his new position of Liberal Party Leader meant to him.

I’m not writing off Trudeau as a politician just yet.  He is green, and it is possible he will grow to be a responsible official with sound judgement and leadership qualities.  It is impossible to determine his strengths and weaknesses based off of one interview given early in his leadership career.  That being said, however, it is worth noting how my reservations were developed.  If we understand why other people leave the impressions they do, it better enables us to figure out how we can give the impression we actually want.


What is your opinion of the interview?

Communicating Intimately #1: introducing intimacy

A major goal that I assign to all my clients as well as to myself is that of creating intimacy with your audience.  I’ve had people react to this instruction with everything from nervous eagerness to fear and apprehension.  The difficulty with intimacy – aside from the fact that it increases our own vulnerability, which I will address later – is that it is a very complex concept.  Over the next few blog posts, I’m going to attempt to break down and address the nuances of communication and intimacy.

So here we go – welcome to installment #1: introducing intimacy.  Here is a run-down of some of the issues I’ll be exploring further in this series.

Intimacy in communication has nothing to do with romance, attraction, or with the communicating parties even liking one another.  A sense of connection is what makes an exchange feel intimate.  When this connection (or the perception of it) is achieved, your message will stick with your receiver with far greater strength than it would otherwise.  If you really, really want to get through to someone, you need to seek intimacy in the communication, and different circumstances may require in different kinds of intimacies or different tactics to achieve it.

A sense of intimacy can be felt by only one person and still have a powerful effect.  Because it is an individual feeling, it can be experienced by members of a large audience just as readily as people in small groups or in one-on-one conversations.  When you are the primary communicator, the perception you should be most concerned with is that of your audience, whether big or small.  You can feel all the warm fuzzies you like, but if you haven’t triggered a sense of connection among those receiving your message, than you have not created a sense of intimacy.  It’s the opinion and the feelings of the receiver that matter.

While the experience of intimacy on the part of the audience is always genuine, a very adept speaker or performer can fake it for the sake of their audience.  While demonstrating a desire for connection that you might not actually be feeling is mentally exhausting, there are many circumstances where you may need to fake it for the sake of your audience.  There are some key physical, vocal, and facial expressions that demonstrate “reaching out” to an audience or receiver.  Being able to realistically demonstrate these on cue when you are not feeling overly connected to an audience takes a great deal of practice.  When we look at these skills further, I will yet again be railing at you to spend some solid practice time in front of a mirror.

One of the trickier issues with intimate communication is what level and type of intimacy is appropriate in which situations.  The degree of intimacy in communication that is appropriate between co-workers is markedly different than that between managers and employees.  Similarly, the type of intimacy that occurs with a motivational speaker and his audience is generally quite different that that between an academic lecturer and her audience.  It is well worth taking time to think about what degree of personal connection you would wish to experience as both audience and speaker in differing social and business roles.

Language plays a key component in both the effectiveness of creating an intimate communication as well as keeping the intimacy appropriate to the situation at hand.  At times, your audience needs to you be involved in the message at a personal level; sometimes they really need to you be more objective and distant.  Language  and vocabulary is the golden key that allows you to navigate these circumstances and still create the intimacy you need.  Words have power, and discreet differences in meaning, context, and timing may result in massive differences in the level of trust, comfort, and connection between you and your audience.  Know when to mince your words and when to leave them whole.  Find authors known for extensive vocabularies and wordplay and read their works; your own word hoard and dexterity will grow.  You will come to know which words will help create a feeling of intimacy with your audience and which will turn them right off.

Next instalment: your audience experience of intimacy and getting out of your own head.

Monday’s lesson is short and sweet

Today’s post is much shorter than usual.

When engaging in business, in communication, or in anything else, please remember the following:

Shortcuts rarely are.


Terrible grammar aside, the above is very, very true.  Shortcuts rarely save you time.  They rarely save you money.  They rarely spare you any work. In fact, saving any of those three things via a shortcut happens so infrequently that you should count on spending more time, more money, and doing more work than you would have if you just did it the right way the first time.

The nerves keep on jangling

I took a couple of weeks away from blogging, speaking, computers, and just about everything else communication.  This was a refreshing, if unplanned break.  As my wee boy was in a major growth spurt, I needed time to make up for a lot of broken, unsettled sleep and dial down my daily activities a little.

Once he started giving me longer, more predictable stretches of sleep, I started taking up a few of my old activities.  One such activity was returning to Toastmasters (baby in tow) and delivering an advanced manual speech.  Outlines were outlined, drafts were drafted, and as the meeting approached my confidence in the quality of the speech and my ability to deliver it got shakier and shakier.

By the time I got to the meeting, I was completely convinced that I was going to bomb.  In my haste to get my baby loaded up and into the car, I even managed to forget the sample of the product that I was to pitch in my speech.  The speech was terrible, I told myself, the pitch unconvincing.  The other Toastmasters, accustomed to my generally skilled and enthusiastic deliveries, would be dismayed at my lackluster, amateurish performance. I hadn’t given a speech for two months; heck, I hadn’t even done any business interactions during that period except for some blogging and a couple coaching sessions with one of my most motivated clients.  Perhaps it was the baby-induced brain-fog that new parents everywhere experienced, but I actually worried that two months with no speeches was two months too long.  By the time I stood up to deliver my speech, I was convinced that I had no business speaking, much less helping other people improve their own speaking abilities.

Despite knowing that I was giving a speech in a warm, welcoming, completely non-threatening environment, I was having a case of the jitters that would have made a frightened newbie proud.  There really wasn’t any reason for it; I certainly could have crafted a better speech, had I more time, but what I had was certainly passable.  I knew my topic and what I wanted to say, and taking two months to adjust to a new baby certainly isn’t unreasonable.

A few of the Toastmaster meeting attendees expressed surprise when I said how nervous I was.  They knew that I speak often, in myriad settings, and enjoy it.  Why would someone with skill and experience get nervous in front of a familiar audience?  The only reason I can give is that the jitters never really go away.  Delivering a speech always puts you in a vulnerable position; you cannot force an audience to accept what you have to say, and the risk of rejection is always there.  Jitters are evidence that you perceive this risk and are responsive to it.

Jitters are a sign that you care.

This is a very good thing as audiences can tell when a presenter doesn’t care.  There is nothing more uninteresting than a speaker who is uninterested in what they have to say or the audience they are saying it to.  One of my favourite dancers said that the day you are no longer nervous when stepping on to the stage is the day you should stop dancing; if you aren’t nervous, then the dance no longer matters to you.  This goes for speaking, presenting, or anything that puts you up in front of a group of people.  Don’t fight the jitters.  Don’t pretend they aren’t there or that you are unaffected by them.  When you welcome them without letting them get the better of you, jitters can be your ally.  They give you a rush of adreneline, they increase your sensitivity to your surroundings, and they remind you that what you are doing – getting and using people’s time and attention – is important and should be respected.

In the end, my speech-cum-product-pitch was received extremely well by my fellow Toastmasters, and all was right in the universe.  I pulled out and used the control techniques I teach my clients – controlled breathing, open posture and expression, keeping to a mental outline, and so on.  I was still anxious, even for several minutes after it was over, but it was an exciting sort of nervousness.  It was the sort of nervousness that reminded me that I really, really like doing what I do.  It was a case of the jitters that I needed – and wanted – to feel.