Up Front Communication

Helping people and businesses through the art of communication

Want to write great stuff? Here’s something to help you get started.

I’ve always loved storytelling.  As a kid, I liked to record improvised “radio plays” on cassette tapes and would take long walks during which I rambled adventures to myself out loud, looking for all the world like the neighbourhood madgirl.  Later, once the glories of the internet opened up to me, I spent hours in online writing communities crafting group-written stories with other enthusiasts.  Even some of my geekier pursuits, like creating a long-lasting Dungeons & Dragons game group, were born out of the desire to have fun felling stories.  A big reason why I love speaking and presenting so much is because it scratches that same itch – I get to tell a good yarn while giving people information that can improve different aspects of their lives.

Freeflowing, creative storytelling play hugely improved my ability to create compelling presentations.  Great presentations always involve storytelling, and having consequence free fun with stories is one of the best ways to stretch and expand your presentation and speaking muscles.

I completely understand that it can be hard to simply dive into creative writing.  That’s the beauty of group-written stories. You get the boost and creative input of other enthusiasts, and when it is overlaid with a game-based structure, you get the additional benefit of a scaffold to help direct your story.  It takes some of the hard work out of writing and lets you play in the mud with the other kids.

Today, a colleague of mine introduced me to the perfect platform for creative, group-based, storytelling play.  I had a look, gave it a go, and was so excited that I couldn’t wait to share it with you.  It’s an online game platform called Storium.  This is a collaborative story game that combines the best of group creativity with light game structure.  I’ve joined it’s Kickstarter campaign and am very, very excited to play in a way that I haven’t done in years.

Once you start telling stories on a regular basis, you will find it easier and easier to tell them on the fly.  Stories are the backbone of great presentations, and the more you tell them the better you’ll be.  Give Storium a go, and let me know what you think!

Do you do play with any other type of storytelling?  Planning on trying Storium? Let me know in the comments below!

Proximity and expertise: according to Seth.

You may be aware that I am a bit of a Seth Godin fangirl.  It takes a great deal of restraint for me to not share nearly every one of his daily blog updates here on my own blog (Twitter is a better vehicle for sharing that sort of thing).  Every now and then, though, there is one that is so good that I need to put it up here so that those not yet converted to Godinism read his words of widsom.  Like this:


Never eat sushi at the airport

or sleep near a train station.

Don’t ask a cab driver for theater tips.

Never buy bread from the supermarket bakery…

and don’t ask your spouse for honest feedback about how you look.

Don’t do business with a stranger who calls you at home during dinner.

Think twice before you ask your ad agency how many ads you should run.

And never eat the macadamia nuts in the mini bar.

Proximity is not a stand in for expertise.

Think on that last sentence.  Equating proximity with expertise is a common stumbling block in many industries.  It is rife* in professions where members believe themselves to inherently be Jacks-of-all-trades.  Librarians, for example, are extremely prone to this, so are doctors.  In these cases, the “proximity” is their professional qualification, and it causes them to look inside their own professional body for people to occupy just about any kind of role necessary.

Going for proximity, regardless what form that proximity takes, is rarely a good strategy.


*Rife, not ubiquitous.  There’s a difference.


Off the Introspective Cuff

One of the keys to being able to ramble out a good, solid off-the-cuff or spontaneous speech is introspection – and lots of it.

The purpose behind this introspection isn’t to indulge in endless navel-gazing.  That’s what Facebook and Instagram are for.  This self-reflection is to develop an acute awareness of your values, your personal drivers, and your thoughts on life, the universe, and everything.*

When making spontaneous speeches, we need to rely on tidbits of information that we hold in our head.  There isn’t time to ponder and compose an answer, and we may be lacking data critical to making an informed argument.  We can, however, always give our opinion on matters.  This is where the introspection comes in: if we spend time thinking about how our own brain works, we can address subjects from a personal angle.  This may not result in a speech with heavy hitting evidence and data to back up your opinion, but it will result in something (relatively) thoughtful.  You can speak to how you think about the topic or situation, about what affects your views and opinions, about how it relates to your own context.  And – prize of prize – you can do so with sincerity because you are ultimately revealing a part of yourself to your audience, and you take the time to think about yourself and your context.

Speaking is about sharing. We don’t always have the luxury of being able to share facts, but we can always share a piece of ourselves.  But in order to share ourselves, we must understand ourselves first.





Communicating Intimately #4: Intimate cues

Throw your audience a bone.

Really. Give them a clue, a hint, an indication that you are opening yourself up to an intimate exchange.  All the heartfelt intentions in the world won’t tell the audience you are open to them unless you give them some form of physical cue.

Note what I said there:  physical cue, not verbal cue.  This distinction is important.  We humans are very sensitive to the silent messages given through our facial and bodily expressions.  Words are secondary; telling someone repeatedly that you are interested or open will not result in intimacy if your face doesn’t match those words.  Actually, if your physical expression doesn’t match your verbal expression, the person you want to communicate intimately with will likely start to distrust you.  Incongruence tends to set off our alarm bells.

What sort of expressions help create intimacy?

1) Those that indicate interest in the person or people you are communicating with: focused gaze, slightly widened eyes, and a slight forward lean or cocked head are all cues of interest.

2) Those that indicate sincerity: emphasis with movement and physical energy with slight body tension show that we are investing energy in what we are saying.  That investment usually indicates sincerity; we mean what we say, otherwise we wouldn’t put so much effort into it.

3) Those that indicate vulnerability: an “open” position (chest unprotected by arms, books, etc.), shoulders down, head in neutral and throat exposed (as opposed to the chin tucked in, protecting the neck), hands visible, palms frequently displayed.  Intimacy exists when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable.  Physically demonstrating vulnerability instead of defensiveness invites people to be comfortable with us.

Being able to give these physical signals on cue is an exceptionally useful communication skill.  Ultimately, your goal is to give these cues in a manner that is still natural to your own communication style.  Get to know your own expressions: when you are interested, how wide do you open your eyes?  When you are being emphatic, how do you move your hands?  Do you always raise your right eyebrow when you find something intriguing?  Stand in front of a mirror and chat with yourself out loud.  Rehash a recent conversation that you wish you could have again.  Deliver that witty reply you thought half an hour after the moment had passed.  Deliver your Oscar acceptance speech.  See what your face and body do.  Then, re-create those expressions and practice them.  Get to know how your face muscles work and how your hands feel.  Now apply those expressions to new material such as a book you are reading.  Read out loud and apply your personal expression style to the text.  If you can only manage to do this in the bathroom with the shower running, go for it.  That’s usually where I practice.

Remember: our bodies communicate so much.  Intimate communication is free exchange; let your body demonstrate your desire for that freedom.  Don’t tell your audience how you feel – show them.  Even better, show them how they should feel.  They’ll respond accordingly!



Hard work

I’m currently watching yesterday’s episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.  His guest was Bill Clinton, who recently delivered an extraordinary speech at the Democratic National Convention.  Clinton is one of the most highly regarded contemporary public speakers and delivers hundreds of speeches every year.

When Jon Steward asked Clinton if he could tell that he was “crushin’ it as you were doin’ it?”, Clinton said the following:

“I worked so hard on that.  For weeks and weeks.  And then the White House designated Bruce Reed [. . .] to help me and then Jean Spurling, the national economic advisor [ . . . ] came in.  And we worked for the last day and a half after doing all this other work.  I was just determined to get the facts right and to simplify the argument without being simplistic.”


Like I said in yesterday’s post, great speechmaking takes hard, hard work.  It takes planning and preparation and deep knowledge of your topic and argument.  Bill Clinton spends weeks preparing his major speeches.  He seeks help and advice and feedback and the input of experts.  Even though his speech delivery may appear effortless, it is not without effort.  The fact that he makes it look so easy is testimony to the sheer amount of work he puts into his speeches, and not just to an inherent ability to talk to large crowds of people.