When your leadership moment comes, will you be ready?
The goal of the Practical Eloquence podcast is to help you express your full potential, through improving your skills of persuasive communication.
Throughout your career you will have moments where you have a chance to lead others, and your ability to inform, influence or inspire them to action can have a huge influence on your career success. These are Leadership Moments.
But you also have countless micro leadership moments every single day, moments that accumulate over time and build—or erode—your personal credibility and leadership potential. So, if you want to “express your full potential”, you have to strive to be at your best in all aspects of persuasive communication, including face to face conversations, sales calls, presentations, or public speaking.
Persuasive communication is not an ability that you are born with or not, it is a skill that can be learned, improved and cultivated over time.
In future episodes I will share the best lessons in practical eloquence from science, history, business and my own personal experience.
Links and resources:
If you want to do your best possible work on an important presentation, start early. Don’t wait until the last minute and then cram; cram early then refine.
Imagine how much better your presentations would be if you had your own staff of brilliant but undisciplined and overly enthusiastic speechwriters to help you. You convene a meeting and lay out your overall message and an outline of your key points, then leave them to keep working on it while you do other things. While you’re doing something else, they continue working on it 24/7, dredging up long-forgotten information, making connections, and searching for new information. They may throw out dozens of ideas in rapid fire, most of which are bad or so-so, but occasionally one which is brilliant. The more time they have, the more ideas they come up with.
The catch is that whenever they come up with something they think is really good, they have to tell you immediately, even if you are in the middle of an important conversation, and more often than not they will actually walk in on you while you’re in the shower or wake you in the middle of a deep sleep.
That, in essence, describes the relationship between your conscious mind and your unconscious. Your conscious mind is the CEO of your thoughts, and the only part of them of which you’re aware. The vast majority of our “thinking” is taking place in our unconscious mind. Our unconscious mind is far busier than we know. By definition, we’re not conscious of its thoughts, but it’s always working even if we’re not aware of what it’s doing.
I’ve always understood this via my own practical experience, without having a clear grasp of the neuroscience behind it. It happens to me all the time. I outline my presentation or blog post, wrestle with the first draft, then set it aside. But then, I will get a flash of insight—a fully-formed thought that makes perfect sense, or maybe just another way of saying something, or a fresh angle on the problem. It happens most when I’m in the shower, driving, or sleeping. I can’t will it to happen, but it happens so regularly that there must be something going on.
There’s a lot of fascinating material in the book, but the key point relative to presentations is that when your mind wanders it’s not aimless or random—it’s actually very goal-directed. It hates leaving things undone. What’s fascinating is that when you consciously think about a problem certain regions of your brain are activated. When you think you’ve stopped thinking about it, those same regions stay activated, indicating that your mind is still working on the problem. That means that while you can’t control your unconscious, you can direct it.
And your unconscious is so much more powerful than your conscious in several ways, all of which can improve your presentation if you give it time. It digs out stuff you forgot you knew; it makes unexpected connections; processes infinitely faster; and it tunes your attention to relevant information in your environment. (Like when you’re considering buying a certain car model, you suddenly notice so many more of them on the road.)
Here are a few suggestions for tapping the full potential of your unconscious:
- It works best when you have a clear goal. For a presentation, deciding on your theme is a great way to plant a flag to inspire it to action.
- Put in some good hard quality time up-front, thinking carefully about your points and supporting evidence.
- Don’t overdo the early cramming. Your unconscious works best when the job is incomplete.
- Write it down ASAP, or your unconscious will think you don’t care and forget about it. I’m old school, which is why I carry a Moleskine with me everywhere I go.
- Give your mind room to roam. Put down your phone once in a while and get comfortable with your own thoughts.
In the book, Treating
Others saw a difficult and risky decision; Eisenhower saw it as trifling because of his perspective.
Perspective, at least in my definition, is not the same as point of view—it’s higher than that. We all have our own individual points of view on any situation, but it’s often limited. As in the parable of the six blind men and the elephant, our view of any situation is contingent on our available information, individual experiences, and personal temperament. Perspective is the ability to see the whole elephant. It’s a sense of what really matters, of what you can control and what you can’t, of what you can let slide and what to address immediately.
Here’s a personal example, a lasting and valuable lesson in perspective that I received when I was nineteen. I had gotten into an argument with my Dad about something, and I said, “Dad, you don’t realize how tough it is growing up in the 70s.” He quietly replied: “You’re right. All I had to deal with was the Depression and World War 2.” The difference was, I had a point of view, but my father had perspective.
Perspective can make you a better leader, a better persuader, and better person
As a leader, when you’re tempted to micromanage, perspective can remind you to step back and let others grow. It lets you see what truly matters and provides an example for others. Plus, when you’re full of yourself, perspective can set you straight. Perspective bends the effectiveness/efficiency tradeoff toward the former by helping you see beyond metrics to what truly counts.
As a persuader, an outside-in perspective makes it easier for you to frame your messages to better resonate with others’ points of view. It also helps you project an image of maturity, competence and confidence that boosts credibility.
Perspective probably has the greatest impact on the quality of your personal life. It smooths the rough edges of life. When you’re wallowing in self-pity, perspective can lift you up. It can help you frame situations more positively. As G.K. Chesterton said, “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”
Four vantage points to gain perspective
Perspective is fundamentally about comparison and contrast, and having a rich storehouse of experiences and impressions gives you more vantage points from which you can evaluate any situation. Four ways to “make things look different from here” are big picture, long view, outside-in, and gratitude.
Big picture. From a height, things look much smaller and can more readily be placed in relation to others. In business, CEOs are at that 10,000 foot level, but you don’t need to be CEO to take a big picture view; anyone can raise their perspective by “thinking like an owner”, or as Drucker advised, focusing on contribution and not job description.
Long view. The present situation only gains meaning in relation to both the past and the future. By looking back, Eisenhower was able to reflect back on his long experience to gain perspective. You can also expand your time horizon by looking forward in time. When problems and criticisms jostle you off your path, focus on the long-term goal to keep oriented on what’s important. Occasionally it may remind you that, “You will never reach your destination if you throw stones at every dog that barks.”
Outside-in. What I call outside-in thinking is what psychologists call perspective-taking or cognitive empathy. It’s about stepping into the other’s mind and seeing it from their point of view. It’s especially useful in crafting presentations and working towards win-win negotiations.
Gratitude. If you take the time to step back and consider it, we live in the best times ever in human history. We are safer, healthier and more prosperous than any generation in the history of mankind. You don’t even need to go back in time; just look at the world around you. My wife and I came up with a phrase when the Iraq war was raging that we still use: ” At least we’re not in Fallujah.”
How to improve perspective
Perspective probably can’t be taught, but I do believe it can be learned and cultivated, if we can just take the time occasionally to step back from the press of daily life. I’m reminded of this quote from A. A. Milne:
“Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it.”
Here are a few ways to step back:
Travel more. Personally, a great way to gain life experiences is to travel widely, and experience other cultures. It will help with big picture and outside-in perspectives.
Read widely. You can also “travel” in time by reading history; you’ll learn quickly that most of what’s happening in our political scene today, for example, has happened in many other versions throughout our history. Read Marcus Aurelius, Seneca and Epictetus to learn about Stoic philosophy, which will help you clarify the difference between what you can control and what you can’t.
Gain business acumen. When is the last time you read your own company’s annual report or 10-K? I strongly recommend it; if you want to think like an owner you have to read what the owners read.
Be curious. Be curious about other people, dig beneath the surface of conversations, and practice your listening skills. Be curious about your business, your industry, and the wider world.
 Lea Berman and Jeremy Bernard, Treating People Well: The Extraordinary Power of Civility in at Work and in Life. Digital.
One of the best ways to add power and sparkle to your speech is to use an apt quotation.
As Brendan Behan said, “A quotation in a speech, article or book is like a rifle in the hands of an infantryman. It speaks with authority.” That “borrowed” authority from more accomplished and better-known experts is an excellent way to add power to your argument.
Quotations can also add sparkle and even a certain literary flair through the clever way they’re phrased. As Montaigne said, “I quote others only the better to express myself.”
But like any strong medicine, quotations need to come with a warning label. The first is that if you overuse them you may be perceived as not having your own point of view. As Dorothy L. Sayers said, “A facility for quotation covers the absence of original thought.”
Here are a few additional tips to use quotations effectively:
- Make sure you quote them correctly and assign proper credit. If Einstein had said half the things people attribute to him, he never would have had time to think about relativity. It’s so easy to check quotations that you look lazy if you don’t.
- In you’re unfamiliar with the person who said it, look them up. This may prevent embarrassment, as I suffered once when I quoted Konrad Lorenz and then found out that he was tainted by association with the Nazi party.
- Quote someone especially meaningful to your particular audience, such as their own company’s CEO or someone respected in their industry. I’ve had good success with highly technical audiences, for example, by quoting Richard Feynman.
- Dig a little deeper to go beyond the ones everyone already knows. Everyone has heard some variation of: “Sorry for sending such a long letter; I didn’t have time to write a short one,” but he also said: “NO CAN DO 2 PAGES TWO DAYS. CAN DO 30 PAGES 2 DAYS. NEED 30 DAYS TO DO 2 PAGES”.
- When using them in a speech, keep them short, both so you don’t bore your audience and so you can memorize them and not have to read them off your screen. It’s OK to edit a long quotation as long as you don’t distort the original meaning.
 Normally I would not use so many quotations in one post, but it is about quotations…
 As I had to do for two of the quotes above. Brendan Behan was an Irish poet, and Dorothy Sayers an English crime writer and poet.
 In fairness, this one may be apocryphal.