Taking Your Stage Blog  
  Helping you improve the communication skills of the leaders and teams in your organization.  

« February 2014 | Main | April 2014 »

6 items from March 2014


April 22 - Actor-Based Training Workshop: Motivate and Influence through Business Storytelling

Stick_comm_medStorytelling has been listed as one of the most important business skills in the next five years. We are a narrative culture and storytelling is an essential skill in your toolbox to motivate and influence others in a healthy way, regardless of your level of authority. Whether you are a project manager, sales professional, executive, director, analyst, manager, or leader, storytelling is a tool that will change your ability to communicate and help you become highly proficient in your role.

Hippo's Motivating through Storytelling workshop is a fun, hands-on experience for you to develop solid business storytelling skills in order to be more influential and persuasive. You will learn in a small group setting by developing stories for your own toolbox with the help of a professional coach and a live actor.

Learn how to use storytelling to:

  • Get others to buy-in to change
  • Influence others without authority
  • Motivate your teams
  • Communicate in a way people will remember
  • Drive people to action
  • Sell more
  • Convey strategy and vision
  • Change behavior
  • Convey information
  • Get people to remember you
  • Deliver a compelling message
  • Lead high-performing teams more effectively

Learn more  or  Register Today!

Contact Mark Kenny at mkenny@hipposolutions.com or (615) 219-0803 x7211 for more information.







5 Tools to Get Out of a Communication Rut

IStock_000001355840_web2So often our communication in business gets in a rut - we do things the same way day after day.  I recently read a story about an actor who was having a difficult time "getting into the flow" while practicing his scenes for an upcoming rehearsal.  He felt disjointed, uncomfortable, and uninspired.  He was in a rut.  The next day some people were gathered in an adjacent room so he had to change his practice routine so that he would not disturb them.  He went to the opposite side of the room and spoke in a quiet voice.  He found that his mood and demeanor were transformed.

While we are not practicing to perform in an actual play each of us performs on our own "stage" every day, whether it is a team meeting, a one-on-one conversation, a phone call, or a presentation.  How we present and conduct ourselves goes a long way towards our ability to shape and be successfully in the "scene."

Too often we get stuck in a rut where we do things the same way every time.  We lead meetings the same way, we prepare the same way for presentations, we approach someone the same way for a one-on-one discussion.

Instead, if we are serious about becoming a great communicator that is highly proficient at what we do, we need to mix things up and continue to try new things.

Try these 5 simple tools to simply do something different:

1. Stand

If you always sit down to lead a meeting, try standing.  Standing changes your energy level and commands more respect.  In fact, studies have shown that people are more persuaded by people who are standing as opposed to sitting.

2.  Add Emotion

On a phone call or a one-on-one, change the inflection of your voice to add some emotion to it.  Just once.  How does that change the conversation and even your energy level?

3. Use Silence

In your next briefing or presentation, strategically insert silence.  Make a statement to your audience and let it hang out there for a few seconds before speaking again.  Silence is one of those simple but powerful tools to keep your message from getting in a rut.

4. Do Something Unexpected

If you always start the meeting the same way, do something different.  Try an icebreaker.  Tell a (tasteful) joke.  Have your "audience" do something unexpected, such as find one thing they don't know about another person.

5. Tell a Story

One of the single most powerful tools you can use to spice up your communication effectiveness is to inject a story.  Tell a story to start off a meeting, presentation, or even a one-on-one.  Keep it short and concise and tie it into the objective for your conversation.

I find often that our level of confidence in our job is tied to our level of confidence in communicating to others.  Try something new each day and watch how the effectiveness of your "performance" increases.




Is Your Listener's Capacity Overflowing? 7 Questions to Ask Yourself

IStock_000010987814_webLast year while coaching my daughter’s soccer team (she is seven), I realized that I was communicating too much.  The listening capacity of the girls was overflowing.  We covered passing, dribbling, throw-ins, corner kicks, and more.  I was playing the role of the talkative leader and did not have a proper awareness of when their listening “cup” was full.  Contrast that with this last Tuesday when I had one primary focus during practice: triangles (a way to teach passing and moving in soccer).  Most of the girls left practice talking about triangles.  It was far more effective.

While adults have a higher listening capacity than seven year olds, many times we can still take on the role of the overly-talkative leader.  We cause our listener’s capacity to fill up and overflow, either when talking one-on-one or to our business team.  I have had this experience myself when someone is telling me story and after story and making point after point.  All of a sudden I realize that I have glazed over and have not been paying attention, despite my good intention.

Ask yourself these seven questions to determine if you are playing the role of the “overly talkative leader”:

1. Are you asking questions or making statements?

If you are making a lot of statements, this is probably a one-sided conversation.  Start counting how many questions you are asking in a conversation.

2. Are you answering your own questions?

The hardest part about asking a question is to shut up and let the other person answer it.

3. Are you allowing pauses?

For many people, a pause after you have asked a question doesn’t mean that you need to fill it with words.  It means they are collecting their thoughts before answering your question.

4. How many topics did you cover?

Keep it focused and they'll remember it.

5. How many times did you interrupt them?

Once can be excused.  More than once means you are more interested in telling your story.

6. Do you start the conversation with a story or statement without being prompted?

Or do you start by asking a question and listening to the response?

7. Is the body language of the other person changing?

If they start shifting, tapping their fingers, moving eye contact, or a number of other small signs, you are talking too much.  Be aware of these subtle signs.

It is easy to fall into the trap of being an overly talkative leader, especially if your style is more assertive and outgoing.  But that can come across as disrespectful and becomes ineffective with your listeners, just like my daughter's soccer team was not able to soak up my good information.  We can all become more effective communicators and listeners, and raising self-awareness is often the first step.




Boom! How to Stop Conversation Bombing

IStock_000004563504X_webLast night I was at friend’s house telling someone a story about something I had heard on the radio.  During a pause between two sentences, a third person started peppering me with questions.  He obviously had not heard the beginning of the conversation.  By the time I was done answering his questions, the person to whom I was originally telling the story had been grabbed by someone else.  The story was never told.  It was like a grenade went off in the middle of the dialogue.

Have you ever felt that way?  It resembles a carefully scripted, dramatic scene in a play whose momentum screeches to a halt because one of the actors jumps their line.

My conversation-bombing friend was well intentioned and I enjoy dialoguing with him.  He didn’t intend to conversation-bomb and acknowledged his error after the fact.  I can’t cast much blame because I know that I have been a conversation-bomber myself.  More than anything, it reminded me to be ever vigilant to how I am in my own communication skills to enter conversations without conversation-bombing others.

How do we stop?

1)      Change our attitude

Before you conversation-bomb, think about which of these attitudes is driving you:

  • I have to know everything.
  • I have to know what is going on…now.
  • I don’t want to miss anything.

Guess what?  It’s not all about you.  You don’t have to know everything, and you don’t need to know now.  Instead change your attitude to focus on the story-teller.  It’s ok to enter the conversation, but how can you do it in a way that makes them look good?  The best communicators make others feel important.

Use “WIIFT”!  “What’s in it for them” – the same thing a good presenter will use when delivering a message to their audience.

2)      Ease into the conversation

As you enter the conversation, do so my listening instead of talking.  In fact, don’t say anything for at least 60 seconds (for some of us that is a long time not to say anything).  Make it a challenge.  What can you learn just by listening?  Can you answer your questions?  Consider yourself exercising your communication “muscles” by focusing on listening.

If after 60 seconds, you still have a question, wait for the person to finish their story, and politely ask, “I apologize, I missed the beginning of the story, what happened to put the team in this position [or whatever your question is]?”  Or you could even wait until a little later.  The person may be flattered that you showed an interest in their story, while not being so focused on yourself.

Becoming a great communicator means doing little things.  When you are in a social setting, pay attention to how often you may be conversation-bombing.  It’s a great place to practice those ever important listening skills.

Perhaps next time instead of conversation-bombing, we can do some conversation-cultivating.





#PMFlashBlog - Project Management Around the World - Nashville, TN

Our President, Mark Kenny, was invited to participate in this week's #PMFlashBlog around the world.  Read his post here.




Telling "The Third Story"

IStock_000001056012_webI looked at the time.  Just 5 minutes before I was to teach communication skills in conflict management with Hippo Solutions to a group of employees at a company in Franklin, Tennessee.

Since I had a few minutes to spare, I checked my email.  Wow- what timing!  A friend had just sent a distressed message, forwarding on an email she had sent to a client, asking me what she had done wrong. The client had called her on the phone spewing a verbal firestorm, saying her "tone" in her email was totally out of line.

I looked at what she had written.  She had started the email by defending herself, stating her perspective of something they had discussed earlier.  Right out of the gate she had shot herself in the foot (how's that for two idioms in a row?).

I hurriedly wrote her back.  "It's best to have these kinds of conversations in person or at least on the phone.  Email often doesn't relay our 'tone' accurately.  In any case, you might want to try starting your conversation by showing that you believe the best about him, stating something you can both agree on."

It was exactly what I was about to teach.  Advisors from The Harvard Negotiation Project in their book Difficult Conversations recommend that we start from "The Third Story."  Instead of starting from The First Story, your story, in which you would say, "I think you are wrong," or from The Second Story, in which you would say, "I know you think you are right," try starting from The Third Story.

Whether it's a tough conversation with a coworker or your spouse, the Third Story is the story you can both agree on, the story which starts, "You and I both want this relationship to work," or "We both want to keep this customer," or "You and I both love our kids."  In so doing, you start by affirming the other person as having good intentions and paint the picture of the two of you on the same team working together to solve a problem.

Then you can clarify, "It seems like we have different perspectives on this.  I would like to hear yours and share mine with you, too."  (Of course, you would say all of this in your own words so it won't sound like it came directly out of a textbook.)

After I finished teaching the session to my captive audience, I checked my email.  My friend had decided to call her client.  Not surprisingly, he call-screened her, so she left him a message.  If he gives her another chance and calls her back, I have a feeling he's going to hear her begin the conversation with a much better story- The Third Story.