How would you like….?


download“How would you like your hair cut?” a talkative barber asked a client.  “In silence”, the man replied!  This is one of the oldest recorded jokes, attributed to Roman times.

Most people shy away from silence as it is awkward and scary.  We often see silence as a vacuum that needs to be filled, quickly and furiously.  Yet silence can also be powerful, if used well.

Consider the power of a well-timed pause – especially when you are presenting.  It takes practise to get the timing right (try counting slowly to three in your head).  This will feel like eternity, but gives your messages the space they deserve.

When you finish narrating a story, you will usually be greeted by complete silence instead of rapturous applause.  The silence does not mean your story has not worked; quite the opposite.  The silence is your audience thinking about what you have said.

Quite often you have barely finished speaking in most other contexts when people rush in with what they want to say.  As such, the novelty of being greeted by silence at the end of a story is so unusual that it can unnerve even seasoned presenters.  I prep clients by saying “Bask in the silence!”

Research (in a paper aptly titled ‘Why Silence is golden’) has studied the effects of silence in consumer advertising and found that a silent segment in a television commercial increased attention and recall.  The researchers recommend that advertisers should selectively pause for a cause.

So, how are you going to pause for cause?  Please share – I love hearing from you.

Emotion: Tapping the final frontier


132301_cheersquadThe roar of the crowd watching football on a large-screen TV on Saturday immediately drew me into the cafe.   And it wasn’t even my team playing!

What makes sport such a spectacle to watch is the emotional rollercoaster it unleashes on players, fans and even unsuspecting passers-by.  Could you imagine watching sport and feeling nothing?  No emotion – that would be almost impossible.

In the business arena, despite embracing the need for emotional intelligence, we shy away from emotions as being too messy, unpredictable and dangerous.
Philosopher Descartes said ‘I think, therefore I am’.  When it comes to sports or business, I prefer this twist on his words: ‘I feel, therefore I am’.

So how can leaders tap into emotion at work?  One way is to speak to the emotion in the room, as this is often the biggest undercurrent in any situation.

A senior leader announcing the company’s new hot-desking policy started by sharing what he felt when he first saw the policy.  “Yesterday when I opened the email announcing the new hot-desking policy, I immediately felt “Here we go again, another sexy label for what seems like a cost-cutting measure.”

Immediately you could see the nods around the room.  By speaking to the emotional elephant in the room, the leader earned both trust and respect.  He then went on to explain why his initial fear was unfounded.  Imagine staring at the emotional end of the stick instead of the logical end.  As Richard Branson said: “In business your intuition and emotions are there to help you.”

So where have you seen this done well at work?  Please comment, I love hearing from you.

$US80 million and counting: The recipe for going viral


imagesDavid Beckham and Brad Pitt have done it, and Kim Kardashian even caved in. But in a classic Kim moment, she stopped to take a selfie first. “It” is the ice-bucket challenge, which involves dumping icey water on your head, then challenging others to follow suit.  The challenge raises money for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – known as motor neurone disease in Australia. People can accept the challenge, donate money, or do both.

The challenge quickly went viral, raising millions of dollars worldwide. Every charity faces the battle of raising money and awareness – the ice-bucket challenge has done both with stupendous success.  It has also spurred offshoots, such as India’s rice bucket challenge, where people donate a bucket of rice to someone in need, and the rubble-bucket challenge, which creates awareness about suffering in Gaza.

What can we learn from this campaign, as business communicators and influencers?

  • Everyone loves a dare: The playful ice-bucket challenge has broad appeal.
  • Make progress visible: Have you dumped water on yourself or donated instead? Who have you nominated? The accountability factor is captivating.
  • Co-create with your audience: Audience involvement shapes and shares the story. You, as the communicator, need to give up some control for this to happen.  Let your audience create the movement by passing on the message to their friends and family, instead of being passive recipients of your message.

By finding a human, emotive side to your goal, you’ll create buy-in – and with luck, your message could be the next to go viral!  Please comment, I love hearing from you.

David Bowie is…


I’m a huge David Bowie fan and was excited to learn that an international touring exhibition on David Bowie is coming to Melbourne.  The exhibition is simply titled David Bowie is…

img-bowie-is-heroThe title is alluring as it is an open loop.  You immediately start to add to it.  David Bowie is… a legend, a performer, a superstar.  In a world where most communication is bolted down in a closed loop, why bother with open loop communication?

Open loop grabs attention in an attention-deficient world.  In terms of communication, open loop invites your audience in instead of conventional communication, which tends to be push mode.  Intrigue, wonder, curiosity – not emotions we normally associate with communication – can all be created by open loop.

Open loop can work really well in presentations.  You could use an open loop statement like “There is one way above all others that helps us deliver outstanding customer service. And before I share that-” and talk about something else. Come back and close the loop later.

Stories also lend themselves to open loop.  Conventionally a story has a beginning, middle and an end and we usually do this one after another. With open loop you would start the story, talk about something else, come back to the middle and again leave your audience at a cliff-hanger before coming back and ending your story.

Open loop is massively underutilised with email headings.  Most people scan their email subject headings, so if you want more clicks, try an interesting open loop like Have you ever wondered if…

Open loop is best used sparingly.  If you ever open a loop you must come back and close the loop, otherwise your audience will be left in suspense.  Open loop must also deliver on its promise.  So what follows your open loop must close off and answer the subject or question you raised.

Where have you seen open loop used well?  Please share – I love hearing from you.