Tuesday, 19 June 2018

The Lucille Ossai Communications Toolbox: Ask Lucille Ossai #1

I often receive messages from people on LinkedIn requesting advice for improving different aspects of communication. I always respond to enquiries, because I believe in the usefulness of sharing my knowledge and experiences on the subject.
Therefore, in order to continue to provide value to this blog’s community, I’ve decided to unveil the Lucille Ossai Communications Toolbox. This will be a platform whereby I’ll post selected communication-related enquiries and my responses to them, in the form of ‘nuggets’, for quick reading. However, don’t be deceived by the 'byte-sized' responses because they’ll be loaded with practical tips and useful information.
These quick blog posts will take the format: Ask Lucille Ossai #N: XXX?

So if you have  communication-related concerns you’d like quick advice on, first follow me on LinkedIn. Then tag me using @LucilleOssai, and ask your question.

Important note: This service will only be rolled out on LinkedIn.

To be eligible for the high-quality free advice, you should begin with "Ask @Lucille Ossai: XXX?" and end  with the hashtag #LucilleOssaiCommsToolbox. I'd respond to you directly on LinkedIn.

Kindly use the format below precisely:

Ask @Lucilleossai: How do I write a strong cover letter? #LucilleOssaiCommsToolbox.

If your enquiry has a broad appeal, I might decide to highlight it in a blog post under the Lucille Ossai Communications Toolbox banner. To ensure your privacy, only your general location will be stated if available, e.g. Durban, South Africa. Be assured that your personal details won't be revealed.

Note that questions will be edited for simplicity, brevity and clarity. At my discretion, responses posted on this blog could be more detailed than on LinkedIn.

To kick off this initiative, below is the first segment.

The Lucille Ossai Communications Toolbox

Ask Lucille Ossai #1: As an introvert, how do I overcome my fear of public speaking?

The scenario:
I am a 55 plus-year-old professional who has  worked in higher education for more than 25 years.
For all of my life, I have been essentially shy and introverted. Over the past several years, through hard work, I have moved upward in administration, finding myself many times in the position of having to lead meetings, speak in public, and attend social functions. I struggle with these things and really need to find a way to overcome this challenge. I have trouble speaking up in meetings and I avoid speaking in public. I also avoid social functions and difficult conversations. I know to reach my potential for the next few years, I need to do these things better. 
Any advice?
Mr. H.
North Carolina, USA.

My advice: 
I can empathise with you as a fellow introvert. Public speaking can be scary but there are techniques that will help you. You're not alone with this fear, as research shows that 75% of us dread public speaking.

I recently wrote an article on public speaking that would be encouraging to you: How To Speak Persuasively...In Your Own Skin.
If your fear is a medical issue—and I’m talking about a chronic phobia, which has severe physical and/or psychological manifestations—then I urge you to seek medical attention. For example, you could contact Doreen Hamilton on LinkedIn, given that she’s a trained psychologist who has successfully overcome her fear of public speaking. She also runs a programme to help people deal with their anxieties so that they speak confidently.

However, if you struggle with a general unwillingness to speak, you can overcome this problem by adopting the latest methods and by practising consistently. Effective communication skills are often learned. Nonetheless, It’s impossible to become a better speaker if you don’t actively speak (even when you’re terrified). That’s similar to learning to drive masterfully by only reading instructional materials on driving.
Below are some good ways to overcome your fear when speaking in public:
1) Prepare your materials/presentations etc. and practise adequately before the event. As I mentioned in another post, practice begets confidence.
2) Always put yourself in the shoes of your audience members, and only share relevant content. In other words, focus on their needs and you’d soon become more comfortable with speaking.
3) Breathe slowly and deeply. Experts call this diaphragmatic breathing. It calms nerves and is linked to stronger vocal power.
4) Use pauses; they allow your points ‘marinate’.  Also make efforts to connect with your audience with engaging body language cues such as smiling, gesturing naturally and using movement (where appropriate).
5) Speak much slower than you do in your daily conversations. This would feel unnatural at first. Nevertheless, it helps you articulate your thoughts precisely, thus increasing your persuasiveness. 
6) In meetings, focus on using short sentences to convey your thoughts in a simple manner.
7) Counter negative self-talk of impending failure with positive re-affirmations of your performance prior to an event. Positive visualisations also work wonders for your confidence.
8) Avoid perfection, as even seasoned speakers make mistakes. If you make a slip, move on with the rest of your speech/presentation. People are unlikely to notice errors unless you highlight them.
9) Remember that your audience members aren’t the devil’s spawns. In fact, they want you to succeed, so view them as your supporters. Draw strength from their positive perceptions of your delivery. 
10) Communication experts you could follow on LinkedIn who provide valuable advice on public speaking include Sandra Zimmer, Suzannah Baum and David McGimpsey.
11) If your budget allows, invest in yourself. Coaching and training sessions from experts would improve your communication abilities tremendously.
Bonus tip:
12) As a minimum, repeat steps 1-10 consistently.
Good luck!
And now, over to you:
What other advice could you give Mr. H? Kindly post your comments below.
If you enjoyed this post don't rush off just yet. Please remember to:
Share this article in your social networks by clicking on the icons at the top or below.
 - Sign up for updates in the blog's right sidebar on the homepage so that you’re immediately notified via email when a new blog post is published. Don’t miss any more articles!
Need help with improving your communication skills?
Hire my services for:
Communications training for your staff and executives;
One-on-one coaching sessions in speeches/presentations;
Speeches and keynote presentations at your corporate events;
Workshops and training sessions in business writing;
Assignments in writing (content creation, executive speeches, etc.).
Let me help you get results.
Contact me:
A) Send an email to Lucilleossai@gmail.com.
B) Call for a free consultation: 
Nigeria:             0704 631 0592
International:   +234 704 631 0592  
N.B-   Image is courtesy of Stuart Miles, via freedigitalphotos.net.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

How To Speak Persuasively...In Your Own Skin

A pounding heart.

A dry mouth.

Lungs devoid of air, and wobbly legs threatening to give way as I slowly advanced to the stage.

When I opened my mouth, a squeaky, panicky voice I didn't recognise burst forth...

Those physical symptoms I experienced when called upon to read a few lines at an event were overwhelming.


And that was all I was required to do: read. Yet, at the time, I'd have gratefully chosen the option of the earth opening and consuming me, than speaking in front of the unfamiliar audience.

The anxiety was real, so I get it when statistics show that 75% of us suffer from glossophobia—anxiety and/or phobia of public speaking—and that most people prefer death to public speaking.

I think that figure is conservative however, because I've read accounts of many professional speakers admitting to being nervous before events.

So I'm not alone and neither are you. Extroverts are not exempt either. In your professional or entrepreneurial journey, you will face that panic, with the accompanying  physical and psychological symptoms, when you're poised to give a speech/presentation/keynote to an (intimidating) audience.

And trust me, it won't matter if you've given that presentation a hundred times, or if you can recite that speech in your sleep. Those moments of woe can suddenly strike, leaving you raw and emotionally drained just before, and even during the event.

Numerous suggestions are available to help you navigate the path to fearless public speaking. This post from Harvard Business Review lists practical points that will help.

Moreover, preparation begets confidence. Therefore, practise thoroughly before  the event, and you'd become less fearful and more convinced that you'd do well.

Visualising yourself performing brilliantly also works wonders. Don't scoff at this idea.

Experts even recommend diaphragmatic breathing, or deep breathing, for calming nerves and for powerful vocals.

You should also expand your knowledge by taking courses, reading materials or watching videos online.  As I've advised elsewhere on this blog, joining your local Toastmasters Club and watching TED talks will hone your public speaking skills.

Additionally, getting coached by experts in the field or adopting their recommendations will expose you to best practices.

For example:

I) Patricia Fripp, a Hall of Fame speaker, uses techniques gleaned from over 30 years of public speaking experience, to teach you how to conduct compelling presentations and  inspiring keynotes.

II) Nancy Duarte is also an authority on presentations. She and her team reveal tested methods for masterful outcomes.

III) David McGimpsey, the presentation blogger, offers invaluable practical tips beginners and professionals should consider for effective presentations.

IV)  Dr. Gary Genard, who developed The Genard Method—specialised public speaking training based on techniques of the theatre—helps you 'perform' dynamic presentations.

V)  Suzannah Baum is great for unleashing your speaking potential...in a charming manner.

Therefore, you needn't search far for solutions to your public speaking challenges.

Nevertheless, note that it's easy to get overwhelmed by the information you receive. You could also become convinced that those useful tips won't work for you because of your unique personality or circumstance.

Specifically, you want to stay true to yourself; you don't want to morph into someone inauthentic by pretending to be someone you're not.

Again, I get it.

My 'situation' is almost a contradiction: an introvert who's a communications trainer/coach, who has lectured to a group of over 85 people in a packed room, and who has led focus groups, facilitated seminars, and done one-on-one coaching sessions. Then there was the introductory video for a course at a business school, and recently, a 30-minute radio stint. Through all these activities, it was important that I felt at ease, but prepared.

So fellow introverts, don't despair - you can still be yourselves and become convincing speakers. After all, Barack Obama, Nelson Mandela and even Ghandi, labelled introverts, were known for their persuasive deliveries in their roles.
Those who know me personally might wonder how I'm able to do those things, since I'm most comfortable being left alone to do my best work. Well, below are techniques that work for me. They could be tweaked for your circumstance:

1) Prioritise your audience's needs
This is the number one rule for effective communication in general.

In public speaking, whether you're giving a speech, presentation or delivering a paper, consider what will be relevant to your audience. Then prepare the content so that whatever you share is useful. Eliminate good-to-know information that bears no significance to the needs of your audience members. Remember that they decide in 30 seconds or less, whether whatever you're talking about will be worth their attention.

You should also consider how to open your session with a bang so that you 'hook' your audience from the moment you open your mouth.

2) Keep your message simple, brief and clear
The 'curse of knowledge' is real, and well-meaning speakers often fall into its enticing trap. This happens when you're so knowledgeable about your subject matter that you use language you assume is understood by your audience. Apart from loading your speech/presentation with jargon, you delve into the complexities of your topic in painful detail.
Even if your audience members are a learned bunch, attention spans wane easily and you'd lose them quickly if you waffle on.
Moreover, avoid being lost in your world that you don't communicate a clear call-to-action for your audience to take after your talk.
In other words, adhere to what I've coined as the three 'beacons of effective communication' on this blog: keep your message simple, brief and clear.
Your audience will be grateful for your precision.

3) Share your story
Even though you shouldn't tire your audience with too much relevant information, it's always reassuring for them to learn about your struggles and how you overcame them. These stories make you human and thus relatable.
Storytelling is a compelling tool that connects you with your audience. It's also one of the easiest ways for them to remember your messages.
You don't need to be an orator to share your experiences. Just tell your stories like you would to a trusted friend, but remember to use the appropriate language.
4) Unleash your vocal power
Your voice is a useful asset, giving you different 'flavours' and richness depending on how it's used. This cheat sheet to vocal dynamics explains how to tweak your voice to influence people.
5) Use positive nonverbal cues
Maintaining eye contact, smiling, gesturing naturally, and using movement (where appropriate) to highlight your points, all make your sessions engaging.
Use pauses. They can be effective tools that allow your points 'marinate' in the psyche of your audience. Don't overdo them however. You don’t want to appear insecure.
Avoid 'defensive' body language cues like frowning, folding arms across chest, rolling eyes, and glaring. Similarly, distracting gestures such as incessant blinking, tapping on tables,  or repetitive ticks (smoothening hair, adjusting ties, clasping and unclasping hands, etc.) turn your audience's attention away from you. Eventually, they  will disconnect.
Don't lose your audience  to negative nonverbal behaviours.

6) Control your Q&A sessions
One of the most useful components in your public speaking toolkit is your question-and-answer (Q&A) session.

A great Q&A session will make up for errors you made in your speech/presentation. It is also an opportunity for you to reclaim lost ground, and to once more demonstrate how your expertise can solve your audience's concerns.

But it must be handled in the right way.

As Craig Valentine, the 1999 World Champion of Public Speaking for Toastmasters International, advises: never end your speech with the Q&A session.
This is a salient point because such sessions could become rowdy, and you could lose the goodwill you've enjoyed, or the connection you've made during the event. In this post, the seasoned speaker explains the techniques for making your Q&A sessions memorable.

7) End on a high note
If you're like me, then 'investing' yourself in a public speaking activity can be mentally draining, especially if the Q&A stint is brutal. Still, persevere and resist the urge to 'check out' before your conclusion.
Just like your opening statement, your parting remarks are important because they reiterate your main idea.
I try to end with a declarative phrase or a short sentence in my sessions, where feasible. For example, at the end of one training session on business writing, I mouthed the words below:
"Once you know the rules, there's no one on this planet who you wouldn't be able to write to".

It was refreshing to see the reactions of members of the audience.
You can however try other suggestions for ending your oral engagements. Nonetheless, what you should note is that your audience tends to remember your openings and closings the most, so make them remarkable.

You could read all the tips for overcoming public speaking anxiety; you could watch the videos; and you could practise the best-kept secrets, but remember this:
The nervousness doesn't disappear completely.
That’s fine. It just means that you’d need to challenge yourself each time you’re required to speak in public.
And what about those physical manifestations of the anxiety I described at the beginning? I survived the incident and learned what not to do in the future.
Therefore, if there's one piece of advice I'd stress, it's this:
It's not about you and what you know. Make everything about the value you provide for your audience. You'd connect more meaningfully with them as a result.
Be yourself. Everything else will follow and you'd speak persuasively in your own skin.
And now, over to you:

What other public speaking techniques have helped you in your career?
Kindly post your comments below.
If you enjoyed this post don't rush off just yet. Please remember to:
Ø  Share this article in your social networks by clicking on the icons at the top or below.

Ø  Sign up for updates in the blog's right sidebar on the homepage so that you are immediately notified via email when a new blog post is published. Don’t miss any more articles!
Need help with improving your communication skills?
Hire my services for:
v Communications training for your staff and executives;

v One-on-one coaching in speeches/presentations;

v Workshops and training sessions in business writing;

v Speeches and keynote presentations at your corporate events;

v Writing assignments (content creation, executive speeches, etc.).

Let me help you get results.
Contact me:
A) Send an email to: Lucilleossai@gmail.com.

B) Call for a free consultation: 
Nigeria:           0704 631 0592
International: +234 704 631 0592  

N.B-   First image is courtesy of Renjith Krishnan, via freedigitalphotos.net. Second image is courtesy of Xedos4, via freedigitalphotos.net. Third image is courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net. Fourth image is courtesy of Stuart Miles, via freedigitalphotos.net. Last image is courtesy of ScottChan, via freedigitalphotos.net.