Andrea coaches you on 5 quick fixes to boost your communication effectiveness: How to avoid upspeak, establish eye contact, focus on others, communicate with precision, and control your narrative. Where should you focus to get traction and improve your communication skills?

 

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TRANSCRIPT

Lately, when I’m in coaching sessions, I’ve been noticing a few common mistakes that many executives make. Sometimes it’s a bad habit.  Sometimes it’s just not knowing better. It almost always negatively impacts their credibility. Fortunately, there are quick fixes that can significantly improve their communication effectiveness, and ultimately boost their credibility. 

 

So I thought it might for an impactful episode if I shared with you 5 quick fixes to boost your communication effectiveness. Are you curious what these 5 quick fixes are? Let’s do this.

 

Welcome to the Talk About Talk podcast episode number 154, quick fixes to boost your communication effectiveness. Yes, this is going to be a productive episode.

 

In case we haven’t met, let me introduce myself. My name is Dr. Andrea Wojnicki and I’m your executive communication coach. Please call me Andrea!
I’m the founder of Talk About Talk, where I coach communication skills to ambitious executives like you – to elevate your communication and your confidence, so you can establish credibility, and accomplish your career goals.

 

If you go to the TalkAboutTalk.com website, you’ll find many resources to help you out. There’s information there about one-on-one coaching, online courses, bootcamps, corporate workshops, the archive of this bi-weekly podcast, AND, I really hope you’ll sign up for the Talk About Talk newsletter. That newsletter is your chance to get free communication coaching from me. 

 

This is going to be a relatively short episode, but it’s going to be valuable for you. I encourage you to think about which one or two of these five things where you can get the most traction to improve your communication.

 

I encourage you to carefully listen to the definitions, the examples, the stories, and the solutions that I will list for you here. Don’t worry about taking notes. As always, I do that for you. I’ll summarize what the five points are at the very end, and I encourage you to go to the talkabouttalk.com website where you can access the full transcript of this episode.

 

Alright let’s get into this.

 

The first quick fix that I recommend is this Avoid upspeak.

 

1of 5 Quick FIxes: Avoid Upspeak

Upspeak is the habit of ending sentences with a rising intonation, as if posing a question. Kind of like this? It’s a common feature among many speakers?, particularly women and younger individuals,? but it’s not exclusive to them. 

Recently I’ve noticed an uptick in Upspeak. Yeah, got that. And uptick in upspeak.

It’s like upspeak might be a trend.  But this is not a trend you want to join. When you sound as if you’re asking a question, even when it’s not a question, you sound unsure of yourself, like you’re seeking validation.  This is not how credible leaders sound.

If you’re not sure whether you use upspeak, I have three suggestions for how to diagnose yourself:

  1. Ask a trusted friend or even your boss.  You could say “I just learned about Upspeak.  Do you know what it is?” Then “Do you ever hear me using upspeak?”
  2. Record yourself in a meeting, and then listen specifically to your intonation. 
  3. Create a transcript of a meeting when you talk a lot and then search the transcript for question marks.  If the AI that created the transcript thinks you’re asking a Q, then chances are, so do us humans.

Interestingly, with all of the executives with whom I’ve mentioned upspeak, none of them had heard of it. Then, once we talked about what it is and how it can negatively impact your credibility, 100% of them were able to at least minimize if not avoid upspeak altogether. That’s a pretty high cure rate!

A few years ago, one of my clientsa sked me to meet with each of his direct reports in one-on-one coaching sessions, to improve their communication. I remember he told me that he was really excited about the potential of one of his newest recruits, a recent university graduate who was valedictorian of her class and was wickedly smart and ambitious. However, he was concerned that she didn’t come across as professional as she should. When I met her in our one-on-one coaching sessions, one of the first things that I diagnosed was her upspeak. I asked her whether she knew what it was and she said no. I remember when I was explaining to her what up speak is, and how it diminishes our credibility, instead of being defensive, she was curious and committed to stopping the upspeak. Given her growth mindset and her ambition, that is exactly what she did. Now, several years later. When I speak with this senior client he raves about her transformation in terms of her executive presence. Avoiding upspeak can make a massive difference, literally in your tone, and generally in your credibility.

Upspeak was one of the first things I mentioned recently when I was coaching another future leader. His boss sent him to me for a series of coaching sessions to prepare him for promotion. After immediately diagnosing upspeak, he similarly admitted that he didn’t know what it is, After I explained what Upspeak is and how it diminishes our credibility, he told me he was committed to stop it. We brainstormed how to remind himself. This is not easy is it? Apparently slowing your speech can help you avoid upspeak, but what else can you do? It’s one thing to know what upspeak is.  It’s another to remind yourself to stop.  I guess that goes for many habits we’re trying to change. Anyway, here’s what he did: He took a post-it note and wrote a big question mark on it, with an X through it.  This was his reminder to himself to stop sounding like he was asking Qs.  It worked. In our second coaching session I only had to remind him a few times to avoid upspeak.  In the third session there was no upspeak at all.

I’ve got more stories, but you get the idea. Based on my experience coaching folks on upspeak, it seems this is an easy fix with a big upside in terms of your perceived credibility.  

Now, on to the second easy fix.  

2 of 5 Quick FIxes: Make eye contact 

Not establishing eye contact is, in my experience, even more common than Upspeak. Managers at all levels sometimes have a habit of looking around the room. Some people that I’ve coached have a habit of looking up at the ceiling, especially when they’re thinking about something and responding to something and they know everyone’s eyes are on them. But here’s the thing. You know that saying, eye-to-eye?. As in we see each other eye-to-eye… We trust people who make eye contact with us. And when we like people more, we’re more likely to make eye contact with them for longer. So think about the negative signal that you’re sending when you’re avoiding eye contact.

 

Recently, I was coaching a senior banking executive who told me that she is conscious of the fact that she sometimes avoids eye contact and instead looks up at the ceiling. She told me that she feels as if she’s looking into her own brain. This is her almost involuntary response when she’s thinking deeply about what she’s about to say. I saw her do this a few times when we were meeting and then I suggested to her that you are smart enough to still be able to think about things without physically looking into your brain. We had a good laugh about that and she started practicing. And guess what? She was able to improve her eye contact.

 

I’m not talking about staring into someone’s eyes for an uncomfortable length of time. That’s just creepy. I am talking about looking at the person instead of looking around the room.

 

When you’re in person, especially if you’re seated around a meeting table or a boardroom table, try to make sure your chairs are all at the same level. You don’t want to be seated at a pedestal above everybody else, and you certainly don’t want to be sitting lower than everyone else. You want to see people eye-to-eye.

 

I get this question a lot in terms of online meetings. Is it important to stare directly at the camera? This is something that we all had to work on in the early days of the pandemic when we were all working at home all the time and staring at our screens. Here’s my updated take on this question of staring at the camera for online meetings. It’s OK, and in fact it’s a good thing to look around the screen so you can see the expressions in the body language of the people that you’re meeting with. And by now, we’ve been doing this for long enough that we know what you’re doing when your eyes aren’t looking directly at the camera. So don’t worry about that. As I said, whether it’s in person or online , it’s important to scan the room for body language and facial expressions. However. And this is the main point here: when you are making your most important points, when you’re making a final recommendation, when someone asks you what you think, that’s when you should consciously look directly into the camera when you’re in an online meeting. People will non consciously perceive that you’re looking them in the eye and that you can be trusted.

 

So that’s the second easy fix, establishing eye contact. The first one was avoiding upspeak and the 2nd is establishing eye contact, the third easy fix is:

 

3 of 5 Quick FIxes: Communicating with precision

 

Of all of the easy fixes that I’m listing here, this is the one that senior executives often seek improvement on.

 

Let me tell you what I share with these senior executives. First of all, give yourself a break. The reason you might not be communicating with precision is simply that you’re generous. You’re trying to share everything that you’re thinking about a topic with your audience or with the people with whom you’re communicating. However, If you really want to be a generous, you need to do the work to focus your message. You know the saying, If you try to share everything, they will absorb nothing. However, if you communicate one main point, your audience will understand exactly what your message is. So think about that one key message. Every time you write an e-mail. Every time you run a meeting. Every time you give a speech.

 

Once you yourself are clear on your main message, I suggest, whether your communication is written say in an e-mail or whether it’s verbal. Start with your headline. Think about the online articles that you read and those that you choose not to read, and the significance of the headline.

 

If you’re writing an e-mail, you can be perfectly explicit about this. Start off the e-mail by saying. The purpose of my e-mail is. And tell them. Then get into the details.

 

If you’re leading a meeting, or if you’re delivering a speech, make sure you start with the headline. Then connect everything back to the main message.

 

If you’re introducing yourself in a professional setting, You state your name, Your title and your firm, and then ideally, you identify something important about yourself:  your expertise. Or your value. Or your role in the meetiong that’s about to take place. This is you creating your headline.

 

So headlines are a key way to make sure we communicate with precision. They keep us focused. And they ensure that the audience knows what’s to come. As you may have heard me say, no one gets on a bus unless they know where it’s headed. Isn’t that a beautiful metaphor? Tell them where the bus is headed.  Share your headline.

 

Another tactic to help you communicate with precision is to use the power of three. If  you’ve listened to a few Talk about Talk podcasts, you probably know I’m a huge fan of the power of Three. Three is enough to be substantive, but it’s not overwhelming. And that “overwhelming “ point is important here in our focus on communicating with precision.

 

Depending on what your objective is, you might be able to very effectively combine this idea of starting with a headline along with the power of three. Let me give you a few examples of how this might work. 

 

Imagine you are walking into a job interview and the interviewer starts by asking you to share a little bit about yourself. How the heck do you answer that question? Here’s what you do. You start with a headline, and you leverage the power of 3. You say something like this. My name is Katerina. An I am a human resource executive at a pharmaceutical firm. Three things that differentiate me relative to other. Pharmaceutical executives are. A B&C. Let me tell you what I mean by those three things. Then you elaborate on a. You elaborate on B and you elaborate on C.

 

The advantage of this strategy of starting with a headline and leveraging the power of three is that the person who’s listening knows exactly how many points you’re going to make. It’s like you’ve provided them with a road map for your answer to their question.

 

Here’s another example. Say you’re in a meeting and you’re asked. What do you think we should do? Option A or option B. Everyone turns to you and you know you’re in the hot seat. How do you answer this question? You start with your headline and you leverage the power of 3. Something like this. 

“Well, there are certainly disadvantages and advantages for both. Otherwise this would be an easy answer. But based on my experience in working with other clients with similar challenges, I think we should go with option B. There are three main reasons for this.” Then you briefly summarize. Reason one, reason 2 and reason 3. Boom.

 

When we practice these types of statements in my coaching sessions. With my clients, sometimes they ask me: what if I can’t think of three things? My answer to them is this. You are smart enough! You will always be able to come up with three things. Even if you don’t have them top of mind when you say “let me provide you with three reasons or three things.” You will be able to come up with a third thing when you’re talking. I promise.

 

OK, so that’s the third easy fix communicating with precision. Try using headlines and leveraging the power of three.

 

Now we’ve covered, avoiding upspeak, establishing eye contact and communicating with precision. The 4th easy fix is :

 

4 of 5 Quick FIxes: Focus on others

 

As human beings, you could say that we’re all sort of self absorbed. We’re really focused on ourselves most of the time, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Part of this is self-awareness. self-awareness is important. And if we weren’t thinking about ourselves, we might not survive and we certainly would not thrive. However, focusing on others can elevate our communication and our general effectiveness.

 

This is about being empathetic. This is about listening to the words, but also the subtext, the tone and the body language of others.  Stop thinking about yourself for a moment. This is also about being genuinely curious about what others think, and believing that they add value.

 

I have two suggestions for how you do this. 

 

The first suggestion is to be conscious of pronouns. I’m not necessarily talking about gender pronouns here. Not the she, her, he, him, they pronouns. I’m talking about whether your pronouns are focused on you or on the other people. Ask yourself. How often do you say I? How often do you say we? How often do you say you?

 

I coached a gentleman awhile ago who unfortunately had the reputation of being self absorbed. I encouraged him… NO. I stated point blank that my recommendation to him was that to stop saying I and start saying We and You as much as possible.

 

Another place to check your pronouns: your emails. Whenever I write an e-mail, I always look at the first word of every paragraph to make sure that I’m not focused on what I want and what I need. So that’s the first suggestion. Watch your pronouns. 

 

The second suggestion is to ask questions. Ask lots and lots of questions. If you’re asking questions, you by definition are not focusing on yourself. You are focusing on what other people think and say. 

The third suggestion is to track the ratio. Track the ratio of you speaking versus other people speaking in the room. Be mindful of your talk to listen ratio. Make sure that you are speaking at or below your fair share. If there’s only one other person you are speaking with, make sure you are speaking less than 50% of the time. If there’s five people in the room, make sure you’re speaking less than 20% of the time. Be other focused.

 

So that’s the 4th quick fix – be Other Focused. 

On to the last quick fix. 

 

5 of 5 Quick FIxes: Control your narrative

 

This one is probably the least quick of the five quick fixes I’ve listed here. But it’s really important.


Controlling your narrative is about carefully, strategically choosing the words and phrases you use, ESPECIALLY about yourself.

 

Here’s the thing:  The words coming out of your mouth about yourself are the most direct way you reinforce your personal brand. It’s explicit, because it’s words, and they’re coming out of YOUR mouth. This may be the most credible, most objective, most direct way for people to assess who you are.

 

An obvious example of when this opportunity to control your narrative comes up includes, of course, when you’re introducing yourself. 

 

Controlling your narrative is not about creating an elevator speech about yourself, but it is about consciously considering the words and the phrases that you want to reinforce about yourself. For example, many of the folks that I coach are leaders or aspiring leaders. So I encouraged them to use the word leader, lead or leadership as much as they can. You might introduce yourself as I lead the ABC division at this company or you might say “in that meeting that I led last week.” This is controlling your narrative.

 

Another context when you can control your narrative is when you’re making a point in a meeting, or sharing your opinion.  Here’s what I encourage my clients to do.  Preface your recommendation or your opinion with a statement about your valuable experience or expertise.

Let me give you an example. Imagine you’re in a meeting where your team is trying to decide whether to go with option A or option B. Instead of saying, I think we should go with option A. You take a step back and say. Based on my experience in banking. Or. Based on my expertise and focus on strategy and marketing. Or Based on the success of Our team’s previous client engagement…. You get the idea. You’re reinforcing your expertise or your success by sharing where your input is coming from. This is controlling your narrative. 

 

A great example that I have for controlling your narrative came from a Q&A that I did a few years ago where a lawyer in New York talked about how tired she was of being known as an immigrant. Her brand, she said, was that of an immigrant. Yes, she was an immigrant from India. So, I asked her, You’re a lawyer in New York? Yes, in Manhattan. What kind of law? Corporate. OK, I said to her. You’re going to stop saying the word immigrant. Take control of your narrative. Replace Immigrant with GLOBAL EXPERIENCE. And here’s the thing. Your accent is simply a reminder to all of us of your global experience.

Here’s your new narrative.  I am a corporate lawyer with a global perspective. 

Yah, she was pretty happy with that new narrative.

So now I’m asking you. What is there about your valuable experience, about your unique perspective, That you can use to similarly fuel your own narrative?

 

And that’s the fifth of the five quick fixes to boost your communication effectiveness. 

Do you remember what they are?

 

The 5 quick fixes include avoiding upspeak. Establishing eye contact. Focusing on the other. Communicating with precision. And controlling your narrative.

 

Now here’s your challenge. Take out a sheet of paper and write down these five quick fixes. Then ask yourself. In which one of these areas am I most deficient? where is there opportunity? and where can I get traction?  then double down, implement the quick fix , and boost your communication effectiveness.

 

If  you enjoyed this podcast episode, I do hope you’ll share with your friends who could also benefit from some quick fixes to boost their communication effectiveness. YOU could also leave me a review on whatever podcast app you’re using. It really makes a difference and I appreciate it.

 

Don’t forget to signup for my free communication coaching newsletter on the talkabouttalk.com website. 

 

Thanks again for listening.  And talk soon!

 

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