Friday 4 November 2016

8 Tips for Confident Communication when Returning to Work

This week's guest blog is by Sophie Clark from Denison Clark

Communicating with confidence and impact consistently in meetings, on conference calls and during presentations can be a challenge when returning to work.  As a workplace communication expert I help people to build their confidence, polish their skills and avoid some the common pitfalls when speaking. I have put together 8 tips and tricks to remind you how to communicate with greater impact when returning to work.

Give me time to think
Speaking too fast is a credibility disaster. Pause. All the time. Break up what you’re saying. If you speak how I am writing now, if you pause often, it’s the cheapest trick in the book to look calm and authoritative. Yes, it really is that simple. Watch Condoleezza Rice to see it done well and steer clear of Tony Blair’s pausing style.

Audience first
There are people who say 93% of your message is body language and voice. This has been taken out of context for years. Getting your content right is critical and so stop naval gazing and first think about your audience. Lead with why your audience should listen to you? What should they know? How will it impact them? What do you want them to do?

Please don't put on a ‘show’
We are often told to “fake it till you make it”, but this advice is better targeted when taking on a new role, not with your communication style. News flash - you are most likable when you are your warm, authentic, natural and professional self. I spend my life removing the masks from my female clients, so don't wear a mask thinking it will help you appear more confident when you speak. Pretending to be someone you’re not is not only exhausting but it makes it harder for others to trust you.

Power pose
This term was coined from Harvard professor, Amy Cuddy. If you don’t know who she is, take 20 mins and watch her 35 million times viewed TED talk. Taking time to make yourself ‘big’ before you speak has been scientifically proven to reduce cortisol (the stress hormone) and increase testosterone (the confidence hormone). This uses your body’s natural hormones rather than play acting being someone else. If you haven't watched this talk I cannot recommend it highly enough. Find a spare board room or empty bathroom and ‘wonder woman’ your way back in.

Put your hands up
Put your hands (and forearms) on the table in meetings if you want more presence. If your comfort zone is to place them in your lap, then please, change your comfort zone! This matters particularly for women. 70% of my female clients show this behaviour and it can make them look small and under confident. Only about 5% of my male clients do this and the perception difference is huge.

Practice how you introduce yourself
Humans judge each other. Naturally, sub consciously, all the time. You will likely have an opinion of The Queen, Barack Obama and Sheryl Sandberg even though you may not have met them. I've met returning colleagues who have said "Hi, I'm Alex. I'm back after maternity leave and am working 3 days a week now". What I take away is the external side of Alex’s life and their working hours. What I am missing is what is Alex is doing in her role and what impact that is having to the firm. E.g. "Hi, I'm Alex. I'm back after maternity leave and I’m working mainly on X project X for Y client." There's nothing wrong with talking about your time out or your children, but be careful if that's what you lead with or the only thing I know about you.

Speak up and be counted
Perhaps your comfort zone is to sit, watch and participate later, particularly as you catch up and build confidence back. Whilst no one likes the over talker in a meeting, be aware that repeatedly saying nothing can be career damaging. A sage piece of advice I was once given was by a senior female investment banker who said "don't speak unless you have something worth saying, but don't let people judge your silence as a distinct lack of interest or ability".

And finally..  stop the negative chatter in your head
Internal communication matters just as much. Mentally, many of us have “obnoxious roommates in your heads” as Ariana Huffington calls them. Voices who say – you’re not good enough/ you’re brain’s been a little mushy since the baby/ technology has moved on so quickly/ people are going to know I’ve lost my edge/ I can’t give it the time it deserves…. I even had clients who refer to themselves as “has-beens’”. You have the power to stop these thoughts, especially if they are not helping you. If this is happening, it’s time to get some control back and park them.

Good luck. Power pose. Pause. Think about your audience and please be your authentic, polished true self.

About Sophie
Sophie is a communication expert at Denison Clark. She coaches small groups and individuals to speak with more confidence, clarity and impact across their work conversations and presentations. 


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