Link to podcast episode: EL36: How to Improve Face to Face Impact | with Stacey Hanke
JESSE LAHEY: Welcome to the show, leaders! Are you consistently able to influence people to take action? Do people trust what you say and follow your recommendations? When you speak, do people pay attention or do they start to check their iPhones? If you don’t have the impact you’d like, you probably need to improve your face-to-face communication skills, whether you are speaking to one person or a roomful of people. To help us be more effective in all types of face-to-face communication situations, our guest is Stacey Hanke. She is author of the book Yes You Can! Everything You Need From A to Z to Influence Others to Take Action. Stacey is a communication expert who helps individuals improve their delivery to persuade, sell, influence, and effectively communicate with a clear message. Stacey, welcome to The Engaging Leader!
STACEY HANKE: Thank you so much! Thanks for the opportunity.
JESSE: Glad to have you! What is your personal story? Stacey, why did you write a book that focuses on face-to-face communication?
STACEY: My personal story has always been around communication. The thing that made me really decide to write the book, I am shocked. I’m surprised with how many individuals, when they move up through the ranks and they get up to these executive high potential positions, are not aware of truly how they come across through their eyes of their listeners. They’re not truly aware of how they’re being perceived. An example will be a lot of times when individuals feel they know the topic, they’re confident they’re comfortable. They make the assumption that because they feel good they must come across as good.
Through the years of working with the individuals the shock is when I would videotape someone so that they could see through the eyes and ears of a listener, how surprised they were of how the playback looked when they would review their playback versus how they felt when they communicated. It made me realize it is an opportunity here of people don’t really know that they know that there is so much more than just message to have influence. It’s not only the message but making sure there’s consistency behind how you deliver that message; I’m referring to body language; and also how that message is heard. And as a result of all of that feedback I’ve gotten over the years of how people are just shocked; they don’t realize truly not only how they don’t come across or how they do come across, they’re also unaware of the many levels and how much focus it takes to be influential consistently Monday to Monday.
JESSE: You’re right about the importance of consistency there and what a gift that is for that videotaping experienced to bring that home. I was just reminded of this recently. My son was in a school play production of Robin Hood and he was the Sheriff of Nottingham. In this production was Sheriff was the main bad guy and was very regal and he had his lines down great but he kept rushing through his lines and I kept saying over and over again to him, when I had a moment, you need to slow down Danny. Slow down. The audience can’t hear you and you’re not coming across like this regal character and he didn’t believe me because, as you said, he felt fine. It sounded fine to him. So I finally videotaped him and then I left the video for him. I wasn’t there when he saw it but when I returned home later, I didn’t have to argue with him anymore. He immediately came to me and said I had no idea that’s how I came across. It was totally inconsistent with his character.
STACEY: That is so interesting. That feeling is such a misperception. I hear people say all the time I know my topic or I feel confident with the situation and I’m good. I always tell individuals they want to be very careful with that concept because it doesn’t guarantee how you feel is how someone sees you. You made a comment that you didn’t need to argue with your son anymore. I always tease my participant saying to them if I wouldn’t videotape you, you and I we would argue all day long. How you feel is going to be so different than what I asked you to try on for size. Sometimes it’s just fine-tuning but it’s the fine-tuning of being conscious of why you behave the way you behave. Why do you say what you say and are the two consistent? Many times we don’t pay attention to something that seems very basic yet it is set to make or break when it comes to the type of impact you have on someone is how you move when you’re standing up in front of a group. Or say you’re at meeting or you’re one-on-one with someone face-to-face, what your hands communicate. As much as gestures get a bad rap on the street, gestures will either distract your message or they’ll enhance because if the gesture that actually creating the visual around your words that determine what people remember and how long your listener remembers the message.
Sometimes it’s just understanding am I fidgeting? Playing with my fingers; playing with my ring. I’ve had women that are constantly natural groomers and playing with their hair or their clothing. Is that really purposeful? When I start telling people that true how to; and this is in the book; the how to’s of how do you gesture so there is purpose behind that movement and you’re not distracting? People are shocked: I have to think about that? I have to think about that when I’m communicating?
I tell them they’ve got two choices. You can continue to distract and believe what you want to believe or if you’re really serious about being consistent Monday to Monday as far as the influential, yes, then you need to start thinking about every movement; every body language that you make. Because if there is not purpose behind your hands, if there is not purpose behind what you do with your eyes when you’re in a conversation, there is a good chance you’re creating a distraction.
JESSE: Now that sounds like you have to fake everything; like you’re almost forcing things to happen in a way that’s not really yourself.
STACEY: This is where it gets hard. This is where the work begins. I’m going to compare it to any athlete. That’s a great analogy to use. Think of a golfer, a tennis player, a professional skier. Any time that they have a coach that comes in and says; which is probably daily for them; we need to adjust your serve on your tennis racket. We need to adjust your golf swing. It’s going to throw them off and they’re going to slip in to the time where they’re not natural because someone just messed; their coach; with the way they’re used to doing it. Correct?
STACEY: And the key with enhancing, it’s not about changing your personality style. We’re talking about enhancing your communication skills. When you start to watch yourself in a playback, whether it’s audio or video or you hire someone like myself as a coach that starts to really start adjusting how you stand, what your gesture communicate, what your eyes communicate, how you use those skills– there is going to be that moment where you lose a little bit of your natural style. The key though is you keep practicing these new skill sets and techniques.
Suddenly they escalate. They will elevate your game. They’re going to elevate your personality style even more. Most importantly, you’re going to have more influence and impact. The challenges; and this is what sets apart an influential communicator and a good communicator; a good communicator is not consistent enough; meaning they’re not constantly consistent with being influential and they are not willing to do the work that it takes. An influential communicator has held their self accountable. They have discipline themselves to do the work it takes to polish their skill sets with out becoming someone that they’re not.
STACEY: It’s just like an athlete. However that athlete trains and practices prior to the big competition, the game, that’s how they’re going to play. But an athlete doesn’t just go out there and suddenly play because it would be mechanical. It wouldn’t be their style. They probably would not win the competition or do well. That’s where individuals don’t realize if we’re talking about being influential, we’re talking about having impact through messaging and our body language—- that’s something you just can’t turn on when the stakes get high.
This is about practicing every day and thinking about how we gesture; Thinking about getting rid of the ahs’, the um’s, the non words and filler words. You need to do it every day though because if you just save it for the big gig; like a presentation or a high-stakes meeting or sales call; then you’re going to come across mechanical. I don’t think you’d come across as authentic. It’s tough for our listeners to able to connect with someone like that if they can’t connect with us; it’s going to be extremely difficult for us to have influence on them.
JESSE: Let’s say you point out several things that the person could do better to be a more influential communicator. Do you tend to find it more effective for that person to practice on one improvement at a time or on several things at a time?
STACEY: One improvement at a time. When individuals attend our session, we throw at them a lot of skills and techniques. What we don’t do is we never have them practice every single technique together because it’s going to get messy. They will not be able to have a conversation when they’re trying to deal with the skill sets. Instead, I recommend, for example, during a conversation today if for that five minutes or that 10 minutes of that conversation if he could really start paying attention to are you pausing instead of using ah’s and um’s? Are you pausing at the end of your sentences? Or your thoughts or key points? OR- when are you rambling? When you’re rambling, you’re aware of that but you can stop it on the fly and get back on track without skipping a beat and letting your listener know you’re struggling with finding what is the next point.
JESSE: That makes sense.
STACEY: When you’re talking to someone today, maybe you’re standing up in the office hallway and you’re talking to them, are you fidgeting? Are you fidgeting with your fingers, your ring, a pen that you might have in your hand? Are you leaning? Are you leaning to one side that diminishes your height, which diminishes your credibility? Taking those skills and practicing them and focusing them throughout the day, but focusing on them one at a time, you’ll increase your learning curve to making those skill sets your new habit.
JESSE: your book provides an A to Z guide on effective face-to-face communicating. I found it to be a quick fun read that covers all the basics but also has several secrets that frankly I was not previously aware of. I’d like to focus the next few minutes on some of the ones that struck me as the most important and most surprising tips. The first you just mentioned; which was pausing. My first instinct was to react negatively to the way it said that pausing was so important but then you caught my attention when you demonstrated the power of pause using the Gettysburg address. Can you tell us about that?
STACEY: Thank you for reading the book. I’m glad you found those gems within that book; pausing being a big one. I’m going to share with you first what people believe to be true. people believe that if I pause, people will think, my listeners, will think I don’t know what I’m saying and I will lose my flow and forget what to say. Now what’s really going on is if you do not pause, you do not have time to think on your feet. As a result we run on sentences and we ramble. I think our listeners can all relate to getting off track, saying too much, walking away from a conversation wishing we wouldn’t have said something or we would’ve said something. The idea of pausing is not only for you as the speaker to be able to think on your feet, to be able to change your method on-the-fly, to meet your listeners expectations without them realizing it’s happening. Your listeners need time to catch up. They need time to hear and understand. we used the example of the Gettysburg address as just one example in the book of imagine if the Gettysburg address was communicated with ah’s and um’s. The whole impact of that message would not have had the impact that it has had a history.
JESSE: That’s right.
STACEY: I want to give you another example. Have you ever been to a good comedy club where the comedienne is really good?
JESSE: Actually, just a couple weeks ago I was.
STACEY: Okay. You’re going to be able to relate to this. You know that when the comedian, when they hit the punch line, what do they do?
JESSE: The timing is just perfect.
STACEY: And the timing is perfect because they stopped talking. And they give us a pause as their audience members for us to laugh. You can imagine how different that experience would be for you if you never had a chance to laugh during a comedians act. Imagine the different experience that you’re creating for your listeners when you pause versus when you don’t. A great tip I use for participants that really struggle with this concept; I don’t want to pause. It sounds like an eternity; again, that’s a concept of don’t go off of how you feel. Just because you feel like it’s an eternity, doesn’t mean the listener does. Because when you pause you’re putting your listener to work. You’re giving your listener a chance to hear, understand and to create their own experience around what are you communicating with them; which is such a critical component to be able to influence him to take action.
Think and speak in bullet point sentences. Speak like you read a book. Imagine that you don’t read with ah’s and um’s, you know like, so actually. But we pause at punctuation. And when you start pausing, you’ll probably also recognize filler phrases that we use. Some of those are I am here today to talk to you about….we state the obvious. The question, I’m so glad you asked that. What I meant to say was hopefully you’ll find it beneficial. We have so much filler in our life that if we could use that time pause, think on our feet, so that we come back to that conversation with information that is pertinent; that is relevant to what is important to our listeners. That’s where you take the ability to have impact and influence to a whole new level. You’re putting so much more thought into why should your listener listen to your message versus what you believe to be true and what you believe they should know versus what they need to know.
JESSE: it seems to me that another resistance that I might have to the notion that I should pause more; I’m picturing myself in a one-on-one conversation or perhaps around a boardroom table in a meeting and I pause and someone else jumps in to the conversation and I don’t get to finish my sentence or I don’t get to go on to the next sentence.
STACEY: I hear that often. I hear it a lot. I’m going to give you two responses. First and foremost, let’s get clarification on how long you pause. You’re not pausing for 5, 10 seconds. Pause long enough to think about what you want to say and you to breathe. As elementary as that sounds, when we do not pause, you’ll hear people literally gasped for air. They don’t have time physically breathe. I’m talking breathing from the diaphragm. That’s answer number one.
Answer two. I observe a lot of individuals facilitating or even participating in meetings. One of the most challenging and biggest risks that we run as communicators is we frustrate our listeners. If we frustrate our listeners, they start interrupting us. How we frustrate our listeners: We say too much and we don’t get to a point quick enough; which is one of the reasons why a pause is so critical. I’m going to do a quick demonstration of what it sounds like when I don’t pause. I’m talking about pausing and how important pausing is. what happens is if you’re not pausing, you’re not giving your listener a chance to hear and think about what you want to say and um and if you’re not allowing that um then the listener cannot have a time to um really understand and catch up with what you’re saying so that’s why we recommend that you should really pause to make sure that um you speak in short and bullet point sentences which will um make it easier for you to think on your feet and um for your listeners to um hear what you’re um saying.
I exaggerated it to make the point here versus over recording. What happens when you stop pausing, and I know this from experience because I am practicing what I’m preaching, my sentences are short. I add pauses; some are longer and some are shorter on purpose. I do not get interrupted. I think what’s happening is the pause grabs listeners’ attention. Because not only are they thinking about what you just said, it’s as if you pull them to the front of their chair. They’re trying to grasp what’s next. Now I’m going to put a little curveball in there. If you truly are speaking in short sentences and you’re using pauses and you still get interrupted because there’s someone in that meeting or the individual that you’re having the face to face conversation with— that’s just a bad habit of theirs. They interrupt everyone. Consider it a two way conversation. Every time they interrupt, don’t interrupt back. Pause, let them finish. That’s giving you a chance to constantly be analyzing that listener on the fly; to be adapting the message to what they need hear.
JESSE: That makes sense.
STACEY: I think until everyone goes out there and they are truly trying this idea of pausing, they’ll start to realize how they get more information communicated in the less time. So they’re saving time. Who doesn’t want time saved? They start to reduce that constant interruption that they may be experiencing.
JESSE: When you give a little demonstration I was floored by the thought that number one- that is what I listen to most of the time in meetings and phone conversations with people that it sounded so normal, if you will, and yet how much better the rest of her conversation was when I heard you speaking in short sentences and with pauses. You’re right, so much more effective to speak less and we’d get a lot more done I think that way.
STACEY: You bring up a good point around another piece of being influential that we forget; is knowing when to listen; to speak less and listen more. If you’ve ever observed any leader in a conversation, particularly in a group or meeting conversation, they’re not talking all the time. Any time that they are ready to contributor conversation, they are consistently bringing powerful information to the conversation and everyone sometimes wonders wow how did they do that?
They’re doing something that most of us don’t do. They are actually listening to the conversation. They’re listening to the why behind the words that they can bring back to the conversation what everyone can value from. Without pausing, that is nearly impossible to do because we get caught up in our own self. Pausing is going to allow you to be in the moment; to suddenly be aware of what’s going on not only inside your head and what you want to accomplish. It allows you be more aware of what’s happening around you and what’s happening in between you and your listener. That’s going to give you that extra foot in front of someone that doesn’t have that ability be influential.
JESSE: You mention something that seemed rather small and I want to just make sure that our listeners noticed that when you talked about listening there, you mentioned listening for the why. that’s not only helpful in making a conversation more productive; even in our everyday personal friendly conversations; listening for the why asking about the why just makes for richer connections in general.
STACEY: It does. And I use a why Model. Where the why is on the top. Underneath why is what. Then comes how. Then comes the listener point of view. And when I show that model I explain how we spend most of our time in a conversation with the what and the how. What’s our content? It’s what we want to accomplish. The how is where we do the facts, the data; sometimes we get really fancy we throw the heavy data on a fly. Not that we cannot focus on the what and how. I think we should yet where we should always start and always go back to throughout a conversation is why should my listener be interested in my topic .why would be what to listen to me? Why is this conversation happening now? When you’re constantly thinking about that concept, you start listening for the why behind your listeners’ words. You start listening to why would they say that? Why would they keep bringing up this certain concept or idea? Then you start taking their important words and start in peppering it into your language. Your listeners start to realize wow you really are caring about what I want to accomplish. It’s hard to get by and it’s hard to have influence on someone when the message is all about you and the direction you want to take. But can you take your A to Z plan that you came to the conversation with and constantly be flexible to weave the whole experience together for not only the listeners’ expectations but ultimately the call to action you want them to take.
JESSE: Effective eye connection is another powerful principle from your book that I think will surprise many people. The important you put on it was surprising to me. You mention the most people have actually been given bad advice about what to do with their eyes. What are some examples of that bad advice?
STACEY: A majority of us are taught eye contact. imagine that we’re sitting around a table right now; maybe the boardroom table; and what most people do is make contact with their eyes. Most individuals do not look at someone long enough to connect. There for I refer to it in the book as eye connection. Here’s another example of eye contact. We love being on our iPhone; or whatever phone our listeners have. How many times do you see an interaction at the office where I’m on my iPhone, you’re trying to have a conversation with me, I’m talking to you while I’m texting, tweeting. Or how many times have you seen in a meeting if there are meeting notes or agendas or handouts, the facilitator talks frequently as they’re looking down at the table or the handouts?
We see presenters all the time talk to PowerPoint slides or flipcharts or boards. So much of our day is disconnected because we’re contacting people with our eyes. Eye contact; think of it as more of a scanning; you’re more scanning the audience than staying connected. Here’s the difference; the how to’s. Eye connection, when I am speaking to two or more individuals, I will stay with an individual for a full sentence or a thought. As I transition my eyes from one person the next, I pause. I wait til I see the next person and then I start my next sentence. So think of it as only speak when you see eyes. If you do not see eyes, here is no reason to talk to objects. As common sense as it sounds, this is the skill that most people struggle with, in addition to pausing, because they come to me saying I have good eye contact. I just had an executive last week they had good eye contact. I said to him, you do have good eye contact. You’re contacting everything in front of you. Now it’s time to connect because eye connection is the only skill that conveys trust. And without trust, influence cannot occur.
JESSE: Is it okay in that pause to look away, collect your thoughts and then look back into someone’s eyes to start speaking?
STACEY: Definitely. During a face-to-face conversation particular, that person, maybe whether it’s you or you can tell your listener doesn’t like that direct eye contact there are two things I will do. I won’t stand or sit close. I definitely respect that space. I will look away, perhaps more often, with this individual. The challenge, the difference is I’m not talking when I look away. If I’m constantly talking when I look away, I will lose my focus. If we lose our focus we’re more tempted to do more ah’s and we’re more tempted to ramble. Not only that, if you and I were in a face-to-face conversation, any time I look away I’m talking your shoes, I’m talking to the top of your head or behind your shoulder, I give you permission to disconnect with me. You kind of see the levels where this starts to happen.
Not only am I disconnecting and losing my train of thought, you hear me starting to use more non words or ramble so I’ll frustrate you. If I frustrate you you’re more likely to not listen. Much less, if I don’t look you dead in the eye, you’ve got more opportunity check your email. To drift. Even if I’m looking at someone dead in the eyes and I just forget; it’s going to happen, you’re human; you forget what to say— it’s okay to look away. Just don’t talk to the floor when you do it. Our listeners only know what we tell them or what we show them. If you and I are in a conversation face to face and every time I look away I ummmmm, do that, I communicate to you that I don’t have the knowledge that I should around my content. If I don’t have the knowledge that I should around my content, are you going to be influenced by me.
JESSE: It reminds me of a story you tell in the book about the gentleman who came to one of your workshops and was suffering from jet lag and thought well this will be a good chance to have a two day nap.
STACY: I’ve got another story off of that. I’ll let the reader or the listeners read that from the book. Right before the holidays last year I spoke at a conference. There were several hundred people in front of me. Even if I’m in a large group, I’m still using eye connection. I may not see the 50th or the 150th person sitting way back in the corner but what I’ll do is I’ll look at an area for a full sentence or thought. Anyone who sits in the area that I’m looking at will feel that I’m looking at them. It’s called a ripple effect.
I’m at the session. I’ve finished my presentation. One of the participants comes up to me at the end. I never saw him in the group but apparently he was sitting way in the back. He says to me I have a bone to pick with you. I thought oh great, one of those. He went on to say I came to my session thinking I could catch up on my email. I said what happened? He said you have such direct connection with me that I thought you would see every time I went on my email. The power of no matter how large or small your audience your audience happens to be that day; no excuses. You can always connect and engage and as a result, the level of trust; my meeting planners, when I speak at conferences, they’ll come up to me either at a break or after my session and they’ll say we’re not sure how you do it. We’re not sure what you’re doing but we can feel how you’re slowly corralling everyone together. That’s the power of these skills. People are not going to come up to you and say oh I love your pauses. I love your direct eye connection. They’re not going to give you that feedback. What will happen is I trust you or you really come across confident in your topic. I really felt connected to you in the message. That’s when you know you are starting to polish these skills to the level they can become your new habit and you’re starting to have more impact and influence than you may have ever realized you had the capability of.
JESSE: That’s pretty impressive that you can lead the energy in the room so well that you’re engaging a person that really intended to just be catching up on email.
STACEY: We hear that a lot. We were just at a group last week. It was seats week, executive level. The CEO came up to me mid day and said this is the first time I have ever seen my executive team off of their phones. He said what are you doing? What is it? When I started to explain to him what it was, he said it makes sense because we’re less tempted because you’re not giving us an opportunity to disconnect with you. And if they’re not disconnecting with you, think about the amount of information they’re taking with them from your messaging to determine the level of influence they’re going to allow you to have on them.
JESSE: The final concept we have time for today is an open posture. What do you mean by that?
STACEY: When you’re standing you want to have your feet pointing forward, your legs hip width apart and your arms are comfortably relaxed at your sides. Now anyone trying that right now, the subconscious is going to say to you “This is wrong”.
JESSE: Right. Exactly.
STACEY: That’s not how you’re used to standing. Or even if you’re sitting, you’re sitting with your feet flat on the floor and your hands are open. Your body is open. Why this works: It conveys confidence without you saying a word. I refer to it as a home base. You don’t stand or sit like that through an entire conversation. It’s just where you start and always come back to when you’re not moving or you’re not gesturing because now you can use gestures that have impact, that have purpose, that are not fidgeting or that are repetitive. If you’ve got your hands clasped, your hand in front of your body, suddenly all your gestures look the same because your elbows get Velcro’d to your body and every gesture that you do stays in the mid section of your body. You can see how it would start to look like you are talking with your hands and there’s no purpose behind your gesture. Think of it as; if anyone if familiar with golf or maybe even tennis; that when you line up at the tee playing golf, if your line up and your grip on that golf club is off, and your swing is off, that’s what causes your golf to go in the sand pit. Or maybe you miss the golf club. The same concept applies to the open stance. If the open stance is not there, all the other skill sets will not work for you.
JESSE: When I was in theater in high school our director used to get on the case of all of us who in the in a given scene were extras because we tended to stand in what she called either jock position number one; which was with our hands clasped in front of us or jock position number two; which was our hands behind our backs. She would say I just want you to stand still with your hands at your side and we would say that this doesn’t feel natural. She’d point to the others and say look they’re standing like that right now. Does that look okay to you? Well, yeah. That looks fine. Well that’s all I’m asking you to do.
STACEY: And that’s why it comes back to, all this information I’m sharing on this interview, none of it’s going to be worthwhile if you don’t video and audio tape yourself. Any time you try a new behavior like bringing your arms to your sides, it’s going to feel uncomfortable. If that’s not how you’re used to standing or sitting with your arms open, you’ll feel uncomfortable. And if we feel uncomfortable, our subconscious says to us “This is wrong” and we go back to where we’re comfortable.
The main point of this whole interview is I’m a big believer that the only way individuals can continuously improve their level of impact and influence through their communication is they have to be uncomfortable first to be effective. And without being able to see and hear through the ears and eyes of your listener, you will continuously be in denial and you will go off your feelings. And you’ll never reach that level of impact and influence that you really have the capacity to reach. It goes back to your story earlier during this interview about your son when he finally got a chance to see what you were saying via the videotaping that you did.
JESSE: It can be painful to watch ourselves on video and of course it takes some extra time and effort but it is well worth it to make that happen every now and then so you can see how you’re coming across to other people.
STACEY: You bet! I think the most challenging things in life will always have the greatest investment in our development. I don’t know about you, but I do not enjoy watching myself on a video play back. I would rather know what my listeners are hearing and seeing versus pushing it under the rug and making the assumption of if I feel good I must be good.
JESSE: Absolutely. We’ve been talking about ways to improve our face-to-face communication to better influence people to take action. We’ve talked about pausing, listening eye connection and open posture. Our guest has been author and communication expert Stacey Hanke. Stacey thank you for sharing your wisdom with us today.
STACEY: Thank you so much for the opportunity. I greatly appreciate and I wish everyone the best both personally and professionally.
Link to podcast episode: EL36: How to Improve Face to Face Impact | with Stacey Hanke