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Why Eye Contact Matters So Much

Eye contact is way more intimate than words will ever be.

 — Faraaz Kazi

By John Millen 

Have you ever been on a video conference with someone and they seem to be looking at you, but not really? Something's off?

During a break in a recent session, a woman leader confessed to me that during one call she held her phone next to the camera and read her email when she got bored with the meeting. 

She said her boss called her after the video conference and asked if she was OK because her eyes were flicking side to side on the screen. She's not sure if she was being called out, but she didn't do it again.

"Fake" eye contact
The importance of eye contact was illustrated this week when it was reported that the new operating system on the iPhone will fake direct eye contact when using FaceTime.

In other words, while you are looking at person on the screen, which is below the level of the camera, Apple's software will manipulate your pupil image to make it appear that you are looking directly into the camera. We crave direct eye contact. 

This is why, working with a team of business leaders in California recently, I stressed the importance of eye contact in human communication.

Our eyes have been called the “window of the soul,” giving us as human beings the opportunity to, we imagine, see inside of the real person.

The color, the shape and positioning of the eyes may be captivating. Their expressiveness gives us enormous amounts of information and meaning.

Searching for trust
In business, we search the eyes for trust; on the street, we search the eyes for aggression; in life, we search the eyes for love. 

Whether we read any of these signals accurately is an open question, but there’s no doubt that the eyes play a critical role in our communication with others.

This is why making direct eye contact is one of the most important and, for many people, the most difficult parts of giving a presentation or talking face to face.

Indeed, eye communication provides a sense of connection for both you and your audience.

Avoiding eye contact
I coach clients who, when presenting to large audiences, have developed a habit of looking to the back walls to avoid looking in people’s eyes. They tell me that when they look at faces in their audience, especially people they know, they feel judged.

In business and in life, the ubiquity of smartphones has reduced eye contact. In many cases, instead of looking directly at someone for an extended period to fully engage them, people may glance up from their phones and possibly nod.

In meetings, instead of watching other people’s eyes to gauge the subtext of meaning, people might be glancing at their phones or computer screens.

With texts and photos increasingly replacing conversation, it’s possible that a generation will lose some ability to understand or use eye contact, but the importance of eye contact will not diminish.

The importance of eye contact
Human beings draw a connection and a lot of information from looking at eyes. If a person shifts eye contact frequently or looks down, we assume nervousness or unease.

If people avoid our eyes under questioning, we think they might be lying. On the other hand, good eye contact can make us feel like somebody is really listening and respects us.

Eye contact is a powerful force, and its importance is demonstrated at an early age. Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D., who studies body language, notes that infants naturally lock eyes with their caregivers. She says the significance of eye contact is still retained in the adult mind. 

It shows a lack of confidence when we don't look people in the eyes. Most people look down frequently or avoid eye contact when they’re nervous. A lack of eye contact can betray our apprehension and fear in a situation. 

It is vital to portray confidence to your audience when speaking. Goman found that “If a speaker actively seeks out eye contact when talking, he or she is judged to be more believable, confident and competent.”


Cultural differences
People from different parts of the world interpret and communicate differently. In the United States and Europe, direct eye contact is encouraged. It is viewed as showing respect, trust and attentiveness to what the other person is saying.

In some other cultures, eye contact can be seen as rude or hostile. It may be a sign of respect to avoid eye contact with elders and those in authoritative positions. It is helpful to keep culture in mind when making eye contact — or avoiding it.

How much?
Eye contact is a delicate beam to balance on. Too much eye contact can be seen as aggressive and intimidating. If too little eye contact is made, you might appear inattentive and insincere. The right amount of eye contact creates trust and an overall sense of comfort. 

But the correct amount depends on each situation. Variables such as gender, personality, setting and culture all factor into successful eye contact. Some research indicates that eye contact should range anywhere from 30 to 60 percent during a conversation, depending on the context.

The “flick”
In The Power of Charm, Brian Tracy and Ron Arden’s bring up an additional skill to add depth to your connection and make your eye contact even more natural. They define flicking as “the simple act of shifting your gaze from one of the person’s eyes to the other while you are listening.” 

If you want an example, watch a movie where a man and woman are gazing into each other’s eyes and watch how their eyes flick. Their eyes will be moving back and forth, showing engagement.

This technique helps avoid the vacant, blank stare that may come across as phony listening. Active eyes show involvement in the conversation.

Improving your eye contact
Here are a few other strategies to sharpen the effectiveness of your eye contact: 

Complete a point
In a meeting or presentation, try to maintain eye contact with a person as you introduce and complete a point, then move on to another person or section of the audience to develop a rhythm for you and your listeners.

Early on, talk directly to the people in front of you as if you were talking to a friend at a barbecue. Keep longer-than-usual eye contact with them while you make a point. It will make a connection and help you to feel calm.

Find supportive faces
Similarly, find people in the audience who are supporting you through their body language, such as a smile or head nod. Connect with them. Use them as a touch point and circle to the people around them. You will create a sphere of goodwill in that section.

Scan the room
Divide a large audience into three or four sections and rotate through the sections, looking at individuals near the front to middle in that section. The people behind them will feel that you are looking at them. Don’t just look from side to side, but vary your pattern around the room.

Seek feedback
Develop awareness of how you give eye contact and how you judge the eye contact of others. Do you avoid eye contact? Do you perceive eye contact from others as overly aggressive?

Ask people you trust to give you feedback about your own eye contact. Do you give too much? Do you give too little?

Eye communication is complex and in many ways mysterious. This week, try to develop some awareness of how you communicate with your eyes and be more deliberate in your approach.

Maybe you’ll find that your eyes really are the “window of the soul” and you’ll invite more people to meet the real you.

To share your thoughts or ask me any questions, just visit our contact page.

John

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Get One Percent Better Every Day

Get One Percent Better
 

Compounding is the greatest mathematical discovery of all time.  —  Albert Einstein
 

By John Millen 
 
Think about a time you’ve tried to achieve change, perhaps to lose weight, exercise more often, increase sales, or develop new skills at work.
 
Most of us want to improve our business or personal lives. So we often set big goals, and start strong with great effort and enthusiasm. Over time we plateau, we back off the effort, and we may even reduce or abandon the goal.
 
Lasting change
The secret to long-term change, it turns out, is small, sometimes imperceptible, changes of habit.
 
As John Wooden, the late Hall of Fame college basketball coach, said, “When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur. When you improve conditioning a little each day, eventually you have a big improvement in conditioning.
 
“Not tomorrow, not the next day, but eventually a big gain is made. Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens – and when it happens, it lasts,” Wooden said.
 
James Clear argues for the power of small changes in his bestselling book, Atomic Habits, Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results.
 
Clear calls habits “the compound interest of self-improvement. The same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them. They seem to make little difference on any given day and yet the impact they deliver over the months and years can be enormous.”
 


One-percent solution

Clear cites the effects of simply improving 1 percent every day. If you were to improve at an activity 1 percent, you would improve results by thirty-seven times in a year! 
 
Think about that in the context of what you’re trying to improve: one more sales call per day, one healthy meal per day, one short walk per day. A 1 percent consistent, positive movement can improve your results by thirty-seven times in a year!
 
“This can be a difficult concept to appreciate in daily life. We often dismiss small changes because they don’t seem to matter very much in the moment,” Clear writes. “It is only when looking back over two, five or perhaps ten years later that the value of good habits and the cost of bad ones becomes strikingly apparent.”
 
Continuous improvement
I have a client, the CEO of a Fortune 1000, who is leading a massive change initiative. He often refers to Kaizen, the Japanese concept of continuous improvement. He asks his leaders and associates to take personal responsibility for change by improving their own work and skills every day, which will contribute to the whole company’s success.
It’s bringing our attention to the micro, to the incremental, that creates lasting change.
 
I learned the power of consistent improvement when I trained for a marathon some years ago. While I’ve had a life-long devotion to fitness, 26.2 miles at once seemed daunting. But as I followed a training plan that slowly added mileage each week, I soon found myself happily crossing the finish line of my first marathon.
 
In the same vein, my wife was an inconsistent exerciser until I gifted her with a Fitbit for Christmas several years ago. With a specific goal of 10,000 steps per day, she became obsessed with making her daily quota and remains a devoted daily exerciser. 
 
Develop a simple habit or process that you can repeat every day. This is the secret to long-term, sustainable change.
 
What can you improve 1 percent every day that will improve results in your life or business by thirty-seven percent after a year?
 
If you have thoughts, feedback or questions for me, visit my contact page to connect with me directly.

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How to End Your Presentationon a Positive Note

How to End Your Presentationon a Positive Note

I realized the secret to success was finishing! And not just finishing, but finishing strong!

–– Eric Thomas


By John Millen

Which is more important, the opening of your presentation, or the close?
 
This is an oft-debated question because they’re both critically important. In communication, we talk about primacy and recency. Do people better remember what they hear first or what they hear last?
 
Generally speaking, due to extremely limited attention spans, I believe your opening is more important because if you don’t engage people right away, you might lose them forever.
 
There’s also that matter of making a positive first impression. If you get off to a bad start, you’ve dug a hole that can be difficult to climb out.
 
Having said that, how you end your presentation is also critically important. It’s a crucial part of how you organize your presentation. You definitely need to end on a strong note that is action oriented. 
 
Here are three tips to help you end on a positive note. These apply to speeches, meeting presentations, sales and all other communication that is meant to influence others:
 
1) Summarize 
We like to say that a speech, in its simplest form, has three parts: You should tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you told them. Reinforcement of your message is extremely important. (Remember those teeny tiny attention spans.) Summarizing this way will help you to streamline your presentation.
 
2) Issue your call to action 
Asking people to do something, almost anything that is relevant to your presentation, matters for retention of your ideas. That’s because our brains are activated by requests. 
 
If there is no request made, people walk away retaining very little information because they have no reason to do anything with it. If there’s no action associated, it doesn’t get flagged as important.

By issuing a request, you have alerted their brains to the fact that something must be done with the information you provided. Your call to action can take many forms from you requesting certain behavioral actions, like buying or signing up, to something simply attitudinal like being open-minded about a controversial topic or change you discussed. In any case, ask for something.

3) Questions and answers 
If you take questions at the end of your presentation, it is important to end on a positive note. To do that you should plan to do two different closes. At the end of your first close, provide your summary and your call to action, then say “thank you” to signal the audience for applause.
 
Then announce that you’ll take questions, perhaps for a certain amount of time, and begin your Q&A. As the questions wind down, try to end on a positive question that has a strong response from you. If you don’t have a positive question to end on, finish your response to the neutral or negative question in a positive way.
 
Then say something about time running out and offer your second close, which is a slightly reworded summary and call to action so people leave with your key messages and with an action step to take, helping to aid their recall of your message.

That’s called ending on a positive note.
 
You can tell me your stories, thoughts or ideas with me by visiting my contact page.

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John 
 

Three Super-Valuable Phrases forBusiness and Life

By John Millen

Ask for what you want, and be prepared to get it.–– Maya Angelou

Growing up with a hard-working single mother and few resources, I learned early on that it never hurts to ask. I’ve continued that policy, and it’s been helpful in every aspect of life and business.

 
On the other side of the ledger, I will go out of my way to ask other people how I can help them. I’m also a big believer in random acts of kindness. The world has never needed those more than it does today.
 
Avoiding rejection
But I know I’m not the norm. Many of us feel uncomfortable asking for help or some kind of favor. We think we’ll be rejected. We’re concerned we are imposing.  So we don’t ask. 
 
This is sad because I bet you can think back to opportunities you missed because you failed to ask: the cool assignment that went to someone else; the client you failed to win; or even the love that passed you by.
 
We shouldn’t be afraid to ask because people like to help other people. It’s a fact. It can make us feel good. Research says we get a hit of dopamine, the pleasure hormone, in our brain’s reward center by helping others.  
 
In any case, here are three phrases that will increase the likelihood you’ll get what you ask for.
 
1) “But you are free”
It would seem obvious that when you make a request of people, they have the right to decline. But something interesting happens when you say out loud that they, of course, can pass on your request. 
 
Long-term research has shown that people are almost twice as likely to do what you request if you add a phrase like, “but you are free” (BYAF) not to do that favor. The specific words are not important, it’s the acknowledgment that they have freedom of choice.
 
There are different theories about why this phrase works, but the evidence is clear. You can learn more by reading this interview with Dr. Christopher Carpenter, a researcher and professor at Western Illinois University, who reviewed forty-two studies on the BYAF effect.
 
I recommend you try using this phrase, or something similar. But feel free not to try it. 


2) “Because”
When you request a favor of someone, research shows you will be significantly more successful if you provide a reason for the request. This, again, would seem obvious, but as Dr. Robert Cialdini notes in his landmark book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, you will be substantially more successful if you use the word “because” with your request. 
 
Citing the work of Harvard social psychologist Ellen Langer, Cialdini writes of experiments where a person would ask to cut the line to use a copy machine. The simple request using the word “because” resulted in more than 90 percent acceptance, while a request without the word was granted 60 percent of the time.
 
Here are the requests:
 
Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?  (60 percent acceptance)
 
Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?  (94 percent acceptance)
 
They added this question to make sure it was not the “rush” that caused compliance:
 
Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?  (93 percent acceptance)
 
Cialdini says the word “because” triggers our “automatic compliance response” as human beings. Hearing the word makes us automatically want to say “yes.” This, of course, does not apply to all situations, especially higher-stakes decisions.
 
I recommend against saying, “Would you promote me to vice president because I have great leadership ability?” 


3) “What questions do you have for me?”
Have you ever stood in front of a group when you finished your presentation and asked, “Do you have any questions?” Did you stand there for what seemed like an hour? Did you hear crickets? Did you say, uncomfortably, “Well, okay, I guess I covered everything.”
 
There’s something about hearing the phrase, “Do you have any questions” that seems to feel uninviting. Even people who have questions will look around at others and wonder if they’re imposing by asking a question. It’s weird.
 
Try this instead: “What questions do you have for me?” I started using this phrase about a year ago, and it works about 80 percent of the time, much more than the status quo approach. 
 
I ran across this approach in a small book titled, Exactly What to Say, The Magic Words for Influence and ImpactIt’s a simple read with twenty-three phrases focused mainly on successful sales but applicable in life since, as I always say, life is sales.
 
If you find any of those approaches interesting, I suggest you choose one and try it for thirty days because I believe you’ll see great results. But you are free to choose your own approach.
 
Now, what questions do you have for me? Just hit visit my contact page and we can talk.
 
John

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Five Ways to Streamline Your Presentations

By John Millen

I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.         
                                — Mark Twain

We know that everyone is distracted beyond belief. When I’m giving a speech and talking about distraction, I see a room full of knowing smiles and nodding heads. 
 
There is a good reason for that. It’s estimated that we are exposed to some five thousand marketing messages a day. Our phones constantly beg for attention. We have endless emails, texts, and social media notifications.
  
And the pace of business and life is faster than ever. The 24/7 news cycle. Working through worldwide time zones.

One. Word. Texts.
This has meant people communicate in increasingly short messages. 280 characters. Five-second sound bites. One. Word. Texts. Or just an emoji. ;-)
 
All of this means that we are awash in information.
 
Despite all this distraction, there are times we are held captive and must pay attention or seem to pay attention — and that’s at work. We go to meetings — little meetings, larger meetings, and even convention-size meetings. If you’ve sat through a seemingly endless presentation, you know how that feels.

Focus your messages 
All of this distraction means it’s more important than ever that we focus our messages to be as clear and concise as possible.
 
As subject-matter experts, our biggest job isn’t knowing what to say, it’s knowing what not to say. We have an obligation to cut the clutter and focus on what people really need to know.
 
But this is hard work. We can take the lazy way out and do a data dump. That’s easy just put up a huge deck of dense PowerPoint slides covered with words and numbers. Just stand there and talk, and keep talking until they get it.
 
That might have been okay in an earlier time. But today, less is more.

In fact, less has always been more. That’s why President Lincoln’s 282-word Gettysburg address still retains its power.
 
Engage and influence
People are more likely to be engaged, enlightened, and influenced if you give them less information but with more meaning.
 
You don’t have to be perfect. No one misses what they didn't know was coming. Unless you printed out a transcript, they don't know what you were going to say. When I’m working on a presentation with a leader, I often have to tell them to stop trying to squeeze ten pounds of sugar into a five-pound bag.
 
I've been guilty of this myself. In trying to give workshop participants maximum value, I have sometimes sped up to cover every section rather than leave some techniques for another day.
 
We all need to be part of the solution and give people less information and more understanding.
 
Here are five ideas for you to streamline your presentations:

1) When planning your presentation, think in terms of ideas. Decide on your major message, the one thing you want people to remember, and think of three ideas or points that support that message. Then build on those three ideas with one-liners, a meaningful statistic, or a story.

2) Take your slide deck and reduce the number of slides by half. Then remove half of the words on each slide. Force yourself to be clear and concise about your ideas. We think we can multitask, but we can’t. If you have a lot of words on your slides, your audience will be reading them and not listening to you. We can’t truly do both.

3) Consider not using slides at all. People are there to hear from you. Your slides should only support your points. Having no slides will mean they are fully focused on you and your message.

4) Cut the time of your talk in half. Instead, use the extra time for questions, or just let people go. Nobody complains about a presentation that ends early. “That presentation was way too short,” said no one. Ever.

This applies whether you are a CEO doing a presentation or a frontline sales manager.

5) Boil your presentation down to key words that you can write on an index card. I call this a “confidence card.” You will know that the brief card is there if you need it, but you’ll be better off without it. Just speak from your heart.

Bonus tip: tell stories. As human beings, we are hardwired for storytelling. Instead of presenting a lot of data, try telling a story that makes your point. Stories are more engaging, persuasive, and memorable. Create your own story bank and your presentations will be much more memorable.
 
Following these and similar approaches will allow you to use less information with more impact. You get the idea. Think about paring back the amount of clutter you put out in the world.

Find the gems and give those as gifts to the people you reach. They'll appreciate it because today, truly, less is more.

I'd love to hear your feedback! To share your thoughts with me you can visit my contact page.

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John

Three Ways to Differentiate Your Personal Brand

At a local women's leadership conference, I had the opportunity to hear Carla Harris, Vice Chairman and Managing Director of Morgan Stanley, give some really great advice for women, and men, on achieving success by differentiating yourself in the workplace.
 
As an African-American woman on white-male-dominated Wall Street, Harris has learned to position herself in a way that allowed her to thrive while being true to herself.

She offered a wide range of wisdom, focusing on three core messages. (If you’re tempted to read ahead, go for it – people loved her third idea as much as I did and I would recommend you seriously considering trying it in your workplace.)
 
1) Be authentic
Too many people try to act in a way at work that is not really who they are. This causes anxiety, disconnection and feelings of being an impostor. Being your authentic self, Harris says, positions you for success, because:

  • You are your own competitive advantage. No one can be you the way you can be you! The last thing you should ever do is to submerge that which is uniquely you.

  • Anytime that you are trying to behave or speak in a way that is inconsistent with who you really are, you will create a competitive disadvantage for yourself.

  • If you bring your authentic self to a relationship, people will trust you, and trust is at the heart of any successful relationship.

  • Most people are not comfortable or confident in their own skin, so when they see that trait in you, they will gravitate toward you.

Harris, who also is a highly successful gospel singer, said early in her career she would bristle when her colleagues would tell clients about her singing. She would roll her eyes when they said, “Carla is an amazing gospel singer, with three CDs and four sold-out concerts at Carnegie Hall.” 
 
She changed her mind when she saw enthusiastic client reactions. Potential clients would ask about her career and whether she would talk to their daughters about integrating business and the arts in their lives. 

“We ended up having a fifteen-minute meeting before the meeting,” Harris said. “When I sat down to pitch, they heard me with a different ear, they saw me through a different lens.” These conversations helped her to win business as it differentiated her “from five other investment bankers pitching that IPO.”

From that moment on, Harris said she brought to business “all my Carla Harris’s” – singer, prayer warrior, golfer, football fan – because you never know who will connect with something you love.
 

Another great example of a totally authentic leader is Sara Blakely, CEO of Spanx.

2) Take risks
A second way to differentiate yourself is by showing you can take risks, Harris said. During challenging times in a workplace, everyone tells you to keep your head down so you can fly under the radar.

Harris recommends the opposite. “When everybody else is besieged with fear and everybody else is ducking, you have clear vision to see the opportunity,” she said. 
“In a difficult environment, it’s time to speak up. 
 
The issue with keeping your head down is you submerge your voice and your voice is at the heart of your power. Fear has no place in your success equation.”

Harris said to ask yourself, what’s the worst thing that can happen? She said you might fail, but failure always brings a gift: experience, and leaders will see you as a person of action who should be kept around.
 
3) Manage your perception
Harris said the important thing she has learned after two-and-a-half decades on Wall Street is, “perception is the co-pilot to reality. How people perceive you will directly impact how they deal with you.
 
She said that after five years in her career, a senior director told her she was smart and hard-working, but he didn’t think she was tough enough for the business of Wall Street. Harris was outraged.
 
magna cum laude graduate of Harvard and a graduate of Harvard Business School, she had overcome significant challenges to land at Morgan Stanley. In her colloquial speech, Harris shouted to the crowd, “You can call Carla Harris a lot of things, but ‘ain’t tough’ ain’t one of them.”
 
She thought to herself, “Suppose he really doesn’t think I’m tough enough?” One can’t be seen as weak on Wall Street. “I decided for ninety days I would walk tough, talk tough, eat tough, and drink tough, use tough in my language.”
 
It’s important to have consistent behavior and language, Harris said, and to “use this language in your environment, particularly when you are talking about yourself. You can train people to think about you in the way that you want them to think about you.”
 
Harris had a reputation for being very good at critiquing management presentations, so much so that before company roads shows for a multi-million dollar IPO or stock transaction, her colleagues would ask her to listen to a presentation and give the CEO feedback.
 
“Next time, after I’d gotten that feedback about not being tough, I said wait a minute, tell me about this guy, is he sensitive, does he have a thin skin? I don’t want to hurt nobody’s feeling, ’cause you know I’m tough,” Harris said, drawing laughter and applause.
 
“I kept using this language over and over to describe myself. Sure enough, after ninety days of work, I was behind a group of people, they didn’t know I was behind them.”
 
She said she heard a VP beating up an associate to make sure they were fully prepared for their meeting: “We’re going to see Carla Harris, and you know, she’s so tough.”
 
Carla Harris succeeded in one of the world’s most challenging business environments, Wall Street, by making her authentic self a positive differentiator.
 
She didn’t need to hide herself – she let the real Carla Harris shine through.
 
It may have been tough, but that’s Carla Harris. She’s tough.
 
Questions for you: 
How are you perceived in your workplace?
 
Is that perception consistent with who you really are?
 
Carla Harris recommends an exercise of choosing three adjectives you want people to use to describe you when you are not in the room, because that’s when all of the important decisions are made about compensation, promotion, and new assignments. The adjectives should be consistent with the position you seek.

I previously wrote about a similar exercise: 

Personal Branding: How Do People Perceive You
 
Carla has also written several relevant books.

I'd love to hear your feedback! To share your thoughts with me you can use my contact page.

Please do me a favor and use the buttons below to share this message with someone you think might benefit.
 

John

Image Credit: Morgan Stanley