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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.

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John

Image Credit: Morgan Stanley

Alex Trebek's Inspiring Cancer Fight 

It’s about focusing on the fight, not the fright.

― Robin Roberts, Anchor,
ABC’s Good Morning America

 
As a long-term viewer of Jeopardy!, the popular television quiz show, I was saddened when I heard news that its host Alex Trebek was diagnosed with stage-four pancreatic cancer. 
 
My grief was not only centered on losing Trebek, who has hosted Jeopardy! for thirty-five years, but by the reminder that all of us have been touched in some way by the insidious disease of cancer.
 
I lost my mother, who raised me by herself, to pancreatic cancer many years ago. As I learned first-hand, this form of cancer is particularly swift and deadly.
 
These emotions were with me as I viewed Trebek’s video announcement. (You can watch at the end of this article in case you haven’t seen it.)
 
As a CEO communication coach, I watched Trebek’s announcement in amazement. His message is warm, personal, encouraging, even uplifting. I've worked with senior leaders on dealing with similar personal messages. It's not easy.
 
Trebek’s approach provides lessons for leaders and all of us on communicating difficult, especially health-related, news:
 
Get ahead of the story
The legendary game-show host said he was sharing the news himself. In line with the show’s "longtime policy of being open and transparent with our Jeopardy! fan base,” Trebek said, “I also wanted to prevent you from reading or hearing some overblown or inaccurate reports regarding my health. Therefore, I wanted to be the one to pass on this information.”
 
Trebek is right. You have the opportunity to tell your story. If you don’t, others will fill the vacuum with rumors and misinformation. Of course, you also have the right to complete privacy.
 
Be as transparent as feels comfortable
There was a time when cancer was the “C-word,” never mentioned publicly. People were loath to disclose that they had the disease for fear of being virtually shunned.
 
Thankfully, that has changed. People are more open about a diagnosis, which gives others the opportunity to give much-needed support. You should disclose as much or as little as makes you comfortable.
 

Tracy Austin John Millen.jpg


Tracy was a great speaker and leader in Toastmasters, where we met years earlier.
I visited him at a meeting shortly after his diagnosis.

 
When my friend Tracy Austin, who passed away nearly two years ago, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he decided to be completely transparent about the highs and extreme lows of his battle. As I wrote at the time:
 
When Tracy shared his diagnosis, he and his wife and soul mate Karen committed to being open and transparent through their journey. On Facebook, they’ve intimately shared their pain, their joy, their fears, and their love.
 
They challenged thousands of us to live our lives with awareness, gratitude, and love. A community of support has surrounded them, with continuous prayers, positive energy, and daily visits and support. People have worn name tags in support of Tracy. #TeamTracy
 
As he went through some fifteen rounds of wrenching chemo, Tracy maintained his positive attitude, thanking his doctors and nurses for their support, and supporting other patients. 

 
You can read more of this at Tracy Austin: a Legacy of Love.
 
Be yourself
Working with senior leaders, I focus on the elements that influence peoples’ perception of your message: your words, your tone, and your attitude.
 
A health diagnosis is the ultimate opportunity to be authentic and share yourself.
 
As you will note from his video, Trebek maintains his show demeanor, which presumably is close to who he is, and even uses humor to diffuse the tension of his message for his fans.
 
"I plan to beat the low survival-rate statistics for this disease," he said. "Truth told, I have to! Because under the terms of my contract, I have to host Jeopardy! for three more years!"
 
Let people support you
It may feel awkward asking for support, but you are doing people a favor. As human beings, it’s in our nature to offer support to others in need. 
 
Trebek asks for support and ends on a note of hope. “Normally, the prognosis for this is not very encouraging, but I’m going to fight this, and I’m going to keep working,” he says. 
 
Trebek cites the statistic that fifty thousand people in the United States are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year, adding that, “with the love and support of my family and friends, and with the help of your prayers also, I plan to beat the low survival rate statistics for this disease... So help me. Keep the faith and we’ll win. We’ll get it done. Thank you.”
 
I’m keeping the faith with Alex and with everyone touched by the scourge of cancer. We are with you and look forward to the day when cancer is permanently defeated. 

Click below to watch Alex's message:
 

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

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

John

7 Keys to Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

I have written eleven books, but each time I think, “uh oh, they're going to find out now. I've run a game on everybody, and they're going to find me out.”  
 

–– Maya Angelou


By John Millen

Bestselling author Neil Gaiman recounts feeling like an imposter at an invitation-only gathering of renowned artists, scientists, writers and other luminaries:
 
I felt that at any moment they would realize that I didn’t qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things.

On my second or third night there, I was standing at the back of the hall while a musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name. And then he pointed to the hall of people and said words to the effect of, “I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.”

And I said, “Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.”

And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did. Maybe there weren’t any grown-ups, only people who had worked hard and also got lucky and were slightly out of their depth, all of us doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for.

 
Gaiman’s sense that others feel the same way is right. Research has found that up to 70 percent of us at some point in our lives feel fraudulent — like we don’t belong in our current jobs and will soon be found out.
 
This issue of feeling like a fraud came up in my conversation with leaders in a training session in Washington, D.C. a couple of weeks ago.

Feeling Like a Fraud
I know I’ve felt this way. Starting off life in the housing projects in Philadelphia with a hard-working single mother, I would often question my subsequent good fortune in corporate life.
 
Before starting my consulting business 15 years ago, I served as Vice President of Communications at a Fortune 100 company. I was one of the youngest officers and worked at the highest level with the CEO, presidents and other senior leaders.
 
And there were moments, especially starting out, that I felt like a fraud – certain that at any moment the Imposter Police were going to show up at the door of my office in the skyscraper and escort me out.

Or maybe they’d just throw me out of my twenty-second-floor window. Over time, I came to appreciate my own expertise and employed some of the strategies I mention below to reconcile my view.
 
Successful Women Only?
Humans have probably experienced these feelings through the ages, but the modern concept seems to have begun with the research of Dr. Pauline Clance in the 1970s. 

She initially believed what she called the “imposter phenomenon” was experienced exclusively by successful women in a male-dominated culture. Through additional research, she came to realize that fraudulent feelings are rife throughout the population.

She developed an extensive questionnaire to determine whether one has the syndrome. This New York Magazine article created a nine-question quiz that will give you a quick take, if you really need confirmation.
 
Some research also links imposter syndrome with perfectionism. That’s the sense that “if I can’t do this job perfectly, I must not be qualified. I’m a fraud.”
 
The primary problem for leaders is that if you feel like a fraud, your executive presence – your communication – will suffer. Here are a few thoughts and tips I’ve used successfully myself and with clients on how to deal with imposter syndrome:
 

1. Remember, you’re not alone
As I noted, 70 percent of people at some point feel fraudulent. And this is true at every level of an organization. I work with CEOs and other very senior leaders who feel this way. In fact, the higher you rise in an organization, the more likely you are to feel less than qualified, especially in the beginning.
 
Howard Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks and presidential candidate, said that he and other CEOs talk about feeling like imposters in their roles: “Very few people, whether you’ve been in that job before or not, get into the seat and believe today that they are now qualified to be the CEO. They’re not going to tell you that, but it’s true.”
 
2. Stop comparing yourself
The saying to live by is that "comparison is the thief of joy." This is no more true than in a digital/social world where people post only their best moments and give the impression that their lives are endlessly exciting. 

There will always be people who are better and worse than we are, but we tend to compare ourselves with those who seem to have it all together. There is no upside in this comparison unless you are using someone as a role model to motivate you.

3. Express your fears
As they say, FEAR is false evidence appearing real. So much of what we see and interpret passes through the negative filter created by our anxiety or perfectionism. We set such high standards and believe we are not achieving anything worthwhile. Talking to a trusted friend, mentor or professional counselor can give you the perspective you need to see the reality. Sometimes, just verbalizing your fear can provide release.
 
4. Suspend judgment
Consistent with this perspective is giving yourself a break. Try to turn off the negative voice in your head that is reminding you today of past insecurities or failures.
 
5. Reframe your story
One way to stop the negative voice in your mind is to reframe your story. As humans, we are hardwired for and the person we tell stories to the most is ourselves.
 
Take the time to write down the feelings you are experiencing as an “imposter.” Look for the root of the story. Did a parent, a coach or a high school kid say something that left you with an imprint? Was it a perceived “failure” that set a standard you’re applying today? If so, draw that out and rewrite the story. What happened in the past is not relevant to what you face today. The past does not have to be prolog to the present.
 
6. Shift your mindset
What I’ve found is helpful with clients is your mindset in two ways away from a focus on yourself: First, shift from you to the value you are bringing to others. Think in specific terms about what you do that has impact on people. Second, change from a performance mindset to a learning mindset. It’s better to gauge whether you are growing than whether you are measuring up, especially in a new position.
 
7. Fake it until you become it
In her viral TED Talk, which I recommend you watch, Dr. Amy Cuddy described her own feelings of being an imposter. She had planned to drop that section of her talk as “too personal” and later was surprised to find an outpouring of people who resonated with her story.

Cuddy’s research led her to conclude that adopting body language may physically transform us, through the release of confidence-boosting hormones. You don’t have to fake it till you make it. You can fake it until you become it.
 
As you continue to take on new challenges, it’s only natural to feel some sense of inadequacy. That’s how you know you’re growing because personal growth happens outside of our comfort zones. And that’s okay.
 
As Dr. Cuddy concludes in her excellent follow-up book, Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges.
 
Most of us will probably never completely shed our fears of being fraudulent. We’ll just work them out as they come, one by one. I can’t say that you will soon shed all your impostor anxieties forever. New situations may stoke old fears; future sensations of inadequacy might reawaken long-forgotten insecurities. But the more we are aware of our anxieties, the more we communicate about them, and the smarter we are about how they operate, the easier they’ll be to shrug off the next time they pop up. It’s a game of whack-a-mole we can win.
 
Well said.

I’d love to hear your stories. You can communicate directly with me through my contact page.


 

How Boeing Ruined its Reputation for Safety

It takes twenty years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently.

–– Warren Buffet

 
By John Millen

During the past few weeks, the stellar reputations of two United States aviation-related organizations were badly tarnished by a series of puzzling, ill-advised decisions.

Their missteps provide leaders with important lessons on keeping faith with customers and other stakeholders, particularly when it’s inconvenient to do so.

Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have been the gold standard, respectively, for the design and production of world-class aircraft and the regulation of aviation.

Their websites proclaim their unwavering commitment to the safety of airline passengers.
 
Boeing’s Website:
 
Enduring Values
At Boeing, we are committed to a set of core values that not only define who we are, but also serve as guideposts to help us become the company we would like to be. And we aspire to live these values every day.
Safety 
We value human life and well-being above all else and take action accordingly.
 
FAA’s Website:
 
Safety: The Foundation of Everything We Do
At FAA, what drives us — through everything we do — is our mission to provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world. We continually strive to improve the safety and efficiency of flight in this country.
 
These proclamations were put to the test when Boeing’s newest airliner, the 737 Max 8, crashed shortly after takeoff in Ethiopia killing the passengers and crew. While issuing statements of sympathy for families, Boeing insisted the plane was safe and should continue to fly.

This is curious because it was the second crash of this model. Six months earlier an Indonesian Max 8 crashed shortly after takeoff under similar circumstances, killing the crew and passengers.

Boeing all but proclaimed the Indonesian crash pilot error. And seemingly as the Ethiopian crash was still smoldering, Boeing and the FAA rushed to assure us that the Max 8 was “safe and airworthy.”

Crash in the U.S.?
One has to wonder how Boeing and the FAA would have reacted if either of the crashes was on U.S. soil by an airline, such as Southwest. This was the thought I had as I sat on a Southwest Boeing 737 (not a Max 8), as I often do on Monday mornings. 

On this morning, I was unsettled by the fact that neither Boeing nor the FAA had called for the plane to be temporarily grounded. As the plane took off, I used my phone to sell all of my Boeing stock. I told friends and associates that if Boeing wasn’t proactive, it would be forced to ground the planes soon.

My concern was more than personal. For some twenty years, I had advised senior leaders of companies in crisis on their responses. Though I no longer work on crises, I still retain a visceral reaction to companies that fail to respond appropriately to safety concerns. 

Lost their way
For Boeing and the FAA, it is abundantly clear that they had lost their way. Consider the facts for two organizations that proclaim safety:

*     Some 170 737 Max 8’s were in service. Two had crashed. In other words, more than one percent of this new model had fatal crashes. Yet, Boeing and the FAA continued to echo their message that the Max 8 plane was safe.

*     After the first crash killed 189 people, Boeing said it was working on an update to the plane’s software. But the Max 8 plane was safe.

*     After the second crash killed 157 people, while the cause was unknown, Boeing reaffirmed that it was still working on the software update. But the Max 8 plane was safe.

*     As airlines and regulators around the world grounded the planes and banned them from their airspace, Boeing and the FAA continued to echo the Max 8 plane was safe.

*     The FAA argued there was “not enough evidence to justify grounding” the Max 8. In a bizarre turn on safety regulation, the FAA was arguing that a plane that had had two fatal crashes was presumed safe until proven unsafe?

*    Finally, as an exclamation point on poor crisis response, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao hurriedly scheduled herself on a Max 8 Southwest flight from Austin to Washington, D.C.

The highest-level safety regulator in the U.S. pulled a publicity stunt to “prove” that the Max 8 was safe. In essence, she was saying, “See, my flight didn’t crash. The Max 8 plane is safe!”

More sad evidence continues to come to light, such as Boeing pitching the plane as a simple upgrade to avoid pilot retraining; the FAA allowing Boeing to self-certify its work; little to no information or training being provided to pilots; no testing of how pilots would react to Max 8 specific emergencies; and, perhaps most flagrant, basic safety warning lights and alarm systems were sold as additional add-ons.

Even aviation hero Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger criticized Boeing and the FAA. He wrote that "there is too cozy a relationship between the industry and the regulators" for proper oversight to be ensured.    

Boeing’s response
Finally succumbing to public and passenger pressure, the FAA on March 13 announced a temporary grounding of all 737 Max 8 planes. Boeing issued this statement from Dennis Muilenburg, president, CEO, and Chairman of The Boeing Company, which rang hollow:

On behalf of the entire Boeing team, we extend our deepest sympathies to the families and loved ones of those who have lost their lives in these two tragic accidents. We are supporting this proactive step out of an abundance of caution. Safety is a core value at Boeing for as long as we have been building airplanes; and it always will be. 

There is no greater priority for our company and our industry. We are doing everything we can to understand the cause of the accidents in partnership with the investigators, deploy safety enhancements, and help ensure this does not happen again.

Too little, too late. Boeing and the FAA have lost trust and severely tarnished their reputations worldwide.

I work with clients in insurance and financial services, pharmaceuticals, technology, and other industries that make various promises of safety and security. In the end, trust is all they have.

The lesson for leaders is clear. If your organization’s core promise is to provide safety and security for people, that must be prioritized – even when it conflicts with other valuable interests. 

How about you? 
What core promise does your organization make to people who rely on you?
 
How strong is your commitment? Will it hold up under the pressure of other competing interests?
 
It’s worth considering since a reputation of trust can be destroyed in no time.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please reach me directly on my contact page.

How to Communicate Change as a Leader

Adapt to Change Quickly: The quicker you let go of old cheese, the sooner you can enjoy new cheese.

–– Spencer Johnson, MD, author, Who Moved My Cheese?


By John Millen

Leadership is often described as getting people to do what they wouldn’t do on their own. 
 
This is the primary charge of a leader. It’s your job as a leader to influence people to adapt to constantly changing circumstances.
 
And some experts posit that, given the advance of technology, the pace of change we see today will be the slowest of our lifetimes. This creates a greater challenge for leaders and their teams to adapt.
 
‘Don’t like change’
I’m sure you’ve heard people at work say they don’t like change. The truth is they don’t like change at work.
 
I say that because in our personal lives we accept change as inevitable: people move, people get married, people create homes, people have kids, people move to bigger homes, people buy larger cars, and on and on.
 
It’s change. The cycle continues and we accept these changes as a part of living.
 
Nonetheless, when it comes to their workplaces many people somehow expect that things will stay the same. This, despite the fact that their businesses, their industries and their own tastes in products and services change all the time.
 
This is why communication is a critical, and often undervalued, success factor for leading change. With massive disruption in once-stable industries, how effectively you communicate will determine how well you influence the attitudes and behavior of the people critical to your success.

Having worked through or advised more than thirty mergers, acquisitions, and reorganizations here are some lessons I’ve learned on how to communicate to successfully lead people through change: 

Focus on why
Leaders often rush to the how and what of their changes, sending orders to the troops with task lists of what they need to accomplish and when they must be done. People will certainly comply, but not with a sense of purpose. They may be smiling, but if you look closely, those are fake smiles.
 
Creating a narrative of purpose — a clear vision — gives a sense of mission that will produce better long-term results. Take the time to convey a clear picture of the end state. 
 
Some leaders think of this as a waste of time, so called “soft skills,” but it turns out people are emotional beings who have to buy into their leaders before they buy into the vision.
 
Mental transitions
One pro tip for communicating massive change: search for appropriate analogies or examples in the marketplace that help people understand transition to the future. These help people see the relationship between the past, the present, and future states. 
 
For example, look at Apple. It transitioned successfully from computer hardware and software to smartphones and music. With the slowdown of iPhone sales, Apple is transitioning to wearable technology for healthcare (iWatch), a service business, and perhaps even autonomous vehicles. There’s even talk of Apple, with its surplus of cash, buying Netflix. Every business needs to evolve.
 
Be clear about what you want them to do
Having said that you should focus on purpose doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be clear about specifics. While you want to be visionary, it’s important to provide a clear, believable path to your end state. The best course is to engage and involve people in creating the outcomes, rather than simply directing them.
 
Address the fear with empathy
The deep-seated fear of change lives in our amygdala, the small ancient part of our brains, where we feel the “fight or flight” sensations. It feels real. People wonder whether they’ll lose their jobs — be kicked out of the tribe, as it were. Their survival is threatened.
 
Technology exacerbates the fear tenfold. The rise of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotics increases the sense of dread. It all seems to have happened so quickly. 
 
It’s easy to destroy a culture of trust by being tone deaf to people’s concerns. With this in mind, your empathy can go a long way in maintaining trust with people. 
 
Overcommunicate
When telling your story of change, repetition is your friend. I tell CEOs and other senior leaders that about the time you’re sick of repeating your messages is when people will begin to hear them.
 
We obviously live in a distracted world where, unless you share a clear, consistent story with repetition at every level through every communication channel, people will not hear you.
 
In a world of constant change, your ability to communicate change is not only important, it is a skill that will, over time, make you a more valuable leader. 

All the best,

John


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How to Talk Like TED

By John Millen

Ted has changed everything about presentations.
 
You probably know that I’m not talking about a guy named “Ted.” I’m referring to TED Talks, which are given at TED-sanctioned events around the world. 
 
The original TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, is a conference that has been held annually since 1990.

Talks have been given by a wide array of world leaders, including presidents and prime ministers such as Bill Clinton and David Cameron and big thinkers such as Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and the late Stephen Hawking. They also featured artists, musicians, surgeons, and every other conceivable endeavor.
 
No matter their stature in the world, all of the leaders’ talks have one thing in common: they are restricted to eighteen minutes in length.
 

One of the TED Talks I most frequently recommend to clients is Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are by Dr. Amy Cuddy, pictured in this photo.

Here are some TED-style strategies for developing and presenting your talk. As you read these tips, bear in mind that you can apply them to any of your meetings, from a convention speech to a one-on-one sales presentation.
 
Don’t give a presentation. Have a conversation with your audience. Presentation-mode means you’re giving a performance. A conversation means you are listening and responding to the needs of your audience in real time. You are present in the moment. 
 
Focus on conveying a single idea. Your talk is not a readout, and it’s not a data dump. It’s the opportunity to convey an idea into the minds of your audience, whether they be employees, investors, donors, or others. 
 
In his book, TED Talks, the Official TED Guide to Public Speaking, Chris Anderson, whose title is the Head of TED, writes, “The central thesis of this book is that anyone who has an idea worth sharing is capable of giving a powerful talk.” Indeed, TED’s tagline is “Ideas Worth Sharing.”
 
Less is more. An eighteen-minute window is more than adequate to share your core idea. This is true of most any meeting or conference call. We live in a distracted world. Fight the urge to go deep and fill a five-pound bag with ten pounds of sugar. 
 
Here’s a sample format you can follow to give your own TED-style talk. With this structure, your eighteen minutes could be distributed like this: 
 
3 minutes – Story relevant to your main idea
3 minutes – Intro of your main idea and three key points
9 minutes – Three key points/stories developed (three minutes each) 
3 minutes – Close and call to action
 
Simple slides. As you develop slides, consider using only a few slides to keep the attention on you and your talk. Also, consider using images, rather than words and numbers, to support your talk.
 
Tell your story. Human beings are wired for storytelling and story-listening. Your talk will be best conveyed with a few stories illustrating your key points. The best stories have emotional resonance and a relevant tie-in or lesson learned. You can use stories from your personal and business lives.
 
Connect with purpose. By starting with why, the purpose of adopting your idea, you’ll be tapping into the power of meaning to inspire action. Telling stories connected with purpose adds additional impact to your talk.
 
Talk with your hands. As humans, we become more engaged watching people with open gestures and body language. A team led by researcher Vanessa Van Edwards studied why some TED Talks go viral, while others don’t. 
 
The team reviewed hundreds of hours of TED Talks searching for differences in the most and least watched talks. They analyzed hand gestures, vocal variety, smiling, and body movement.
 
Edwards’ team concluded that speakers who used the most hand gestures had the most views. “The most popular talks used an average of 465 hand gesture (yes, our coders counted every single one). The least popular TED Talkers used an average of 272 hand gestures. And TED superstars Temple Grandin, Simon Sinek, and Jane McGonigal topped the charts with more than six-hundred hand gestures in just eighteen minutes.”
 
And it’s not only good for presentations. Edwards also notes that thirty years ago, researchers found that job candidates who used more hand gestures were more likely to win the job.
 
Call to action. As you develop your talk, think about what you want people to know, feel, and do. What beliefs, actions, or behaviors are you trying to inspire?

Your call to action can be as simple as asking them to think about your customers in a new way.
 
Today, there are thousands of TED Talks on every conceivable topic. I have a few highly disciplined clients who start or end their days with one TED Talk for motivation and inspiration. 
 
I recommend you visit the TED Talk site and think about how you might use this process to improve your own talks. You’ll find everything about your day-to-day communication will become easier and more natural.
 
So give it a try. Talk like Ted. 

John

One of the TED Talks I most frequently recommend to clients is Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are by Dr. Amy Cuddy, pictured in this photo.

Photo Credit: www.Ted.com


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