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How to Tap the Power of Your Smile

Use your smile to change the world. Don’t let the world change your smile.

          — Anonymous


Working with a CEO on her conference speech recently, I urged her to smile more during her opening, despite her nervousness. She protested that her smile would look “phony” to her audience because she felt some anxiety.

But after some deep breathing and a couple of run-throughs, she was comfortable and radiated a warm, confident smile. It made a huge difference in connecting with her audience.

Smiles are that important. Substantial research shows that simply initiating a smile in a meeting, presentation, chance encounter, or other social interaction can have a dramatic impact on the outcome for us and others.

Research also finds that smiling has positive effects on our brains, our lives, and our success.

Charles Darwin initiated our modern “science of smiling” in the 1800’s. He noticed that unlike learned cultural behavior like gestures or touch, smiling and its effects are universal.

Ron Gutman gave this interesting 2011 TED Talk on the benefits of smiling. He notes that smiling is also one of the most frequent forms of communication, particularly for children.

“More than 30 percent of us smile more than 20 times a day,” Gutman said. “In fact, those with the greatest superpowers are actually children, who smile as many as 400 times per day!”

As human beings, we are hardwired for smiling from the start. Babies begin smiling fully at five weeks old and babies born blind smile like sighted infants. It’s said that babies learn that crying gets the attention of adults but smiling keeps it.

This holds true throughout life. We’ve all felt the effect of someone speaking with a broad smile. Their face lights up, energy enters the room, and we feel our mood brighten.

There’s little downside to smiling, and a whole lot of upside, so let me give you four reasons to smile more often, especially when you’re involved in an important presentation or conversation.

Smiling makes you more likable
We naturally find people with sincere smiles to be more likable, which is critical to your success in business and life.

Smiling is positively contagious
Like a yawn, a smile can be contagious. When we see someone smile, it lightens the mood and makes others more likely to smile. At the very least, research finds that a smile reduces the likelihood that someone will frown at you.

Smiling increases your confidence
Just as our body language increases our confidence, our smiles improve how we feel. Research has shown that simply holding a smile, real or manufactured, reduces stress and produces positive emotions in our brains. Of course, a smile will also make others perceive you as being more confident.

Smiling can change the way you see the world
Some research suggests that your smile may actually change the way your brain interprets other people’s emotional responses to you. You’ll view other people’s expressions toward you more positively. 

Take action:

  • How often do you smile every day?

  • Are you among the top 30 percent who smile 20 times a day? 

  • This week, notice people who have great smiles and how they affect you and others.

  • Add an intentional smile to a critical situation and see what happens.

That’s how you tap into the power of your smile.
 
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How to Be Proactive in Your Relationships

Habit No. 1: Be Proactive "If you’re proactive, you don’t have to wait for circumstances or other people to create perspective-expanding experiences. You can consciously create your own."

–– Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People 


Researchers have found that as human beings we are only capable of maintaining up to 150 meaningful relationships, including five primary, close relationships.
 
This holds true even with the illusion of thousands of “friends” on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. If you think carefully about your real interactions with people, you’ll find the five close/150 extended relationships rule holds true.
 
Perhaps not coincidentally, Tony Robbins, the personal development expert, and others argue that your attitudes, behavior, and success in life are the sum total of your five closest relationships. So, toxic relationships, toxic life.
 
With this in mind, it’s essential to continue to develop relationships that are positive and beneficial. But in today’s distracted world, these relationships won’t just happen.
 
We need to be proactive about developing our relationships.
 
My current favorite book on personal development is Tim Ferriss’s excellent, though long, 700+ page book, Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers. 
 
At one point, Ferriss quotes retired women’s volleyball great Gabby Reece:
 
I always say that I’ll go first…. That means if I’m checking out at the store, I’ll say “hello” first. If I’m coming across somebody and make eye contact, I’ll smile first. [I wish] people would experiment with that in their life a little bit: be first, because – not all times, but most times – it comes in your favor... The response is pretty amazing…. I was at the park the other day with the kids. 
 
Oh, my God. Hurricane Harbor [water park]. It’s like hell. There were these two women a little bit older than me. We couldn’t be more different, right? And I walked by them, and I just looked at them and smiled. The smile came to their face so instantly. They’re ready, but you have to go first because now we’re being trained in this world [to opt out] – nobody’s going first anymore.

Be proactive: start the conversation
I agree. I was excited to read this principle because I adopted this by default years ago, and it’s given me the opportunity to hear the most amazing stories and develop the greatest relationships you can imagine.
 
On airplanes, in the grocery store, at lunch, I’ve started conversations that led to trading heartfelt stories, becoming friends, or doing business together. A relationship has to start someplace, and that can be any place in any moment. 

Be proactive: lose your fear of being rejected 
I also love this idea because it will help overcome one of the main issues I hear from my training and coaching clients – the fear of making an initial connection with someone they don’t know.
 
This fear runs deep for many people and may be hardwired in humans. We are always observing strangers to determine if we can trust them – whether they have positive or dangerous intent.
 
In addition, we fear rejection. Our usual negative self-talk says something like, If I start the conversation, if I make eye contact, if I smile, what if it’s not returned?
 
What if I’m rejected, embarrassed, or ignored by no response? I’ll feel like an idiot, a needy loser.
 
Our conclusion is: It’s better not to try, not to risk anything. But the truth is, the people we are thinking this about are probably thinking the same thing. If one of us breaks the ice, the relationship can begin immediately.
 
Be proactive: start with a positive tone and attitude
In my communication workshops, I say that each verbal encounter has three elements: words, tone, and attitude. Sometimes the tone and the attitude mean much more than the words themselves.
 
This means that in an initial contact, it almost doesn’t matter what exactly you say, but more the way you say it. A smile, a sense of openness, and attitude of friendliness count much more.

Dale Carnegie said this plays a critical role in how to make friends and influence people.
 
In the water park example, Gabby Reese didn’t talk with the other moms, but easily could have started a bonding conversation with, “Tell me again, why do we put ourselves through this?” Everyone would laugh, any walls of resistance would fall, and the talk about the pool and the kids would take off.
 
From there, they might have found common interests and values and scheduled Mom’s Wine Night Out. But someone had to go first.
 
This is true of almost every new relationship we have. Someone had to be proactive…to make eye contact…to pick up the phone for a call…to schedule lunch…to be the first to apologize.
 
Be proactive: pay attention in the moment
As Reece noted, today, we choose to opt out. If we have a free moment, we look down at our phones instead of looking at the people around us. We never know who is nearby and what relationship might have passed us by because we didn’t look or we didn’t take the initiative to go first.
 
I had this same thought two years ago when I spoke at a student leadership conference at a major university. After my talk, I walked outside the building where some thirty students were standing or walking, just looking at their phones. Seriously, not one person was looking up. (Later, I wished I’d grabbed my phone to take a photo, but maybe that would have been ironic.)  
 
My thought at the time, since so many relationships start with “love at first sight” or at least direct eye contact, was “what if your soul mate just walked by and you missed it because you were looking down at your phone?”
 
But students aren’t the only ones. We are all distracted by the noise of life in a digital world, where we swim in a sea of images, videos, and data that drags us like a riptide away from people and relationships.
 
It’s time to make a proactive commitment to engaging other people where we find them. Opting in instead of opting out.
 
Be proactive! Why not go first?

 
Writing this weekly blog is my way of going first with you.
 
Happy holidays,
 
John
 

P.S. –– To talk with me, please use my contact page.

How to Make Friends and Influence People

When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion. 

–– Dale Carnegie



When I’m working with a group of leaders and someone asks for book recommendations, one of my first choices will be the classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie. Most people recognize this book and author.
 
However, when I ask when Carnegie wrote this landmark book, guesses vary widely, mostly settling in the 1960s. People are shocked to learn that the first edition actually was published in 1936!
 
Carnegie, who became a famous writer, trainer, and lecturer, was far ahead of his time in unearthing the principles of influence. What Carnegie wrote instinctively more than eight decades ago has since been scientifically verified by researchers, including Dr. Robert Cialdini in his book Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion.
 
Let me share the core ideas of Carnegie's great book, with the hope that you’ll pick it up and learn more. In his well-organized volume, Carnegie uses many stories from real people in history to illustrate his points, which makes it an interesting read. 
 
Carnegie’s central idea is that we can influence others with the simple act of showing respect and appreciation. 
 
Carnegie quotes John Dewey, who said that “the deepest desire in human nature is ‘the desire to be important.’” The book talks a lot about how people want to be appreciated – and how we can meet that need. It’s a universal longing for humans. Everyone wants to feel appreciated, encouraged, heard, and understood.
 
Here’s a bit more detail on three of his core principles:
 
1. Show appreciation
Carnegie credits appreciation as “one of the most neglected virtues of our daily existence.” Since we tend to focus on ourselves, we often forget to encourage and compliment our coworkers, children, spouses, or others we might meet on our daily journeys. 
 
He tells the story of a boy named Stevie Morris who lived in Detroit. One day, a teacher asked him to help her find a mouse that had been lost in the classroom. The teacher appreciated Stevie’s strong sense of hearing because the boy was blind.
 
It was the first time in this young man’s life that someone had shown appreciation for a talent he had. He now says “this act of appreciation was the beginning of a new life.” The boy had kept developing his keen sense of hearing and went on to become one of the world’s most famous singers – Stevie Wonder.
 
Carnegie urges us not to use false flattery, but to observe the talents and attributes of others and bring them to the light with an honest compliment. As a constant traveler, I can’t tell you how many upgrades in flights, hotels, and other services I’ve had by simply observing and giving honest compliments to people who suffer negative feedback all day long. 
 
2. Show interest in other people
It’s human nature for us to want to talk about ourselves. Some people think that the secret to winning friends is to make themselves interesting to others. But that’s not Carnegie’s path to making friends. 
 
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you,” Carnegie writes. You gain trust and respect from people when you show interest in them! 
 
President Theodore Roosevelt was known for his popularity among the people, especially those who served him. His valet wrote an entire book about how Roosevelt would always remember little things about the people around him. Roosevelt knew the names of the entire White House staff, including the kitchen staff.
 
3. Begin in a friendly way
If you want to win someone over to your way of thinking, it’s important to start things off in a friendly manner. If you jump straight to business or start criticizing or accusing, it puts the other person on the defensive. If you’re perceptive, you can feel a wall go up between you.  
 
Carnegie tells a story about a man who wanted to reduce his rent. Mr. Straub wanted to stay in his apartment, but couldn’t afford it. He’d heard that the landlord was mean and unwilling to budge on price. 
 
The landlord came to meet with him after Mr. Straub sent him a letter, telling him he couldn’t afford another year of rent. Straub started off by telling the landlord how much he loved the apartment and how well everything was run. The landlord was shocked because he’d never had such high praise from a tenant before! Without Mr. Straub saying anything, the landlord offered to reduce the price of rent. 
 
As Abraham Lincoln said, “A drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.” 
 
Conclusion
Overall, Carnegie’s real message is to treat others with interest, kindness, and respect. 
 
This simple credo will take you a long way. It’s not a gimmick or a fast fix, but rather a way of life.

Best wishes for the holidays,
  

John
 

P.S. –– To talk with me, please use my contact page.

How to Say Thanks and Show Appreciation

Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.–– William Arthur Ward

Celebrating Thanksgiving in the U.S. this week has me thinking about the power of expressing sincere gratitude to others in business, and in life.

Signs are all around us on the need for personal, genuine thanks to others:

  • In a digital world, where attention is a nano-second, thank you’s seem to come as after thoughts in brief texts (thx!) and hurried voice mails.

  • Employee engagement is at an all-time low.A Gallup poll found that only 13% of people worldwide are actively engaged at work. (Here in the U.S., the number was 29%, nothing to brag about.)

  • Our national dialogue, from hate-spewing politics to bleep-coated TV, has become a coarse joke.

People have become so busy paying attention to the constant noise that appreciation of personal relationships seems to have taken second place.

Harvard Research
The need is so clear that Ivy league schools are doing serious research to understand the power of thank you.

A Harvard professor’s recent book explores the science of gratitude. Her research highlights how leaders expressing gratitude motivates people.

The professor mentions that her husband is working at a startup. One day, after her husband had been up all night working on a project, the professor received a card and flowers from the company’s founder, thanking her for her patience. It was pleasant for her and a motivator for him.

I worked with a CEO who was the best I’d ever seen at saying thank you to people. There were times I would ask myself if it was too much, but I had to say no. The thanks were always delivered sincerely and with the appropriate tonality for the situation.

Sincere Appreciation
What can we do to bring sincere appreciation back to life? Think about these expressions as a starting point:

  • Sending a handwritten thank you card to a person’s home with a small, relevant gift related to one of their passions. (One leader recently confided to me that a quick, handwritten thank-you note he'd given an employee was still pinned to her cubicle wall three years later.)

  • Making a public statement, whether at a team meeting or family event, with clear, sincere thanks to one or more people. It lifts the morale of everyone.

  • A face-to-face, show up with no agenda, but to say thank you.


Of course, there’s also that opportunity around the dinner table this Thursday, or those moments this holiday season when you are one-on-one with someone you rarely see.

What better time to say, “I appreciate you?”

Also, readers, thank you for sharing your time with me this year.

Best wishes for the holidays,
  

John
 

P.S. –– To talk with me, please visit our contact page.

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5 Ways to Stop Talking So Much

Great people talk about ideas, average people talk about themselves, and small people talk about others.

–– John Maxwell

 
Everyone knows someone who can’t shut up. They’re constantly talking, rarely listening, and don’t know when to stop. Whether during a job interview, presentation, or a conversation with the boss, they just go on and on. 
 
In a recent Wall Street Journal article about talkaholics, Aqua America’s chief executive Christopher Franklin described a job interview in which a woman spent twenty-five minutes answering his first question, followed by another twenty-five minutes on the second one. “I felt like I was being filibustered,” he said. “There should be no need for verbal diarrhea.” Needless to say, no job offer was extended to her. 
 
The problem is that people learn to tune “talkaholics” out, and after a certain point, will stop listening. In today’s information society, attention spans are shrinking. In the 1970’s, the average person saw some five hundred ads a day, and today we see at least five thousand messages a day.
 
Instead of a couple of channels on TV, we have access to hundreds of channels and streaming services, which puts hours of media at our fingerprints. A Microsoft study in 2015 found that people lose focus after about eight seconds, while a goldfish has an attention span of nine seconds. 
 
There are many different types of people who fall into the talkaholic category, but here are a few I've seen in my work as a communication coach:
 
Ms. All About Me –– These people talk incessantly about themselves and rarely give someone else the chance to speak. It’s always about them. 
 
Mr. Redundant –– This man (or woman) is repeating the same lines, in the same conversation, and repeated conversations.
 
The Know it All –– This person has all the answers and is certain that these are the right answers. He’s going to tell you, whether you asked or not.
 
Captain Obvious –– He or she is saying stuff that everyone already knows. Obviously. 
 
If you've been accused of talking too much, or some of this profile seems to fit you, you might be limiting your effectiveness.
 
Too much talk can hurt your personal brand because it gives the sense that you’re not tuned in. Everything you say just becomes noise, as people tune you out.
 
With that in mind, here are a few tips for overcoming the tendency to speak too much:
 
1. Develop awareness
The first step to solving a problem is to become aware and pay attention. Self-reflection is an important part of growth. If you’re unsure as to whether you struggle with talking too much, ask trusted colleagues or friends what they think. An outside perspective can help illuminate potential weaknesses. 
 
2. Find your listening ratio
A listening ratio is the amount of time you spend listening versus the amount of time you spend talking. For introverts, this ratio might look like 20/80, spending 20 percent of the time talking and 80 percent of the time listening.
 
As I wrote about listening ratios, depending on the nature of your job and your natural inclination, you may find that you need to spend more time talking. For others, they need to concentrate on speaking less and listening more. 
 
3. Be prepared 
It is common to talk too much when you’re nervous or unsure of what you’re trying to say. Prepare your thoughts ahead of time so you stay on track and don’t veer off topic. It’s important to know exactly what you want to say in a presentation or an important conversation with a colleague. 
 
I recommend having one central message that you want people to remember and then develop three points to support that main message. This will keep your conversation clear, focused, and memorable.
 
4. Practice, Practice, Practice
For presentations and other important talks, it’s important to rehearse what you’re going to say. Try using your phone to record yourself and play it back to see if you’re staying on topic. Try challenging yourself to make the point in one minute, then thirty seconds. 
 
The more you strengthen your message and cut out the unnecessary fluff, the easier it will be to convey your point. And the more you practice, the more comfortable you will become with delivering a concise message. Here are other methods to rehearse your talk.
 
5. Less is more 
Mark Twain once quipped, “I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Less is more when it comes to speech. Since people lose focus quickly, their attention is more likely to be held by a short, concise message. 
 
On November 19, 1863, a famous orator by the name of Edward Everett gave a 13,607-word speech that was two hours long. It was followed by a two minute, 272-word speech given by Abraham Lincoln; the now famous Gettysburg Address. Everett later told Lincoln, “I wish that I could flatter myself that I had come as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”
 
A main idea can be conveyed in two hours or two minutes. It takes more work to be brief, but you’ll enjoy the many benefits of being a person who is heard and understood.
 
What about you?
Are you, or someone you know, a talkaholic?
 
Have you thought about your listening ratio? If you talk 80 percent of the time, try listening 80 percent of the time and see if you get different reactions and results. 
 
I'd love to hear your thoughts and stories about compulsive talkers. Just hit “reply” to talk with me.
 
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Most Important Factor in Successful Presentations 

“It’s better to sweat in practice than to bleed in battle.”

 -- Ancient Proverb

 

Any professional who expects to excel at an activity must take it seriously. This is why:
 

•    Elite athletes condition themselves and practice their sport endlessly, picking up thousands of reps to build muscle memory.
 

•    Special Operations forces train on the same few actions relentlessly, often thousands of times to ingrain their instant reactions.
 

•    Emergency room doctors go deep in crisis medical training to deal with an unending line of unexpected traumas.


High-Stakes Presentations

While giving business presentations is not nearly as critical or heroic as these professions, leaders have a lot on the line with important speaking events. The ability to communicate is often the one factor that makes or breaks their careers. 


And given the stress and anxiety that many people feel during high-stakes presentations, they might actually have the feeling of life or death situations.


That’s why it’s surprising that, when it comes to giving presentations, a remarkable number of business leaders put their communications off until the last minute and will rehearse little, if at all.


Rehearsal Most Important Factor

This is sad because, in my experience over the past 20 years, rehearsal is the most important factor in building confidence, reducing anxiety and delivering successful presentations.


Working on CEO presentations and with other senior leaders, some will say that they don’t want to rehearse because it will reduce their spontaneity, being in the moment with the audience. This is a myth. 


The fact is that the more you prepare, the more you rehearse, the more spontaneous you can be. The leaders you see who seem the most spontaneous in their talks are generally those who have done the most preparation -- and specifically the most rehearsal of their material. It allows them to speak from their hearts as leaders.


When I wrote about the importance of preparation, one of our readers, the General Counsel of a Fortune 500, wrote back about how she handles rehearsals: “My rule of thumb is to rehearse the remarks at least three times. If you can do that, you will be familiar enough with your remarks that you can navigate them effectively and genuinely.” And, she added, “Obviously, the more significant the presentation, the more rehearsal.”

Here are a few recommendations for making the most of your rehearsal time:


Rehearse Out Loud
I have far too many clients who tell me that they did rehearse their presentation -- that they’ve been thinking about it over and over in their minds. I quickly dissuade them of the notion that they’ve rehearsed.


This is the rule: It is not rehearsal unless the words come out of your mouth.


Video Record Yourself
Seeing yourself give your presentation can be extremely enlightening. The General Counsel I mentioned had also written about the importance of this: “I advise folks to be videotaped whenever they can. As difficult as it is to watch yourself on tape, I think it is the single most effective educational tool there is for public speaking.”  I agree with her 100 percent.


Today, there is no excuse. You have a smartphone ready to record you in HD. If you can go to the actual room where you’ll present, then do so. Deliver your presentation, as you will that day; talk the way you’ll talk; walk the way you’ll walk; stand and deliver.


If you can’t get the actual room, set up some environment that closely resembles the space. Turn on the camera and go through your paces.


Stop Talking to the Mirror
I know a lot of people like to rehearse looking at themselves in the mirror. I recommend against this because we can't actually do two things at once: you can't give your presentation and evaluate yourself at the same time. You're constantly switching back and forth. In a way, I think it's like trying to tickle yourself. It's not that effective. ;-) 

Having said that, if rehearsing in the mirror is what you've done all of your life and it makes you feel confident, then continue. Just add in videotaping yourself as well and see which works best for you.

Audio Record Yourself
If for some reason you’d rather not see yourself on video, at least make an audio recording of yourself delivering your presentation. Listen for what you think are your challenges, but with limited time, pay particular attention to your vocal energy, your pace, and where you stumble in transition. These are high-value targets, when you’re time crunched.


Use Your Drive Time
If you have a commute, it can be a great time to practice your speech. Give it out loud as you drive. Breathe deeply and project your voice as loud as you want. Try saying certain phrases with different emphasis. I have a business leader client who was a singer in a garage rock band. He likes to sing his speeches in the car as a way of practicing. That’s got to be fun to see on the freeway.


You can also spend your time in the car listening to an audio recording of yourself on your phone. That recording could be of you delivering the speech, or of you reading your presentation. This will help you reinforce your lines, building your mental muscle memory.

Over the years, I’ve tested messaging with focus groups, a few people representative of the larger target population.


Deliver to a Focus Group

You can do the same thing with your presentation. Why not gather a few of the people who will be the audience for your delivery, especially if you’re using new material. 


I’ve done this myself before major new presentations. I ask them to come listen to my talk and we have lunch brought in for everyone. 


Instead of having hundreds of people, I’m presenting to 5 to 10 people around the boardroom table. I give my talk and use my slides in exactly the way I intend to on the Big Day. 


Then I ask for specific feedback, with substantive questions like “What is the main message?” “What am I asking you to do (call to action)?” “Did you feel any specific emotion during the talk?” “Do you remember any stories?” Then I’ll ask for one positive comment and one challenge that I could improve on. 


Sometimes with a group of people, I’ll actually put together one page of questions like this, so that they will feel more comfortable answering and they won’t influence each other with group think.


This helps a lot because you’ll get feedback to improve your presentation and you’ll also feel more confident because you’ll already have given the talk to the audience, just in a smaller setting.


Put it on the Calendar
Finally, and possibly most important, schedule your rehearsal. As you know, anything that is critical has to go on the calendar, or it will never happen.


Make communications a priority. With deliberate rehearsal, you’ll feel and project confidence as you present yourself and your message to your most important audiences.


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