A career built on the ability to engage and inspire others of course brings with it some challenges and indeed some failures along the way, it also brings some tried and tested methods which in my own experience have driven significant success, three of which I’m sharing with you today.
The ability to engage and inspire is something many of us strive for, yet, it is also something that can be a huge challenge and often difficult to achieve. One thing is for sure, it’s nothing to do with whether one is an introvert or extrovert. I know extroverts who, despite the noise, are a real turn-off and introverts who can hold me in rapt attention leaving me with a deep sense of motivation and joy. I also know, having studied the topic extensively over the past few years that whilst one or two of us have an innate ability to consistently engage and inspire those around us, most of us do not. It can, however, be learnt and if we want to stop beating ourselves up over it, there are things we can do to enhance our knowledge and build our skills.
As I have progressed on my personal journey there have been some learnings along the way and so I thought I’d share three key things I’ve found to be most useful:
1. Manage the emotion
This is really not easy and not something that forms part of our training through school, college or even at work. However, we are emotional beings first and our reality is determined by what we perceive. On top we are programmed to assign meaning to our perceptions through our emotions. Therefore, our emotions, if rampaging loose and free, really do direct how we move, what we do and what we say. Managing the impact of our emotions on those we work and associate with is no bad thing, particularly if we want to create lasting productive relationships with colleagues, friends and family. I have many experiences where my wilder emotions have hindered progress and negatively impacted past relationships. If only I knew then what I know now life would have progressed far more smoothly.
The best place to start is always with ourselves. As we learn to regulate our emotion, manage our stress, look after ourselves better and generally build the ability to remain calm in difficult situations, we change and adapt our immediate responses. As we change and adapt those around us reflect back and relate to us in a different way. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. We really do attract back what we put out. If we don’t like what is coming back then we should look to self to make the first change and learning to regulate our own emotion is a great place to start.
2. Respect the power of storytelling and use it wisely
We love a good story. And storytelling is great when we are wanting to engage others in our ideas and communication. Stories are memorable as they follow the pattern used by the brain to lay down memories of events and people with whom we identify. They are powerful. False stories, if consistent with what we expect, can be more persuasive than the truth. Building good storytelling techniques and using story in communication will certainly get us further and create more engagement than fact and data alone.
For ourselves though we need to be mindful of the difference between story and fact. We do love a good story for ourselves as much as those external to ourselves. The difficulty arises when we wrap our internal stories around the actual facts. Just like the external stories, we will believe our internal story if it is in line with what we expect. However, that does not mean it is true. When things happen and someone/something upsets us we have a natural tendency to jump to story and the story we wrap around what happened is more interesting and fascinating than the facts could ever be.
We can get our emotions running in an instant in response to a good internal story. The lesson for ourselves it to recognise that whilst story is great for communicating with others it is not great when we are talking to ourselves and we need to develop the skill of separating story from fact before we act. Facts are usually boring, they do not normally live up to the story we have wrapped around whatever happened and if we check the facts before we act on the story we will respond in a more considered and thoughtful way. This is important because relationship, engagement and trust is built on consistency over time and our internal stories, if out of control, get in the way of that.
3. Stand in others’ shoes
Speaking or talking in front of a group of people is always a challenging experience. It activates our threat response and many of us like to avoid it at all costs. If we want to engage and inspire though there are times when we need to speak to others, sometimes a small group and other times a large gathering. There are lots of tools and techniques we can employ to improve our performance in this space from how we structure our content to the practice we put in, from regulating our threat response through breathing and power poses to the use of metaphor and story.
For me though the game changer was learning to stand in others’ shoes. Whenever we talk and speak to a group of people we are not there to prove how fabulous we are, to look amazing and bask in the glory of our own awesomeness, no matter how much we would love it. We are there to help whoever we are speaking with to understand something, learn something, explore something. Whatever the reason our focus and position should always be on the audience and their need not with ourselves.
If we stand in others’ shoes we learn to present and talk in a different way. We explore how to make the experience for the audience great every time, we look at our content and our delivery from a different perspective, we learn to make connections with those on the chairs and the more we do that the more the audience responds and the more we enjoy what we are doing. It’s another one of those self-fulfilling prophecies. And it really works. We become less focused on proving how great we are and more attentive to improving what we do over time for the people and audiences we talk with. We don’t have to be perfect, it is not about us, it is about our audience and as long as we practice, as long as we show respect and care the audience loves us for it and a few trips and spills along the way are generally forgiven.
It may not be easy to become more engaging and inspiring as we build our relationships and connections over our lifetime, but it is something we can all get better at. From a personal perspective, I was not born a great speaker, colleague, friend, wife, mother, daughter or anything, as past experiences will evidence. I have improved though. A lot. And reached a point where life and relationships, whether at work or home, are really good. However, it’s all part of a journey and I’m sure there are some within my circle who will tell you there’s still room for improvement, so I won’t be resting on my laurels anytime soon!
Deborah Hulme, Founder and Neuroleadership Specialist, Minerva Engagement.
Engage and Inspire is one of five core modules on our Evolve for Change programme. Get in touch or click here for more details.