SPEAK SO THEY LISTEN:
An LA2M Presentation by Jeneen McNally
Social scientists spend a lot of time interpreting body language; how we stand, our facial expressions, and how we use our voice. Every time we speak, we send cues about how we perceive ourselves and others. Most of the time, we are unaware of the signals we’re sending. Our nonverbals and vocals send messages that either captivate our audience or tune them out. This is about refining how we speak, so they listen.
Jeneen McNally, President of “Speak So They Listen,” is an energetic and enthusiastic trainer and speaker. She helps individuals and organizations achieve positive outcomes by focusing how to captivate your audience. I had the opportunity to hear Jeneen’s presentation at the August LA2M Network meeting in Ann Arbor in August. It was interactive and interesting. Jeneen exudes positive energy. Using visuals, she began by showing slides of past and present U.S. presidents and presidential candidates. We reviewed their posture, stance and overall “body language” while Jeneen asked us to think about what we were seeing. Were candidates who felt more “presidential” standing erect with arms open or were they looking down, off to the side with arms folded in front of them? Were they standing tall or shrinking so as to appear to hide? Were they shaking hands with each other or acting aloof? Were they looking at their audience, looking down or engaging with one another? What do these pictures tell us, the viewer?
Jeneen quickly convinced me that tone and visual cues are very important. A person’s body language and tone determines if we find them credible or approachable enough to listen and engage. “Judgement” is a harsh reality. It happens in just a few seconds, and occurs in all of our interactions.
Jeneen referenced author, social psychologist and Harvard Associate Professor Amy Cuddy’s, TedTalk, “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are.” Amy’s research found nonverbal behavior governs how other people think and feel about us. Jeneen showed Amy’s slide on “presence.” There are several ways we can evoke positive change to elicit the kind of presence we want others to see. For instance, a speaker may exhibit confidence, passion, enthusiasm, comfort, captivation or authenticity. How does this happen?
While Amy Cuddy’s research and Jeneen’s training go hand in hand, there is a major difference. Amy Cuddy shows what you do before you speak, so your mind and body exude confidence, authenticity, etc. Jeneen takes it to the next level, and teaches how you captivate people while you’re speaking. It’s what you do with your hands, body, eyes and voice when you speak, that makes all the difference in engaging people one-on-one, in meetings or while giving presentations.
LA2M attendees broke into groups to practice. Using a phrase like “Thank you for meeting with me today,” will sound engaging, sincere and confident if the speaker’s tone or inflection goes down at the end of the sentence. Although this may sound elementary (everyone knows how to do this, right?)… It is not. Although I think of myself as an extrovert and fairly confident person (depending on the situation I’m in), I realized that I can improve my interactions, by how I say my words.
There’s a lot to think about here. If my voice goes down at the end of sentence, I sound credible. If I want to be approachable, my voice inflection goes up at the end of a sentence. Confident people use their hands purposefully. According to Amy Cuddy, our body language is linked to our feelings, physiology and behavior. Cuddy’s research illuminates how adopting body postures that convey competence and power can prepare us to be present and to cope well in stressful situations. When people feel powerful they are more likely to be “present”, better connected with themselves and more in-tune with the thoughts and feelings of others. Presence that is characterized by enthusiasm, confidence, engagement and the ability to connect with an audience will boost one’s performance, says Jeneen.
Another practice session took place in small groups. By focusing on my body language, my hand motions and my voice inflection, I could hardly remember the words to say! It takes practice. Do we really need to think about how we are standing, sitting, talking, our tone/voice patterns, and how we use our hands – in every interaction? If you want to achieve positive outcomes, these are important details. We are likely to be judged negatively if we completely ignore them. Learning about how to effectively use these tools can and will help to improve our interpersonal skills and our successes – in business and in life.
Jeneen effectively showed us how to achieve this presence by tweaking our voice, tonality, and using our hands purposefully when we speak. These refinements allow you to engage and guide your audience. Since we communicate all the time, we have lots of opportunity to practice. Results are immediate and is well worth the effort.