The best communicators, like the best designers, use clean lines
Growing up stuttering I spent every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon with a speech therapist. I cannot remember how many of them I had for the simple fact that it was a lot, for the simple fact that I stuttered a lot. However, all of that changed the day I walked into an office and before I could introduce myself, the woman standing before me held up her hand and said, “Don’t worry about talking, that will come.”
I was obviously taken back by someone who was being paid to help me learn how to talk, telling me to shut up, but I also felt relieved so I did what she said and quietly sat down.
For the next thirty minutes or so we sat across from each other in complete silence, until sensing that I was beginning to finally relax, my therapist broke the ice and asked me a question. To my surprise, my response came out effortlessly, that is until I realised that I wasn’t stuttering and I got excited and fell right back into machine gun mode. But the important thing was that she showed me for the first time in my life that if I could control myself, I could control my stutter.
Over the following weeks my therapist built off of my new found, yet still shaky confidence, and introduced to me four more ways to help me get over my stutter. And interestingly enough, many of the lessons she taught me some 20 years ago, are the very lessons I now teach to entrepreneurs, small business owners and business professionals at all levels who are looking to make better connections.
1. GO FIRST:
As a teenager I was petrified to meet new people and when I brought this up to my therapist her response scared me even more. Over the weeks she had noticed that when I went first and initiated a conversation I had much more confidence and stuttered much less. So when it came to helping me get over my fear of meeting new people her answer was simple: “Michael, go first.”
Often times the difference between good to great comes down to those that have the most diverse groups of friends and contacts. Being proactive with meeting new people has a beautiful way of compounding. You never know where someone you meet today will end up 5, 10, 15 years from now. Ask about the family of the person who holds the door for you as you enter the office each day. Inquire about what the young person is studying who serves you coffee each morning. Those who initiate the most conversations, not only create successful careers, but more importantly, they create meaningful lives.
2. SMALL WORDS MAKE THE BIGGEST IMPACT:
One of my biggest problems with my stutter was that I would get hung up on big words. Quickly noticing this, time and time again my therapist would stop me and say, “Big words do not impress anyone, especially if you stutter when you use them. I know what you want to say, and I know that there is an easier way to say it, so say that instead.”
The best communicators, like the best designers, use clean lines. Pick up a book by Jack Welch, Richard Branson, Mark Cuban, Ryan Holiday. Watch a presentation by Steve Jobs, Seth Godin or Simon Sinek. You will find easy to digest, bite sized words because they know that saying less always says more — because saying less is more memorable. KISS — Keep It Stupidly Simple.
3. FOCUS ON YOUR BODY AND BREATHE:
When I asked my speech therapist how she was able to control my stutter better than I could, she responded by pulling out a video camera and recorded me for the next 20 minutes. When I began to get stuck on something, I noticed that I would try and push through instead of slowing down, taking a deep breathe and starting over again. In addition to erratic breathing patterns, my body language was all over the place. As soon as I started to stutter or get nervous I would drop my shoulders and my head which impeded my breathing even more resulting in me stuttering even more.
When faced with a seasoned negotiator or business owner, they not only control what they say, they control how they say it, remaining cool from the word go. At first glance they may make it look easy, but for even the most experienced business executive, it is a skill they have developed by taking the time to observe themselves in their never-ending journey to become more self-aware.
There is no better way to get good at this than getting down on paper a handful of your personal stories and recording yourself on your computer. The difference from “take 1” to “take 10” will be immediately evident. You will clearly see where you can improve your body language and facial gestures, when you need to raise your voice to drive a point home, and when to let the power of silence do the speaking for you.
4. SHUT UP AND LISTEN:
Shortly into our sessions, my therapist told me that my biggest problem was not my stutter, it was the fact that I did not listen to other people. And she was dead right. I would get so stressed out about what I was going to say next that I would not listen to the person talking to me.
As homework each week, my therapist made me carry around a little notebook and after each new person I met I had to write down as many notes about them as I possibly could in an attempt to help me to stop focusing on myself and to start focusing on other people. From the color of their shoes, to their dogs name, to their weekend plans, no detail was too small, in fact the smaller the better.
Human beings are complex creatures, no doubt, but when it comes to relationships they are actually quite simple. People want to spend time with people they trust and people that show interest in them. It just so happens that being an attentive listener takes care of both of these.
As I read over the words above and think back to my time in speech therapy I cannot help but this about how funny life is. One minute you can be entering a room, dreading what is about to come next, and moments later you can meet someone who has the potential to change your life forever…..just as long as you remember the words of my therapist and you shut up and listen.