Successfully Communicating Success
Noon, June 17th 1991. Interview for corporate training job. Tie straight. Stain on shirt successfully tucked into pants. Notepad for pretending to scribble notes on in hand. Anxiety level…high.
6:30PM, June 17th 1991. Congratulatory toast for long-time friend moving to Europe. Tie straight. Stain still successfully tucked into pants. Notecards with key points in pocket. Anxiety level…high.
I clearly remember that warm, breezeless Summer day like it was yesterday. Never before had I worn my one suit all day long, nor had I been so anxious for such a long time. Upon reflection, I am struck by the similarity in my communication goals on that day and my psychological and physiological response to trying to achieve them. You see, in both of these situations, I wanted to confidently and clearly communicate successes – mine and those of my friend, but I wasn’t quite sure how to do it. Twenty plus years later, my academic and corporate work as a communication professor and presentation coach have given me some insight into how I best could have successfully communicated about success.
If I were able to speak to my younger self, I would first say “buy cialis another suit and make sure this one fits!” Second, I would detail the Three C’s for successfully communicating about success: Be Confident, Be Compelling , and Be Connected.
Regardless of if you are interviewing or giving a toast, confidence is key. When you communicate about successes, your interviewer and guests expect you to be confident. Further, if you are confident and avoid anxiety displays, your audience will be more comfortable and able to listen actively. I often remind my business school students that their first priority is to put their audience at ease so they can pay attention to their message, rather than be distracted by or feel sympathy for a nervous presenter. Confidence is more about what you show and say than how you feel. The first thing people see about you in how you position your body. Nervous and novice speakers or interviewees retreat and make themselves small and tight, such as taking a step back or wrapping arms across your chest. To be seen as confident, stand or sit in a balanced way. Square your shoulders and keep your head vertical and not tilted. When gesturing, reach out and away from your body to avoid in tight, “T-Rex” gestures. These confidence-building tips would certainly have helped me greatly while delivering my early 90’s toast. The old Super 8 film clip of my toast reveals a meek, jittery me shuffling my feet while talking to my wine glass, rather than my family and friends.
Confidence is not enough to be successful in discussing successes. You need your message to be compelling to your audience by explaining the relevance of your message to them. Too often toasts and interviews tell a story, but they don’t show a story. Showing requires specific detail to be revealed, such as facts, data, and anecdotes. Further, showing requires that you explain why what you’re saying matters to your listener(s). It’s one thing to tell your audience that your brother is a great guy, but it is more effective to toast your bother’s marriage by detailing his philanthropy and explain how his generosity led to his providing the open bar at the reception. Showing is memorable and compelling, while telling is potentially braggadocios and unimpactful. A very useful compelling strategy for answering interview questions is to invoke what I call the A.D.D. method (for “add”-ing value, not Attention Deficit Disorder):
• Answer the question in one clear, declarative sentence.
• Detail a specific, concrete example that supports your answer.
• Describe the benefits that explain why your answer is relevant to the asker.
My interview would have gone so much better that Summer morning had I not simply regurgitated my resume in monosyllabic terms. I would have been better served to detail the relevance of my qualifications to my interviewer. By being compelling, I might have become a corporate trainer that year, rather than a Tetris expert.
Being confident and compelling clearly would have helped my younger, less balding self. However, the one missing ingredient to communicating successfully about success is connecting your message to your audience. Connection is all about empathy – understanding your interviewer’s needs or the desires of assembled friends and family. The key to connection involves changing the relationship you envision having with your audience. You likely approach an interview thinking “here’s what I need to tell my interviewer,” and then you proceed to develop and ultimately deliver your thoughts and ideas. A better, more compelling approach to your interview would be to begin by asking the question: “What does my interviewer need to hear?” While this approach initially sounds similar to “here’s what I need to tell my interviewer,” the difference is striking. By embracing an interviewer-focused approach, you will automatically alter the way you construct and deliver your message. For example, if you understand your interviewer’s needs, you will adjust the language you use to match theirs; you might fold in examples that reflect his interests; or, you might compliment his accomplishments. This interviewer-focused approach will not only connect your content more — since you’re giving your interviewer what she needs in a way that she needs to hear it, but you will take the spotlight — and stress — off of yourself, which will allow you to be less nervous.
It is rare that we get the opportunity to share successes with others. Interviews and toasts afford us a unique opportunity to highlight meaningful and potentially useful information with others. To make the most of these opportunities, we need to leverage the Three C’s for successfully communicating about success.
10AM, June 18th 1991. Headache. Bad breath. Still in same shirt…with more stains. No new job.