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    Happy 2018!

    As 2017 draws to a close, I wanted to repost this brief video from earlier this year. It contains 9 useful speaking anxiety management tips. I wish you all a happy and healthy 2018 full of confident and clear communication!

      How to Tell a Business Story Using the McKinsey Situation-Complication-Resolution (SCR) Framework – Written by JDONOVAN

      My good friend Jeremey Donovan is as strong a proponent of structure in communication as I am. He graciously allowed me to share a recent blog of his on the Situation-Complication-Resolution structure. If you like his blog, please consider checking out Jeremy's other books.

      Story elements

      Before we delve into what goes where in the SCR framework, consider the following story elements:
      1. The stable era
      2. The discovery of a major problem
      3. The identification of the root causes
      4. The projected impact should the root causes not be addressed
      5. The plan to solve the problem by addressing the root causes
      6. The result of the attempt to solve the problem
      7. The plan to address remaining issues, if any, from the attempt to solve the problem

      The Situation-Complication-Resolution (SCR) Framework

      • Situation The framing of the important, recent context the audience already knows and accepts as fact.
      • Complication The reason the situation requires action.
      • Resolution The action required to solve a problem (or capture an opportunity).

      Placing Story Elements into the SCR Framework

      You might have noticed I avoided using the word “problem” in the definitions of the situation and complication. The reason is that the problem can appear in either place. To understand where the problem goes, ask yourself: “Can I reasonably expect that the audience is aware of the problem?” If not, then the problem goes in the complication and the story is as follows: S = 1 = The stable era C = 2 + 3 + 4 = The discovery of a major problem, the identification of the root causes, and the projected impact should the root causes not be addressed. R = 5 = The plan to solve the problem by addressing the root causes. Next, assume the audience is aware of the problem but not its root causes, in which case we have: S = 1 + 2 = The (brief review of) stable era and the discovery of a major problem C = 3 + 4 = The identification of the root causes and the projected impact should the root causes not be addressed R = 5 = The plan to solve the problem by addressing the root causes You know where this is going… next assume the audience is aware of the root causes, in which case we have: S = 1 + 2 + 3 = The (extremely brief review of) stable era, (the brief review of) the discovery of a major problem, and the identification of the root causes C = 4 = The projected impact should the root causes not be addressed R = 5 = The plan to solve the problem by addressing the root causes Last, assume the audience is aware that an attempt has been made to solve the problem, in which case we have: S = 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 [I avoid writing all this out and instead emphasize that 1-4 should be very brief so that the focus is on reminding the audience about 5, the plan.] C = 6 = The result of the attempt to solve the problem R = 7 = The plan to address remaining issues, if any, from the attempt to solve the problem

      Ordering the Situation, Complication, and Resolution

      The two main ways to order the framework components are: S-C-R and R-S-C. Use S-C-R when you want to build up the story, esp. when the audience is unlikely to immediately accept your resolution. Use R-S-C when the audience will mostly accept your resolution but still needs to build conviction.

      Applying the Framework to an Example

      A few years back, McKinsey applied the SCR framework to the United States Postal Service (here). The story elements are as follows:
      1. The stable era From 2003 to 2006, the USPS reported cumulative profits of nearly $10 billion.
      2. The discovery of a major problem Starting in 2007 through (then) present (mid-2010), the USPS began experiencing unprecedented losses
      3. The identification of the root causes The recent (2007-2010) losses have been due to (a) volume declines (b) increased retiree health benefit funding requirements (c) lower than expected cost savings
      4. The projected impact should the root causes not be addressed If the USPS does not act, the losses will only get worse due to megatrends, regulations, and competitive forces. Specifically, (a) e-diversion will accelerate volume decline (b) growing competition will cap price increases (c) legal and regulatory requirements that require is to fund retiree benefits and to provide universal delivery service.
      5. The plan to solve the problem by addressing the root causes USPS must do four things: (1) Drive revenue through premium services x, y, z (2) Increase productivity by a, b, c (3) Pursue legislative reform (4) Reduce costs by cutting delivery from 6 to 5 days per week.
      6. The result of the attempt to solve the problem Despite billions in cost reductions, losses continue to mount due to (a) legal restrictions on pricing, (b) necessary service diversification, and (c) operations required to provide secure, reliable and affordable postal services to the nation, for example, an increasing number of delivery points.
      7. The plan to address remaining issues, if any, from the attempt to solve the problem The USPS will continue to execute the plan as expressed in (5) above.
      McKinsey’s actual presentation on the USPS, an audience deeply knowledgeable about the problem and its root causes, included the following story elements: S = 1 + 2 + 3 C = 4 R = 5

      Additional Points

      • Recall, the situation is the framing of the important, recent context the audience already knows and accepts as fact. The word “important” means the primary (most senior) decision maker in the room will deem the situation to have an impact on the way she measures success, aka her “True North.” She cares about that measure(s) as well as its strategic levers. For most executives, success is some combination of (i) increasing revenue (ii) lowering cost (iii) reducing risk (iv) reducing effort.  Increasing revenue generally comes from selling existing products to existing customers (upsell/cross-sell), selling existing products to new customers (often via new distribution channels), or bringing new products to market that you sell to existing (also cross-sell) or new customers.
      • Though you may only present one resolution (which may have multiple phases), strive to discover it by first enumerating than prioritizing a set of mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive (MECE) ways of solving the problem.
      • A strong resolution includes (a) what need to be done (b) how it will be done (c) when it will be done, and (d) by whom it will be done. Moreover, the resolution should include concrete milestones by which progress & success will be measured. Finally, the resolution should include side-benefits and expected consequences (with containment plans were applicable).
      • I have not delved into how to express the SCR framework in a presentation. For that, you’ll need to read Strategic Storytelling by Dave McKinsey. However, one major principle is that the sections representing each S, C, or R component should be built traversing an issue tree. For more on that, read this.

      Concrete Examples

      1. USPS (source)
      • S: USPS is experiencing unprecedented losses due to (a) volume declines (b) increased retiree health benefit funding requirements (c) lower than expected cost savings
      • C: If we do not do anything, the losses will only get worse due to megatrends, regulations, and competitive forces. Specifically, (a) e-diversion will accelerate volume decline (b) growing competition will cap price increases (c) legal and regulatory requirements that require is to fund retiree benefits and to provide universal delivery service.
      • R: USPS must do four things: (1) Drive revenue through premium services x, y, z (2) Increase productivity by a, b, c (3) Pursue legislative reform (4) Reduce costs by cutting delivery from 6 to 5 days per week
      1. Global steel industry (source)
      • S: The global steel industry is not financially sustainable as evidenced by (a) negative cash flows (b) increasing debt leverage (c) deteriorating EBITDA
      • C: The outlook remains challenging since the EBITDA margin range will remain lower than in the past.
      • R: Significant restructuring is required, esp. through (a) capacity reduction (b) increased product differentiation
      1. Addressing the global affordable housing challenge (source)
      • S: There is a housing affordability gap, esp. in low income countries.
      • C: Four levers can narrow the gap: (a) land (b) development (c) operations and maintenance (d) financing
      • R: The easiest lever to pull is financing via x, y, and z.
      1. Commercial Payments in Asia-Pacific (source)
      • S: Asia-Pacific commercial payments are growing at a fast rate due to [root causes] of (a) account growth (b) electronic payment transaction growth. At least in theory, there is a lot of room to grow.
      • C: However, there are
        • 5 roadblocks (1) lack of common standards for e-billing (2) fragmented b2b automation value chain (3) unclear new revenue streams for incumbents (4) large informal SME economy (5) insufficient focus from leading players
        • 8 paradigm shifts (1) improving customer willingness to go digital (2) growth of Asia-linked trade (3) technology convergence, standards, and 3rd party platforms (4) … [see source slide 16]
      • R: Government & financial services firms, and commercial players must combine forces to enable the development of platforms to sustain growth.
      1. China Retail Banking (source)
      • S: The retail bank market in China is profitable at 15% EBIT and is rapidly growing at a 12% CAGR.
      • C: However, Pioneer Bank is poorly positioned to share in this growing profit pool.
      • R: Pioneer needs to acquire Shanghai Bank and invest $60 million in building capabilities to establish a winning position.
      1. Smart phones (source)
      • S: Technology advancements has enabled touch screens, mobile internet, high resolution etc.
      • C: Consumers need cellphones with more capabilities.
      • R: Introduce smartphone that enables the consumer to have one device for all purposes.
      1. Sustaining growth (source)
      • S: The company is growing its business at a healthy rate.
      • C: But we are having trouble keeping up in recruiting good candidates and are we in danger of ‘dumbing down’ by hiring who’s available rather than who’s best
      • R: I think we need to make greater use of consultants and agency staff whilst we sustain hiring standards and develop our ability to hire great staff.
      1. Inventory (source)
      • S: For the last 6 months, our inventory has been above the minimum threshold.
      • C: However, this month we dipped below the threshold due to (a) unexpectedly strong demand that is expected to continue (b) production problems that will intensify given the age of our factory.
      • R: We will fix the inventory problem in two phases. First, we will solve the problem in the short-term by increasing production with our contract manufacturing partner.  Second, we will accelerate our plan to build a new, larger factory.

        Be Better at Spontaneous Speaking

        Use these tools to help you think fast and talk smart.

        By Matt Abrahams On the first day of my Essentials of Strategic Communication class, many of my students fear me. No, I’m not mean or unsympathetic. But like my fellow teachers, I employ the “cold call.” This age-old device tests students’ acumen by asking a student to respond immediately to a question. Now I am not a fan of cold calling in my classes, and when I explain this to my students, I can hear the collective sigh of relief. However, I immediately tell them that we will work together to hone their impromptu speaking skills so that they will be more confident when confronted with the litany of spontaneous speaking situations they will face in their personal and professional lives.

        The reality is that in business spontaneous speaking is much more prevalent than planned speaking (e.g., presentations). Think of being called upon to introduce someone to others, or having your boss ask you for feedback on a new idea, or handling questions at the end of a meeting. These spontaneous speaking situations occur all the time.

        Here are some of the ways I prepare my students to be ready for these off-the-cuff conversations.

        Step 1: Get out of Your Own Way

        The very first thing that gets in your way when impromptu speaking is you: Your wanting to do well, to give the right answer, to have your feedback be meaningful and memorable actually works against you. Before speaking, you likely judge what you intend to say and weigh it against your internal criteria — “what I intend to say isn’t insightful, helpful, worthy, relevant, etc.” This pre-evaluation work decreases the effort you can put into successfully speaking spontaneously.

        Rather than striving for greatness, challenge yourself to just accomplish the task at hand — answer the question, provide the feedback, introduce your colleague. By reducing the pressure you put on yourself, you will increase the likelihood of doing well. Simply put: Setting greatness as your goal gets in the way of you ever getting there.

        Of course, this is easier said than done. You are working against habits that you’ve developed over the course of your life. But by giving yourself permission to respond in the moment, rather than get it right, you can get out of your own way and speak well.

        Further, many people employ tools or heuristics that they believe will help them “game the game” of spontaneous speaking. For example, in advance, you might stockpile possible answers to questions that could come up. Or, you might borrow information from what others have said right before your turn when giving feedback. Or finally, you might rely on verbal patterns to help you through, such as starting every introduction of someone with “It gives me great pleasure…”. The problem with these devices is twofold:

        1. They require cognitive effort that reduces your ability to understand the demands of the situation (i.e., you may miss some nuanced information because you are busy searching through your mental stockpile).
        2. You potentially lose out on an authentic moment because you are not immediately present — you are reacting (that is, acting out what you were previously thinking), rather than responding to the demands of the moment.

        The single best way to avoid falling victim to these heuristics is to quiet your busy mind and really listen to what is needed in the moment. Focus on what people are saying and how they are saying it. In so doing, you get out of your own way and can respond authentically.

        Step 2: See the Opportunities Over the Challenges

        Getting out of your own way is very important. But you must also change how you see the situation you find yourself in. You need to see the spontaneous speaking situation as an opportunity, rather than a challenge or a threat. For example, when I coach executives on Q&A after their presentations, they often see it as an adversarial experience — them versus the media, investors, whomever. I work with these senior leaders to change their perception. A Q&A session is actually an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to clarify; it’s an opportunity to understand; it’s an opportunity for dialogue and engagement.

        Seeing impromptu speaking as an opportunity feels very different. You are more willing to engage. When you feel challenged, you will likely do the bare minimum to respond because you are protecting yourself. If you see the interaction as an opportunity where you have a chance to explain and expand, you are going to interact in a more connected, collaborative way with your audience.

        These in-the-moment speaking situations are ones that afford you opportunities. So when you are at a corporate dinner and your boss turns to you and says, “You know our guest better than the rest of us. Would you mind introducing her?” you say, “Great, thank you for the opportunity,” rather than, “Oh no! I better get this right.”

        Improvisation provides a great resource for this type of situational reframing. I have had the good fortune to learn from and co-teach classes with Adam Tobin, who is not only a senior lecturer in Film and Media Studies at Stanford, but also a master improviser. Adam taught me the most famous of all improvisation sayings is“yes and.”The “yes and” mindset directs improvisers not only to embrace whatever offers their partner provides, but to extend and expand those offers. “Yes and”opens up myriad opportunities not just in spontaneous speaking, but in life.

        Step 3: Leverage Structure

        Now that you’ve gotten out of your own way and reframed your situation, it’s time to respond. However, you don’t respond in some sort of stream-of-consciousness rambling. Rather, you respond in a structured manner. Structure is important because it increases what academics label processing fluency — the effectiveness with which information is cognitively assimilated. Many structures exist, but here are two of the most useful:


        You start by addressing what the issue is, or the problem. You then talk about a way of solving it, and finally, you speak to the benefits of following through on your plan. This structure is very persuasive and effective. This article is set up using the problem-solution-benefit structure. I started with the challenge of impromptu speaking, then moved to potential ways to address the problem, and I end by talking about the benefits of adopting the solutions I provided.

        What? So what? Now what?

        You start by talking about what “it” is (e.g., your feedback or your answer), then you discuss why it is important to the recipient(s), and finally, you explain what the next steps are (i.e., how the recipient can apply the feedback or answer).

        I often provide my Essentials of Strategic Communication MBA students feedback using this structure. For example, after a student successfully presents her case analysis, I might say, “The portion of your talk that addressed the detailed steps of the communication rollout plan (What?) was very helpful because it clearly laid out the metrics for success (So what?). Please leverage that type of analysis in the other aspects of your next case analysis (Now what?).”

        The reality is that when you are in a spontaneous speaking situation, you have to do two things simultaneously: You have to figure out what to say and how to say it. These structures help you present your message. When you become comfortable with these structures, you will be able to respond more quickly to impromptu speaking situations.

        The last day of my business school class is very different than the first. We do an activity where each of my students stands up and gives an unprepared toast to something of value they are taking away from our time together. Invariably, they express their gratitude for learning how to speak in spontaneous situations. The best part is, they excitedly demonstrate their ability to present this way in the toasts they give!

        By getting out of your own way, reframing your situations as opportunities rather than threats, and leveraging structures, you too can think faster, talk smarter, and become a more compelling, confident, and connected spontaneous speaker.

          Four Characteristics of Authentic Communicators

          Quantified Communications conducted a fascinating and informative analysis of the authentic communication of top CEOs. As part of this assessment, they invited me to provide some insight into the value of authentic communication and what it is comprised of. Enjoy!

          What Is an Authentic Leader?

          What an intriguing question! Authenticity is very hard to define and even more elusive to enact, but we know it when we see and hear it—and we can usually tell right away when someone is being inauthentic. Authentic people seem genuine and sincere; they are confident in who they are and what they believe. In a word, they are perceived as real. Further, there exists a quiet certitude in an authentic person’s demeanor and communication style. That is, they are able to express their ideas and feelings in a connected, conversational way that not only relays their message but also conveys a sense that “this is the way it is from my perspective.” There are many benefits to being authentic. First and foremost, research suggests authentic leaders are more trusted and believable. That trust builds up the leader’s credibility and breeds confidence in her capability and intentions, which motivates greater engagement and effort from her audience members, peers, and subordinates. Next, while we might not support or agree with her ideas and actions, we are more likely to like an authentic leader than someone who is disingenuous, overly polished, or putting on airs. The goodwill that likeability inspires leads to cohesiveness in actions and attitudes and improves employee commitment and retention. Further, it lays a foundation for constructive dialogue when disagreements do arise. Additionally, authentic leaders put their audiences at ease. When a leader appears authentic, listeners don’t need to waste cognitive capacity trying to suss out an ulterior motive or determine why she might be saying what she is saying. The result is that audiences are more likely to focus on and remember what an authentic leader says. Finally, it is far easier to be yourself than it is to take on a persona you think others want to see. Authentic leaders can spend less time worrying about external perceptions and more time focused on their jobs and their communication goals.

          How Do Authentic Leaders Communicate?

          Authentic leaders’ communication is made up of at least four characteristics that differ from those who are less authentic.
          1. Audience-Centric Approach: Authentic leaders are genuinely interested in both their message and their audience. Authentic leaders always place themselves in service of their audience by asking, “What does my audience need to know and feel?” This audience-centric approach not only connects the speaker to her audience, but it enables her to meet the audience where they are at in terms of expectations and knowledge level. Finally, this approach affects the tone of the communication by ensuring the leader can speak to her audience as equals.
          2. Openness: Too many leaders deliver sterile, fact-filled presentations that they seem to be bestowing upon the audience. But an authentic leader approaches her audience more openly, sharing her ideas and information through personal experience and stories. When she uses data, she puts it in context and explains what the numbers mean for her and others. Additionally, an authentic person expresses and explains both success and failure as well as opportunities and challenges.
          3. Warmth: The warmth an authentic leader expresses in her communication serves to connect her to her audience in an honest and genuine way. Recent academic research has shown the value of communicating in a warm and connected manner. Warmth can be thought of as operationalized empathy. It is a combination of understanding an audience’s needs and displaying that understanding through words and actions. An authentic speaker acknowledges her audience’s needs by verbally echoing them. She also maintains an engaged posture, leaning forward and moving toward people who ask questions. Researchers, such as popular TED presenter and Harvard Business School Professor Amy Cuddy, have shown that warmth is a key foundational trait of successful leaders.
          4. Immediacy: Similar to warmth, immediacy refers to authentic leaders’ ability to be present with their audiences. Immediacy is a term coined in the late 1960’s by psychology professor Albert Meharabian to represent the many verbal and nonverbal behaviors people exhibit to build emotional connections. Nervous and novice leaders tend to retreat physically and emotionally when communicating. They may step back away from the audience while drawing their arms across their chests and hunching over or hiding behind a lectern. Their language is almost always more formal. Contrast this to leaders who communicate in an immediate fashion by holding an open, balanced posture and using conversational language. These leaders might stumble and stutter or let out an occasional “um,” but all of these convey an earnest honesty and presence in the moment. Research has shown that leaders and teachers who communicate in an immediate way are more effective and better liked.
          Authenticity is a powerful tool for professional success. It boils down to being genuinely interested in and empathic with your audience while remaining emotionally and physically open and engaged. The bottom line is that like currency, authenticity allows for an open exchange—of ideas, feelings, and support—that buys leaders trust, engagement, and favor among their audiences.

            Tips for confident presenting while seated

            Many people ask how best to look confident when seated and presenting. This short video provides useful tips on confident posture and hand gestures from a seated position.

              Speaking Up Without Freaking Out

              Speaking up without Freaking Out

              "What scares you most?"  Year after year when the Book of Lists asks this question, public speaking is the most often reported response.  

              In fact, people rate fear of speaking in public 10 to 20 percent higher than the fear of death, heights, spiders, and fire. As a student of mine once joked: "People would rather stand naked while on fire, overlooking a 30-story fall, covered with spiders and snakes than give a speech."  For kids and adults alike, presenting in public can be anxiety provoking and potentially demoralizing.  But this need not be the case.  By focusing on and believing in your ability to become a better public speaker you can develop agency over your anxiety and also become a more confident and better communicator.

              As an academic and communication coach, I have helped students and clients to reduce their nervousness through easy-to-implement cognitive reframing.  By actively working on how you approach your presenting and mindfully adjusting your relationship to your audience, you can develop a long lasting sense of confidence and agency over an anxiety that often feels uncontrollable.  

              Cognitive Reframing Techniques:

              Greet your anxiety. The first reframing technique involves accepting the physical, emotional, and mental anxiety you experience prior to speaking: view it as a typical and natural reaction. After all, these sensations do not show anything beyond your body's normal response to something that is potentially threatening. Avoid giving these natural responses special significance. Or, even better, you can greet these reactions by saying to yourself: "Here are those fixed minded, anxious voices again. It makes sense that I feel nervous; I am about to speak in front of people." This acknowledging practice is an empowering acceptance that dampens your anxiety rather than allowing it to make you even more stressed.

              Replace performing with conversing.  Another reframing effort involves seeing a presentation as a conversation rather than a performance. In performing, you place a tremendous amount of pressure on yourself "to get it right." Anyone who has ever performed on stage, danced, or played a sport knows what this pressure feels like. But a conversation feels less stressful and more engaging.  How do you reframe presenting as a conversation?  First, when you practice, don't stand up and deliver in front of a mirror or camera. Practice by sitting at a kitchen table or in a coffee shop with friends or family and talk through your presentation points. Practicing with a small group in a comfortable environment leads to a more conversational delivery. Second, include the word "you" frequently when speaking. "You" provides a direct, verbal connection with your audience. You can also use audience members' names, if you know them, to create more personal connections with participants.

              See presenting as an opportunity. The final reframing technique has you change the way you relate to your audience. Rather than seeing your presentation as challenging or threatening, visualize it as an opportunity. For example, when I coach executives on Q&A techniques following a presentation, they often view it as an adversarial experience—them versus the media, investors, whomever. I work with these leaders to change their perception. A Q&A session is actually an opportunity to clarify a point,  create better understanding about the topic, or to promote collaboration.  Perceiving a presentation as an opportunity feels very different than thinking of it as a potential threat. You are more willing to engage. When you feel threatened, you will likely do the bare minimum to respond because you are protecting yourself. However if you see the interaction as a chance to explain or expand on an area of personal expertise, you are going to interact in a more connected, compelling manner with your audience.

              Taken together, these reframing techniques empower you to deliver more confidently. Of course, employing them takes time, practice, and persistence, but it is well worth it to experience freedom from what most report as their greatest anxiety.

              Matt Abrahams is the author of Speaking Up Without Freaking Out: 50 techniques for confident and compelling presenting as well as Co-Founder of Bold Echo, LLC. He also teaches strategic communication at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business.

                Say what you gotta say: How to insert you point into a conversation

                Woulda...coulda...shoulda! Many have felt remorse and concern about not contributing in meetings and conversations, especially when you actually had something of value to say. Myriad reasons exist for not adding your ideas to the communication mix: anxiety, over talkative colleagues, time pressure, etc. I can easily accept all of these as reasons for keeping your opinions and ideas mum. However, I less readily accept not knowing how to insert your point as a reason not to share. To this end, I provide my consulting clients and MBA students with the following tips for speaking up: Lead with a connection. Use a concept that was just being discussed as your commencing statement and then immediately link it to your contribution.
                Ex: In a discussion where your colleague was just discussing a product's release timeline, you might say: "The product's release date most certainly requires additional resources be committed."
                Lead with an emotion. Share your feelings about what is being discussed as your way of entering your input.
                Ex: "I am very concerned about the resources allocated to this product."
                Lead with a shared value. Tap into a corporate or societal value as your initiating line.
                Ex: "Our value of delighting our customers compels us to provide more resources prior to releasing this product."
                Lead with a question. Phrase your input as a clear and concise (and perhaps leading) question.
                Ex: "How would the product release be made better by adding more resources to work on it?"
                Your ideas and opinions matter. And, if the environment and timing are right, you should certainly share them. The four suggestions provided above are very useful on ramps for you to initiate your contribution and be heard.

                  New Tools to Combat Public Speaking Anxiety

                  I constantly look out for new research on how to help people feel less anxious when communicating. I am always excited to share what I come across. Below, please find five helpful approaches to enhancing communication confidence: Peel away your fear. Research from George Washington University conducted by Cassandra Moshfegh found that mice exposed to orange essential oils, which are oils extracted from orange rinds, showed a marked reduction in their signs of stress and fear following exposure to anxiety provoking situations. If these findings extend to humans, then simply taking time to smell orange essential oils before and after a high stakes communication event could help. Scrub a dub dub. For a while now, researchers have known that washing your hands shortly after a negative experience can reduce the lingering thoughts and feelings you might have about the event. Now researchers at the Rotman School of Management in Toronto have suggested a mechanism by which this washing works. Based on several studies that they conducted, these researchers believe washing or using a wipe after a challenging event serves to separate you psychologically from the prior goal set you had (much like separating dirt from your hands), thus allowing you to focus better on other, more positive goals. So if your next presentation does not go as well as you had hoped, rather than ruminate, wash or wipe. With a little help from my friends. Test anxiety can be significantly reduced and scores improved if the nervous test taker receives support from friends via social media prior to taking a test. Robert Deloatch of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign showed that supportive social media comments and even “likes” helped anxious test takers perform better. This finding comports nicely with extant research that demonstrates talking to supportive people prior to engaging in a stressful communication can help alleviate some of the angst. Simply put, reaching out to people seeking positive support – online or in person – prior to presenting can result in less anxiety. Get back to nature. Research from the Brighton and Sussex Medical School has shown that listening to the sounds of nature influences how you focus your attention. When listening to nature sounds, you tend to direct your focus externally, whereas artificial, person made sounds tend to direct your focus internally. Previous research has shown when your attention is externally directed, you tend to feel calmer and have a less severe fight or flight response. I often suggest people listen to songs to help them focus and relax; I now intend to include listening to nature sounds as a way to accomplish the same calm demeanor. Be awesome. That feeling of wonder and amazement – being in awe – can be of great help to you when you are anxious or overly self-conscious. Research by Dacher Keltner at UC Berkeley and others has shown that after being in a state of awe based on experiencing nature, art, architecture, etc. people report feeling less stressed and happier. This effect seems to last beyond the immediate awe experience. Further, research from Arizona State University has shown that post-awe experiences leave people better able to focus and remember. By seeking out opportunities to be amazed and awe inspired, you can increase your sense of agency to address your anxiety. Taken individually or together, these new findings should be considered in every communicator’s anxiety management plan.

                    Time travel: Reducing anxiety by imagining the future.

                    As an undergraduate, I was fortunate to study with Dr. Philip Zimbardo who among other things explored how people’s orientation to time – past, present, or future – influenced the way in which they experienced life. My time with Zim has me always on the look out for research on the psychology of time. Recently, I found two studies that directly apply to managing anxiety that can help nervous communicators. Research out of the University of London’s Psychology Department explored how temporal distancing can help adolescents experiencing event driven anxiety (e.g., preparing to take a test or deliver a presentation) reduce their nervousness. Temporal distancing consists of imagining a time in the future where your current stressor no longer carries its level of import and significance. Essentially, this anxiety management technique helps you put the current stressor in context when you consider it in the broader scope of your life. Put this technique into practice: You can practice distancing by simply thinking of a future time between one and ten years out – days or weeks do not have as big of a stress reduction impact – where you see the consequences of your stressful event on your life. For example, if you are very worried about an upcoming presentation, you can reduce this stress by thinking about how important this speech will be to your future life five years from now. Another future casting technique that helps reduce anxiety involves looking on the bright side immediately beyond your speaking situation. Contemplate positive events after you present. For example, if you are presenting during a meal, you can think about the nice chocolate dessert you will enjoy after you speak. Further, you can envision some fun activity you will enjoy on the weekend after your Friday corporate all-hands presentation you’re delivering. Put this technique into practice: To make use of this technique, you can generate a list of things that you can look forward to after you present. These can be activities or items. By imagining near-term. Positive future outcomes, you can help yourself to be less anxious during your presentation. Both of these anxiety management approaches teach the same lesson: By thinking about your future, you can minimize the anxiety that you feel today.

                      Mind Your Pronouns To Be A More Confident and Connected Communicator

                      In the course of two consecutive days, I came across two research studies focused on the use of first person pronouns. For years now, I have been advising students and clients to employ inclusive language – “us,” “our,” “we” – to engage their audiences. These terms invite attention and make your communication more conversational. However, these two studies go even further and identify benefits of pronoun usage in helping make leaders appear more in control and people less nervous.

                      First person pronouns lead to perceptions of competence.

                      Researchers at Tulane’s Freeman School of Business found that the use of first person pronouns, such as “I,” “me,” “we,” “us,” “our,” leads listeners to have more positive impressions. Specifically, the researches assessed listeners’ views of companies based on how many first person pronouns leaders spoke during earnings calls. Regardless of the actual financial results, companies were perceived more favorably when leaders used many first person pronouns. The researchers suggest first person pronouns imply that corporate leaders have more direct influence and control. Thus, if you want to be seen as commanding and competent, you may wish to use a lot of first person pronouns. Of course, to take advantage of the connective nature of inclusive language mentioned earlier, I would prefer “we,” “us,” and “our” to “I” and “me.”

                      Avoiding first person pronouns in your self-talk can reduce your stress.

                      Research published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that altering how you phrase your internal talk can make a difference in your level of confidence. Self-immersive talk like “I should have prepared more” leverages first person pronouns and invites people to ruminate and see future activities (e.g., giving a presentation) as threatening. However, using self-distancing talk like “Matt should have prepared more” uses the third person and encourages a more confident approach to upcoming activities. Self-talk is a powerful tool to help manage anxiety. Quieting your negative internal comments and replacing them with positive ones can really help you feel less anxious. But if you can’t reduce the negative self-talk, try to do it in the third person. The bottom line here is that choosing your words wisely – specifically the pronouns you use – can influence how others feel about you and how you feel about yourself.