Speaking well in public doesn’t come naturally for everyone, nor does it come with experience, as do many of the other skills that C-level executives need to succeed in their jobs. According to Ty Boyd, CEO of Ty Boyd Executive Learning Systems, fear of public speaking is alive and very much inhibiting effective communication for senior-level leaders.
“That old song is really true that the number-one fear is fear of speaking,” said Boyd. “In the average class we have for the executives we coach, we find when they’re really honest, it is really a terrifying experience for them. Many are very well schooled in their professions and in the skills of their craft but have never had any exposure to really good communication skills, really using the toolbox well. They will assign someone else to do their presenting. They will think that they have to project that macho kind of person that they read about in the business magazines, not realizing that very thing is limiting them in their effectiveness with other people.”
Boyd, whose company typically focuses on middle and upper-level management in the top 25 percent of the corporate world, hosts workshops of varying length for companies such as Georgia Pacific, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer. He said that the model for effective communication has been reported by the media, but not necessarily observed. Communication skills, which include listening as well as speaking, are one of the top skill groups a leader should have, but these skills do not have to be perfect. Instead, effective communication should be a mixture of skill, sincerity and creativity. “Some people use sincerity as a sledgehammer,” Boyd said. “Sincerity is hard for me to define, but I know it when I experience it. It’s not just being serious all the time or being factual and demure. It goes back to being open, honest, vulnerable, authentic and doing what you say, because a lot of times our greatest communicators are our actions.”
Audiences have changed, and speakers must keep the audience engaged or lose them. “People have become very passive,” Boyd said. “You have to deliver your message well, even if you’ve got the cure for cancer, or people won’t care. We’ve become passive because we have 150 channels to choose from. We don’t have to enter into that dialogue, and when we do, it better be good or we select another channel. The audience expects more, and it translates into the business place. We sit in an auditorium, and we may look directly at the speaker while our mind is in Venezuela. The speaker has got to be much more exciting and entertaining. This doesn’t mean funny and overly verbose. It just means you’ve got to be so interesting that you hold the attention of the audience above any other distractions or thoughts they might have.”
To maintain this high level of engagement between speaker and audience means more than just skill, slides and generally showing out. It involves lots and lots of practicing. “Practice is critically close to being effective at what we do,” Boyd said. “We expect sports people to do it, and yet the very tools that we use to make our living in one way or another—our communication skills—we expect to get by on our charm, our personality or because we’ve done it a lot. We do not honor practice as it should be honored. If we could teach people to practice what they do, even if it were a sales person hardened by years of travel and presenting their products, I believe just 15 minutes to 20 minutes before every appointment would make them much more successful.”
“During Ty’s course, you’re probably on your feet 15 to 18 times in front of your peers or a group of folks that you’re in the course with, presenting to them. Even if you are uncomfortable the first couple of times, by the time you’ve done that over and over the fear starts to fade and the confidence starts to come in,” said Randy Hall, global director of learning and development, Pfizer Inc. Animal Health Group. “The other thing is the coaching (participants) get. They get one-on-one, very specific coaching during the class that allows them to address whichever areas of their communication skills need the most work.” These improvement areas depend on how participants present to other people and could include lack of clarity, inability to quickly get to the point, incorrect use of body language or other habits that detract from the messenger and the message being delivered.”
Hall added that Pfizer had a real business need: getting people to communicate effectively in various situations—from one-on-one conversations to group meetings. After going through a pilot of Boyd’s class with his peers, Hall said the course was so impressive that Pfizer Animal Health Group now requires every new sales representative and manager to go through it. “These folks communicate for a living, and what Ty and his team enable them to do is lose or at least diminish their fear of the process,” Hall explained. “They feel more comfortable and confident in front of small or large groups of people, and we believe that it helps them engage more in every area of their business. He’s been a great business partner with us, and the demand for the course is what drove it. People aren’t going because I say so. They’re going because they’re hearing word-of-mouth out there on the street that this is something that really helps them get better at their jobs. They want to be there.”
“If I could only teach people one thing, I’d teach them to be passionate about their jobs,” Boyd said. “I’d teach them to be passionate about their relationships, the tools of their job, their customers and topics. If they are, they can be really weak in other areas and still be quite effective. The second thing I would tell them would be that it’s not about you. It’s about the audience. So, if it’s not about you, why are you so uncomfortable? The third thing we say is, ‘To be perfect is an imperfect objective.’ Many of us are afraid to stand up and try anything because we’re afraid we’ll make a mistake, and (people) will think we’re not very effective, or not very good at what we do, or not very smart or something. We say that it’s impossible to be perfect, so let’s kill the ‘be perfect.’ That’s not to lower our standards. Your goal could be to be best you’ve ever been. Be your best today and if you’re your best today, you’ll be far more effective than if you tried to be perfect. The fourth thing we say is intimacy isn’t just Victoria’s Secret. By intimacy we’re not talking about lace and champagne, although I think that’s a very good idea, we mean how we create that closeness with other people. We do it in a number of ways but the most effective way is with our eyes. The person who learns to use their eyes will make his audience feel intimately involved. Our eyes are so powerful that we teach our students to use eye contact not to dominate or overwhelm. It’s not a staring contest. It’s an intimacy builder, a click. The final thing we do on the end of our three-day courses is called ‘Get Real Day.’ It’s the day people learn that being an effective communicator isn’t laying on more veneer so that we look and sound professional. It’s stripping away the veneer, becoming authentic and really, really effective.”Filed under: Leadership Development