‘I can’t take my eyes off you…’
I have just spent an interesting week with a group of senior executives from a global bank, where we focused on tips and techniques for handling pressure, influence, impact and leadership.
What strikes me every time I work with the upper echelons from any organisation, is how impressive individuals become when forged in the fire of tough negotiation, selling and leading from the front under pressure. I always learn as much as I teach.
What challenges me, however, is how rarely this expertise, knowledge and business acumen is translated into charismatic communication.
On the final day, I charged my group with preparing a 2 minute talk on what they had learned and what they were going to use after the workshop.
Without exception, yes, the experience shone through with each mini presentation, and I enjoyed a few nuggets of pure managerial gold, but for the life of me, I couldn’t remember any of the participants as being charismatic.
I am convinced that charisma, whilst more geared naturally towards some than others, is a skill that can be learned.
Over the next three blogs, I will be looking in a little more detail into the ingredients that comprise this ‘ingredient X’, starting here with perhaps the hardest one to master – eye contact.
There are various schools of thought, but if you think about a communication from the audiences perspective – whether in a team meeting or a larger scenario – what they really want is to have a connection with the speaker.
The challenge with most communication of this sort, is that it comes from the perspective of the speaker – ‘what I want to tell you, what I want you to hear’.
With a change in perspective, when the speaker starts to think about what he or she wants the receiver to think, feel and do differently as a result of the communication, the intent becomes clearer and eye contact hits a more focused level.
Most communicators will engage in what I like to call the ‘machine-gun’ approach, where they will scan their audience from side to side. They may even look at individuals randomly for a second or two before moving on.
The effect this has is that the speaker is addressing a group of people, but still with the intent of speaking to a group.
The magic happens when the speaker uses a technique, which I like to call ‘1 person, 1 thought’
As the speaker communicates each thought, he or she looks at 1 person and nowhere else – not up, nor down, nor side to side; just laser-like eye contact on that 1 individual for the duration of the thought or sentence. In time terms, this is normally 5 seconds or so.
Having done the hard work of making the eye contact, make sure that you stay on that individual until you have finished the thought. If you move your eyes before you have finished, the message is lost because it will feel to the receiver that you don’t really mean what you say.
Having delivered your message to that individual, you then move to someone else.
2 things: –
1.Make sure that you move your eye contact randomly. If you start on one person and then just move along the line, the message to the audience is that you will get to them eventually, but in sequence. The individuals at the end of the line will know that they have a little time before you get to them and the chances are that they will switch off.
2. Make sure that you remember the extremities of the space. Traditionally, the people to both sides don’t receive much ‘love’, because the speaker will normally focus on a 30 degree angle in front of him or her.
Give it a try; the good thing about this technique is that you can practice it at any time you are talking to a group of 3 or more people. Just be aware that this is – at it’s finest – an art form.
You will not believe the difference it will make to the impact you have upon any audience with this technique, because the intent is clear – you want to have an individual connection in a group setting.
Finally, just remember that anything worth having takes work.
Watch out for the next blog: “Talk to the hand”