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← Want to sound like a leader? Start by saying your name right | Laura Sicola | TEDxPenn

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Showing Revision 17 created 09/28/2015 by Krystian Aparta.

  1. One of the hottest topics
    in courses and books nowadays,

  2. with regard to leadership communication,
  3. is the concept of executive presence.
  4. What does it mean? How do you define it?
  5. And can it be taught or learned?
  6. The Center for Talent Innovation
    identified three main pillars of it:
  7. appearance, communication
    skills, and gravitas.
  8. Gravitas means things like
    "Do your words have teeth?",
  9. "Are you able to make
    the tough decisions and stick with them?"
  10. One of the missing pieces
  11. when you think about what's integrated
    really between the lines of broad concepts
  12. like communication skills and gravitas
  13. is vocal executive presence, as I call it.
  14. It's the missing link.
  15. How do you sound when you're making
    those tough decisions?
  16. Does your delivery reinforce your message
    and establish the image that you want?
  17. Or does it undermine it?
  18. What happens if I'm trying to diffuse
    a tense situation and I say:
  19. "OK, everybody just calm down now,
    we need to reevaluate the situation."
  20. At worst, I'm just adding
    fuel to the fire,
  21. and at best, you may later on
    gently suggest that I switched to decaf.
  22. It's about how we connect.
  23. I end up working a lot with people
  24. who are preparing for presentations
    and for press conferences,
  25. and they make statements like:
  26. "We're very passionate
  27. about helping children and improving
    the quality of our schools."
  28. And I think to myself:"Really?
    Because you could've fooled me."
  29. There's a claim of passion,
    but there's no evidence thereof.
  30. The problem is a disconnect
  31. between the choice of words
    and their execution, their delivery.
  32. And this creates a problem of credibility.
  33. Now, there's a historic and seminal study
    that looked at feelings and attitudes
  34. as a result of the consistency
    or inconsistency
  35. in verbal and nonverbal messaging cues.
  36. And what they found was
  37. that when they ask people
    to evaluate speakers
  38. as far as whether or not they thought
    the speaker sounded sincere,
  39. 38% of that evaluation was based
    on the tonality of the speaker's voice.
  40. Tonality being things like the ups
    and the downs in your intonation patterns.
  41. In contrast, only 7% of those decisions
  42. were based on the speakers' words
    that they chose,
  43. and the remaining 55%
    were looking at non-verbal cues,
  44. were based on non-verbal cues
    like your posture, your eye contact, etc.
  45. Now, this is a study.
  46. We have to be careful
    because many people love to misquote it.
  47. And you'll hear people
    make grand statements
  48. like: "Well, you know,
    55% of all communication is non-verbal."
  49. That's not remotely accurate and it's not
    what the study was talking about,
  50. but what we can take from this study,
  51. and a lot of subsequent
    research in the area
  52. is the importance of sounding credible.
  53. Now, I'd like you to think about this
  54. in the context of how you personally
    prepare for some sort of presentation.
  55. Do you spend 38% of your time
    working on the delivery?
  56. If you're like most people,
  57. you probably spend the vast majority,
    if not all of your time,
  58. working on the content: your outline,
    your script, your PowerPoint slides,
  59. making sure you got cool graphics
    and some snazzy animations,
  60. crunching your data
    to put into your spreadsheets.
  61. But then, after all that work,
  62. we sort of wing the delivery
    hoping it will be good enough.
  63. And in the end,
    that's just comparatively weak,
  64. and it can undermine
    both your immediate goals and objectives,
  65. as well as your long-term
    image and reputation.
  66. The fact is, if you want
    to be seen as a leader,
  67. you have to sound like one.
  68. You have to demonstrate
    vocal executive presence.
  69. Now, a part of vocal executive presence
  70. is the ability to read an audience
    and identify the kind of person
  71. from whom they would be most open
    to receiving your message,
  72. and then figure out
    what that kind of person would sound like.
  73. Now, to an extent, we're all born
    with the voice that we have,
  74. but we do have a lot of control
    over how we use it.
  75. Margaret Thatcher is
    a great example thereof.
  76. She was the first woman
    in British Parliament,
  77. and she was overtly mocked
    by a lot of her opponents
  78. with phrases like: "Me thinks
    the Lady does screech too much"
  79. because when she was passionate
    in her arguing certain points,
  80. her voice would go higher
    and become rather shrill.
  81. So when she decided
    to run for Prime Minister,
  82. she worked with a tutor
    from the National Theater
  83. who helped her to lower her pitch
    in order to sound more authoritative.
  84. And this is really important
  85. because the voice has both cognitive
    and emotional effects on the listener.
  86. Let's start with the cognitive.
  87. We talked about tonality, that 38%,
    the highs and the lows in your voice.
  88. And if we use this strategically,
  89. we can actually help the listener to focus
  90. on the most important words
    and parts of the message
  91. which makes for a lighter processing mode
  92. and helps them understand and potentially
    remember what we're saying.
  93. And this can have a persuasive influence.
  94. When we listen to speech,
  95. we process it in what are called
    tone units or chunks.
  96. And we start first by fixating
    on the intonation pattern
  97. and anchoring what we listen to
    to where those highest peaks are.
  98. And then, if necessary,
  99. we allow our imagination to fill in
    whatever is in those lower sound valleys.
  100. An example of this is in song lyrics.
  101. We've all had this situation
  102. where we've been singing along
    to our favorite song
  103. and suddenly, we realize that, or perhaps
    somebody else not so gently points out,
  104. that we've been singing the words wrong.
  105. You've ever been there?
  106. A lot of nodding.
  107. There's a classic song,
  108. "What a wonderful world"
    by Louis Armstrong.
  109. I think everybody knows this one.
  110. And in it there's a line that talks about:
  111. "the bright blessed day
    and the dark sacred night."
  112. But when I was a kid
    I thought the line was:
  113. "the bright blessed day
    and the dogs say good night."
  114. (Laughter)
  115. Now, does this make any sense whatsoever?
  116. No, but I accepted it,
    in part because, first and foremost,
  117. it matches those intonation patterns
    and it also matches at those pitch peaks,
  118. the vowels, these syllables
    that are up at the top.
  119. And then, in the parts
    that were less salient,
  120. that were less emphasized,
    in those pitch valleys,
  121. I let myself make up the rest.
  122. This also reflects why effective speakers,
    when they're speaking,
  123. will emphasize the most important words
    with higher pitch.
  124. Now, tonality, if we use it strategically,
  125. can have a good influence
    on our very first impressions
  126. in attempting to establish
    ourselves as leaders
  127. from the moment we meet somebody.
  128. It's really important, of course,
  129. to make a good, strong,
    memorable first impression.
  130. But this is difficult
    when a lot of people feel
  131. like they're not even good at
    remembering people's names.
  132. You ever feel like that?
  133. Well, I'm going to absolve you
    of about half of that blame.
  134. And that's because when most people
    introduce themselves to you,
  135. they pronounce their own names wrong.
  136. OK, well, technically maybe not wrong,
  137. but they pronounce them in a way that uses
    a rhythm and an intonation pattern
  138. that does make it more difficult for you
    to understand what they're saying.
  139. And, by the way, I absolve you
    of only half of that responsibility
  140. because the other half of the time
  141. you're the one introducing yourself
    to somebody else.
  142. So, if I want to know
    that I'm introducing myself
  143. and helping the listener
    to really understand my name,
  144. and by understanding,
  145. then they can hopefully remember it,
    and thereby remember me,
  146. I want to start by letting my voice go up,
  147. up like this, on your first name,
    as if to say, "I'm not finished yet,"
  148. and then at the top,
    we'll have a little break,
  149. that little pause that will allow for
    a sound break to indicate word boundary,
  150. and then, at our last name,
    we want to go down, let the pitch fall,
  151. as if to say, "And now I'm done,"
  152. like you're putting
    a little local period at the end.
  153. So instead of blurring your way
    through your introduction,
  154. like, "Hi, my name is Laura Sicola,"
    and bla-bla-blah,
  155. I want to focus and help
    my listener to understand,
  156. and so I'll do my best to say to them,
    "Hi, my name is Laura Sicola."
  157. And you'll be amazed at the difference
    this strategic tonality can make
  158. even in something this small.
  159. Now, of course, if we're haphazard
    in our use of intonation,
  160. and putting it in the wrong place,
  161. we can have the exact opposite effect.
  162. We can distract the listener's attention
    from what's most important,
  163. and make it harder for them
    to process what we're saying.
  164. And one of the most common and,
    in my opinion, annoying examples of this,
  165. that's becoming more and more
    prevalent in society nowadays,
  166. is a phenomenon called "up-speak,"
  167. otherwise known as up-talk
    or, more technically, high-rise terminal.
  168. And that's the pattern
    where people are talking,
  169. and they keep adding
    these question-like tones
  170. at the ends of all
    of their phrases and sentences,
  171. "You know?", like they're implying
  172. a bunch of little "OKs" and "rights,"
  173. one after another,
  174. like there's some sort
    of deep-seated insecurity
  175. and pathological need
    for constant validation?
  176. (Laughter)
  177. You know?
  178. The problem with talking like that
    is that what ends up becoming emphasized
  179. is just whatever randomly falls
    at the end of the phrase.
  180. It doesn't help anyone
    to process what you're saying.
  181. And that monotonous lilting upswing
    time and again can be rather hypnotic
  182. and so, after a while,
    we don't really know
  183. if the audience is listening to
    anything we're saying, much less what.
  184. By the way, I should also point out
  185. that this is not just
    a "Valley Girl" kind of phenomenon,
  186. like a lot of people seem to attribute it.
  187. More and more nowadays,
    this vocal crime against humanity
  188. is being perpetrated
    by men and women, old and young,
  189. highly educated and lesser educated.
  190. So, congratulations guys,
    you've closed the gender gap.
  191. Way to lead!
  192. (Laughter)
  193. So from there, one of the other issues
  194. is that when people,
    of course, hear up-speak,
  195. they tend to have a very negative
    and even visceral response.
  196. It's not only the antithesis
    of vocal authority.
  197. It's almost like the vocal equivalent
    of hair-twirling, you know?
  198. So, when people have
    that visceral response,
  199. this will bring us to now talk about
    the emotional effects of voice.
  200. Let's start by thinking about some people
    who have really distinct voices.
  201. We'll start with James Earl Jones,
  202. perhaps best known
    as the iconic voice of Darth Vader.
  203. Now, in my opinion, with that deep,
    rich, bass voice that he has,
  204. he could read the ingredients
    of the back of a bottle of shampoo
  205. and it would sound like poetry.
  206. But he probably
    would not have been as successful
  207. if he had tried to play
    the role of Elmo on Sesame Street.
  208. (Laughter)
  209. What about someone like Fran Drescher
  210. with that completely unmistakable, whiny,
    nasal voice right out of Queens, NY?
  211. She was great on TV as The Nanny,
  212. but she probably would have been
    less successful as Darth Vader.
  213. Can you imagine her standing over
    Luke Skywalker saying,
  214. "Luke, I am your father!"
  215. (Laughter)
  216. It's just so doesn't work!
  217. Now that's a great voice for comic relief,
  218. but it's not necessarily
    the voice you want to encounter
  219. when you're looking
    for a funeral director.
  220. It's all about context.
  221. In the funeral context you're looking for
    someone who sounds sympathetic,
  222. who sounds compassionate,
    who sounds like you can trust them
  223. to take care of you and your family during
    your time of greatest emotional need.
  224. And the problem is
  225. that when we find someone
    who has a voice that we find unpleasant
  226. or somehow seems
    to lack the characteristics
  227. of the kind of person we're looking for,
    - doesn't sound like that kind of person -
  228. we can tune them out.
  229. We can sort of shut down,
  230. and we don't even want
    to hear the rest of the message,
  231. no matter how important
    the information is.
  232. Subconsciously, we really want
    the messenger's voice to fit the message.
  233. Now, does that mean that
    vocal executive presence is about acting?
  234. No, on the contrary,
    it's the exact opposite.
  235. You have to be authentic.
    You have to be yourself.
  236. But the key is to recognize
  237. which parts of your personality need
    to shine through in a particular moment
  238. and how to transmit that
    through your voice and speech style.
  239. Now, you're listening to me here today
  240. in part because the way I am presenting
    to you makes sense to you
  241. and will match your expectations for
    what a TED talk speaker should sound like.
  242. But I can't use this same speech style
    when I'm talking to my 3-year old nephew.
  243. He'd wonder what happened to aunt Laura
    because I don't sound like fun any more,
  244. and he'd probably stop playing with me.
  245. But at the same time,
    I can't come here today
  246. and talk to you in the same way
    that I talk to him.
  247. Can you imagine if I started by saying:
  248. "Everybody, I've got a great idea!
  249. Let's talk about vocal
    executive presence!"
  250. (Laughter)
  251. You'd be like, "Are you kidding me?
    Who is this nut?
  252. What can she possibly know
    about leadership or executive anything?
  253. And, for that matter, who invited her?"
  254. And by the way, it was them.
  255. (Laughter)
  256. I call it "working your prismatic voice."
  257. In the end, I'm not acting.
  258. It's just a matter of recognizing
  259. and being aware of the two audiences'
    different needs and expectations.
  260. And then identifying
    which parts of my personality
  261. I want to let come through and how,
  262. in order to ensure
    your openness to my message.
  263. And with regard to the big notion,
    the metaphor, the prismatic voice,
  264. in many ways, in the same way
    white light would pass through a prism
  265. and break in all the colors of the rainbow
    that make up that white light,
  266. when the white light of your personality
  267. passes through the prism
    of some situational context,
  268. you need to look at all of the colors
    that are available,
  269. all the different parts
    of your personality,
  270. and decide which one you need
    to highlight in the moment and how,
  271. in order to be most effective
    and appropriate for that moment.
  272. And if you can figure out
    how to do that successfully,
  273. then you can create your own, unique,
    and authentic sound of leadership.
  274. Thank you.
  275. (Applause)