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Muscle madness

Old Spice: the bodywash that makes my husband stink like a dog in a swamp but that has one of the best advertising departments ever.

Here’s one of their latest interactive internet ads.  I’m not even going to try to cleverly tie this to a communication quip.  All I can say is that it made me laugh until I knocked over a laundry basket of carefully folded and ironed laundry.  Thanks, Old Spice.

Old Spice Muscle Music

The chatty chameleon

It helps to be a bit of a social and verbal chameleon.  Matching your language, demeanor, and expression to the expectations of your audience is generally a good thing.

Adapting yourself to your audience is not about abandoning your personal style or changing your message to suit someone else’s expectations.  It’s about increasing your personal accessibility.  Even if you are preparing for a speech or presentation that’s intended to stir the proverbial pot, you can still increase your appeal by ensuring that your vocabulary, expressions, and even your behavior is consistent with the social norms of the audience.

We adapt to different codes of language and behavior constantly in our daily lives.  Those who don’t usually find it difficult to get along with all but a small minority of people.  Those who can generally find it easier to meet new people and navigate difficult social situations. The key is adapting yourself while maintaining authenticity.

So how can you stay authentic while still being a bit of a social chameleon?  It has less to do with modifying the opinions you express and more to do with modifying the way you express them.  Try to match your words and speaking style to the words and style of your audience.  Watch for common expressions or slang that you can pick up and deliver back at them.  Avoid colloquialisms that might be unfamiliar to the people who you are addressing.  If the audience expects very formal language, dress things up; if they are more casual, tone the formality down a notch.

To get really, really good at being a social chameleon, expose yourself to the current pop culture of a wide variety of groups.  Listen to other varieties of music, read a wide range of online and print material, learn about different cultures.  The goal isn’t to become an expert on three hundred different social groups; the point is to prime your brain to notice social customs quickly and easily.  This will help you adapt at the drop of a pin.

Remember: we generally like people who are like ourselves.  How can you be more like the person or people you are speaking with?

But how does it sound?

Voice quality is a very, very important thing.  A beautifully timbered voice can make the foolish sound clever.  A juvenile, chirpy tone can make the experienced professional seem like an vacuous twit.

And a well-placed voice over can turn a touching scene into this:

This is an old video, but I laugh myself silly every time I see it.

Fear-based communication

How many messages do you encounter in a day?  Discounting the ones that come from your own head (and lord knows those can be interesting), how many bits of info do you process on a daily, hourly, or even minute-by-minute basis?

Let’s dig a little deeper: how often do you consider the tone of those messages?  This is a pretty important question when it comes to evaluating the suitability or reliability of information.  In our hyper-marketed world, the emotional tone of professional communication is one of the first – and most effective – tactics in generating an overall message.

It is difficult to divorce emotion from communication; after all, we’re emotional beings and our daily experiences are largely understood through the emotional state in which we perceive them.  Heck, the entire pathos branch of rhetoric is based around appeal to emotion.  When creating a message, I always consider the sort of emotional effect I’m going for.  Appealing to your audiences feelings is neither a good thing nor a bad thing.  It’s another tool in your toolbox.

I draw the line, however, when emotional appeal becomes overly exploitative.  This is very easily seen in advertising directed at a vulnerable audience base.  Fear-based selling is common and nearly unavoidable.  It sells products, services, and media outlets (think of the use of disaster and fear-based stories on most cable news channels).  It is ruthlessly leveraged against audiences whose circumstances involve some form of instability or unpredictability.

As I’m preparing for the birth of my first child, I’ve been rummaging through plenty of pregnancy-related magazines.  Expectant mothers and fathers are concerned about the health and future of their child, which makes them ripe for fear based advertising.  In one issue of Fit Pregnancy, I counted no less than six advertisements for cord blood banking, three of which occupied entire pages, and one of which was a spectacular two-page spread.  All of these ads featured messages such as “secure your family’s future” and warnings about the likelihood that the child will develop a severe or terminal illness.  One particularly dreadful ad shows a picture of a baby’s foot, with each toe labelled thus:

  • This little piggy has a 1 in 17 chance of getting juvenile diabetes.
  • This little piggy has a 1 in 2 chance of getting cancer.
  • This little piggy has a 1 in 303 chance of getting cerebral palsy.
  • This little piggy has a 1 in 217 chance of needing a stem cell transplant.
  • This little piggy has a 1 in 66 chance of getting leukemia.

While it is reasonable for services such as cord blood banking to use illness information to sell their product, the way these ads communicate the risks borders on cruel.  I believe that ethical communication involves educating your audience about different sides of an issue, not whipping them up into a panic that leads them to a blind purchase.

In today’s blog post, Seth Godin summed up top level business practices as having focus on “respect and dignity and guts…”.  Most fear-based communications is neither respectful, dignified, nor gutsy.  Don’t fall into the trap of relying on fear to communicate your message.

I can has poker face?

Control over your facial expressiveness is a boon.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the ability to let your face show people what you want when you want is worth many, many hours of embarrassing practice in front of your bathroom mirror.

The importance of this skill is demonstrated beautifully by Denver the Yellow Lab in the following video:

It seems Denver needs more time in front of the mirror.

Is Twitter really a communication strategy?

I’m on the fence about this one.  In several online groups I belong to, issues surrounding social media communications strategies abound.  There are endless LinkedIn discussions about how to improve your corporate Facebook or Twitter presence, how to humanize your company with Instagram, how to develop a social brand, and how to attract “real” followers instead of ghosts and bots.  There is a huge amount of effort put into the maintenance of these online presences.  More often than not, I’m left wondering if the payoff is work it.

Facebook has become a very popular marketing platform on which companies can make coupon or sample offers to the public, often in exchange for the individual clicking the “like” button on the company’s Facebook page.  Company advertising and announcements will then be incorporated into the individuals News Feed, purportedly exposing them to more advertising than they would otherwise.  Is this really effective?  I’d love to hear the metrics on difference in sales and profits that this advertising strategy takes.  I for one, have Liked many a company’s Facebook page.  I’ve done it to get samples, freebies, high-value coupons, and to enter contests.  I then proceed to hide the company’s updates from my News Feed so that I don’t get bombarded with additional ads.  Once I receive the thing that I want (and in the case of coupons, I only get offers for products I buy anyway), I immediately Unlike the page.  Rinse, wash, repeat.  So far, my buying patterns have not changed.  But how many people do respond positively, becoming regular consumers of the product?

The same goes for Twitter.  There are some fascinating things going on with that particular platform.  Professionals are having public discourses, opinions get exchanged, celebrities of various degrees experience foot-in-mouth syndrome, news bits get passed on.  I do follow a couple of individuals/companies, primarily because they regularly post links to interesting business articles.  A lot of the tweets, however, are completely irrelevant and I end up ignoring them for weeks at a time.

One of the local TV stations has been running internet ads featuring various young professionals and hipsters going on about the fabulousness of social media.  One of said hipsters is a young woman in a headband and 1980’s style aerobics gear stretching on a yoga mat.  At one point she says “I get all my news from Twitter . . . it’s about conversations.”

But is it really?  Are Twitter and other social media platforms that encourage status update and single sentence summaries of our state of mind really about conversations?  I’ve heard people make that claim before, but I’m not entirely sold on it.  Certainly back-and-forth exchanges do take place, and can be interesting (or fascinating along the vein of a 15-car pileup).  But can these exchanges, with the planning and posturing that is afforded by asynchronous responses, really be conversations?  I don’t know.  They can be fun, for sure.  They also provide a way to give glimpses into personal states of mind through thought-of-the-moment type posts; this can humanize a professional and let their audience or clients see a more personal side of them in a controlled manner.

All of this can add a dimension to our perception of other people, but does it really work as a communication strategy on its own?  Regardless how enthusiastic I feel about a social media platform at any given point in time, I’m always left asking that question.  In the absence of other, meatier communication channels, can Twitter stand on its own as a way to connect with your audience?

I’m not sure.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be sure.  That being said, I’m going to start up an Up Front twitter account anyway – for all of those thought-of-the-moment bits that drift through my brain.

Channeling Tom Cruise

Today’s dose of Friday Fun comes courtesy of Miles Fisher and his promo for Superhero Movie.

I use emulation activities with my clients as a way of recognizing other people’s signature speaking quirks and then using that knowledge to recognize and develop their own signature style.  A big part of these exercises involve figuring out the emotional and mental space that the emulator needs to get into in order to make their imitation of their chosen speaker appear genuine.

The headspace that Miles Fisher had to get into in order to produce this imitation of Tom Cruise must have been terrifying!

I bow to thee, Miles Fisher!

Charisma matters

I’ve spent most of the past week flat on my back fighting a vicious sinus infection.  Unable to string together a single coherent sentence in written or spoken word, I settled for laying on the couch watching lousy television and feeling sorry for myself.

Much of that layabout time was spent watching old episodes of the BBC Dragons’ Den.  I love that program in all its iterations – the BBC version, the American version (called Shark Tank), and my personal favourite, the Canadian version.  Taken with the usual heavy grain of reality TV salt, the programs are a great little lab to study human posturing.  It is equally interesting seeing the potential investors’ responses to the business pitches or the individuals themselves.  I’ve often heard the investors say that while they are interested in the business, they have no faith in the person presenting the pitch and don’t want to invest in them.  On the other hand, I’ve also seen them take risks on early-model or only partially formed businesses because the individual pitching it was so compelling.

So say it with me together, boys and girls:  likability matters!

It matters so, so much.  You know those people who for some reason can say the most outrageous and insulting things, and people continue to delight in their company?  They’re likable.  What about those people who, no matter how intelligent or correct their statement may be, will still raise the ire of everyone in the room?  They probably aren’t likable, and probably couldn’t say anything that would please their present company.

A big factor for likability is openness and candor.  Often a lack of likability is due more to a chilly or withdrawn manner than actual social awkwardness.  There was an especially good example of the impact of likability from the series’ third episode.  Despite the stuffy, angry, uncomfortable, exhausted haze through I was viewing the program, I became very excited about this particular clip.  It is a case study in why a chilly demeanor will get you nowhere when trying to persuade others, and why it is rarely – if ever – a good thing to hide information.

I have to link to the entire episode, but the bit to watch is the disposable outdoor furniture pitch, which runs from 30:30 to 41:08:

What a frosty presentation!  I’ve seen people get away with making far ruder retorts than that woman and yet who don’t put off the investors as much as she did.  Dragon Rachel actually tells the woman flat out that a big portion of her refusal to invest in the idea is down to the woman’s behaviour: “You don’t come across as very likable…”

Developing your likability is a big, involved topic, but if you are looking for a place to start, start with warmth.  Invite and welcome people into your speech and your ideas.  Err on the side of too much openness rather than taking the cagey, secretive route.  The difference in reception can be astounding!

Up Front Communication

Up Front Communication delivers high-impact training in key communication skills such as public speaking, persuasion, and presentation delivery. Let experienced speaker and trainer Lauren Sergy help you and your employees better your communication skills through challenging and entertaining one-one-one coaching and group workshops.

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