Being You

A while back I  was having a chat with another Jack, the husband of my niece, who’s also an actress. I was joking about my (also an actress) wife’s inability to load a dish washer. I cringe a little as I write those words.

Jack said, “Yes Jenny’s the same. But then I think I could be married to someone who’s great at loading dish-washers or I could be married to the amazing wonderful gorgeous Jenny?” I refrained from pointing out that maybe you could be gorgeous and wonderful and also good at loading dish-washers. 

Since when I have seen my wife’s very minor quirks and foibles (particularly compared to mine) as part of the unique special whole that makes Rebecca the beautiful, funny, talented not-very-good-at-loading-dishwashers person she is.

Now if we move away from this appearing to be a blog about data suggesting that actresses are rubbish at loading dish-washers, I think there is also an important point here about communication, presenting and indeed leadership.

I am often asked to “cure” a presenter. Give them more gravitas, make them more confident, stop them umming, being so nervous, shy, shuffly etc. Occasionally and rather wonderfully I will be asked to make them more themselves. “They present like robots, we need them to be the brilliant, talented human beings we see around the office,” as one client memorably explained.

By encouraging and working on strengths we start to forget about weaknesses. Of course we don’t want someone to um every couple of words, but the chances are they “um” because they are packed with insecurities about being a useless communicator. Every um is a pause, a hesitation as they try to share a great story but believe that the messenger (themselves) should never have been allowed out of the stationary cupboard. They hesitate like the waiter who believes that the “beluga caviar” they are serving is surrounded by a ring of fish turds.

To use another better looking and probably better smelling analogy , David Beckham was famously someone who couldn’t head, couldn’t tackle (without being sent off) and was slow. He focussed and practiced relentlessly at being an expert at the stuff he was good at: passing, free kicks and landing a cross perfectly on the head of an in-rushing centre forward.

Focus first on the communication strengths of your team. Most people are more than aware and usually exaggerate their weaknesses. Once you focus on their strengths, you’ll find the weaknesses will diminish as they gain confidence and celebrate their individuality.

If you’re applying this to yourself, then write down three of your communication strengths. E.g. as one client said to me the other day: empathy, energy and inventive. Then make sure those qualities shine in your presentation. You’ll find that the audience will enjoy you and your story, and public speaking wise, forget your inability to load your dish-washer.   

Jack Milner

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