Dazzling the Lifeless Lens, or How to Give the Best Speech of Your Life, Virtually

This article provides insights on overcoming the virtual public speaking barrier and tips on how to deliver a captivating speech across the lens.
“Everything you relied on in the past is just that – the past. This time, you won’t see the audience, feel their energy, or hear their applause. . .You are going to have to shatter the (virtual) barriers between you and the audience, reach through the camera, grab their attention and keep it.”
This article was originally featured online at CEOWorld Magazine on June 30, 2020.

How We Plan to Rebuild in the Post COVID Economy

In this article, Cindy DiBiasi sat down with Charlie Katz from Authority Magazine to share her insights on how business leaders plan to rebuild in the post COVID-19 economy.

“We are seeing an evolution — if not a revolution — in how the Pharma, Biotech, Medical Devices and Technology industries are cooperating. I think we will see a jump-start in many of these areas — from vaccines and new treatments for COVID, to Artificial Intelligence and robotics. I HOPE it also leads to a re-thinking of how we value healthcare over other industries. This pandemic has been compared to a “war.” There is no question that we are under attack — but we need masks, respirators, and healthcare workers to fight it — not guns, missiles, and military. I expect to see a lot of conversation and policy changes regarding that.”
This article was originally featured online at Authority Magazine on June 21, 2020.

How To Work From Home & Keep Your Job

In this podcast, Penny Daniels talks about the downsides and the upsides of working — and communicating — from home in our new virtual reality. She shares tips on organizing and leading virtual meetings, discusses ways to leverage technology, and provides insights on how to communicate effectively when working from home.

Listen here

COVID-19, Communications and Leadership: What We’re Seeing on the Front Lines

True leaders show themselves during a crisis.

Now, a caveat:  This is not a political posting.  No matter your political leanings, who you support or don’t support, this is not the time for comparing leaders to each other.  We need to focus on getting through this as a nation. Caveat complete.   

Right now, you can learn more about how to communicate as a leader than perhaps at any time in recent history, and these are critical lessons.  Leading in a crisis is a challenge, especially when you can’t even be in the same building, let alone the same room, with your employees.   

As a leadership communications expert and coach for decades, and a former news broadcaster who has interviewed hundreds of leaders, I can tell you that NY governor Andrew Cuomo is a model for anyone aspiring to be a great leader in any industry.  

Leadership communications goes way beyond what you say and how you say it.  It starts with knowing who you are and what you value, and then, being able to articulate these things in a way that inspires and motivates people.  

Here are seven ways that Governor Cuomo is showing exemplary leadership — ways I will coach my executive clients to emulate in years to come. 

  1. THE PICTURES MATCH THE WORDS In a crisis especially, we need to believe that our leaders mean what they say and say what they mean. If they say everything is great but appear nervous, we know they are lying. If they say they are in control but look and sound like they’re not, we don’t trust them.  Essentially the Governor’s message is: We’re in a crisis. Bad things are happening and will continue to happen. But we can and will beat COVID-19 if we all do our part. His words are strong and reassuring but also – and this is important – he appears calm and in command.  There’s a “match” between what he says and how he says it. We believe him because of that “match.”  That’s excellent communication and leadership – incarnate.  
  2. HE IS TRANSPARENT If you are a leader, you can’t hide from facts in a crisis.  Cuomo is providing regular, continual updates on the number of people who have tested positive and the number of fatalities in his state. He is very specific about what his administration is doing, why they are doing it, what they project in the days to come and what they expect from the public. There does not appear to be subterfuge nor hyperbole.  We feel that we are getting the straight story, for better or worse.  People need that in a crisis. They need to know that their leaders are telling them the truth, no matter how tough it may be to hear it.  
  3. HE SHARES CREDIT BUT TAKES FULL RESPONSIBILITY Governor Cuomo always thanks and credits other leaders and health experts, but when it comes to making and owning difficult decisions, he takes full responsibility.  When he ordered all but non-essential service workers in the state to stay home, he said: “These actions will cause disruption. They will cause businesses to close. They will cause much unhappiness. I understand that and I accept full responsibility. If someone wants to blame someone, blame me. There is no one else responsible for this decision.”   Today, leaders of all organizations are forced to make tough decisions.  They need to own them. It’s the only way to get respect.  
  4. HE TELLS PERSONAL STORIES Great leaders tell stories, and sometimes the more personal, the better. In a crisis that affects all families, Governor Cuomo talks about his own often. He named a new law aimed at protecting people aged 70 and older from the virus after his mother, Matilda (i.e. “Matilda’s Law.”) When admonishing young people to “stay home,” he quoted his grandfather: “Too soon old, too late smart.” And he invited his daughter Michaela to quote what he has always told his own children: “Does the risk justify the reward?”  Leaders need to learn that stories don’t have to be long – in fact, the shorter and pithier the better – they just have to make the point.   
  5. HE USES CREATIVE ANALOGIES Great communicators use analogies often, but “tired” ones can make people tune out.  Right now, everyone is saying we’re in a “war” against this virus.  And if we hear it one more time….!  But you can turn a tired analogy on its head, as for example the Governor did when he said, “The ventilators are to this war what missiles were to World War II? Right? Rosie the Riveter? We can get the beds. We’ll get the supplies.  But these are people with a respiratory illness. We need the ventilators.” Originality is key when you want to get people’s attention.    
  6. HE DISTINGUISHES BETWEEN FACT AND OPINION Today the lines between fact and opinion are blurred more than ever, and here also Governor Cuomo did something original (at least I had not seen it before.)  He not only verbally called out when he was speaking a “fact,” and when he was giving his “opinion;” he even displayed it prominently on the corresponding slides behind his head.  Cuomo’s action was refreshing and welcome.  As leaders, we can all learn from this.
  7.  HE MAKES US ASPIRE TO BE OUR BEST SELVES Cuomo speaking live on Saturday morning, March 21, 2020:  “My last point is practice humanity. We don’t talk about practicing humanity, but if ever there is a time to practice humanity the time is now. The time is now to show some kindness, to show some compassion to people, show some gentility.” In talking about people on the front lines, from those still bagging and delivering groceries to those working at risk in our hospitals and Emergency Rooms, the Governor said, “This is public service in stereo and on steroids.” We can say the same thing about his leadership in a time of crisis.  

To all the leaders in government, academia, non-profit and especially business today – most of us hit hard by this crisis and our employees hit even harder, I say – communication is critical. What you say and how you say it matters, now more than ever. Show people who you are.  Motivate and inspire them to be their best.  In the end, that is one of the most important things that we as leaders can do to survive this crisis, and hopefully, thrive again in the future.  

If you know a leader – perhaps the head of your company, a hospital executive, your Pastor,  Rabbi or Preacher, community leader or any person, no matter their position, who is helping people get through the COVID-19 crisis – please let us know.  We want to give these leaders the recognition they deserve and inspire other leaders in the process.     

Top 10 Tips on Why Visuals Matter More in Today’s “Virtual” Reality

Who isn’t grappling with our new “virtual” reality? I know I am. Communicating is challenging enough when you’re in the office, face-to-face – let alone when you’re faced with only a computer screen and a voice.

There’s no question that our “new normal” takes visual storytelling to a whole new level. When working remotely, the only thing you may see is a presentation or slides. That means, if you’re not working to raise your PowerPoint game, it will certainly impact how you communicate in this environment. Why? The quality of your visuals (or slides) – and how they support your words – matters even more. Visuals are one of the most powerful ways to help people understand. Period. 

Communications science tells us that visuals improve communication by activating a sensory channel. In other words, clear, simple visuals can reinforce messages and enhance understanding – while poor visuals can confuse your audience and ultimately, decrease the amount and quality of information they remember.

Here is my top ten list to make sure your visuals help – not hinder – your virtual communications. Spoiler alert:  It’s all about NOT starting with your slides.

  1. Resist the Urge to “Shuffle the Deck”. We know that you have hundreds of slides that are just waiting for their moment to shine again. And chances are that – while interesting to you (and maybe a few others) – these slides are not what you need for THIS presentation. Unfortunately, old habits die hard and you start to “shuffle the deck.” You piece together your presentation like a mixed-matched (ugly) quilt. And it ends up looking and sounding like a dump of what’s in your head. More importantly, it loses your audience. Resist the urge! Ask yourself what your audience needs and wants to hear – and start there.
  2. Strategy THEN Script THEN Slides. The best slides are linked to a clear strategy. Full stop. Again, consider your goal and your audience. Then, outline your presentation (and not in PowerPoint). Once you have an outline that is driven by a strategy, script your presentation. That’s right – write out exactly what your audience wants AND needs to hear. Notice we haven’t even discussed visuals yet? That’s because the messages need to drive your slides. Keep reading.
  3. Script Every Word. And We Mean EVERY Word. The precise words you choose, how you structure your messages, and the order in which you deliver them, all combine to make the difference between a presentation that’s easily followed, understood, and “bought into” – versus a rambling session that loses the audience at “hello.” Scripting provides a road map for clear slides. Your script helps create the right bullet points or determine the right visuals for your slides. As my colleague Penny Daniels talked about in her previous blog – your goal should always be to write as you talk. Keep it simple, short, and conversational. It’s easier to deliver and for your audience to process. Remember – they can’t go back and re-read what you’re saying.
  4. Follow “See-Say” as Much as Possible.“See-say” means that what your audience sees “echoes” what you say. If you follow this principle, it will help you resist the urge to put too much on the slide. How? Simple. Make the first words you want to say on each slide the same as the slide headline. (As a bonus, it will also help you smoothly transition from one slide to the other and stay on message.) For text slides, the bullets should follow your script, addressing the points you make from the top down. And be sure to say or reference everything that is on the slide. Otherwise, your audience gets stuck on what you didn’t say, and you lose them.
  5. Think Visually. This means don’t just use bulleted slides. Be creative. Whenever possible, use pictures, charts, or graphs to help your audience visualize your message. Research shows that our brain processes visuals much quicker than text. They get your audience to pay attention while helping them get the information into their long-term memory, so they retain what you’ve said. But that assumes that the visuals – especially charts and graphs – are well-marked and clear. And don’t forget to have a clear message in the title to give people context for what they’re seeing on the slide.
  6. Don’t Fear White Space! Whether you are using a visual or text – or a bit of both – keep it simple. Don’t feel obligated to fill the white space. Communications research shows that people process information better when there is a lot of white space around the words. Use it to your advantage and help your audience remember.
  7. Put Only What Your Audience Needs to Know on Your Slides. Remember – it’s not about how much information you send. It’s about how much information your audience receives. The same thing is true when creating effective visuals. Say only what you need to say and show only what you need to show. Help your audience process information.
  8. One Key Message Per Slide – Please! One key message per slide – PLEASE! Less is more. For text slides, practice the 3×4 guideline. This means no more than three bullets AND no more than three or four words per bullet. And no, this is not impossible. Remember, the words on the slide are not the point, YOU are. YOUR words. The slides just support your message and help your audience retain the key information – so keep your visuals focused.
  9. One Slide Per Minute – Really? We’ve all heard people say, “You have ten minutes on the agenda, so no more than ten slides for your presentation.” We’re not sure where that came from or why it won’t go away – but that old chestnut is just WRONG! What many people fail to realize is that it’s not the slides, it’s the script – the number of words you deliver – that ultimately determines how much time your presentation takes. You can have 10 slides or 50 slides – what matters is what works to move the message along. What your audience remembers IS what’s most important – NOT the number of slides.
  10. Pass the “Glance Test.” Now that you’ve done all this – take a step back and ask yourself:  Will my audience get the main message of the slide – whether text or graphic – by simply glancing at it? Imagine that someone in the audience gets distracted by their phone or turns to check quickly on their child playing in their office (it happens). If your visuals pass the “glance test,” this person should immediately be able to get the most important message by simply seeing the headline or visual (if appropriate) on the screen.

Slides ARE very important in helping audiences retain the information – as they see it and hear it at the same time. But they should clarify your messages, not compete with them. And overall, this is the biggest mistake people make when doing presentations. Bottom line: There is NO NEED TO OVERDO IT when it comes to visuals. Your slides don’t need to be complicated or flashy. They simply need to help your audience remember YOU and your MESSAGES – and maybe even more so in our new (yet hopefully temporary) “virtual” work reality.

Top 10 Tips on How to “Bring It” in Today’s Virtual Reality

When I began my career as an on-camera TV news reporter many years ago, it was shocking to me how much I had to “up my game” in terms of performance. I always thought I had a loud voice (a nicer way of saying I had a big mouth) and lots of energy, but when I saw myself on camera, I looked – and sounded – like I had just come from a funeral. I quickly learned that the camera (and audio equipment) drains energy, so I had to go out of my usual comfort zone to come across as if I cared at all about what I was saying.

Fast forward to 2020, and I see the same problem with the new virtual reality we’re facing because of COVID 19. In his most recent blog, my colleague Jim DiBiasi provided ten valuable tips on logistics, technology, and other tactics to make remote meetings most effective.

THIS blog focuses on your performance – how to use your voice tone and body language to capture your audience’s attention and keep them engaged, when you’re not in the same room.

Here are my top ten tips on how to “bring it” – virtually – whether you are leading or simply participating in the meeting.

  1. Excellent performance begins with excellent preparation. In other words, you can’t say it well unless you’re saying good stuff! What does this audience need or want from you? Meet expectations by preparing clear, concise messages. Fully script them and read them out loud to ensure that they are written for verbal delivery (i.e. written for the ear and not the eye). If you can be focused, organized, and targeted in your remarks you will perform better. This is especially important for remote meetings, which have the potential to devolve into chaos. 
  2. Require cameras. It’s hard enough to communicate effectively when people can see you, let alone when they are hearing a disembodied amorphous voice. Also, since it’s human nature to multi-task, requiring people to use their cameras puts them on notice that they are expected to pay attention throughout the meeting. There is an art to using a camera for virtual meetings. Put it on a few books or a box; that way it will be  at the right height so you’re not shooting up your nose. Bottom line: Use the camera to connect with your audience and improve overall engagement.
  3. Dress like you mean business. Many people think they can work remotely in their pajamas. Sure, you could. But dressing the part gives you confidence and helps you prepare mentally and emotionally for the level of professionalism you want to project. Unless you normally wear faded t-shirts and shorts to work, leave them for the gym.
  4. Bring positive facial expressions. Always look directly into the camera (and not your computer screen) and smile whenever appropriate. When someone else is speaking, practice active listening. Tilt your head ever so slightly and keep your expression neutral. Do not nod – it is distracting and connotes agreement, which you may not feel. Don’t scowl or frown or otherwise show disapproval – remember, the camera is always on (or it should be!).
  5. Bring positive body language. Sit up straight, slightly forward in your chair – or stand up. Do not sway back and forth, fidget, or jiggle your legs or feet because even if they can’t see your feet, you will appear nervous. On the other hand, don’t put your feet up or slouch. This is not a time to get too comfortable. Show up like you mean business.
  6. Bring your gestures. Even if the camera doesn’t show you gesturing, doing so in a comfortable, appropriate way will help you look and sound more energetic and natural. Put your hands on the table or desk, not under them. Let your hands go and use them naturally, but gestures should be a little more circumspect than what you would do in person.
  7. Bring your energy. Remember I said at the top that the camera and microphone drains you and makes you sound less energetic? Set up a test meeting with a trusted colleague. Ask them if your energy level seems appropriate. You may have to “push it,” and this may not be comfortable at first, but keep trying. Get feedback. You may find that what feels like it’s “over the top” is actually quite appropriate!
  8. Bring your best voice. This is probably the most important thing in a virtual meeting, especially if you are unable to use a camera and your audience can’t see you. You want to have a strong, clear, authoritative but warm delivery. Use vocal variety in terms of pacing, pausing, tone, and pitch. You absolutely must be loud enough. If people have told you that you have a soft voice, you will have to raise the volume significantly for a virtual meeting.
  9. Practice to bring your best of everything. All of what I’ve been discussing takes practice to achieve. Practice using your voice offline by reading things out loud and recording yourself on your phone, playing it back, and hearing how you sound. Do you talk too fast? Too slow? Is there “upspeak” (that annoying singsong characteristic where it sounds like every sentence ends in a question, otherwise known as “Valley Girl Speak”). Work on these issues with a professional voice coach or speaker trainer if you think your voice is not as effective as it should be.
  10. Bring it! Last but definitely not least, bring that almost indescribable quality that is truly a combination of warmth and strength, calmness, and authority – what we coaches call executive presence. Doing everything we’ve talked about helps, but executive presence truly comes from within. It starts with knowing your value. You were asked to lead or participate for a reason. Believe in yourself. Show up with confidence, it will show.

At least for the near future, virtual meetings will be the norm. They can be challenging, but they’re also an opportunity to showcase your increasingly professional performance. If you can “bring it” virtually, you will “up your game” in any reality. Go for it!

Top 10 Tips for Effective Virtual Meetings

We are all grappling with the impact of the fast and unpredictable spread of COVID-19. Our hearts go out to all who are affected by this outbreak.  As we all know, this pandemic is prompting leaders of organizations to cancel or postpone live meetings. Even amidst COVID-19 and resulting disruption, we must find ways to run our businesses.

One option many are turning to is virtual meetings, frequently referred to as “video conferencing.” Unfortunately, the lack of planning, low level of engagement, and poor execution of these virtual meetings is incredibly frustrating. Below are 3D Communications’ Top 10 Tips for running Effective Virtual Meetings.

  1. Have an agenda and a chairperson – While both concepts are standard for face-to-face meetings, they’re often overlooked when planning remote meetings. Yet I would argue that they are even more important in virtual communication.  To keep the meeting on track and hold attendees’ attention, the chairperson can put people in queue or “call on” participants so they aren’t talking over one another. Audio latency (the delay in audio being heard by others) can also be a challenge.  Having a chairperson can minimize this issue.
  2. Upgrade your Internet service – Fast and reliable Internet connection is always important. Unless you are living in a remote area, you should be able to upgrade your Internet service so audio, file sharing and video are swift and efficient. Download speeds of up to 1,000 Mbps are relatively inexpensive and will give you what you need to avoid problems.
  3. Do a “Tech Check” – Make sure everyone invited to the call knows how to use the software selected for the meeting. Ask some basic questions prior to the meeting. If you are inviting participants from multiple companies, are firewalls going to be an issue? Is there software that needs to be downloaded in advance of the meeting? Offer to conduct a tech call in advance of the meeting to test individual systems and users. And, at the risk of stating the obvious, make sure your phone and your computer are either plugged in or fully charged.  Many a meeting has fallen apart because a key individual lost power in the middle of it.
  4. Send complete meeting invites with all the details – Most software packages will automatically generate a detailed meeting invite, but if yours does not, make sure all the information and any advanced reading materials are included in the invite.
  5. Find a quiet place – NO, your favorite public coffee shop is not quiet – and unless your dogs have an active role in the call, they should not be heard. Find or create a quiet space in your home and close the door.
  6. Fully engage – Let’s face it, if nobody is looking at you, it is likely that you will multi-task. Maybe you won’t take a shower during the call or put in a load of laundry, but with cameras off you are likely to check emails, grab a cup of coffee, take a bio break or otherwise be distracted. Treat this meeting like a live meeting – dress for success, fix your hair and turn on your camera! Seeing our colleagues’ faces makes a meeting more enjoyable for everyone and demonstrates that you are “in the moment.” Most of us tend to lose energy during remote meetings, so on a telephone or video conference you need to “BRING IT.” More energy + full engagement = better outcomes.
  7. Maximize the lighting and background – As with photography, it’s better to have the light behind the camera and not behind your head. Lighting behind your head, from an unshaded window for example, will make you appear dark and unrecognizable.  For the conference, either close the blinds or position your computer such that the camera is pointed away from the window not towards it and light shines on your face. Try different lighting setups before the call to see what works. In addition, you should make sure the background is clean and professional (e.g. bookcases or a nice plant; probably not a colorful abstract painting.)  As for the wall itself, a neutral color such as soft white or light gray is usually the best choice.
  8. Set your camera in the right position – If you have a built-in camera in your laptop and you have it on your table or desk, it will invariably shoot straight up your nose. Nobody looks good like that. You should put your computer on a box or some books, such that the camera is at the height of your forehead or a bit higher. If you have multiple screens, make sure the video conference screen is also the screen with the camera.
  9. Minimize audio feedback – If you select computer audio, don’t also dial into the conference line with your phone. Some people don’t realize that they’ve selected “computer audio” and then also dial into the conference number. You will know the minute you do it – the feedback is deafening. The easiest fix is to hang up the phone. However, our recommendation is to connect with your phone – and not your computer – because the audio quality is usually better. You should also mute your line when not talking.
  10. Be polite – The more people on the call, the more likely it is that people might talk over one another. Having an agenda, a chairperson and good Internet speed can reduce this common problem.  However, perhaps not all these elements will be in your control. If this is the case, be polite and make sure others are finished before you start talking. You can also use the chat box available with most software to send a note to the chairperson that you would like to be recognized.

We hope all of this is short lived. There is no great substitute for face-to-face meetings. But at a time like this, when business as usual has become business Unusual, let’s try to make these virtual meetings as effective as possible.  Be safe everyone!

Celebrating International Women’s Day: What Today’s Women Executives Need to Know About Excellence in Communications

We’ve just celebrated International Women’s Day (IWD) – the global day for celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. I’m sure you counted down the days to #IWD2020, received congratulatory notes from friends, family and colleagues from around the globe. 

What? It didn’t make it on your calendar? Well, I’m not too surprised since the global day of recognition doesn’t seem to get the recognition it deserves here in the United States. Although President Obama did proclaim March 2011 – the year of IWD’s 100th anniversary – to be “Women’s History Month,” calling Americans to mark IWD by reflecting on “the extraordinary accomplishments of women” in shaping America’s history.

I received my first “Happy International Women’s Day” back in the 1990s when I worked for a federal international affairs agency. A colleague who was based in Germany sent the women in our Washington, DC office a special email to mark the day. Truth be told, I thought it was a joke, or perhaps something he made up. 

A couple of decades later, I not only recognize the importance of the day, but also the challenges we continue to face as women across the spectrum of work, family, politics, and culture. I see it when I am coaching women executives at all kinds of organizations who are seeking to improve their communications skills and become more effective leaders. Many describe how they have worked diligently in their fields, been promoted to positions of leadership, but often stumble when their communications skills are not nearly as polished as their technical ones. While many have been supported in learning the necessary substance for their sector, the assumption by managers is that the requisite communications skills needed to be effective will just magically improve as well. It’s just not the case. 

I heard this most recently a few months ago when I met with a group of high-powered women professionals who are part of the Global Women’s Innovation Network, GlobalWIN. These women, all leaders in academia, government, and business, have risen to executive levels and are driving policy discussions in their innovation-driven fields. But peel back these amazing professional credentials just a bit and many reveal how they often feel ill-prepared for carrying out their many tasks which require excellent communications in order to achieve success. Presentations to groups large and small, high-level meetings with policy makers, Q&A with stakeholders, and media interviews.

Few of these women, all experts in technology, healthcare, communications, energy, and entertainment, had been told that excellence in communications was not in fact a soft skill, some personal attribute that they should be able to hone on their own. No, communications excellence is a hard skill, taught and then practiced with specific tools and techniques – just like the sciences so many of them know so well. Most of these women and others who I have coached knew they wanted to enhance their executive presence, but didn’t know the link between communications and their ability to effectively balance showing both strength and warmth when leading teams. 

The theme for IWD 2020 is #EachforEqual. IWD says “We can actively choose to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations and celebrate women’s achievements.” 

The good news is that with the right skills, these are achievable goals. And all of the skills necessary, are very teachable skills. All it takes is commitment, the right tools, and practice. Who’s in? 

Winning Minds – and Hearts – in Today’s Business Communications

I remember how much fun Valentine’s Day was in elementary school. The teacher would hand us a sheet of paper with a heart divided into different areas, ask us to write down the names of people or things we loved, and provide the reasons for those choices. Somehow, this simple exercise would turn into a beautiful Valentine’s Day story for someone special to me. I remember completing this exercise multiple times during my childhood, and I loved it.  Why?  I was writing from the heart. 

Somewhere along the way, however, my love for storytelling faded.  As I got older, writing from the heart became a lost art.  Facts, references, sentence structure, and punctuation became the drivers of any writing exercise.  Over the years, corrections on book reports, essays, papers, and presentations – what author Nancy Slomin Aronie calls “disciplined grammar” – slowly eroded the love I once had for writing.  In her book, ”Writing from the Heart,” Aronie goes on to describe the “damaging effects done to writers in school.” In part she blames it on this shift in emphasis – from simple, heartfelt storytelling to a sole focus on writing structure and rules.  

I couldn’t agree more with Aronie.  The art of storytelling – or writing from the heart – is lost in school and we see the effects later, in business.  Most leaders and executives are more concerned with showing how much they know rather than telling an authentic story.  It’s not their fault.  They were taught that way.  

By no means am I suggesting that we throw proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling out the window – although we do sometimes by the nature of how we communicate these days.  What I am suggesting is that – no matter what’s being communicated – we should also remember the elementary school principle of writing from the heart. We need to have balance.  

Think about it.  Our brains are made for that balance.  We often hear that the right side of our brain is used for creative endeavors like storytelling.  Clearly, however, the left side of the brain is also essential, since it is home to the two main language areas, known as Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas.  In other words, the left side of the brain is more active in speech production than the right and is critical to how we put our words together in the first place. 

So how do today’s leaders and executives effectively use both sides of their brains to balance “disciplined grammar” with “writing from the heart”?  Here are three ways to achieve that balance for any communication. 

Use a Structure for Storytelling
Structure is a writing concept we’re taught in our formative years that remains central to effective storytelling.  Our 3D Message Pyramid® uses a pyramid structure to help today’s executives and leaders simplify their narratives, while balancing both facts and stories. 

At the top of the pyramid is a headline – one or two engaging sentences meant to make the audience lean in and listen to the rest of what you have to say.  Once you give them the “big picture,” you need to support it with one or two points – what we call the “facts and data” layer of the pyramid.  And because people process information intellectually and emotionally, it’s important to achieve that emotional connection I’ve been talking about – to make the information “come alive.”  The next layer in the pyramid does just that. By providing an example, a story, a visualization, or an anecdote, you give your audience an “aha” moment, helping them experience an emotional connection to the story.  Once that’s done, the last layer of the pyramid, known as the “bottom line” is used to reinforce the most important message of your story.  

Communication science tells us that developing this pyramid three times, with three different messages, is the best way to structure any communication. That applies whether it is a speech or presentation or content for a meeting or important one-on-one discussion.  The pyramid structure is designed to engage both sides of your brain – and helps you tell your story.    

Speak in Plain English
Today’s business executives – even those who are brilliant, talented people, with multiple advanced degrees, at the top of their fields often speak in a language that only they fully understand.  What too often comes out of their mouths is riddled with corporate jargon, buzzwords, complexity, and obfuscation.  Why say “I’m out of pocket” when you can just say “I not available”?  Or “Let’s drill down some more” when you can say “Let’s look at this in more detail”?  What they fail to appreciate is that real power lies in simple, transparent language – using their authentic voice – as opposed to trying to “sound smart.” 

Think about how you would actually speak if you were talking to your uncle at the dinner table who works as a plumber or your best friend who runs a flower shop over coffee – neither of whom ever worked a day in corporate America. In other words, plain English. This is not talking down to your audience; it’s talking directly to them without the “biz speak” that gets in the way of a real human connection.  Remember – if someone needs a “corporate biz speak dictionary” to understand what you are saying – you need to start over and write in plain English.

Speak Authentically 
In my previous blog, “What Today’s Business Leaders Can Learn from a “Powerless” Woman Who Spoke Her Truth,” I shared how employees, customers, and other stakeholders expect transparency, integrity, honesty, and compassion from today’s leaders.  As a leader, you must communicate your core beliefs and values; speak with passion in words that are relevant to your audiences; mean what you say and say what you mean.  This is not something that just happens; it requires practice.  If you practice repeatedly, using your own natural words and your own personal delivery style, you will come across as credible and confident.  You’ll make an emotional connection that will be more meaningful to your audience – and may even motivate or inspire them in unexpected ways. 

With these three simple strategies, executives and leaders alike can strike the right balance when communicating – to win the hearts and minds of any audience, any time.