Communication

Why my stories now start with me

Find stray piano. Break into song. Another ordinary day.

Find stray piano. Break into song. Another ordinary day.

Singing is storytelling in its purest form. It’s emotion, stripped back and revealed.

I learnt this early on. People said that I when I sang, I seemed more real than ever. This made me sound like a song-sucking spectre. But I knew what they meant.

In those moments, they saw me. Differently. Fully. That’s partly because I'm a trained singer who's unfazed by the spotlight, and adores applause. But it’s something else, too. There’s a gap between competent and captivating. And it's filled by honest emotion.

When I sing – really sing, I cast out a line and hook my audience at their core. I know that if I keep that line taught, channel their emotions through mine, they'll follow me. Anywhere. I can forget the notes, fluff a line. It doesn't matter: they're compelled to be mine. That's storytelling. You don't find it somewhere other than where you are. You don't find it in someone else's style, or in a checklist, or in handy hints. You find it in yourself.

I made my career from storytelling. When I worked in television finding, selling and telling stories was my day job. And I was good at it. So, what with all the telly and the singing, you’d think I'd mainline storytelling when I launched Chirp. After all, I'm hardly a shrinking violet.

But my storytelling sucked. I flouted the most important rule I’d learned: that storytelling must start with you, with why you care. And I didn’t want to own that. Or anything that might be about me. So I gathered up my facts, and exorcised myself.

While I cut myself out, I brought others in. I asked for advice. And got lots. The result was a muddled offering to which I felt no connection. (My fault, not theirs.) Chirp no longer reflected who I was, what I cared about and what motivated me. Instead, it reflected what other people thought I ought to care about. Chirp became their ambition, not mine. And that left me with no story to tell.

All very embarrassing and shambolic, and not the sort of mess I’m accustomed to making. But the thing is, it's awfully hard to tell your own story. To own what really matters to you, and why, and share that in an unpredictable world. It’s not about confidence, or polish or passion. It’s about breaching that gap between competent and captivating. It's about being real and present. And that's hard.

Telling stories founded in who I am has helped me make more of the right sort of impact, and less of the wrong sort. Emotional honesty isn't easy, particularly when it triggers discomfort in someone else. But it is more compelling than a pristine yet clinical spiel. So, blunders aside, that's what I do now. I think it's vital if you want to bring your unique self to work, and not leave your identity at the door.

That's why I use singing to help people tell stories – about themselves, their brands, their companies, their ideas for change. Singing asks you to be seen and heard just as you are. To witness your own emotions and channel them in others. Singing puts you on the line, makes you vulnerable, makes you human. It is challenging and personal and exposing. And I get that not everyone loves that, and certainly not all the time (exhausting prospect). But it does swiftly connect you to what really matters.

Storytelling, whether spoken or sung, isn’t about pretending, or trying to be someone you're not. (X Factor take note.) It's about using what's already there. It's about being present and real and yourself – just as you are in that moment. From that place of stripped back emotion, you can only tell your own story. And when you do, it's powerful stuff.

Voice tips for the social season 5: align intent and delivery

From intention to action. " Newton's Cradle " by Sheila Sund licenced by  CY BY 2.0 .

From intention to action. "Newton's Cradle" by Sheila Sund licenced by CY BY 2.0.

We're almost at the end of our week of voice tips, with just one more to help you make it through to Christmas. We hope they help you communicate more effectively in and out of work, both now and in the new year.

Tip 5: Align your intention with your delivery

We are most persuasive, convincing and effective when we show that we mean what we say. So don’t just tell – be. Aligning what you say with how you say it can help you deliver a clearer and more compelling message.

In essence, that means matching your tone with your meaning. It will help you imbue your words with the weight they deserve. So don’t undercut difficult messages with a nervous grin; and give grimaces a wide berth when explaining brilliant plans.

It might take a bit of effort sometimes, but you'll reap the rewards in terms of trust and confidence – both from others and within yourself.

 

Sign up to download our free Chirp Guide on how to use your voice effectively in meetings, pitches and presentations.

 

 

Voice tips for the social season 4: speak from your stomach

" Lambchop and More " by Tim Johnson licenced by  CC BY 2.0

"Lambchop and More" by Tim Johnson licenced by CC BY 2.0

Each day this week we're offering you a tip to help you survive the festivities with your voice intact – at least while you're at work.

Tip 4: Channel your inner ventriloquist

Okay, not really. Though just think of the possibilities for those tricky meetings...

It's not far off, however. Venter comes from the Latin for 'belly', and loqui from the Latin for 'speak'. So, with that in mind, imagine that you are speaking from your stomach rather than your throat.

The idea of this tip is to help the sound 'drop down' in your body. Making that psychological shift can help you breathe more deeply, project more clearly and audibly and avoid straining your voice.

I suggest giving all these tips a practice run so you can get a feel for them before your next high stakes meeting. When practising this one, you might find that placing your hand on your stomach helps to focus your attention.

 

Sign up to download our free Chirp Guide on how to use your voice effectively in meetings, pitches and presentations.

 

 

Voice tips for the social season 3: vocal clarity

' Slow Motion Water Droplet ' by Public Domain Photography licenced under  CC BY-SA 2.0

'Slow Motion Water Droplet' by Public Domain Photography licenced under CC BY-SA 2.0

Every day this week we're sharing some of our top tips to help you use your voice effectively, whether at work, rest or (nativity) play.

Tip 3: Vocal clarity

Stick your tongue out. Yep, that's right: stick your tongue out. Not only will it probably make you laugh, but it also releases tension in the tongue root. This, in turn, can help you articulate your words with a clearer and more resonant voice.

This exercise is particularly useful if you find that your voice seems to get smaller or somehow restricted when you’re under pressure. It takes just 30 seconds, and can be a helpful boost both at the start of the day, and during the day if you feel your stress levels rising.

1. Open your mouth

2. Tip of tongue behind bottom teeth

3. Stretch the middle of your tongue up and out of your mouth for 5 seconds

4. Stick your tongue all the way out for 5 seconds

5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 twice, so you have run through the sequence three times in total

 

Sign up to download our free Chirp Guide on how to use your voice effectively in meetings, pitches and presentations.

 

 

Voice tips for the social season 2: breathing

" Breathe " by Shawn Rossi is licenced by  CC BY 2.0

"Breathe" by Shawn Rossi is licenced by CC BY 2.0

All this week we're sharing our top tips to keep your voice in fine fettle at work during the season of mad-rush-to-finish-project-before-Christmas-meets-festive-socialising. As we sometimes think of it. Today, we have our second tip – one that seems so obvious it's almost always the first thing to slip.

Tip 2: Breathe

You know, generally. It's good for staying calm. And alive.

More specifically in this context, breathe in just before you speak, and speak as you exhale. I said it sounded obvious. But turn detective for a minute, and you'll notice that people often start speaking on almost no breathe – and quickly run out.

Speaking as you exhale enables you to project your voice much more easily – which, in turn, will help to prevent you straining your voice (a seasonal hazard). And you'll have enough breath to make your point effectively, instead of ditching the end in an inaudible mumble.

Slow controlled breathing also reduces your blood pressure. And that will help you engage with challenge more calmly and effectively, whether at work or the office knees up!

 

Sign up to download our free Chirp Guide on how to use your voice effectively in meetings, pitches and presentations.

 

 

Voice tips for the social season 1: pause per clause

Cocktail Glasses - Leeroy - Montreal Web Agency CC0 1.0 Universal.jpg

‘Tis the season to be jolly. And hoarse. So we’re sharing some of our top tips all this week to help you use your voice effectively whether at work or play. Well, mostly at work, but they should stand you in good stead for the office Christmas party, too.

Tip 1: Pause per clause

If you have something worth saying, give it the space to be heard and absorbed. Rushing reduces your impact. You'll not only be harder to understand, but come across as being not entirely present. Neither of which is very helpful when you're trying to make a point.

Most people speak faster when they're in uncertain, challenging or stressful situations. To counter that, try implementing a pause per clause. It'll both slow you down and give you time to breathe (always a bonus).

You should find that slowing down helps your words to land, and helps you develop greater presence. You'll probably feel calmer and more self-assured, too.

 

Sign up to download our free Chirp Guide on how to use your voice effectively in meetings, pitches and presentations.

 

 

Don't be a hermit – interact with impact with these five tips

Participants in a Chirp leadership and communication workshop run by Kamala Katbamna

Human interaction is at the heart of work. Its impact is everywhere – from process to productivity, outcome and enjoyment. Unless, of course, you’re a hermit.

Despite its centrality, that interaction can often feel unpredictable, ineffective and draining. After all, you can never guarantee someone else’s behaviour. You can, however, ensure your own is more influential, clear and effective.

Below are five tools to help you make the impact you choose in your daily interactions. Yes, they take practice, but they can make a crucial difference – particularly if you’re leading change. Either way, they’ll help you achieve your outcomes without wasting time and energy. No need to become a hermit, then.
 
1. Don’t look down!
Look up, make eye contact, then begin. Taking that moment to connect tells people you're fully present – and that your contribution is worth their attention. This is particularly useful in presentations and when opening meetings. Good eye contact also signals that you’re engaged with their response.

It might sound obvious, but it’s surprising how many of us launch straight in, without first establishing a connection. In so doing we risk throwing away our words on a distracted audience, silently dismissing their contribution, and reducing our impact.

2. Stand your ground
Yep, even if you’re seated. If you’re standing, keep your feet hip-width apart. Feel the ground through your feet. Resist the urge to drop one hip or place your weight on one leg. Again, obvious enough, but not always easy to avoid in the moment. If you’re sitting, feel the ground evenly through both feet. It can be tricky in a skirt, but worth doing whenever possible.

Feeling the ground through your feet does what it says on the tin; it helps you feel more grounded and present. It also stabilises your posture, preventing you either feeling or looking like you’re in 'fight or flight'. And that in turn creates a more powerful presence.

3. Abdominal breathing
Imagine a pair of bellows. As the air goes in, they expand; as it leaves, they contract. The same idea applies to abdominal breathing, ideally through a slightly open mouth. As you breathe into the bottom of the lungs the abdomen expands; as you breathe out it contracts. The most important thing, however, is to breathe out first!

Breathing is critical both to how you feel we’re perceived and how you are perceived – influencing how you behave and others respond. Most people take shallow breaths and/or hold their breath, particularly when nervous or challenged. Abdominal breathing reverses this so you operate more effectively. It also helps you speak more clearly and avoid swallowing words. You’ll feel better, be perceived more positively, and imbue your words with the impact you intend.

4. Take the space
Being aware of the space around you – above, below, in front and behind – can transform the impact of your presence. Unfold into that space. Release your arms from your sides. Broaden your shoulders away from your ears. And keep your feet hip-width apart. Hunched shoulders, crossed arms and a caved chest don’t just restrict breathing and create tension. They also make you physically smaller – impacting on your personal presence and suggesting that you don't want to be there.

So take the space, expand into it, occupy it. Your posture will improve. Your chest will open and you'll breathe more easily. You’ll create a stronger presence. And you'll signal to others that you are ready to be seen and to engage.

5. Channel your inner ventriloquist
Okay, not really – but imagining that the stomach (venter) is powering your speech (loqui) can help you project without straining or shouting.

Most people reach forward with their head and neck when they want to be heard. Bring them back instead so they’re aligned with your spine. Relax the throat – it will tense if you shout – and, when you speak, engage your lower abdominals. Projection can take some practice, and works best in conjunction with the other tools. Once cracked, however, you'll deliver your ideas with impact. It's also brilliant sore throat prevention in noisy pubs!

 

Want to learn more? Download our free Chirp Guide to find out how to use your voice more effectively in meetings, pitches and presentations.

 

 

Spring clean your presenting style

Spring cleaning

It looks like Spring is finally here so, in honour of the season, we're sharing five tips to rejuvenate presentations. A Spring clean, if you will. We hope they help you present with natural charisma and ensure your every word lands.

1. Breathe out

Ignore the advice ringing in your ears to take a deep breath. For most of us that results in either hyperventilation or heavy breathing – neither a good look when you need to impress. Breathing out first should help make your next inhalation deeper and more regular. It will calm you down if you’re nervous, and help you project more effectively either way.

Try it: as you're preparing, just before you start, and as you're changing slides.

 

2. Catch flies

Okay, not literally – but do breathe in and out through an open mouth. (Once referred to by a client as 'catching flies', in case you wondered.) It can be counter-intuitive, but it will make a significant difference. You'll breathe more deeply and with less effort, so you're free to focus on content. It should help to keep your facial and neck muscles relaxed too.

Try it: as you're preparing, just before you start, and a few times during the presentation.

 

3. Pause

Is it easy? No. Does it help? Yes. Will a split-second will feel like an eternity? Well, probably. It won’t be, though, and that brief pause will help you be present in the moment, marshal your thoughts, and ensure your audience is still engaged. It’ll also help them to take in what you’re saying so your messages land.

Try it: just before you start, and then at appropriate moments during the presentation.

 

4. Huh?

The second half of a sentence generally makes the whole meaningful. Not wise, then, to throw it away – whether through nerves or enthusiasm. Yet word swallowing is one of the most common issues we help with. Full, as opposed to shallow, breathing will help; as will simple awareness. It’s amazing how much more effective we are when we speak deliberately.

Try it: five minutes before you start, and then a few times during the presentation.

 

5. Aim for alignment

We are most persuasive, convincing and effective when we show that we mean what we say. So don’t just tell – be. Aligning your delivery with your meaning will imbue your words with the weight they deserve. So don’t undercut difficult messages with a nervous grin; and give grimaces a wide berth when explaining brilliant plans. Sounds obvious – yet it’s so often forgotten in the heat of the presenting moment!

Try it: before, during and after!

 

Want to learn more? Download our free Chirp Guide to find out how to use your voice more effectively in meetings, pitches and presentations.

 

 

How to communicate with clarity and influence

Autumn leaves

With the bank holiday behind us, and September drawing near, it’s either time for fresh challenges – or a dash to sunnier climes.

For those of us staying put, our challenges might be new projects, new responsibility, perhaps even a new job. It’s a fair bet that, whatever’s involved, you’ll need your communication skills in limber form.

Communicating is at the heart of what we do – even when we’re unaware of it. From brief ‘hellos’ to major presentations, we continuously send out verbal and physical messages. And sometimes those messages just get lost in translation.

Communication with clarity, impact and authenticity can transform encounters from confusing and pointless to motivating and effective. It helps us express what we want in the way that we want. And it helps us hear and understand what others are saying – or not saying – so we can respond relevantly.

We are, of course, all different, with individual forms of expression. Yet we also face many of the same issues when it comes to communicating at work. Below we share a few basic tips to help you greet new challenges with communications gusto.

Match tone with meaning

Think about how you’re saying what you’re saying. Does your tone match your meaning? Don’t undercut your words with an unconvincing delivery. They’ll lose their impact – and so will you.
 

Plan for challenge

Plan in advance for challenging encounters. Work out key points and the most appropriate language to deliver them. Is what you're saying fair? Is it confusingly indirect? It is marked by fact or irritation? And is it constructive – does it help the other person to share your perspective rather than stick doggedly to theirs? A little planning will help you be calm and direct without aggression.
 

Listen and respond

Pause for a moment. Are you aware of your audience? Are you listening and responding to them? Or are you focused solely on pushing out your own messages? Creating moments to tune into verbal and non-verbal signals will help you remain relevant – and help what you say to land.

 

A dual sense of understanding and being understood is fundamental to reducing stress and boosting enjoyment. And, given the amount of time we spend at work, it's worth making the effort to achieve!

 

Want to learn more? Download our free Chirp Guide to find out how to use your voice more effectively in meetings, pitches and presentations.

 

 

Five tips to help your voice work at work

Five tips to make your voice work at work

I was with a client recently who apologised for sounding so hoarse. She explained she’d been in end-to-end meetings the previous day. It was all very productive, she added, until she lost her voice.

The voice is critical to who we are; it forms so much of our identity. And, unless you’re a Trappist Monk, its effective use is key to successful work.

The impact of both words and actions can be transformed with a little attention to how we use our voices. So here are our five top tips to help you use yours to excellent effect.

 

1. Breathe before you speak. It sounds obvious but, particularly in nerve-wracking situations, most of us launch right in – and swiftly run out of breath. If most of your sentence is lost, you can guarantee its impact will be too. So: pause, then, breathe, and then speak!

 

2. Have a go at speaking as if from the stomach rather than the throat. It’ll help you project your voice – and lend authority – without raising it or straining. And that can be a boon in meetings.

(You’ll still need to open your mouth, of course. We’re not advising ventriloquism – however useful you might find that in meetings.)

 

3. Don’t rush! If you have something worth saying, give it the space to be heard and absorbed. In practice that means pausing and taking sufficient breath in longer sentences.

 

4. Think about how you want your words to be received. Delivery is almost as important as content – get those elements in harmony and your words will be infinitely more effective. If you need to persuade, for example, inject your words with energy – don’t undercut yourself by sounding unconvinced. It might take practice, but it’ll help imbue your words with meaning. And you’ll deliver clearer messages with greater impact as a result.

 

5. Be audible. If you’re feeling tired or nervous it can be hugely tempting to swallow your words. And that leaves colleagues baffled at best, and disengaged or irritated at worst. So make sure what you say can actually be heard. It will smooth communications and working relationships!

 

Want to learn more? Download our free Chirp Guide to find out how to use your voice more effectively in meetings, pitches and presentations.