Nick Morgan, the author of Trust Me: Four Steps to Authenticity and Charisma, starts his book by stating that:
“Every conversation is two conversations: the verbal one—the content—and the nonverbal one—the body language. If the two are aligned, you can be a persuasive, authentic communicator. You may even come across as charismatic. If the two are not aligned, people believe the nonverbal communication every time—you will not seem authentic, even if you’re just authentically nervous! People will believe that you’re faking, or hiding something, or not completely present.”
Aligning the verbal and nonverbal conversations takes time and energy, and some presenters will be much better at it than others, but the gains you make will be worth the effort you put into it.
The Four Steps
Morgan breaks his process into four steps:
· Being open
· Being connected
· Being passionate
Of the four steps, being open is probably the most difficult to master. Years of competition with other companies for market share and colleagues for promotions convinces many executives that they must guard their feelings for fear of revealing a weakness. Morgan argues that those strategies might have worked in the past, but societal changes alter audiences’ expectations both in the workplace and without, with the result that effective communication requires communicators to expose their inner selves more completely than before.
Morgan spends one chapter on the verbal aspect of openness, but immediately after turns to the book’s main focus: the nonverbal conversation. He argues that the key to establishing a rapport with one’s audience is to gain their trust through the effective use of body language. Making eye contact isn’t nearly enough…Morgan cites researcher Paul Ekman, who notes that where you look is the simplest behavior to control and is the most easily faked. For humans who grew up reading other humans’ facial expressions as a means of survival, the other, more subtle expressions and gestures mean much more than simple eye contact.
Speakers, like golfers, have long argued that there’s too much to think about when they’re trying to develop their technique. It’s true that it takes a lot of work to achieve facility with speaking or golf, but it’s far better to develop your skills on the driving range or in a workshop instead of on NBC. Yes, you could just improvise, but that carries its own risks.
Improvisation Isn’t Natural
There’s a myth about the power of improvisation, namely that confident presenters who are sure of their material can stand up and talk about their specialty for an hour without notes. Morgan does his best to debunk that myth, stating in part that “[t]he irony of leadership in the media age is that winging it looks fake; only the prepared can look authentic.”
Anyone who has tried to fake their way through a presentation can tell you that improvising is a hit or miss proposition. As a professional improvisational comedian, I can testify that the audience only forgives the small inconsistencies and hesitations that come up because they realize how hard it is to improvise scenes based on suggestions heard just a few seconds before. Some viewers point to Robin Williams as a counter-example, but the truth is that Robin Williams doesn’t improvise during his major public performances…he scripts everything he does and plans each of his seemingly impromptu trips into the audience meticulously. The real magic is how he comes up with the routines and hones them through rehearsal and performances in smaller venues than those where he performs for the cameras.
Why is it so hard to improvise? Because confidence comes from knowing what comes next. When you have to remember your next point or haven’t established your intention behind that point, your body language and words get out of synch and you are in danger of delivering mixed messages to your audience. The slip-ups and hesitations that audiences tolerate in an improvised scene have no place in professional communication, which is why attack journalists who want to make someone look foolish try to surprise their subjects with unexpected questions they’ve analyzed but the interviewee has not.
Crossing Over into Entertainment
Most of the literature on corporate rhetoric covers the mechanics of crafting a presentation and rehearsing what you want to say, but offer no more than superficial advice in how to prepare as a character. For example, Morgan’s earlier book Working the Room, published in paperback as Give Your Speech, Change the World, coached readers to create a presentation that convinced listeners why it was in their best interest to take the action you advocate. In that book, Morgan covered a variety of techniques to help speakers improve their delivery and calm their nerves, but spent little time on the non-verbal conversation that’s the focus of his new book.
I have read one book that’s directly comparable to Trust Me: Ken Weber’s Maximum Entertainment, which he wrote for magicians and other corporate entertainers. Weber earned his theatre degree at Hofstra, spent thirty years as a corporate entertainer, and is now the head of the New York investment firm Weber Asset Management. His goal when writing Maximum Entertainment was to provide director’s notes to entertainers who have no access to a theatrical director. Morgan does exactly the same thing. Although Weber’s book delves into technical performance skills that Trust Me doesn’t cover, both Morgan and Weber agree on the importance of scripting, rehearsal, sincerity, and connection with the audience.
I should add that Morgan covers aspects of theatrical characterization, such as the Stanislavski method of sense memory development and the importance of intention, that Weber doesn’t go over in any detail, so the two books complement each other very effectively.
Nick Morgan’s Trust Me approaches corporate and executive communication from a new and different perspective, that of the professional performer. His approach acknowledges the realities of modern business and, once you get beyond the first few uncomfortable steps where you’re thinking of a thousand things at once, you will communicate more openly, authentically, and charismatically.
Curtis Frye (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Microsoft Office Excel MVP, freelance writer, and corporate entertainer. For more information on his Excel books and free help files, visit www.thatexcelguy.com. If you’re looking for a keynote speaker or entertainer to kick off a sales meeting or provide after-dinner entertainment, visit www.curtisfrye.com.