We all have them. And while these subconscious intentions are often as hidden from us than they are the people around us, they have a huge impact on how and what we communicate.
I get to see this all the time working with presenters. Some want to prove that they are the smartest person in the room. Others want to impress their boss or, more likely, their boss’ boss. Others want to show how clever they are, or how they are “one of the guys.” Many feel they are there just to deliver information, and act as though they want to get up and get it done.
These hidden agendas all have one thing in common. They ignore the audience. They leave the audience unengaged, because they are not seen and considered.
Declaring an intention makes a huge difference in the way your put your presentation together. Making your audience the focus of that intention can transform the way you approach your presentation. It is as simple as asking yourself, “What do you want your audience to think, feel, or do after your presentation that they do not think, feel, or do now?” Once you decide on how you want to change your audience, the process of creating your presentation takes on a new life and so will the way you deliver it.
As a coach, it’s been extraordinary to see what happens when presenters commit to making it all about their audience. They often find themselves more engaged in the process and more enlivened presenting. They also discover their hidden agenda as it rears up in response to their conscious intention. Once seen, they can become free of them... at least some of the time.
Some people even begin to see their hidden agendas in relation to communicating in smaller groups and one on one. Then they begin to recognize the potential within each interaction.
When that happens, their ability to communicate takes on a whole new life...intentionally.
When asked or given pause, we admit it is true, but we rarely are aware of the fact that our lives are replete with habits.
From postures and movements to attitudes and the words we use to express them, much of our responses to life are habitual. (How often have you responded to someone asking, “How are you?” and immediately wondered why you responded that way. Or have you even bumped into somebody and barked out a “Be careful” or worse, only to realize a moment later you were the careless one. Isn’t that habitual?)
Habits function automatically. We don’t think about them. Nor are we conscious of the muscle tensions needed to make them happen. These habitual movements, thoughts, and emotions are a force in our lives our lives. They can define how we see and respond to life... both at work, at home and at play... our golf swings are nothing more than habit in motion.
Athletes know habits are formed through repetition. What is fed grows. The more we do a particular thing, the stronger it gets. Our deepest habits began when we were growing up. We are built on a foundation of habits.
Habits, by their nature, are neither good nor bad. Even a habit normally seen as good, such as an hour of exercise every day, would be hurtful if the need was for complete rest. The value of any one habit is based on whether it is helping you achieve your aim in any particular moment. (More on this in a future blog.)
Improving performance, reaching a new goal, succeeding in any change in any aspect of life begins with coming up against and recognizing existing habits. How can it be otherwise?
That is where the coaching process can really help people succeed in reaching their goals and improving performance. Through active listening, coaches can hear the habitual and help it be recognized. Then together, client and coach can determine potential new responses and alternative behaviors that can lead to the breaking of the habits – whether physical, mental or emotional – that have kept them from achieving the success they wish for.
I was talking to another writer the other day about the differences between writing on a computer vs long hand. While we both agreed how much easier it is to edit and rewrite on the computer, we couldn’t decide if that was a good thing or bad because we both found that computers make it difficult to stick with an ancient writing truth that I formulate as “If you start to edit before you’re done writing, you’re done writing.”
Writing and editing are two different animals. They use different parts of the brain. Writing is a creative act. It demands a willingness to be open to any possibility, the freedom to move in any direction. It has a whole other sense to it than editing. Editing applies rules and critical thinking. It is a solid; creativity is fluid. Both are needed. They just can’t exist at the same time.
Creativity, or inspiration requires not giving into internal or external critical voices, like the ones that want to correct typos, Coaches and creative directors know this (or should).
That’s why in a creative coaching and brainstorming sessions, I create a “No Negativity Zone.” Responses to statements must be either neural or positive. No “noes”, “buts”, (even “yes, buts”), or “be practicals.” Practical is for later.
“Yes, ands...” are the preferred response. Anyone who can’t stay positive has to leave (or sit in a corner.) When a group sticks to the rules for 45 minutes to an hour, something magical can take place. The room takes on a different feel. One person begins an idea, and it bounces around the room like a beach ball until suddenly an idea, or direction appears that never would have occurred to anyone without people exchanging freely.
It’s often harder than it sounds and, for some, it’s just about impossible. You have to leave your ego aside because it can’t be about you. It’s not about right or wrong. There is no wrong and everything is possible... even if you misspeak.
And for writing on my own, I invoked a “No Mouse” zone. I lock my track pad and mouse in a drawer for a specific length of time and type away, ignoring typos, spelling errors, and that little negative voice in the corner of my mind that is holding a red pen and waiting his time to edit.
From ad copy and campaigns to presentations, slogans and web sites, there are ways to create messages that people remember.
Writers and presentation coaches learn them instinctively. Educators and authors, Chip Heath and Dan Heath documented them in their book “Made to Stick.” I fashioned them into the S.E.C.R.E.T.S. to making messages memorable.
S. Keep it Simple. Get to the core of what you want your audience to remember and put it into a sound bite. It’s not easy but it is effective. Think of “Just do it.” Once we hear it, it’s a no-brainer. A trick to help: when you think you’ve gotten to the core ask “Why?” or “What’s behind that?” Then repeat, repeat, repeat.
Remember the essence has its own energy. An outside ear is a big help.
E. Make it Emotional. People may or may not remember facts, but they remember how you make them feel. Get to the heart of the matter. Why should your audience care about you or your message? How can you get them to experience that? Tie it to your facts and they will remember.
C. Are you and your message Credible? An audience has to trust in order to care. What is going to make your audience feel like you are trustworthy? The real deal? Bring your Cred to the game.
R. Keep your message Real. Put your message into the reality your audience lives day to day. Yes, that means you actually have to know the reality your audience experiences.
E. Add the unExpected. Nothing attracts our attention faster than a surprise. Whether it is a turn of phrase, an image, a sound or an event, we enjoy the unexpected and we remember them! How can you bring your message in a way that’s unpredictable? If I believe I know what is going to happen next, I have left the building.
T. Create a presentation that’s Tangible. We have 5 senses... at least. Touch them all! We remember the visceral. The more senses touched, the greater the chance we’ll remember. Great story tellers bring the senses alive.
S. Tell your story through Stories. Stories provide context to your message. They capture our imagination, inspire us, warn us and enliven us. Stories are the lifeblood of cultures, families, histories and BRANDS! Tell us your story, make it our story.
When messages are told that are
Tangible and delivered through
They become unforgettable.
Let's aim for that.
Check out the book “Made to Stick” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.
A special thanks to Tim Wilkins, graphic artist extraordinaire, who worked with me guiding presenters to new heights of creativity and effectiveness and afterward introduced me to “Made to Stick” as kindred spirits. “You will so love this book.” And he was right. I did.
I was talking to another writer the other day about the differences between writing on a computer versus long hand. We agreed how much easier it is to edit on the computer, but we couldn’t decide if that was a good thing or not. We both found that computers make it difficult to stick with an ancient writing truth that I formulate as “Don’t edit till you’re finished writing because even if you’re not, you’ll be finished writing.”
Maybe it’s the underlined typos calling to me. Maybe it’s just too difficult to bear the small changes that cry out to me in the glaring screen light, as I read over what I’ve written. The moment my hand jumps from the keyboard to the mouse or pad; once I double click or tap; highlight and delete; I’m in edit mode and the writing magic is gone. The subtle connection to my muse is lost in the din of coarser judgments. There’s nothing left to do except edit what’s on the screen in hopes of finding a way back to the muse’s voice hidden in the weeds of the words.
Writing and editing are two different animals. They use different parts of the brain. When it comes to first drafts, they can’t co-exist.
Writing is a creative. Editing is critical thinking. It applies rules and practical judgments and is the nemesis of creativity. At birth (or is it conception?), any successful creative project needs to begin free from critical thinking. That is true for brainstorming sessions as well, whether it is for product development, marketing campaigns, advertising concepts, long or short-range strategies or your next presentation.
That is why coaches demand “Yes Only” zones when leading group creative sessions. Here no criticism is allowed, no one can demand you “be practical”. Any negativity is a no no and any critic, a persona non-gratis.
It’s amazing how difficult that can be for some people, especially in our culture of constant comparisons, competition and the need to be right. (Am I right or what?) It’s second nature to us and often has to be unlearned or at least tamed.
And, while being non-judgmental is hard to do in a group, for many people it is even harder to do on their own. Recognizing the voice of the critic in a crowd of people is easy. Recognizing and silencing the inner critic is a HUGE challenge. It takes practice or a coach.
Here’s an idea to help ensure your creative juices keep flowing.
Make your writing sessions “Mouse/Pad Free” zones. Open your document, click your cursor to the top of the page, then lock your track pad and or mouse in a drawer and leave it there. Then type away. It may seem odd at first but you’ll get used to it. You’ll also get to see your inner critic throw tantrums before finally settling down.
Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know what going "Mouse/Pad-free" was like for you.
Ever make a decision that jeopardized a project or goal? Have you trusted the wrong people even when you knew better? Do you hesitate to take risks when you know you should or visa versa? Is your “drive time” spent justifying how you reacted to a loved one, decisions you made or why you let an opportunity slip through your fingers? If so, you may need to have a chat with your subconscious.
It’s hard to believe but the latest science is telling us that human beings make decisions without the participation of our conscious minds. Thanks to MRI brain scans, scientists can now track brain activity in real time, making it possible to identify the actual moment the brain recognizes an image or makes a decision. In both cases, that moment takes place before the conscious mind shows it is even aware of what’s taking place.
This research is leading scientists to redefine the role the subconscious plays in our lives. (Check out: Subliminal: How your Unconscious Mind Rules your Behavior by Leonard Mlodinow; Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman and Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist by Christof Koch.)
While the science is still young, it seems to be clear we are more complex than we know and the subconscious is in charge! According to the new studies, the only role the conscious mind has in the decision-making process is coming up with an explanation for why we made the choice we did... no matter how badly it turned out.
Think of the unconscious mind as having two parts. The first might be said to be hardwired in the body, the source of our basic instincts and nearly identical in all human beings. It regulates the body’s basic functioning, mostly following the blueprint of our DNA. Programed over 2.5 million years, it guides us in ways that were first determined back when we lived in packs; hunted and foraged.
The other part of the subconscious mind is much more individualized. It is shaped by (and remembers in minute detail) all our experiences. Its development begins as we begin to take in sensory information in the womb. After birth, as we grow, our brains learn how to translate the senses of sight, smell, sound, and touch into labeled forms such as Mama, Dada, food and a three dimensional world that surrounds us. The data seem to indicate that we are predisposed to subconsciously align our view of the world with the perceptions of the people around us. Yet moments of strong emption as frequent as harsh judgments and as random as bee stings have a huge impact on how our view is shaped. The result is that our views of the world are uniquely subjective and often contradicting.
It’s interesting stuff. But what’s it mean to us? Probably not much if you’re satisfied with your life choices, your health, stress levels, relationships, your circle of friends, career and self-image.
However, most of us, have aspects of our lives where we feel stuck in a maze endlessly winding up in the same circumstances and don’t know why or what to do. In that case, becoming aware of individual decision-making process seems like a no-brainer.
Having a coach can be a big help for several reasons.
A coach demands that clients clearly assess their lives, set clearly defined goals and a detailed measurable plan of action to achieve them. This process takes place in an open and supportive environment where the coach’s “active listening” takes in, as much as possible, the whole of the client body, mind and feeling. Often this leads to a shift in the session’s focus from the planning and practical to an exploration of the inner landscape. Questions like, “What does success look like?" leads to “How does it feel to describe it?” or “What’s holding you back?” can lead to “ah ha” moments where unconscious attitudes and impulses, like bumps in the road are recognized; false turns and detours are seen but not taken.
Other times through the appearance of the innate emotional intelligence that lives in all of us, new insights appear freeing us from limiting perceptions, shedding light on short cuts that speed progress, connection to new found confidence or leading to transformational insights that change the vision completely.
Just the awareness of these unconscious elements begins to change the subconscious maze that keeps us tangled in the past and blind to new possibilities. Over time, we can become more aware of the movements within, recognizing the voices of old judgments, the rigidity of repeated patterns and the sense of potential that comes when one experiences the present unencumbered.
All of this can lead to an even greater question about the possibility of changing our level of consciousness.