"Modern brain research puts us in touch with a far more powerful understanding of the way that humans communicate than we’ve had before. We are hard-wired to join up and communicate together through our unconscious minds. Our evolutionary past necessitated this confluence of communication, and we need to get in touch with it again in order to realize the full power of influence an individual can have over a group."
For the past decade, my job has involved public speaking in a variety of forms. Over the years, I have picked up tips on nonverbal cues to improve my ability to deliver content but never so many aspects of communication and interaction all in one place. Speaking coach Nick Morgan talks about using what he calls power cues to make leadership more natural based on the way our brains read the subtleties of communication. Gesture, voice resonance and tonality, the amount of space you take up in a room, and storytelling can impact the influence you have over your audience. It comes down to learning to control the nuances of the communication dance to make it a little more elegant. The best speakers make it look easy to engage on stage, show charisma and concern, and ignite their followers with passion. In Power Cues, Morgan gives you tools to dance the dance.
Each chapter covers one of Morgan’s power cues, brain research behind it, how you might apply it in your interactions with others, and field notes that sometimes serve as a more in depth look at implementation.
Your Body Speaks to Me
"We learn at a very early age that conversation is a pas de deux, a game that two (or more) people play that involves breathing, winking, nodding, eye contact, head tilts, hand gestures, and a whole series of subtle nonverbal signals that help both parties communicate the with one another."
One reason that our unconscious constantly reads the nonverbal cues of others goes back to the idea of fight or flight. While survival is no longer at stake, our brains still look for cues to identify friend or foe, who is in power, who is aligned with us, and who might be telling the truth versus lying. Unconsciously, we are always reading the people around us. Morgan identifies this reading as our gut feeling or intuition.
From the friend or foe perspective, friendly people will communicate with openness. They’ll have wide, open eyes, turn their torso toward you, and use smiles and nods. Conversely, someone that is disengaged communicates with crossed arms that block the torso or bodies turned slightly away. Moving nearer someone indicates friendliness or connection while moving away can indicate hostility or simply that it’s time to end the conversation. People that are lying tend to turn slightly away to create distance. More subtly, liars may have their torso turned toward you but because they are trying to deceive you their legs and feet may show what is really happening and be turned away.
Show Me to the Stage
"Few of the places we speak have great sight lines, perfect acoustics, and comfortable seating for the audience. We’re usually working with less-than-prime conditions. So it helps to be ready for most of the possibilities. In other words, be ready to answer the question, 'how will I use this room to my advantage and work the crowd?' with minimal stress and uncertainty."
While only a fraction of communication happens from a stage, public speaking could be the most important arena for some of the greatest influence that you have in business. Morgan gives tips on how to prepare your message to connect with your audience. He identifies four areas to keep in mind: influence, mimicry, activity, and consistency. When you are asked to give a message, you have some automatic influence because you have been identified as an expert on your topic but it’s important to use your time to say what matters. There is power in pauses, silence, and well thought out talking points. Mimicry is the act of mirroring and getting your audience to mirror you. Giving the audience a word or phrase to repeat is a way to build mimicry into your message. Activity relates to the level of energy that you bring to the message and is often linked to how easy it will be to get your audience to mimic you and show their alignment. Consistency is controlling your emotions and energy throughout the message or conversation. If something unexpected happens, it’s important not to get flustered and let it throw off your words or body language. At the same time, you should consider when to let your passion and energy flare up. A bit of controlled inconsistency in that regard can have a huge impact.
Let Me Hear You Say It
"People sort themselves out in terms of power very quickly after they meet, within minutes and unconsciously, and they signal that power relationship to each other with their low-frequency vocal patterns. It further shows that you can shift the pattern if you can come on strong at the end or even work on your vocal production to be powerful from the start."
One of the most interesting and unexpected parts of the book was how sound, frequency, and resonance could make a difference in leadership and communication. What Morgan called a thin, nasally voice sounds weak. A thicker, deeper voice is more acoustically pleasing; we want to listen to what that person has to say because we align the sound with power. Breathing is a big part of voice. Morgan says that most of us sit at a desk, which impedes proper breathing. If your shoulders rise and fall, you aren’t filling your lungs properly. Rather, stand up and take in a breath by expanding your belly outward and keeping your shoulders still. Contract your abdominals as you exhale, pushing the breath out. Practicing this type of breathing has health benefits and is the beginning of finding your leadership voice.
Morgan also reminds readers that eliminating speaking tics like over use of the catch phrase “you know” or lots of “ums” helps develop a strong leadership voice. Creating awareness of the tics is really the key. Videotaping yourself to count your own tics or having someone watch you speak and count or point out the tics are a couple of examples. If awareness isn’t enough, some people need the incentive of donating to charity each time they let an “um” slip through.
While I didn’t love the writing style of the author, I got a lot out of this book. Regardless of how much your daily life or occupation requires you to deliver messages to groups of people, we all constantly communicate with the people around us. There’s no doubt that you can benefit from learning what power cues will make your life as a leader easier and more natural. Since I couldn’t fit all the gems in here, which of Nick Morgan’s Power Cues will help you to lead more naturally and influence those around you?