“Be here now.”
A friend who recently passed away from cancer used to say this to me whenever he saw me. It wasn’t a command for me, so much as it was advice he used to give himself whenever he felt overwhelmed by life.
The result was that he was rarely overwhelmed by life, even as the cancer began to get the better of him. He did his best to stay present and connected to those around him. He will be sorely missed.
I want to honor his life by passing along something that I learned from him about communication.
Want to get better at presenting material in a way that is both understandable and interesting to an audience?
Want to improve your ability to be persuasive, trustworthy and credible?
Want to keep yourself from being overwhelmed by situations, people and places?
Start with this mantra and work from there.
The biggest obstacle to being able to connect with an audience or a client is that people are often thinking about either what they are going to say or what they already said. In other words, they are living that moment in the past or in the future.
(okay, maybe not that far in the future…)
I have had clients and friends ask me what it takes to get better at public speaking, interviews or running a meeting. While there are many important skills that people can learn about speaking to a crowd and communicating clearly, most people are already familiar with them:
- Practice, practice, practice.
- Organize your thoughts into a story.
- Fill the room with your voice and your presence (especially if you are on a stage).
- Speak at a slow and even pace.
- Keep the language simple (no jargon).
- Use your tone to indicate what is most important for the listener.
And while these are certainly helpful and important to being a more successful communicator, they are nothing without your presence.
(This is a typical audience response)
The fact is that what people most want from each other is their full, undivided attention.
(Okay, maybe not that much attention)
It is remarkable how rarely we actually experience being in a room with someone who is giving us their full attention and who is present while they are talking or while they are listening. Most of us are in the habit of watching ourselves talk, completely disconnected from our audience.
The result is that our words fall flat and come across empty to the listener. No matter how hard we practice, our ability to communicate will never dramatically improve because we will be focusing more on the performance of what we are saying and less on the connection we are building.
Sound a little too much like “Mr. Rogers”?
Okay, maybe. Fred Rogers built his television show on the premise that children just want someone who will speak to them like real people. He believed that a television show that showcased a gentle man talking directly to the camera and being present for a full conversation was valuable to a young generation.
And he was right. We can’t begin to understand the impact that being fully present can have on other people, because we are so busy as a culture wondering how to get other people to pay attention to us. So, here is an experiment that you can do in your spare time.
The next time that you are in a conversation with someone, regardless of what’s at stake (even if it is a cocktail party), tell yourself “be here now.”
Every time you feel yourself drifting away, thinking about the future or the past or trying to imagine what the other person is thinking of you, remind yourself, “be here now.”
You may have to bring yourself back to the present fifty times in one five minute conversation. It doesn’t matter. Just bring yourself back as gently and as firmly as possible.
Pay attention to not only what you are saying, but also why you are saying it. Pay attention to how you are standing, where you are looking and what you are feeling.
Look at the person across from you and see them, really see them. Are they nervous? Are they tired, sad or happy? Watch how the words that you say land on their face and notice when they are drifting away or are eager to talk.
Focus on the connection between you in that moment.
If you do all of that (even if it is only for a few minutes), you may experience something new.
- The other person may be very grateful for the attention you have paid him/her.
- You will feel less anxious about yourself, less self-conscious.
- Conversation will feel less like a battle with winners and losers and more like a dance.
If you can do this multiple times throughout the day, you will begin to notice that people tell you more, they trust you more and they want to be around you more.
Because all we want from other people is their full selves, everything else can be put into an email.
Try this experiment when you have the chance and let me know how it goes for you and what obstacles you encounter. Being here now is not easy, but the payoff is better communication and the ability to connect regardless of the situation or place.