Top 3 references for leadership, confidence and communication

Meeting so many inspiring people at the Movers and Breakers conference at Uluru

Meeting so many inspiring people at the Movers and Breakers conference at Uluru

Last week I had the opportunity to go to Uluru as part of Business Chicks‘ Movers and Breakers conference.

In meeting 80+ people, (well, I didn’t meet that many, but I tried!) there were resources I use in my coaching and group workshops that came up again and again.

The Movers and Breakers in front of Uluru

The Movers and Breakers in front of Uluru

Most of the conversations where this came up, we were discussing:

  1. Self-renewal and emotionally intelligent communication for leaders
  2. Confidence for public speaking, and for ‘speaking up’ in crucial conversations
  3. A book on body language for business as a tool for greater understanding and opportunities to communicate better.

One of the many things I love about the work I have the privilege of doing is that it comes from evidence-based research- which means there are a stack of resources I’m delighted to share that are low, or no-cost pathways to increasing confidence, communication and resonant leadership.

  1. Leading with emotional intelligence

    Inspiring Leadership Through Emotional Intelligence is a free online course though Coursera. It runs again in September, but I think you can sign up and watch the videos and read the readings until then. There is a book, Becoming a Resonant Leader connected to this, and the conference inspired me to start working through it with a study-buddy.

  2. Amy Cuddy’s power pose

    This came up a lot when discussion increasing confidence in public speaking situations, or speaking up in meetings.  I wrote about top three tips to get off the emotional rollercoaster of stage-fright earlier this year. It’s Amy Cuddy’s research that led me into further reading on an area that informs a lot of my current work, Embodied Cognition, which looks at how what we do with our body impacts on our thoughts and behaviours (try Sian Beilock’s How the Body Know Its Mind for more on this).

  3. Deeper understanding of nonverbal communication for negotiations and conversations in business.

    Gone are the days of the 80s where body-language was a party trick. These days, we call them nonverbals, and Ex-FBI specialist, Joe Navarro consults regularly with fortune 500 companies, and watches the nonverbals as part of due diligence. His book, Louder Than Words is directed specifically at the world of work.

Top tip for making learning stick?

In my studies as an educator (the beginning of a masters in education, part of studies in tertiary teaching when I was lecturing at universities) I learned that all the recent data points to this one thing: We learn better, and retain information better when we are in a community of learners.

That’s why I have a study-buddy for the Becoming a Resonant Leader workbook, and why I often initiate a community of practice around things that are important to me (songwriting, bands, meditation). I also know that at some conferences, we can learn things that have the potential to change  our world if we let them. We have a much greater opportunity to sustain that change if we are supported by others.

Grab a friend (or few) check out  and share the links above. They are low-cost, or even free, and will help you become a better leader and communicator.

The Secrets of First Impressions

Does your first impression leave a lemony taste?

What kind of impression do give others? Does it leave a sweet or sour after-taste?

First Impressions

What do people judge us on in the first three seconds of our first meeting?

Is it:

a) our vast and deep knowledge of our area of work, or

b) the coffee stain on our shirt, accompanied by that blob of Weet-Bix?

If you answered b) give yourself a pat on the back. Unless we are well known for a) it’s probably b)

Most of the information we communicate before we open our mouth is with our non-verbals. That includes our body-language, our posture and how we are dressed, and our grooming.

How do we make a good impression?

This can be summed up in one sentence: Think about the comfort of the other person.

Make eye-contact, listen, check that your listener is engaged. When we get stuck in self-consciousness we forget to be conscious of others.

One of my favourite first impressions goes to Samantha.  She strode across the room with purpose, with direct eye contact and a warm smile, she held out her hand to shake and used my name;

‘Zerafina, I’ve heard so much about you and have been looking forward to meeting you.’ Aww shucks. It’s nice to be noticed.

The Horns or Halo effect

When we meet someone for the first time, that snapshot is 100% of what we know about that person. Our tendency is to perceive that person bathed in the light of that ‘thin-slice’ of information.

If we serve up a bitter-lemon thin slice, others will perceive us to be the whole lemon. All of our subsequent actions will be judged in light of this information. This would be the ‘horns’-effect.

If we are kind to the waiter, polite to others around us, and make others feel comfortable, our subsequent actions are judged in light of this ‘halo.’

How to make a bad impression

  1. Complain
  2. Focus on yourself
  3. Be rude to others
  4. Criticise something
  5. Break promises
  6. Send dismissive or rude emails

There are plenty of other things we could add to this list. Often we do some or all of them assuming that others will know that we are just having an ‘off-day.’ But that’s the sum total of everything a new person knows about us.

How to make a better impression

  1. Look at the list above
  2. Find the opposite of each of the list items
  3. Find ways to demonstrate those things.


Last of all- check your shirt for coffee and Weet-Bix. It’s easier to be forgiven for the coffee stain than making others feel uncomfortable, but it helps to look like we’ve made an effort with our appearance.

What can you do this week to improve the first-impression you give?

How Do You Make Your Audience Feel?

Movement for speakers

How do you move your audience? Move yourself. (photo of Zerafina conducting stretches for best voice usage in Brisbane)

I get a lot of requests to help people feel more confident speaking in front of an audience. We work together on everything from preparation to content and nonverbals (body language).

I was coaching a highly competent leader today, let’s call her Liz, and this was the biggest revelation for her:

It’s not all about you, it’s all about your audience.

Liz, like many others, felt self-conscious about presenting because:

I don’t like everyone looking at me

What are audiences looking for when they are ‘looking at’ you in a presentation?

They are looking for information that supports their understanding of what you’re saying. For example, if you tell them you are happy about something, it helps if you look and sound happy about it.

Ideally, your audience wants you to help them understand what you have to communicate. And they are hoping that you will keep them interested.

Presenting is like singing a song

I explained to Liz that when I first started singing when I was nineteen I was terrified of the audience. I remember my singing teacher, Andi Garing, coming to one of my early performances at a small bar, the Maluca Bar in Gertrude st, Fitzroy.

I have a clear mental image of my shoes; they were black, shiny brogues. I remember following all the swirls and dots in the patterns on the leather as the audience applauded, thinking:

If only they would stop clapping, I can get back to singing.

Wisely, my teacher suggested that I acknowledge the applause (something most people, even professional public speakers forget to do).

At nineteen, before a performance, I was so nervous, I would change my outfit about ten times before the gig. I’d get to the bar and have a drink of wine or vodka to try and settle my nerves. Then I’d be so worried about feeling too sleepy that I’d follow the drink up immediately with an espresso coffee. In retrospect, it wasn’t a particularly productive pre-performance routine, and did nothing to calm my nerves.

Performing was such an emotionally harrowing experience, that I put an enormous amount of research into finding ways to master the mental and physical tools for positive performance.

My brilliant singing teacher, Andi,  helped to put some of it in context:

It’s not about you when you sing a song; it’s about the audience. You are asking them if they have shared the experience you are singing about. ‘Do you know what this feels like? Have you been here too?’

Presenting is all about your audience

How do you want to make them feel?

After hearing the story, as many great marketers are aware, Liz looked relieved and said:

‘What’s in it for me?’ That’s what the audience wants to know.

The reason this was a relief for Liz, and a relief for me when I was nineteen is this:

It takes the pressure off you to present brilliantly, and to think mainly about the needs and interests of your audience instead.

What would be the opposite of self-consciousness? Consciousness of others? Perhaps lacking self-consciousness is all about thinking about others.

What can you do for your next presentation to consider how you want your audience to feel?

Top three tips for overcoming stage fright; get off the roller coaster

Roller coaster

Get off the roller coaster of stage-fright

Your heart beat pounds loud enough for your audience to hear (surely…), your mouth is giving the Simpson desert a run for its money in dryness, your hands sweat, or shake, or both.

No matter how confident we are with our presentations, there will be one time or another where the stakes are raised, and our adrenalin hijacks our entire system.

In a recent book, The Organized Mind; Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload the human brain is described as a house renovation from different eras, that don’t often don’t communicate well with other parts.

What that means for us as presenters, is that the same system that saves us from being run over by a car, or eaten by a large predator, engages when we just have to get up in front of an audience and present. This is not ideal….There are a few things we can do to help balance this reaction out.

  1. Hold a Power Pose for two minutes.

  2. Breathe evenly

  3. Use the interrogative: Can I do this?

    Hold a Power Pose for two minutes

    When we open up our body language and take up more space, our physiology reacts by changing the hormone levels in our body. Researchers from Harvard University found that standing in a power pose for two minutes (think Wonder Woman or Superman) raised the level of testosterone (gives us a sense of confidence and capability) and reduced the level of cortisol (the hormone responsible for our reactivity to stress. There is a full post, and links to the work of the researcher, Amy Cuddy, here.

Breathe Evenly

Try a breath that goes in for two, and out for two. This doesn’t stop our heartbeat from racing, but it does stop it from being erratic- which is enormously helpful. There is more information on this in the last ten minutes of this video on How to Hack Your Biology.

Can I do this?

When we use declarative statements like ‘I can do this’, it opens up our mind’s favoured activity, which is problem-solving. That means that we look for reasons to dispute this statement. When we ask, ‘Can I do this?’ and write a list of the reasons why we can, we use that activity to help us. There is more on this research in Daniel H. Pink’s book, To Sell Is Human.


Which of these strategies can you use this week to get off the roller coaster of stage fright?

Be Disruptive; Subvert the cliché to Stand Out

Subvert the cliché to stand out

Subvert the cliché to stand out

What are your guilty clichés?

Every industry has its clichés.

Six of one, half a dozen of the other.

He was as mad as hell.

Weak as a kitten, strong as an ox.

At the end of the day….

Clichés are shorthand

They show us that we have a shared language, and understanding.

They are grounded in shared experience and that means they are shared over time.

But time bleaches words of meaning. Words left open to the light from repeated exposure lose their vividness and colour.

The danger of the cliché is that we give our audience permission to zone-out.

When our audience can anticipate our trajectory, we give them permission to get comfortable. That’s not entirely a bad thing. If I turned up for a corporate presentation in my pyjamas, there would need to be a compelling reason, and it would need to be tied to a theme in order for it to make sense. If I didn’t, I would run the risk of being so disruptive that nobody would pay much attention to what I was saying.

That said, we so often run in a default mode of repeating the familiar that we lose the opportunity to be fresh.

“time passed like ivory beads on a black thread” – John Hawkes, Travesty

“a stately ice pudding of a cloud” – Patrick White, A Fringe of Leaves

“[The] city lay curled up below like an animal infested with electric lights” – Angela Carter, Several Perceptions

We have so many tools at our disposal to engage an audience, why leave it to the poets and the writers to create something fresh?

Clichés are not just our words, but our actions

Must every presentation be at the front of the room?

Are we doing the same things all of our competitors are?

Think about the kinds of clichés that are in your industry, and avoid them….like the plague.

What are the clichés you are guilty of using the most?

What one clichéd way of doing things can you change this week?

Your Best 15 Second Pitch Yet

Miner drilling and laborer loading black diamonds

Miner drilling and laborer loading black diamonds…let’s help our audience work less by crafting an invitation to a conversation.

I recently spoke to a group of dynamic entrepreneurs, Creative Business Posse, about how to talk about their business.

I’d heard some new business owners say they thought they were being selfish if they spoke about themselves or their business. Isn’t the opposite true? If we don’t put the work into unearthing our purpose, aren’t we asking our conversation partner work for it?

If we communicate our message well, we create an invitation to a conversation.

Our presentation is like a setting for a precious gemstone. If you’ve seen a diamond in the rough, you’ll know that it’s value increases when it is cut, and set to best advantage.

If we communicate our business clearly, we can show others how that diamond of an idea catches the light. If we make our listener/audience work for it, we’re asking them to put on a hard-hat, pick up a pick, and start digging.

Carmine Gallo’s ‘How to Pitch Anything in 15 Seconds’ describes a process of uncovering they key elements that make your business tick. It’s a useful framework for communicating any key idea. That key idea could be a health treatment, a contract pitch, an election platform, your business, or even yourself. Use this as a guide to fill out the template below.

I’ve attached a pdf for you to download and fill out as many times as it takes to get your pitch just right. An artist friend once said, “There’s always another blank piece of paper.” That gives us the freedom to make as many ‘starts’ as we need on what could seem like a daunting process.

Forte Presence Message Map

Good luck in working on your invitation to a conversation. Keep polishing it, and you will have something that sparkles for you and your conversation partner.

Five Steps for the Perfect Elevator Pitch

“I hate talking about my business.”

The number of times I hear people say this, well…it’s fatiguing. What it tells me is, either:
a) You’ve bought so deeply into Austalia’s Tall Poppy syndrome that you’ver never figured out how to say good things about what you do
b) You’re not aware that it helps the person you’re having a conversation with. Really, it helps the flow of conversation, it helps open the door to something the other person might be interested in. By speaking well about your business, you open up communication.

In July I’ll be speaking at an event for emerging entrepreneurs about how to do this. I hope to help them understand the value of opening up a conversation about what they’ve been passionate enough about to turn it into a business.

This blog post is a great start for taking the time to really think about how we might help spark an interesting conversation.

Life as an Investment

If you an entrepreneur with an amazing idea and want to pitch it to your friends or even an investor, get ready to experience sweaty palms and rosy, red cheeks. Why?

Because you never have a second chance to make a first impression!

Here are some tips to avoid screwing it up:

    I.         Make a plan and write it down.

 Here is a plan: The American Express advice US makes it simple and useful.

You never have a second chance to make a first impression FIRST BLOCK

1)    Name of your business

2)    Your product/services

3)    Market segment

4)    Problem solving


 1)    Why your product is needed

2)    Which problems can it solve (this makes life easier, saves time and is more productive)

3)    Why are you better than the competition—USP


1)    Sales & Profitability Statement

2)    End with a statement about what you are looking to accomplish


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Are we present?

“I’m too old to be rigid”- Patsy Rodenburg

At any time in our lives, we can become more flexible in our approach to presentation through our voice and body.

Awareness of how we communicate is the first step in making conscious choices.

There is a great opportunity to learn how to be better communicators from people who have dedicated their life to exactly that craft.

Patsy Rodenburg is well known among actors, politicians and corporate executives for her coaching in voice and presence.

The ten minute video (link below) explains her ‘Three Circles of Energy’ in power presentation.

Here is a summary from her book:

First Circle Presentation

Inward-focused; body may be slumped or collapsed, voice thin- unclear delivery.

Second Circle

“Energized yet open body and delivery.

You will feel that you, the listener, matter, and through the speaker’s eye contact you will feel connected to the presentation.

The speaker will have energy and passion, but this energy appears effortless and efficient.

There is authenticity and humanity in their presence and even if there are a thousand people present, the speaker is speaking to you alone.”

Third Circle

The energy is about ‘bluff.’

“Third Circle presentation can be effective. It can control an audience and pump generalized energy into a room. However, it rarely inspires or makes the audience believe they matter.
… although this energy can be enthusiastic, aggressive or entertaining it doesn’t take the listener into consideration and is therefore controlling.”

From her book, Power Presentation (link below)

In this video, Patsy explains how to recognise when we are in the space of ‘give and take.’ I like that she says we always have a choice in life to come back to the present.

Watch her video here:
Second Circle Presence

If you want more from her, on this topic, check out her book, Power Presentation.

Instant Confidence

Want to boost your confidence and reduce stress for free, in two minutes, with no special skills?

Well I do, and that’s how social psychologist, Amy Cuddy presents her research in her Ted talk, ‘Your body language shapes who you are.

The premise is that our physiology affects our psychology. In other words, it’s not ‘fake it till you make it’, but ‘ fake it till you become it.’

And how long does that take? Got a couple of minutes?

After two minutes standing in a power pose (think Wonder Woman), study participants tested higher on testosterone and lower on cortisol. These two hormones are key in facilitating our leadership qualities. The higher the testosterone, the higher our confidence, the lower the cortisol, the lower our reactivity to stress.

This is such an effective and portable tool for changing our relationship to how we think and feel through our bodies. Perfect for a space a small as a bathroom (or even a toilet cubicle) before a high-stakes presentation.

The infographic below, from Brazilian magazine Superinteressante illustrates how we shrink and expand, and what that communicates to others. The study results showed that post power-pose, participants were rated more highly in an interview situation.

Some extra interviews with Amy Cuddy are worth checking out.

The take-away here is to check if you are shrinking or expanding. If we can expand your body-language, we can expand out confidence, and others’ perception of us.