What Can Opera Singers Teach Your Employees?

Is it more how you say it, than what you say? Or how you look when you say it? That’s the question raised by a program that teaches business leaders how to improve their non-verbal cues. An article last week in Louisville Business First by Rachel Aretakis focuses on a vocal coach, Jared Lafitte, who teaches corporate employees how to improve their business communication skills.

Just as a performer has to have the right moves and an ability to interact powerfully with his audience, so, too, does a businessperson need to make a good show out of whatever she’s communicating.

Does your company stress both verbal and non-verbal cues? In some cases, the non-verbal cues employees need to be reminded of can be as simple as smiling and saying, “Hello.” When I first joined one of my past companies, I was convinced no one liked me because practically no one returned my smile and greeting when I passed by them in the hall, and I found that many of the people I met initially sent an unfriendly vibe my way. In actuality, it had nothing to do with me—they just were unaware of how unwelcoming they were toward strangers. After I was at the company for a couple of years, people (for the most part) started returning my smile.

In addition to giving off a pleasant air to those you greet in the hallway or in the boardroom, it’s important for entry- and mid-level employees to understand how to fake self-confidence. It’s sad to say, but coming across as self-confident, to the point of arrogance, has its benefits. My current boss, about whom I’ve shared a lot in previous blogs, is an expert at this. He’s in love with himself (so he probably doesn’t have to fake the self-confidence), and excels at convincing everyone else that whatever he’s saying (even when it’s nonsense or bad ideas) is brilliant. People coo over his “radio announcer’s voice” and presentation skills. He’s probably no more knowledgeable (and maybe even less) than me, but he comes across as a guru of anything he’s so much as read an article about.

The question is how to teach those less in love with themselves, or less arrogant, how to come across with such confidence. In particular, this is a challenge for women in all areas of corporate life. It may be a controversial point, but it seems that, overall, women have a harder time making a presentation with bravado and the kind of self-love that pushes everyone in the room onto the presenter’s side. In addition to women, minorities who come from less prosperous, more difficult backgrounds, also may have challenges in this area. So, having a course that teaches employees how to have winning non-verbal cues when communicating their ideas could be a great help. It could help make your company’s top ranks more diverse.

I think one good exercise would be to have an employee who excels at making confident, strong presentations show employees who are less skilled in this area how to do it—even when the material being presenter is lackluster or a big load of nothing. It’s relatively easy to make a strong presentation when the material being communicated is compelling, but what about all those times an employee is faced with communicating information that is not compelling, but that the company’s prosperity depends on? For instance, think about all those times an employee will have to go into a meeting to explain why a corporate sponsor or investor should keep pouring money into an enterprise that is doing just OK.

To address those kinds of challenging communication situations, have the accomplished presenter, who excels at convincing everyone he’s right, give a presentation that is full of nonsense—it can be about anything—why stuffed animal giraffes with the company’s logo should be a part of every new package of services sold to new clients; why the company’s Website needs cartoons; or why all the cubicles should be equipped with unicorn art—the sillier the better. Then have the less skilled presenters observe how the accomplished presenter does this. Then ask those observing to give it a try themselves.

Training employees on how to fake self-confidence, including honing improvisational, off-the-cuff speaking skills, can create a path for success. Those who lack self-confidence and self-love are sometimes full of strong competencies waiting to be tapped—if only they could find their voice.

How do you help your employees communicate as effectively as possible, including optimizing non-verbal cues and presentation skills?