The Secret to Effective Communication? What You Do Before You Open Your Mouth
"Think. Breathe. Speak." is the slogan of an advertising campaign run by the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
The Academy trained (among others) Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw, Adrian Lester, Mike Leigh, Imelda Staunton.
But this ad isn't aimed at aspiring actors so much as at all those people who have to speak in public: anyone doing a presentation, sales pitch, team meeting. I love the slogan because it's so crisp and clear, but mostly because it captures a process that few of us deploy.
How much time do you spend really thinking? Most executives I know are so action-oriented, or action-addicted, that time for reflection is the first casualty of their success. They're great improvisers, of course, and great at winging it, but they all harbor a sneaking suspicion that their work would be better if they had time to think.
Breathing is the moment at which you take in your surroundings: look around, consider who is present, and what they need from you. Prepare to share the space with them and to be present mentally. Clearing your head of distractions in order to notice and understand the people you are with can feel inefficient--there are so many other people and issues to think about. But being present makes you effective.
Speaking is what most people work on. They forget the thinking and the breathing and instead try to occupy space with sound. But if you've taken the nanoseconds required to think and breathe, what you say will matter to your listeners. Everything else is noise.
Margaret Heffernan is an entrepreneur and author. She has been chief executive of InfoMation Corporation, ZineZone Corporation, and iCAST Corporation. In 2014, she published her fourth book, A Bigger Prize: How We Can Do Better Than the Competition.