Today we communicate more than ever - but do we actually say anything more significant? If anything, we communicate at a much more superficial level in spite of all of the new communication tools.
Words are powerful, whether they are spoken or written. I learnt this when I was still in primary school. My school entered a poetry competition open to every primary school in Australia. Each student could write a poem and they were sorted by age and then submitted to the judges. They received tens of thousands of entries and it was a surprisingly big deal.
We could write our poem about anything we wanted to so I wrote my poem about drunks. I used to see a lot of drunks near where I lived at the time. I remember the poem went along the lines of a drunk opening the hotel door, he walks out followed by a waft of smoke and bar-room noise. He looks upon the back alley as his kingdom, the rats are his servants and the mound of rubbish his royal bed.
Somehow, I won the competition. I was so happy, until I found out the prize was a pile of books and an Australian flag for the school and I got nothing. Just what a kid wants to hear! But what I did get out of it was an appreciation of the power of words and just how much impact they can have on people.
Since that time I have tried to be the very best communicator I can be. Being able to speak in front of a group of people doesn't make you a great communicator. Some of the most impressive people I have seen speaking have been terrible presenters. Some were really nervous, some mumbled, some were disorganized or late, but all of that was forgotten because what they had to say was so incredibly powerful and inspiring.
A few years back I was approached by the local businesswomen's club and asked to present at their monthly meeting. Typically there would be about 200 of the leading businesswomen in town attending this event and it was quite a big deal. I asked them if they would like me to talk about something to do with business, but they said that they would prefer to know more about me and where I had come from, as no one really knew (I had one of those very unusual childhoods growing up as an orphan).
I was a little uncertain about what to say, so I decided to tell them my whole story, right from the beginning. About halfway through this 40-minute presentation I stopped and looked around the room. I knew many of these women and what I saw on their faces was a look of shock, some were even crying and some just sat shaking their heads. Others had huge beaming smiles and looks of pride spread from ear to ear. Whatever emotion they were feeling, I knew that for the very first time I had got through and connected at a very real level to a group of people.
At the end of the presentation I had an overwhelming response and many of the ladies came up and gave me a big hug. I had no idea that my story would have such an emotional impact. A good friend of mine had snuck into this same event. He came up to me at the end of my presentation and he was really angry, which shocked me a little. He said, 'I have known you for almost 20 years and I had to come to a public talk to find out more about you in 40 minutes than I have learnt in 20 years.' My friend stormed off and I stood there a little perplexed.
Before that I rarely made mention of my earlier life, certainly not the ugly parts. I simply didn't think that anyone was interested in my background. I realized that I had been communicating all my life, but was my communication inspired? Not at all. So why would we want to talk so openly and be so real? I often get asked if I feel exposed when I talk so openly about my life. Strangely enough I don't. The experience I have when I talk using inspired and real communication is so much better than the experience of just getting up and talking about business.
When I am real and lay it on the line, saying things as they really are, I get incredible connection with people, powerful emotions fly, everything is just a bit out of control and I open my heart and speak from deep within. At the end I feel amazing, I feel inspired and I am filled with love and respect for those around me. I think it is hard to get that same level of emotional connection when you are holding back and saying what you think your audience wants to hear.
The world is craving real people, people who can talk openly and who can inspire simply by their actions. This is the most powerful of all communication and we all have our own great story to tell. It doesn't have to be about climbing Mt Everest or amassing a billion dollar empire. Most people can't relate to these feats. But they can relate to people who live a similar life to them, who have to deal with the same challenges and overcome them however they can. In other words, real people.
Inspired communication is from the heart. It is forthright conversation and communication that have power and impact. It is not just a pile of words spewed out for the sake of making noise. It is important regardless of whether you are speaking to a room with 10 000 people in it or just you and a friend having a chat over coffee. Life takes on a whole lot more meaning when you can communicate at this level.
That said, inspired communication doesn't come naturally for most of us so we may need to learn a few new skills. These are areas that I work on every day and I have found that it doesn't take long to get the hang of them.
Firstly being able to have inspired communication means being an excellent listener. Most of us are not, even though we think we are. How many times do we finish sentences, listen to someone else talking and turn the conversation to make it about us? To be an exceptional listener, which has to be the goal for anyone wanting to have deeper connection with others, you have to really listen to what people say. To do this we have to learn to keep our ego in check.
The next stage of inspired communication is to be genuine. To say what you feel more than what you think. We are masters at intellectualizing our feelings but it is so much more powerful to let the emotions be and find the words to express them rather than change them. If something makes you angry, talk about it with the passion that anger deserves. If something makes you feel joy, then talk with the joy in your voice.
From here, we have to be prepared to talk openly and honestly. This means being vulnerable because you have to share parts of yourself that maybe you don't share very often. This is the part that I struggled with for most of my life, but once I learnt to be open, I grew to love it. You will make some people uncomfortable, or maybe it will challenge you personally, but if you hold back, your communication will always be at a lower and more superficial level and have less meaning and effect.
If you can master the art of inspired communication there are many rewards. Connection is the most significant reward, especially as we live in a world struggling to connect effectively. Being able to connect at a deeper and more honest level with others will have a profound effect on each and every relationship you have, both personally and professionally. People will respond to your new level of communication by opening up and communicating in the same way.
I have seen it and experienced it many times, yet it never ceases to amaze me. It isn't easy, but taking small steps and knowing how wonderful it is when you have truly connecting conversations with people will change your life.
Please don't be afraid of being yourself, of being real and honest and saying it how you see it. And, last but not least, please don't ever think that you have nothing interesting to say. I have yet to meet any person on the planet who doesn't have something of value to say, even if they don't realise it yet. Become an inspired communicator and one person really can change the world.