Alexia Vernon is a women's communication and leadership expert who is the founder and director of Influencer Academy and the creator of the digital training program, Your Spotlight Talk. She helps executives, entrepreneurs, and other thought leaders speak with confidence and competence in their public speaking, pitching, negotiating and training.
Finding Your Voice
For years I spent too much time and bandwidth proving that, despite my age, I had the qualifications necessary to lead my consulting company and deliver our training programs. While I know that my clients were impressed by media I'd garnered early in my career, they were--and are--far more impressed when I show that the work I ask them to do is work I've sought to do my entire life...even if it's been with mixed results.
The first time I recall stepping into my moxie was when I was 4 years old and I spoke up and out to my parents about sexual abuse I was experiencing. This marked the beginning of an on-again, far too often off-again relationship I had to my voice. For every time I asserted myself, be it to bullies on the playground or in a conference room, there were half a dozen examples of when I stayed mum. And then beat myself up with self-talk too racy even for cable TV.
Once I stopped presenting myself as the expert on how to negotiate, pitch, or give a spotlight talk and instead shared the true and messy details of the many moments where I had to deliver difficult communication, the learning and development I facilitated for my clients deepened. They not only developed their skills faster, they trusted me more. As a result, they took bigger risks and enjoyed bigger wins in their communication--more funding, larger audiences, higher salaries. I quickly went from being a best-kept secret in my industry to an in-demand speaker and trainer with sold out programs and raving clients and fans.
At the foundation of this now-habitual transparent communication are these lessons I've learned:
1. Speak with rather than at your audience.
I delivered those words most mornings for several years when I taught college public speaking. They are as relevant and applicable for people and companies to live by today as they were over half a decade ago when I read them from a textbook to my students. No matter how smart you or your brand are, or how desired your product or service is, people would much rather feel they are being asked to participate in a conversation than be on the receiving end of a lecture.
2. Use communication to connect and uplift.
Dr. Maya Angelou's writing saved me as a teenager when I was searching to find someone, anyone, who had lived through similar life experiences and channeled the experience into something productive. Of the many wise words she wrote and spoke, Dr. Angelou said, "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
I have always strived to make the people I work with and for feel the way Dr. Angelou's words made me feel--part of a community, seen and heard, brave, and lovable. I frequently ask my clients, "Are you using your communication to inspire possibility or to maintain the status quo? To instill faith or fear? To shine a light on obstacles or opportunities?
3. Keep it simple and just tell the truth.
One of the best pieces of advice I've ever received on how to position myself and my company so that I/we attract clients came just a few weeks ago from a colleague, Dr. Kelly Edmonds. "Branding should only be painful for cows," she joked. Only, she actually wasn't joking. I was in the midst of prepping notes for my copywriter on a new women's weekend speaking retreat in Las Vegas we're launching, and I was agonizing over finding the right tag line. "How will people feel by the end of the MasterTreat weekend?" Kelly asked. "They won't get sweaty every time they think about speaking," I responded. Great, so what you're saying is, they'll "Sweat in the sun, not on the stage," Kelly concluded.
Eureka. You see, we stop suffering in our heads and with our words when we stop trying to be clever and instead tell it like it is--good, bad, and sometimes just confusing.
Telling one's truth is not a success strategy that needs to be reserved for speakers, trainers or consultants. All entrepreneurs and companies who want to resonate with their customers and clients owe it to themselves, and the people they are striving to positively impact, to drop the I/we have it all together shtick and instead communicate more vulnerably and transparently.