People forget, often in business discourse, that language has its own music. Maybe it’s because we’re always trying to limit words and make sure that our ideas and debates fit into sixty-minute blocks of time. It’s no wonder we’ve lost the art of elegant meandering.
Be assured, I am not recommending that my clients go into meetings and start meandering. But I do advise a little less emphasis on messaging.
Why? Isn’t every work meeting, or pitch, all about the messages, the things we can do for our partners, the money we can make for them, the products or financial instruments we can devise? Yes, of course.
But in our zeal to deliver beautifully branded messages – that ones that will make prospects leap up from the table and throw fistfuls of dollars at us, we’ve become too intent on the words to the detriment of our personalities, our humanity and the basic rules of conversation.
You’ve seen this: you have been given a precious hour of a prospect’s time. If you can present the firm’s capabilities, your expertise and creative solutions you’ve devised – perfectly – you will win the mandate, commitment, funding or deal. You will be lauded by your senior executives as the best, brightest and most likely to receive a big bonus. You will be adored on Wall Street, and the Fed will call you, personally, for advice.
Here’s the thing – it’s not about perfection, it’s about connection.
The best way to connect is to converse. To offer a thought and elicit a reply. To pause long enough between beautifully crafted sentences to let the prospect or client speak.
Think about a beautiful song or piece of music. If you looked at the written song you’d see black notes skittering across the page, and squiggles and lines telling the artist when to breathe or take a rest. If you read music, you’d know that the depiction of the note itself, whether it has a dot, or a tail, is filled in or hollow, lets you know the length of time it should sound.
Some notes are more important than others. Some words, too.
But the silences are critical. The rests make the music. They give it rhythm and motion and they make the listener – take pause.
So it is with the spoken word. It is in the silence – or the pause – that your listener hears what you’ve just said and reacts.
Too, too often, when we’re presenting, we are rushing headlong into the next sentence. Some of the best “a ha” moments get lost in the rush.
Back to the page of music. You’ll also note markings, crescendos and decrescendos, that tell the musician when to get louder or softer. You’ll see words and time signatures that indicate the speed of each phrase. These are the dynamics. Finally, there’s room left for each artist’s interpretation.
Music is enchanting, uplifting, inspiring and comforting.
When was the last time a client or prospect used those words to describe your presentation?
Here is another lesson from the music stand. I still remember my college choir director admonishing us to hold our music books up high before us so we could glance at the notes but always maintain a direct sightline to him. His hands gave us our beat, his expressions told us what was working or what needed to be fine-tuned, and when we were paying attention – we were nimble, emotive and in harmony.
Now envision a group of executives sitting at the board room table, pitch books laid out before them. You can see them, right? Arms on the table, shoulders hunched and heads down with their eyes lowered to the desk. That’s a perfect posture for battle, or, at best, boredom.
Finally, it is the rare singer or choral group that would perform a piece in public without rehearsing it many, many times. Rehearsal allows the artist to make mistakes and correct them, to anticipate challenging parts and stop fearing them, and to refine the music so that it flows seamlessly.
So the next time you find yourself talking about financial instruments, or anything crucial to your business – make music. Keep your eyes on the conductor – your client. Honor the natural cadences of your words; make some louder or softer. Recognize when the message suits another voice better than yours (think soprano vs. bass) and allow for some beautiful silence so your message can not only be heard, but maybe even enjoyed.
© Copyright 2015 Cathy C. Bonczek