I’ve just boarded a flight to Vienna and am going to be away from my eleven month old daughter, Nell, for the next twelve days so understandably I’m feeling a little bit blue (apologies to my wife – Darling, I’ll miss you too!! – but anyone who has had children knows how quickly they change and twelve days feels like a life time!).
Anyway, sitting at 30,000 feet, scrolling through some pictures of my daughter on my phone, I got thinking about how amazing babies are at communication and how astonishing it is that rather than build upon these skills we seem to forget them as we grow into adulthood.
So, what are the top communications tips and tricks we can learn from our little nappy-clad offspring?
Lesson 1: Dare To Fail
Babies are pretty fearless creatures. They bump into things, fall over a lot and generally take risks.
In order to be brilliant communicators we too need to think about stepping outside of our comfort zones. We can’t learn or grow unless we are prepared to fail. The consequences of doing things a little differently often seem huge but in reality what’s the worst that can happen? We might forget our words, someone in the audience might laugh, we may even get the facts and figures wrong. But by doing things differently and daring to experiment with our performance we guarantee that we continue to improve. The changes we make don’t have to be massive but they are extremely important. That’s why they’re called “baby steps”!
Lesson 2: Practice Makes Perfect
Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. Little people do the same thing over and over again. It amazes me that no matter how many times I read The Tales of Peter Rabbit to Nell, it’s always the most exciting thing in the world. Babies do the same thing over and over again and so do the world’s top performers. Whether it’s the David Beckham of old practicing his free kicks long after the other players had left the training ground or the actors of the Royal Shakespeare Company rehearsing Hamlet for two months before they bring it to the stage, people who want to be world class put in the practice. Just like babies learning to walk.
How many times did you rehearse “out loud” the last presentation you gave or the difficult conversation you had with your boss? Don’t sell yourself short. Make sure you put in the hours.
Lesson 3: Be Seen & Be Heard
As any new parent will testify, if you walk into a room with a baby in it, the baby is usually the centre of attention. The rational, sane adults that are present will invariably have turned to mush and will be crowded round the infant cooing and pulling funny faces. Babies rarely shy away from the limelight and love to make themselves heard. They are not being aggressive or demanding (most of the time) they are simply being present and are enjoying communicating with their audience.
Learning to become comfortable with being seen and heard is one of the hardest and potentially most rewarding things we can do. If we want to make an impact, other people need to see us and hear us. So take a deep breath and greet your audience with gentle eye contact and a warm “hello”.
Lesson 4: Smile
Ok, I admit it. The world of the newborn isn’t always full of the sound of laughter. There’s a fair amount of crying too! However, a gummy little smile from a baby has the ability to melt even the coldest heart and this is something we can all put into practice with very minimal effort. Smiling whilst communicating has many benefits. Firstly, it releases endorphins so you’ll personally be in a better mood. Secondly, human beings are natural “mirrorers” so your audience will unconsciously copy you and feel better too. And finally (and perhaps most interestingly) smiling lifts the soft pallet in the mouth, creating more space for resonance and producing a brighter more interesting sound. So simply by smiling, your audience will find what you have to say more compelling to listen to!
I can’t encourage you enough to get back in touch with your inner child. You’ll be amazed at the impact it will have on your presence and gravitas. Give it a go and share your experiences in the comments box below.