During a cold, rainy day in March of 1970, I, then a student teacher in a broken-down Montreal elementary school, was sitting in a corner with a belligerent, spitballing fourth grader, ready to power him into behaving. He glared back at me. He crossed his arms. He crossed his legs.
When I looked at his feet, I saw that he had no soles on his shoes. How could he keep quiet when his feet were raw and wet? At that moment I went from looking at him as a cantankerous student to seeing him as a boy in pain. At that moment I learned how to look beyond my feelings and see the real person.
This was the moment I learned how to be a coach.
If you are going to speak from your heart, your first step is to begin as I’ve just demonstrated: by telling a powerful story from your life. My story is so powerful to me that every time I tell it I tear up. I see that moment and feel it deeply even now–I am sharing a part of me.
To speak from your heart, you, too, will have to share a part of you: a real-life experience that was pivotal in shaping who you are today. By opening yourself up, you will bring your audience closer to you. You will create a connection with your audience that reaches deep. You might be apprehensive about opening yourself up like this, about letting yourself be vulnerable. But remember, speaking from your heart is about telling genuine stories from your life. Your stories don’t have to be monumental, but they do have to be significant for you.
Your next step is to connect your story to your message. The story connects you and your audience at the feeling level; now you have to move forward to the thinking level. You have to tell your audience why you told that particular story.
When speaking from your heart your goal isn’t just to reach your audience, your goal is to influence them. By establishing this connection, you will ensure a stronger and longer retention of your message.
To continue my example, I would next explain to my audience that I told the story about the boy to inspire them to think of their employees, customers, and coworkers not as businesspeople but as people-people.
The next step is to connect your message to your audience’s own experience. You must make your message relevant to your listeners, answering their big question of, “What does this have to do with me?”
In my case, I would discuss the challenges of seeing each person as a real person in today’s high-tech, low-touch world. I would explain to my audience how to focus on the individual by using examples aligned with who they are as a person.
Next, tell another story to send your message home. This concluding story needs to draw on the same theme as your opening story, but with a new and different twist. Again, be sure to tell a personal story that gives your audience insight into who you are.
In my coaching, I am always applying the lesson I learned that cold, rainy day in Montreal. Recently, I was preparing one of my clients for his media interviews at Davos. The mood was serious, intense. We weren’t getting anywhere. I knew I had to change the tempo and get beyond the official. I needed to help him bring out his engaging personality, not his data points.
So, as I had seen him grow from a VP to a CEO over 20 years, I said to him, “It’s so amazing to think of where you are today. Are you enjoying the ride?” He smiled fully. His eyes twinkled. “It’s been so fantastic. I went to college on a scholarship, and last week I had dinner with the prime minister of India!” The mood changed. I could now begin to help him in a meaningful way.
To be an effective coach, I couldn’t treat him as a top CEO. To help him break through, I had to see him as a real person.
At the conclusion of your story, end your presentation by taking the message back to your audience. Summarize your main point, making sure your audience leaves with a clear understanding of what you wanted to get across.
To finish my example, I would say:
So whether you’re leading, selling, supporting, or collaborating, by seeing your audience as people-people instead of businesspeople, you will have more success in influencing key decisions.
By following this process, you will be able to open yourself up and share your experiences. You will be able to make deep connections, achieving new levels of authenticity and new levels of impact. And most importantly, you will be able to truly speak from your heart without losing your head.