769: How to Command the Room, Connect with Your Audience, and Close the Deal with Laura Sicola

By May 19, 2022Podcasts

 

 

Laura Sicola breaks down the communication tools and techniques for building a strong presence and delivering maximum impact.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How you’re introducing yourself wrong—and how to do it better
  2. The magic words to capture your audience’s attention
  3. What it really takes to persuade your audience

About Laura

Dr. Laura Sicola is a leadership communication and influence expert, speaker, podcast host, and author of Speaking to Influence: Mastering Your Leadership Voice. Laura’s TEDx talk, “Want to Sound Like a Leader? Start by Saying Your Name Right,” has over 6.6 million views. As founder of Vocal Impact Productions, her mission is to help leaders master the Three Cs of Vocal Executive Presence so they can COMMAND the room, CONNECT with the audience, and CLOSE the deal. 

Resources Mentioned

Laura Sicola Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Laura, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Laura Sicola
Hi, Pete. Thanks so much for having me on the show.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to get into your wisdom, and I love your TEDx Talk is called “Want to sound like a leader? Start by saying your name right,” so I just got to start right here. Are we saying our names wrong? What’s going on here? And how do we say it right?

Laura Sicola
The funny thing is that most people, how often are we frustrated because, number one, we say our name and then people keep us asking to repeat it, or they just keep saying it wrong where we feel like nobody seems to get it right, or we listen to the way other people introduce themselves to us and it goes in one ear and out the other, and then we feel stupid because we don’t really remember what their name was and we’re trying to figure out how to address them without saying, “It’s you, right. Yeah, you over there”?

So, the challenge is that the way that we usually say it, it’s an issue of speed, of rhythm, and of pitch, and that’s like the big trifecta. And when we do those in the way that most people do them, it’s too fast, it’s all in one slur, one giant blur of sound, and we tend to ask it like a question, which is just weird. So, most people, if you’re going a round robin or doing little networking events or whatever it is, people will say things like, “Hi, I’m Laura Sicola, blah, blah, blah,” and people, by the time you…

Pete Mockaitis
And you said, “Hi, I’m Laura Sicola.”

Laura Sicola
Right. Exactly. And then you go from there into your company and into whatever else. And by the time people even realized that you spoke, they already missed it. It was just way too fast. So, what we want to do is, number one, slow it down because, even if your name is something like Bob Jones, it may be simple but it’s not predictable so you got to get people’s brains a chance to catch up with their ears, number one. So, we want to slow it down to a pace that may actually feel awkwardly slow, uncomfortably slow to you to say because you’ve said it like a gazillion times. They’ve never heard it.

Pete Mockaitis
I want to pause right there. I think that’s perfect because I catch it even with myself. Maybe listeners have picked up on this after 700 episodes. There are some phrases I’ve said many times, like “Do check out the show notes and transcripts and the links we reference. Drop on by to AwesomeAtYourJob.com/ep.” And so, I have to check myself, it’s like, “Okay, hey, Pete, you’ve said it 700 times but the first-time listeners is like, ‘Wait, where do I go for all that stuff? Wait, what was in there? That’s kind of a lot of stuff.”

Laura Sicola
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s likewise with your name, you said it many times, it’s boring, you don’t have to think, versus we have a natural tendency to slow down when we’re exploring sort of new territory, like, “What novel original sentence am I going to speak now real-time? We don’t know. I’ve got to kind of think about it a little bit versus Pete Mockaitis.” It’s like, “That’s my name. I’ve said that. Yeah, they’re perfect.”

Laura Sicola
Right. Exactly. My five-year-old loves the book “Pete the Cat,” so, as far as I was concerned, that’s what you just said, you introduced yourself as Pete the Cat.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, the shoes, yeah.

Laura Sicola
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
I know that one. Cool. So, speed, slow it down.

Laura Sicola
Slow it down, number one. And, number two, is breaking it up. We tend to blur it altogether as if you’re saying your first name and your last name. It should be clear that there were actually two names articulated, so we need to pause in the middle. And it doesn’t have to be a long break but there just has to be enough…if you were typing, you’re not going put an entire tab or this space, or line breaks in between your name, but there should be a space bar.

Pete Mockaitis
So, not like James Bond?

Laura Sicola
Right. That was a little bit easier because of all the consonants in the middle, but, really, no, actually, it shouldn’t be. James Bond. And he was, “Bond. James Bond.” He really does it slow. That’s a whole different ballgame. If you want to be Roger Moore, or Sean Connery, or somebody, we’ll talk. So, we want to have that little break, “Laura Sicola. Laura Sicola.” Try yours.

Pete Mockaitis
Pete Mockaitis.

Laura Sicola
Yup, and that’s good. So, you did something really important there. You aspirated the T on the end of Pete. You put the “th,” that little pop of air in it. Most people would swallow or do what, I’m a linguist, what we would call not releasing the T, and just say Pete instead of Pete, and then the T kind of slurs in with the M, and it’s like, “Is it Peep, like the Easter Peeps? What’s the last sound there?”

And if it’s a name, Pete is a very common English name, assuming you’re speaking to other English speakers who are comfortable with that name. It may be more intuitive but you never know who does or doesn’t pick up easily what you’re saying. So, we want to make sure that we’re being generous in our articulation and in our clarity so that whoever we’re talking to can easily hear and say, “I got it. Okay, Pete.” So, popping that T was a really great gift that you gave to them, yeah.

And then now your last name is a little bit less common.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. Lithuanian.

Laura Sicola
So, that one, I would slow it. Lithuanian, you say? Is that what it is?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Laura Sicola
Very cool. So, then I would slow that one down even more because there’s a lot of syllables and there’s a lot of consonants mixed into the syllables that are not predictable or, for most people, intuitive or expected combinations of contrast. So, try that one.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Pete Mockaitis.

Laura Sicola
Mockaitis. So, I’d slow it down even a hair more – Mockaitis.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Laura Sicola
Because it’ll feel weird to you but it won’t sound weird to anybody else.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Pete Mockaitis.

Laura Sicola
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Laura Sicola
And then the last one is the pitch piece. And we tend to go into this up-speak, into this questioning tone at the ends of all of our phrases and sentences, especially when we’re in what I like to call mental-list mode. So, if you’re introducing yourself, people will say, “Hi, I’m Laura Sicola,” question, “and my company is Vocal Impact Productions,” question, “and I’m in Philadelphia and I do executive coaching.” And it’s like, “Nyah, nyah, nyah,” and we just glaze over. When we start hearing that, “I’m just going through rote motions over and over again. I’m not really present to what I’m saying or who I’m talking to or if this really matters.”

So, what we want to do instead is, when we say our first name, assuming we’re going to do both, our first name goes up, which is like saying “And there’s more. I’m not done yet,” and then put that teeny weeny little break in the middle, and then glide down on the last name, like saying, “And now I’m done.” There’s the period at the end of my sentence.

So, instead of asking my name like it’s a question, like, “Hi, I’m Laura Sicola, I think?” we want to go, “I’m Laura Sicola,” up and down. Try it.

Pete Mockaitis
With my name?

Laura Sicola
Yours or mine, whichever makes you happy.

Pete Mockaitis
Laura Sicola.

Laura Sicola
Great. And yours?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Pete Mockaitis.

Laura Sicola
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Maybe a little slower. It’s so funny, Laura, it’s like you’re shaking my world. It’s like, “I think I know how to say my name.” You’re like, “Okay now, you’re almost able to say your name.” It’s like, what is it, the legendary NCAA basketball coach would say, “We’re putting your socks on. Like, that’s what we’re going to work on for the next hour, is putting your socks on because if you do it wrong, you can get a blister and that’ll impact your…” It is like, “Oh, seriously?” Like, “This is a basketball,” like go into the fundamentals, actually, really makes an impact over time. Like, you’re nailing and mastering them so well, it makes an impact.

Laura Sicola
And that’s the hardest thing. My world in leadership communication and influence coaching is so much of it does have to do with the voice and how your message lands with both how you frame it, what you say, and how you say it matter. And, in a way, so many people feel like they never realize what bad vocal habits they’ve just fallen into over the years. They’re totally unaware of it.

And then when they become aware of what those habits are and they can identify them, they can say, “All right, I want this to happen. I want to go from doing this to doing that,” but it’s weird because it’s almost like, “Well, why can’t I make myself do this?”

I did an exercise, and I’ll encourage everybody out there to try this. Listen to the outbound message on your voicemail, the one that you leave for everybody who calls you, the one that says, “Hi, this is Laura Sicola. I’m not available. Leave a message, blah, blah.” Most people use up-speak in leaving that list because they’re in mental-list mode, “Hi, this is Laura Sicola. Sorry, I can’t take your call, but if you leave a message and your number, I’ll be sure to get back to you as soon as I can.” It’s like, “Nye, nye, nye.”

And so I say go back if you did that, re-record and put periods at the ends of your sentences, “Hi, this is Laura Sicola. Sorry I missed your call. Please leave me your name and number and I’ll call you back as soon as I can.” So, there are sentences, there’s periods in there, you sound more declarative, not uncertain or completely disinterested.

And I did this with a room full of people, and they’re re-recording on their phones, right then and there, their new message, and, all of a sudden, I hear this one voice in the back just blurting out, “Oh, my God. I can’t believe I just did it again.” Like, we’re so used to…we don’t realize it’s muscle memory, the voice muscles that we use in our throat. We’ve never thought about how to consciously use them before so we try to retrain them.

It’s like taking a baseball player and trying to teach him how to play golf or play cricket. Same sort of idea, right? Hold the stick with two hands and hit the ball and make it go where you want to go. You may know it but it doesn’t happen the way we’d like it to, automatically. So, that’s a lot of what we’re working with people on, is how to regain control and adjust so that what you’re saying lands with the weight that you want it to have, and leaves the impression that you want it to make.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Well, thank you, Laura. All right. So, I wanted to start with saying our names right and then we went into some key principles associated with how our voice sounds. But I’d like to zoom out a little bit and talk about executive presence. Like, this stuff is one component of that. How do you define executive presence?

Laura Sicola
Well, it’s such a big construct. There was a great report that came out a few years ago by the Center for Talent Innovation on executive presence, and they did a great job of surveying hundreds of senior executives, CXOs, from, I forget, how many different hundreds of companies in the US, to try to operationalize that.

And what they found was that it’s a combination of three things, primarily. The way you show up, the way you look, your appearance is a small component. That’s the least important one but you do have to show up dressed for the part, looking the part, to some extent or other. Communication skills is the second main pillar, and what they referred to broadly as gravitas.

And having gravitas is a combination of everything from “Do you have enough technical expertise to know what you’re talking about? Do your words have teeth? Like, if you say that something is going to happen, are you willing to stick to your guns even if what you say is unpopular, even if there’s pushback? Or, if whatever deadline passes, and you’ve said ‘This is the consequence,’ will you actually execute that or do you sort of let things slide? Do you have that internal strength? Are you willing to speak truth to power, telling people maybe what they don’t want to hear even though you know it’s the right thing to do?”

So, these are a lot of the many components but that internal fortitude is a big piece of it. And, to me, my only complaint, frankly, with that…I understand what they were trying to do but with that report, is that they separated gravitas and communication skills because I don’t understand how you can demonstrate gravitas without communication.

Because if you’re going to sit there and say, “This is what has to happen. And if not, then this is the consequence for it,” but you sound like you’re kind of unsure, or you tend to fry out, or you’re going to back down, or you kind of mumble as you’re talking, then you can levy the, I’ll use the word threat for lack of a better word in the moment, but whatever it is. Who’s going to take you seriously? You sound like a marshmallow, like a doormat, so automatically it’s hard to respect you if you don’t really sound like you respect yourself.

So, okay, but those were the major areas they talked about. The gravitas and the communication skills are really the big buckets.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m curious, could you share with us a cool story of someone who really dramatically upgraded their executive presence and got some cool results? I guess I’m always thinking about the skeptic who has towering skills and, I don’t know, problem-solving or coding or whatever they do, and think that this might be soft or fluffy or whatever. Like, can you share some cool story of what you’ve seen transpire or, if you have it, any cool studies, data, research that shows that this makes a transformative impact on your career?

Laura Sicola
One example is where I was working with the SVP of finance for a big Fortune 500 company, and he was the heir apparent to the CFO role, understanding that it would probably open up in maybe two years, give or take. But the board said to him, in no uncertain terms, “Look, when you talk, frankly, we don’t understand you, so fix it or, when the spot opens up, we’re going to find somebody else.”

Now, that’s pretty darn straightforward, unambiguous. So, we had to look and say, “Well, what is it about the way he shows up because he certainly knows his stuff? There’s no question about his technical capacity.” But we did some digging and we realized it was a number of things. Number one, in his delivery, he talked so fast, he blurred through everything. There was no editorializing when he talked. There were no stories told. He went way too deep in the weeds and the board was glazing over at a certain point. There were so many different elements.

Even things like he could’ve said, just hypothetically speaking, “Last year, we exceeded revenue projections by 25% or we missed revenue projections by 25%,” and you couldn’t tell the difference. Like, if you blurred out that one word, the verb missed versus exceeded, no one would’ve been able to guess which one it was because his delivery was always identical, and that’s an issue.

Pete Mockaitis
That really resonates. And I’m thinking about that even with slides in terms of like we just got a bunch of data but the headline doesn’t say. I’m thinking about a time where I had a partner, we were starting an online math tutoring company, and we were checking out a conference so we get No Child Left Behind money, like, “Oh, what’s the story here?”

And so, someone was giving a report on all the tutorial providers, like, “Okay, inside scoop. What’s the deal here?” because we were at the early stages. And nothing about the intonation or the headline gave us the main message. It was a bunch of data, like, “Here’s all these providers and here were their scores before and after, and dah, dah, dah.” But I guess it was because they didn’t want to say the unpleasant news to everybody, it’s like, “Almost nobody’s getting meaningful results for these kids. Like, almost nobody. And the one out of 20 might’ve just gotten lucky with statistics.”

And so, it was startling to me in terms of, well, lack of slide headline, lack of intonation, lack of explicitly saying it, words being faster and running together, and, well, it’s unpleasant and it’s frustrating. And it makes me trust that person less. I was like, “Do you not know what that means? Why are you not telling it to us directly and clearly?”

Laura Sicola
Although, I wonder if because that’s such a…it was such negative results that they were trying to blur through it and hope you wouldn’t figure it out for yourself because he didn’t really want…

Pete Mockaitis
“We all might be fired shortly based on what I’m revealing to you today.”

Laura Sicola
Exactly. Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
“So, let’s hurry it along.”

Laura Sicola
Right. Right. But that’s important. If you’re looking to…I mean, what is influence? Influence is about having an impact on the way someone thinks, feels, and responds verbally or behaviorally, and changing or helping them to make decisions moving forward, etc. The board of a major company is somebody that you want their buy-in. You need them to be on board with whatever you are talking about and if you want them to get to say yes more often.

Everything that I do is about mastering the three Cs: helping people to learn to command the room, or, more often than not nowadays, command the screen; connect with the audience; and close the deal. And being able to do those, command the room, connect with the audience, and close the deal – closing the deal means just getting to yes, moving the needle, continual forward progress not just sales or something – but you can’t do that if you can’t inspire them, if you can’t get them to feel something and have their brains connect with their hearts, connect with their ears.

And so, even things like editorializing, and when I say editorializing your data, it could be things like you’re looking at market projections and you could say something along the lines of, “We find this encouraging,” or, “We’re pleasantly surprised with this,” or, “We want to bear this in mind,” or, “We’re going to keep an eye on this because…”

Those are implicit editorializing terms because they let the audience know, “Okay, I should be happy about this, optimistic,” versus, “Hmm, this is a cautionary tale. Okay, a note to self. I want to be wary of where this is going.” It plants an emotional positive or negative bent in me, and I use that then as my filter through which I’m going to be interpreting everything else that you say on this topic until you indicate otherwise.

And it’s kind of like leading the witness in a court of law. You want to lead your audience to where you want them to be because people will listen to data and they’ll look for information in data that reinforces what they already feel and want to believe.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Yes. I think about the boardroom situation, “We feel and want to believe that we are unstoppable and we’re growing and taking market share, and innovating and getting into new stuff, and winning, winning, winning. That’s what we want to believe.” And so, it’s interesting, now, sometimes you have to tell them that the opposite is true, “This initiative sure didn’t work out the way we wanted it to.”

So, is it ideal, then, to have your vocal emotional stuff reflect that just straight up, naturally, authentically? “Hey, unfortunately, adoption of this new product has been a lot slower than we had any budget for.”

Laura Sicola
I’m going to give the most unpopular answer ever, which is it depends. And it’s not to say that you shouldn’t be authentic, let’s put that out there for starters. But to take something out of a context, or where there’s nothing else around it, it’s hard to give a definitive yes or no on that. So, my answer would be framed more around, “Well, what other information is necessary to understand why that occurred? Or, what do we learn from it? Or, what do we need to do as a result of it?” There’s too many other pieces.

What is constant though is that when we have to give bad news and something we think there’s going to be blowback on, it’s still really important, and this goes back to the executive presence piece and the gravitas piece, “Can you own that data or are you shrinking away from it? Are you willing to…the buck stops with you,” assuming it does.

And often the way that our voice, when we’re nervous about something, for example, our body, our voice will throw us under the bus and just telegraph those nerves something fierce. But you would never walk into a board meeting or a pitch or whatever else it happens to be, and preface verbally by saying, “Hey, everybody, I just want you to know I’m really intimidated right now because I’m afraid you’re not going to like what I have to say. Okay, thanks. Just wanted to get that off my chest. Okay, let’s proceed.” Like, nobody in their right minds would articulate that thought.

So, similarly, and it’s not that you’re being inauthentic if you don’t confess that upfront. It’s just, no, that’s not a very smart move. So, similarly, when you’re sharing that news, if you are kind of hesitant in your voice or in your body language, or you’re frying it out, or maybe there is that up-speak again, which is like saying, “Is this okay, right? You’re not mad, are you?” as you’re inflecting the various points that you need to do.

And, guys, by the way, I know this sounds like valley girl kind of a thing, and that’s where most people’s brains go as far as the image that that kind of vocal tonality pattern conjures, but a Y chromosome is not a vaccine against up-speak. Guys do it just as much as women do, older and younger, you just don’t realize when you’re doing it so you want to be mindful of it.

Pete Mockaitis
And I thought your listing example was perfect, like, “Yes, we can drift into that up-speak when we’re in a list context and not even notice it because we’re thinking about the next thing on the list.”

Laura Sicola
Exactly. Exactly. Because your brain is one step ahead of your mouth, and that’s a really dangerous place to be because, when you think about it, there’s, more often than not, we do go into list mode. If we were to think of what constitutes a list. Well, maybe you’re going over your PowerPoint slide and there’s five bullets. Well, there’s your list. Maybe you’re giving an explanation for something and there’s two, three, four, five reasons and you’re going to go through those reasons one after another.

Maybe you’re explaining something and you’re giving steps, you’re giving instructions. Well, what are your steps that you’re giving? Maybe you’re just introducing a guest on a podcast or in a conference, or to speak to your group or your organization. Well, you’re going to go through their bio, and there’s this point, and this point, and this point.

And even if it’s just a matter of it’s your turn to talk, you’re in the meeting, and you want to give your idea, and there’s a number of elements that you want to include before somebody else cuts you off. Whatever those elements are that you want to include in your answer, in your brain it’s all one answer but it’s really multiple factors that you’re trying to share. And as you go through each one, there’s a very good chance that you slide into that up-speak without even realizing it because your mind is thinking, “Comma, comma, comma, comma, comma,” instead of “Period. Period. Period.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Thank you. All right. Well, let’s talk about these three Cs. Command the room, I’d love to know how this is done because, Laura, I think in my own life experience, in high school and college, I commanded the room quite frequently, and then I think I got a little spoiled with doing keynote speaking, and coaching, and podcast interviewing in which it’s like we zoomed it down to one person who…or like in the coaching and podcast interviewing space, one person who’s very interested in like the thing that we’re doing here. While in keynoting, it’s like it is very rude for you to be chit chatting while there’s a dude on stage, although people still do it.

So, I don’t know, it’s like somewhere along the lines, I’ve noticed my room-commanding has diminished maybe just in different rooms that I used to be. But what is the alchemy that’s behind the commanding of a room?

Laura Sicola
I think it’s a number of things. Number one is confidence. You have to show up in a way that says, “I’m here,” and not in an arrogant sense, let’s be clear on that. Confidence is a gray scale. We’re not sliding into arrogance but it is about being comfortable in your own skin, being comfortable in your own shoes, being ready to share what it is that you need to share, and ready to listen to what other people need to share, but holding your ground and having the facial expressions, the body language, the voice so that whenever you…

From the minute that you begin, and even before you begin, you look like you intend to be there, and that you’re comfortable and you’re ready and you’re not cowering from it or, otherwise, hesitant to step up and own your space. And I think a lot of people are really not confident doing that, even virtually. So many people, and I know we’re recording this without video, but I would ask everybody else out there. When you see yourself on camera, is there an invisible line drawn across the middle of the screen and your head is on the bottom half and the top half is ceiling or sky? If so, you’re not commanding the screen, you’re not taking up the space. The screen is owning you instead of you owning the screen.

And those little details have a lot of impact in so far as how people perceive you, whether or not you project authority. When you project authority, when you project confidence, before you even open your mouth, it predisposes people to lean in or lean out, to give you the benefit of the doubt or not with regard to what you’re going to say. There’s a whole training that I do, a full half-day intensive on virtual influence, which is all about how to own the screen even when you can’t see anybody else, and they’re going to see you but maybe two weeks later.

You talk about the keynotes and things, and it’s often hard when you’re doing a conference presentation for a virtual conference and they tell you, “We’d like you to speak for us and we want you to pre-record on Zoom and send it to us a couple of weeks in advance, and then we’re going to upload it and launch it live during the actual conference, but it’ll be pre-recorded.” So, my job is to talk as if I was in front of a live audience even though it’s just me and the dot, that little lens.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a new verb.

Laura Sicola
Yes, right because there are rooms a lot bigger than this. But that’s hard to do. Most people are not good at commanding their space, virtually or in person, and that’s really important.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s interesting, what’s resonating for me now is I’m thinking about the mysteries, like, “I seem to be commanding less in the rooms,” I think part of it is we talk about being comfortable in your own skin. I think that there can be, like literally, any number of little things that make us less comfortable in our own skin that are not even emotional, like, “This shirt is a little too short,” “My skin is literally itchy and needs some lotion,” “I didn’t get quite a good night’s sleep with the kiddos romping around the bed,” “Wow, it’s way hotter here in Tennessee than it is in Chicago,” or whatever.

Or, it’s sort of like, “I’m so used to speaking at sort of a lower volume now because we don’t want to wake up a child. We don’t want to wake up that child.” It was so funny, when we had some guests over, it was like, “Wow, these guys talk loud.” It’s like, “No, I think they probably talk normal but we’ve been doing so much quiet talking in this home that that’s sort of shifted it.”

And then it kind of shows up in terms of, “Folks are not quite giving me…I don’t have as much, I guess, commanding, like market share of eye contact,” if you will. It’s like I have less of that, it’s like, “Oh, they’re looking elsewhere. Or, someone else said almost the same thing that I said and now it’s hilarious or intriguing? But it wasn’t what I said. Huh, usually it’s the other way around. What’s going on here?”

Laura Sicola
Yup, and it is harder, I think, in the virtual world because, depending on what platform you’re using, if it’s Zoom or Teams or GoToMeeting or Google Meet or something like that, some of them make it much harder to look at or near the camera and still see everybody else’s face at the same time. Some people have multiple screens so your camera’s over here to the left and all the screen with everybody’s faces are on the right, and it’s like, “Well, am I looking at you or do I need you to think I’m looking at you even though I’m technically not.” It makes it a little bit more confusing there.”

So, there’s all sorts of strategies to use and head trash that we need to take out about our own discomfort and being in the virtual world but it can be really confusing. But standing your ground and, if nothing else, not showing, not telegraphing that discomfort, even if internally you are a little awkward feeling, that shouldn’t be the first impression that people get.

You know how they say dogs can smell fear? I think people can “smell” when the presenter or the speaker is feeling awkward or uncomfortable, and they sense it instantly, and they go, “Oh, boy, this person is not even confident in what they’re saying. All right, how can I multitask because this is going to be painful to listen to? I already don’t want to listen to it, so let me check my email while they’re talking.” And I think it’s really important to command that attention.

The difference between command the room and connect with the audience, and not to segue between them, but commanding is really capturing people’s attention and maintaining it. And connecting with the audience is being able to establish a rapport where there’s this mutual sense of “I understand you and you understand me.”

And that creates a fabulous current for us to continue the conversation in a really productive and constructive way that leads to the ability to then close the deal or to get to yes, figure out what our next steps should be, and move on from there. But the commanding the room piece is really critical because that’s step one.

Just by example, I did a training the other day for a client, probably Fortune 100, and there were about 50 people on the call, and I was the second presenter of the day, and they had multiple back-to-back speakers. The team had been having a conversation about whatever topic first. And when I got on, they introduced me, and I started, and, fortunately, they all had their cameras on so I could see their faces.

And within about two or three minutes, one of the guys unmuted and he chimed in, he said, “I’m sorry, Laura. Could I just ask, what are you doing with your voice? And are you going to cover how to do that because all I know is when you started talking, I sat up and I paid attention, and I find myself just focused? So, I need to know how to do that. Are you going to teach us how to do that?”

That was a great example of the effect that, A, using your voice well, and, B, an illustration of commanding the room, or commanding the screen, commanding the space. That’s what can happen when you do it effectively. Someone inherently just sits up and takes notice because there’s something in your presence that compels them to do so.

Pete Mockaitis
Great. That’s just so experiential, real, practical, tactical, right, like you can get your arms around that in that if you’ve been on conference calls, it happens that some folks are just talking “Nrrggh,” and it drones into nothingness. And then there’s a new speaker, and then you’re with them. And so, we’ve covered a couple of the ingredients, but could you lay it out, Laura, like, what are the top variables that are easy to adjust that put us in the “We are listened to” column?

Laura Sicola
Yeah, absolutely. One thing that I think the world must absolutely do when you’re in the virtual space, you need a better microphone. I mean, look, even to be on this podcast with you, you’re like, “If you don’t have a microphone, I’m going to send you one.” I have my good podcaster mic here.

But most people just use whatever is the default microphone that comes embedded into their laptop or other device, or they maybe use the earbuds that come with your phone, or worse, they’ll use the microphone that’s embedded, maybe if you’ve got one of those peripheral Logitech cameras that sits on top of your screen, or AirPods. Look, I’m an Apple girl

When I’m jogging, love my AirPods but Steve Jobs and I, in the afterlife, we’re going to have to have a conversation because it is very clear that the microphone on AirPods was an afterthought. For $179, those devices make music sound great to you. They don’t make you sound good to anybody else. And most people in the virtual world, sound like this.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true.

Laura Sicola
It’s like they’re in a tin can. It’s like they’re in a fog or under water or in a cave. I hear all sorts of different descriptors. And when most people sound like this, and then you talk, and suddenly your voice cuts through the fog, it’s like, wow, all of a sudden, your eyes, your pupils dilate, you find yourself sitting up, you’re suddenly focused. If you were multitasking, you do a quick little pivot, little jolt, and say, “Wait, what was that? What’s going on? I feel like I need to hear this. This feels and sounds important.”

Where you do not want to be is on the other end where someone else is talking, like you and I are, they’ve got a good strong voice, they’re using their microphone, or they’ve got a decent microphone. You don’t have to spend 500 bucks on a microphone but you should spend 100, somewhere in there at least.

And at that point, if everyone else sounds like this, and then you start talking and you sound like this, that’s a very bad place to be because what the immediate response that the listener has, “Ugh, that sounds awful. It’s too much work. I can’t be bothered. Don’t make me work just to understand what the heck your words are, much less what they mean, and whether I like them or agree with them or what my response is going to be. If you’re going to make me put in extra effort just to understand your words, I can’t be bothered, it’s unpleasant, I don’t want to. I think I’ll multitask. Let me know when you’re done.” That’s exactly how people react.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think about just basic likability. Like, there were times, I remember I would do like 10 hours of coaching with folks over Skype, and those who had better microphones, it’s like subconscious or maybe not so subconscious, I liked them more because just the way our emotions get linked up, firing together, wiring together. It’s like when I have a positive experience of any sort, in this case just how sound feels in my ears, I associate pleasantness to you. And when I have the opposite, I associate unpleasantness to you. and that’s the only way anybody ever interacts with you is with your horrible audio quality. It’s bad.

So, Laura, I really appreciate you hitting this because I’ve had some guests who are like, “Well, my microphone was fine for all these other podcasts.” And I don’t want to be like, “Well, I’m better than them, it is not up to my standards.”

Laura Sicola
Can I tell you, Pete? I have had so many both clients who I’ve trained and coached and done all sorts of workshops with on this, and my podcast guests because in my podcast, I interview only senior leaders of larger organizations, for profit, nonprofit, otherwise. And during our prep call in advance, we’ll go through the technical stuff, and I’ll let them know before our podcast, before we do the actual interview, “I need you to get a different microphone.” I’ll give them recommendations or whatever. And they’ll often say to me, “Well, nobody’s ever told me I had a problem with it before.” And I’m going, “I know because you’re the boss. Who’s going to stand up to you and tell you that you sound like…” well, fill in the blank.

Pete Mockaitis
“You’re Mr. New York Times bestseller,” like it took me a couple hundred episodes before I had the cajones to be like, “Yeah, this isn’t good enough for me. Step it up.’”

Laura Sicola
Yes. And so, here’s the thing, and this, we’re going to go right back to that executive presence piece. Some of these podcast guests that I have on, they don’t know me from Eve. They may not have heard of my show previously or whatever, before they’ve agreed to be on it. And so, without me having a very strong reputation with them as of yet, for me to come right on and say, “All due respect, Mr. CEO, CTO, CIO, whatever you are, you need a better microphone.”

And for them to say, “But nobody ever said it before. It’s always been fine,” for me to say to them, “With all due respect, as far as I’m concerned, that microphone doesn’t do you justice, and I won’t launch my episode with you if it’s not going to do you justice because that’s not fair to you and it’s not fair to my listeners, and it’s not good for me. We want to make sure that all of us are really pleased with how this reflects on you and your brand. And if I sound like this, and you sound like this, that harms your brand, and I would never do that to you as my guest.”

For me to be able to stand there and look at them in the face, and definitively state, “Yes, you make a billion times more money than I do. Yes, you run a company that’s a billion times bigger than mine. Yes, blah, blah, blah, but I’m telling you what’s what. And understand that I’m doing this for you in service to you, in your best interest so that we both have a better quality.” They, suddenly, are like, “Okay, I didn’t know who you were but, suddenly, I’m listening and I respect you for having that.”

There was this, I want to say, Pete, an insurance company who was on my show a little while ago, and my proxy, who’s the one who connected us in the first place, he reported back to her afterwards when we’ve had one of these little “Come to Jesus” meetings as far as the equipment is concerned. And it was really funny, he said to her, she reported back to me afterwards, he said, “When we talked, Laura corrected me. Nobody corrects me. I kind of liked it.” And I just burst out laughing because it’s like people have to tell you the truth. Can you speak truth to power? And most don’t.

So, if you can, people are suddenly like, “Okay, you’ve got…” I forget what word you used, cajones or something along those lines, “…but you’ve got them, and I respect that.” And we want that respect. Can you speak truth to power and own it respectfully but own it?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. And I didn’t know if I was going to venture into such a delicate territory, Laura, and I wouldn’t want to be judgmental, but that is what that makes me think. And you said it explicitly, it’s like, “Nobody ever corrects me.” It’s like, “That is kind of culturally problematic in terms of you being able to lead with maximum excellence if there are whole channels of information and feedback that you’re not getting.”

And it’s not that it’s necessarily that person’s fault, it’s like, “Oh, you must not be very welcoming or inviting or friendly.” You’re the boss, it’s like, “Hey, not my place to let you know your microphone sucks, dude.” So, it really does take quite a concerted effort to get that stuff to come to the fore. But I think that is telling.

I had a good friend who once said, “It is a shame…” “The people who don’t receive feedback are the ones who embarrass themselves in American Idol auditions. No one let them know, ‘You’re not ready yet, hon. This is going to take some time before the big stage.’” And whether the embarrassment is in front of a TV audience or just a lot of slightly worse than optimal meetings, it happens.

Laura Sicola
It does. It does.

Pete Mockaitis
Commanding the room, microphone, feedback. Cool. Cool. How do we get the connecting with the audience?

Laura Sicola
It definitely depends on who is the audience and what kind of connection are you looking to make. So, there are many different ways that you can do it. Is it a matter of using some humor? Is it about storytelling? Is it about using examples? So, there are certain programs that I do, my virtual influence training or speaking to influence training. Those are, I call them off-the-shelf programs, and I’ll go in, I’ll do those trainings in all different companies but it changes.

For example, if I’m doing the training for the women’s initiative. If it’s a room full of women, I’m going to tell different stories than I would tell, to illustrate the same point, than I would tell in mixed-gender company just because there are certain things that, in a room full of women, you can talk about certain things and not worry about making guys uncomfortable, and we’ll throw ourselves under the bus and we’ll all laugh together because we know it’s a shared chick thing.

Or, I’ve done talks, for example, to Pan-Asian employee resource groups, and I lived in Japan for a number of years, so sharing the experiences of working in that US-Asia connection, or speaking in different languages and whatnot, those are experiences that will connect with them, and they’ll look at me and say, “Oh, okay, so you’ve got a white face but you do kind of get that it is a little bit different.” “Yeah, I do.”

And so, storytelling, or even things like what we call matching and mirroring. If I’m talking to somebody and I get the sense, if I’m working with a client and they’re really kind of slow and hesitant and they’re clearly uncomfortable, it’s not that they’re uncomfortable sharing something with me maybe, but it’s just a situation that they don’t know what to do with, and they’re really just unhappy and frustrated and kind of sad about this, they’re sharing it with me. I’m not going to share, or I’m not going to respond to them with the energy that I just went through that whole thing about microphones on. That would be overwhelming.

So, I’m going to sit back in my chair also, if I see that they’re sitting back, and I’m going to mirror their tone, their volume, their intensity, their pitch levels, and their speed or how often they pause. I’ll suggest certain things but I want to empathize with them and to make them feel comfortable. And if I match and reflect that energy back to them, they’ll be able to receive it better. If I came right at them, like, “Why are you worrying about that? That’s crazy.” No, that’s going to shut them down because it’s overwhelming. They’re not in that emotional space.

Similarly, on the flipside, if you came on and you were super high energy and looking forward to talking about these kinds of topics, and I said, “Well, okay, so executive presence has a number of factors that are important. Let’s talk about them,” your audience will be like, “Oh, my God, talk faster. Why?” It doesn’t match well. There’s no flow. It’s blocky, your speed, and then my plodding pacing going through it. So, that’s another way to connect with the audience.

And it’s not about imitating, it’s not mimicking, it’s not faking or being somebody else. We all have what I’d like to call a prismatic voice, meaning that if you think about your wardrobe, like if you’ve got your buttoned-down shirts, you’ve got your polos, you’ve got your sweatshirts, you’ve got your tux, you’ve got your all different range of things, but it’s only your wardrobe, but you have the presence of mind to be able to decide, “Today is the tux. Tomorrow for that event is the gym shorts. The day after that is just the business casual kind of khakis and whatever else.” It’s all you but you know when to adjust.

Similarly, the way that we speak, we have our…and this is my coaching voice, my authority, my trainer, my public-speaking kind of voice. But, to your point earlier, it sounds like you’ve got a couple of little guys at home. I do, too. This is not my mommy voice. He’d stop playing with me. It doesn’t make sense but I’m also not going to talk to you in the same voice or the same style, the same manner, that I use when I’m playing with my five-year-old because you would not believe that I was an executive coach at that point. It wouldn’t quite be congruent.

But it’s not that one is the real me and one is the fake me. They’re both real me. Just like you change how you dress your body, you also change how you dress your message through the way that you speak. And that’s why I like to call it the prismatic voice because the same way you’ve seen those little crystals that hang on a window, and when the sun hits it, the rainbow hits the floor on the other side.

You are the white light and you have all those rainbow colors inside of you. Maybe I’ll call this podcaster voice my red, and I’ll call my mommy voice my green, and I can shift because I know it’s better for him if he hears more of my green. He’ll connect with me better. It’s better for your listeners, for my listeners, if we talk more in my red. It’ll just resonate better. It’ll allow them to accept my message more easily. So, having that facility to style-shift in a way that’s appropriate but still authentic, that’s really important. And that’s what allows you to connect with your audience.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And when it comes to closing the deal, how do we do that?

Laura Sicola
It starts with listening and really understanding what they want, what they need. And these three things, the command the room, connect with the audience, and closing the deal, they are mutually reinforcing. It’s not necessarily sequential. But closing the deal simply means getting to yes. And when you understand what someone else’s priorities are, what their pressures are, what they’re up against, what they want, what they like, what they need, and try to help them understand your side as well, but most importantly, letting them know that they have been heard.

And identifying whatever steps need to happen that is in service of both of you, that’s where you’re going to get the first yes. It may not be an ultimate, conclusive, comprehensive, sign-the-contract yes or deal that you’re closing, but it will be a matter of “Do we agree on this point? If so, okay, let’s go on to point number two.” There’s a little mini-deal that should close but it starts with listening and reflecting back, letting others know that you’ve heard them, and being able to share your information in a way that they can then hear you and moving forward from there.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, Laura, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Laura Sicola
I think just knowing that authenticity is so important but there’s a huge misnomer, a misunderstanding about authenticity. And that is that authenticity is not a black-and-white, on-or-off construct. As I mentioned with regard to the prismatic voice, we have a range of style. I mean, the learning curve, by nature, means stepping out of your comfort zone.

So, if you’re learning maybe, look, I am a, we’ll call it a recovering academic. I was a professor. I was in the world of academia. Now, I do executive coaching. That’s a big shift industry-wise. The way I talked there, the way I wrote there didn’t translate to the corporate world so I had to learn to change my vocabulary a little bit, change the kind of stories that I told, change the way that I write in order to be able to connect with this new audience that goes back to step two, how do you connect with them.

And at first, it felt awkward because it had beaten into my skull for a decade and longer in the ivory tower about how to write to be taken seriously in that world. And now I was being told, “No, you can’t do that anymore.” That felt very awkward to me initially. And it took a little while for me to let go of as much as I needed to.

So, to be able to accept and strengthen, or stretch, that new style, the learning curve was awkward. It felt uncomfortable but it wasn’t inauthentic because, the fact is, that was a new community. I wanted to be understood by the new community, which means I needed to learn to speak the language of the new community, just like if I wanted to learn to speak Spanish or learn to speak Japanese. It’s going to feel uncomfortable but it’s not inauthentic. It’s just a matter of strengthening the muscles until it becomes second nature.

If my intention and my desire to connect with that group is authentic, then the discomfort of the learning curve is also authentic. Embrace that. That’s different from if you’re trying to act like someone else to make them like you, trying to pretend that you’re someone you’re not in hopes that they like you. That is inauthentic. That is a whole other ball of wax that we’re not getting into today. But accept that learning curve by nature is uncomfortable, and that is also authentic, and it’s okay to accept that as long as there’s forward progress. So, that’s a really important final point, I think.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Now, could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Laura Sicola
Yes. I think one of the most valuable and important pieces of advice that I received early in my career; it was actually from my father. And I was right out of college, I was sending in, starting out my early career in teaching public schools. My father had taught public schools for, at the time, 25 years or longer, and he always seemed to have it under control. And I said, “Dad, how do I get the kids to respect me?” And he’s the one who said, “Laura, you can’t demand that the students respect you. You have to command it with your presence.”

And I didn’t totally understand it at the time, but over time, it really sunk in, and that became the foundation for everything that I teach and that I coach in my new role now, or more recent role in executive coaching, in leadership communication work. You can’t demand respect. You have to command it with your presence. That’s the key.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite book?

Laura Sicola
Okay. So, I’ll give two. A fun one and a serious one. Let’s start with the serious one, Psycho-Cybernetics, there’s a mouthful for you, by Maxwell Maltz. It’s an oldie but a goodie. But, boy, if you really want to dig into what motivates people, what help you change, what makes you do what you do, where do you get stuck mentally, and how is it possible to get out your own way, it’s an amazing resource. It’s not a light read by any stretch of the imagination, but if you’re willing to dig in a little bit, it’s powerful.

On the fun side, there’s a great book called Life is Magic. Life is Magic is by Jon Dorenbos, who, he was recently a finalist on America’s Got Talent. He was also a former Philadelphia Eagle, a long snapper, for a decade or so, for football fans out there. But he’s an amazing magician, and he went through massive crises as a child. Talk about heavy. His father murdered his mother when he was 12. That’ll send you off in a tailspin early in life.

But his whole focus is about not letting adversity define who you are or who you become. And how he wrestled with all of this and how he took that in and used it, and a bunch of other challenges along the way as well but he used it to help him become a pro football star, help him become a star on America’s Got Talent. And he’s funny and he’s inspiring, and he’s smart, and he’s just great life lesson.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Laura Sicola
Oh, microphone. I think that goes without saying. And the one that I’ve got is the Shure SM7B. Just know, that anybody out there, if you are going to look into it, it also requires another 500 bucks’ worth of other devices to make your microphone talk to your computer because it’s got an XLR cable not a USB. So, lots of fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is a good one. I also have a Shure. It’s a BETA 87A. The SM7B people love to comment. I almost expected you to say it, “You know, every word of Michael Jackson’s Thriller was recorded on a Shure SM7B?” It’s like, “Yeah, I know. It’s come up about a dozen times.” But I’ve seen the Pope using this one, so I think…as well as American Idol people. I think they like it because it rejects background noise, which is great. No one knows when that train goes by. Thank you, microphone.

Laura Sicola
Right. Well, the SM7B is definitely not a good American Idol…it’s not a good handheld by any stretch. It’s a big clunky thing.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Laura Sicola
It’s the name thing. It really is about how to say your name right. It’s amazing. Of all the things that I’ve taught, the TED Talk is about eight years old now, give or take, and for the almost seven million people who’ve watched it, I can’t tell you the number of people who I have met, and I use that little example in a lot of teaching and training and speaking engagements where people will come up to me later on, and say, “I just want you to know, I saw your TED Talk,” and that’s what they’ll quote.

Or, they’ll see me in a conference, and years later, they’ll reintroduce themselves to me, and say, “Wait, wait. I want to say it right. My name is so and so, so and so.” And they always want to get…or they’ll introduce me to somebody else, “Hey, I want you to meet Laura. This is Laura…oh, wait, no. It’s Laura Sicola,” and they’ll all just mock me right back to myself, which is great because you know it sticks, and that’s the key. How do you make it stick? When you speak, you want it to stick in somebody else’s mind. Follow that pattern and your name will stick in the other person’s mind.

Pete Mockaitis
And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Laura Sicola
They can certainly go to the website, which is VocalImpactProductions.com. If you’re curious about the podcast or my book, you can go to SpeakingToInfluence.com, and always, of course, connect with me on social media at Instagram, Twitter, whatever, but LinkedIn is really my main one. Please go to LinkedIn. Look me up, Dr. Laura Sicola. And if you reach out to connect, please mention that you heard me here on Pete’s show, and that’s the most important part because I connect with people when I understand why they want to connect.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Laura Sicola
Yes. Record yourself. And it can be when you’re on the phone with somebody else, it can be when you’re on a Zoom with somebody else, you’re on with your computer. Take your phone, and just record yourself talking in whatever little nugget that you contribute to the conversation or if you’re presenting, record yourself for a minute or two.

Go back and listen later and ask yourself, “Does this sound like I wanted it to sound? Did it sound in my head the way it sounds on the recorder? And what didn’t?” Because, inevitably, something will stand out to you that will make you say, “You know what, that didn’t land right. That’s not how I wanted to come across.”

The video camera, the recorder doesn’t lie. It does add 10 pounds, but beyond that, it doesn’t lie. It will reflect back to you exactly what everybody else heard, and help you understand why perhaps what you think you said is not what they thought they heard. And that is powerful information in your own professional development.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Laura, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck in your speaking adventures.

Laura Sicola
Thank you so much for having me on, Pete. It’s been a real fun conversation with you.

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