10 Takeaways from a communications expert that will help you grow your confidence(and your business)

WorldLabs met with Lindsay Maclean, creator of the iElevate method, to talk about the power of communication in business.

By Rute Costa

Lindsay Maclean has over 20 years of experience in teaching business professionals how to communicate. She is the creator of the iElevate communication method, a six hour program designed to help employers and employees gain confidence and improve their communication skills in the workplace. Lindsay’s mission is to help everyone, from graduates to middle managers and leaders, be the best version of themselves in interviews, meetings, presentations and all the moments in between.

I spoke to Lindsay about her journey from a shy child to a performance arts enthusiast and finally to a communication coach. Her knowledge spans two decades of helping businesses like Topshop, ASOS and E! Entertainment empower their employees. I have gathered  the 10 main takeaways from our conversation, to help entrepreneurs nurture their communication skills.

1. The worst advice is ‘Be Yourself’

How many of us, on our way to interviews, have heard the words ‘Just be yourself!’, and thought ‘How on earth do I do that?’. To Lindsay, “be yourself” is “the worst piece of advice, because actually that’s really hard to do and you have to learn how to do it”. The iElevate method takes its participants on a practical exploration on how to present themselves naturally, helping them to “say what they mean and make an impact”.

2. There are three main obstacles to being a good communicator

“The first one”, says Lindsay, “ is fear of social judgement. People get really scared of what other people think about them”. In second comes “perfectionism”: “People think they have to be perfect – they get anxious, scared and feel like they have to prepare too much”. Lindsay explains that it’s often the human vulnerability and the flaws that make people connect with a speaker, and that these are often overlooked.  “Thirdly I would say ‘overthinking’. That’s a big area, particularly for women”, Lindsay explains. Overthinking springs from lack of confidence and can stop many women from progressing in their careers. More on this later.

3. Bring some of your personal energy to the professional space

“I look at what happens when they speak personally about a situation, compared to how they speak professionally. For example, they might talk to me about a holiday, and then go to a different mode when I ask them to talk to me about projects at work. The danger is that you can lose personality and convey a dull, ineffective version of yourself. I look at how you can blend that, how you can access that personal energy that you have and bring that into the professional space”. Transferring the natural, relaxed tone with which you talk about some of your personal life to your professional sphere can help you speak more openly, confidently and naturally. It also facilitates trust and strengthens professional relationships.

4. Overplanning is never the way: keep it simple

To the nervous or shy public speakers out there, there is hope! According to Lindsay, extensive notes and planning can cloud people’s heads and hide what actually matters.

“A lot of confidence comes from being comfortable with the message that you have, and actually connecting to your  message. So, for example, if someone is going into a presentation, they might have a script with them. I meet them, and they’ve got this script, and words and words, and I say  ‘hang on a sec, what are you actually saying? What’s your message here?’. It’s about stripping it right back so that it becomes simple in their mind, and then that helps them. It’s often very simple”, Lindsay says.

5. Practice, practice, practice

“Many people will tell you to focus on preparation and content, and calm yourself down internally. But rather than looking at what’s happening on the inside, I look at what’s happening on the outside”. A relaxed ‘outside’ means practice, being aware of the key message conveyed to the audience and how exactly it is being communicated.

“I always say: practice, practice, practice. There is no point in sitting down to prepare for a presentation or interview, and writing down questions and answers, and writing, writing, writing – practice! Practice actually speaking in front of the mirror, practice speaking to somebody, and see what happens”.

People who overplan and rely too much on visual prompts (like notecards or powerpoints), often get thrown when something unexpected, like a technical fault, happens. “You have to cope with the uncertain all the time. The face-to-face situations are crucial, and knowing how to manage those situations is really important. All of that preparation is completely wasted if something goes wrong”.

The solution? Rather than over preparing extensive written information, work on the core message you want to convey. “Practice, practice speaking out loud, in the mirror or to mum and dad, or sister, brother, whoever!”

6. Schools can strengthen the next generation of young entrepreneurs

Most of the obstacles to our communication skills originate from the early years. Most schools don’t prioritise teaching students how to stand in front of others and express themselves publicly. When students enter the professional world, and are thrown into interviews, pitches, meetings, and presentations, they feel underprepared and unconfident.  

“Schools must include more communication, speaking, listening, it’s vital! […] I firmly believe that if you can learn to communicate, speak to people and feel more confident with that, it can help with all sorts of anxieties which can lead to mental health problems. I also think it’s vital for your professional development. If you’re wanting to get to the next level in your career, communication is a  crucial skill”.

“The earlier you start, the easier it is. [Communication] is something you learn how to do and then it becomes so natural, and you can communicate in the present moment if you don’t have fears and anxieties around it”, Lindsay concludes.

7. Technology is damaging face-to-face communication

An increasingly digital age is not only affecting students, but all of us – entrepreneurs included. Lindsay explains: “I think [technology] can prevent you from communicating effectively. [Digitally] you can edit, you can delete, you cannot do that face to face. During face to face communication is when things really happen, when business deals happen, when you connect with an individual and you feel understood – so that helps you”.

It’s important to bear this in mind when we switch from the online to the real world. The perfectionism allowed in online representations, where heavy editing can occur and users are in control of the message they are putting across, is an obstacle to face-to-face interactions. We must be able to manage the uncertainties and imperfections of offline situations.

8. It’s all about trust and collaboration

When you’re communicating at work, “you’ve got to trust your colleagues, and you’ve got to trust the brand. If you see a business online, more often than not, you want to know who is behind the brand, to speak to an individual”, Lindsay says.

“I also look at what happens in the most important situations such as a meeting or a pitch. In those situations, people’s behaviours can change, which is a real problem because that interferes with trust. Often what happens is that people create this mutual discomfort. If you’re feeling a bit uncomfortable when you walk into a meeting, the other person will often  think ‘do I really trust this person, are they really being themselves or are they just being textbook?’”. In a team, “the main objective is collaboration”, Lindsay adds. In order for that to happen, trust must be fostered first.

9. All leaders want the same thing

All leaders have something in common, according to Lindsay. “They often want to be better at communicating confidently in front of a group, and inspiring people. Motivating and inspiring are the key words”.

10. Women’s confidence needs particular attention

“Most men and women often have the same challenges: fear of social judgement, perfectionism and overthinking. For women, there is far more of the overthinking. I’ve been in many companies where a man going to a review feels far more confident asking for a pay-rise than a woman. A female worker would say ‘ooh, I haven’t done that this year – even though I did the 9 other things, I didn’t do the one that makes the 10’, whereas a man would say ‘I’ve done about 4 or 5 of these points, haven’t done the other half, but I still want a pay rise anyway’”.

Social constraints to women have meant more men reach positions of authority, and women’s confidence is significantly lower in the workplace. Encouraging women to nurture their communication skills and believe in their capacity for meaningful and powerful expression is key to achieving gender equality in business.

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