Increase Your Influence When You “Dare to be Dumb”

As a leader, with a title or without a title, one clear way to raise the level of engagement of the people you are trying to influence is to NOT be the smartest person in the room. “But, what if I am the smartest person in the room?” I hear you asking. If you did ask that, I might have found one of your influence challenges. It’s okay to be the smartest person in the room, but when you start believing and acting like you are the smartest person in the room is when your level of influence can experience a setback. This is where daring to be dumb comes in to play.

Stepping Up & Stepping Back

The funny thing about always having the answers is that when you step up to answer and provide insight, others around you are by default stepping back. When people are in the habit of always stepping back the natural next step is to disengage, maybe not fully, but some.

What if I could encourage others to step up and contribute to the conversation? Would additional points of view be helpful? Would hearing how things appear from another person’s position in the organization (or your home) add value to the discussion? Almost always!

Daring to be dumb is my small way to remind myself that all of us is smarter than one of us. I may have a strong point of view; I may even be an “expert” in this area; but others may have a point of view that I need to hear.

This does three things:

  1. It encourages those on your team or in your organization or home to think like owners, not hired hands.
  2. It increases the level of engagement across the organization when people know that you value what they think and that you encourage debate.
  3. It increases your level of influence in the organization by valuing people and increasing their feeling of being relevant to the goals and outcomes of the organization.

You may be the smartest person in the room, and others may know that you are, but it doesn’t mean you have to always play that card. When you ask questions, even when you think you know the answer, you open the door for others to contribute and you increase your odds of a highly successful outcome.

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The #1 Skill of a Great Presenter

The Wedding Singer Paradox

I have been told that when I stand in front of an audience and deliver a presentation that I appear confident and unfazed by the size of the group I am speaking to. I think this is true because of four things:

  1. I know the topic really well.
  2. I have studied and practiced and I am ready to deliver.
  3. I am energized and excited to share with the audience what I know
  4. I am completely aware that I could be wrong – i.e. there are other smart people in the room!

By being competent and prepared and knowing that I have what it takes to deliver this message, I am confident and energized. By keeping in mind that there are other smart people in the room and I might not know everything there is to know on this subject, I infuse enough humility to ward off the appearance of arrogance that many speakers adopt as they grow in their expertise.

The Wedding Singer Paradox

So, with all that said, why did I waiver when asked to sing at a friends wedding this past weekend? Isn’t singing just another form of public speaking which I DO FOR A LIVING?? Yes and No!

Yes, there is an audience. Yes, I am prepared. Yes, there is a message to deliver. But, NO, it is not the same as doing a standup presentation. Why is that? Because singing is a skill that you either have or you don’t have. Everyone can speak, some better than others, but we all speak. Singing is judged! (think Reality TV shows). There is no “America’s Got Speaking Skills” TV Show, is there??

The Greatest Skill of All

Fortunately, in my early public speaking days I had a coach observe me and provide me feedback. What he shared with me changed my life as a professional speaker and this weekend, made even singing for people an enjoyable event. The greatest skill that I think a professional speaker (or an amateur singer) can possess is to remember that everyone in your audience is tuned to the same station – WII-FM (“What’s In It For Me”). They are not there to evaluate how you look, or sound, or how smart you are, which is where my brain instinctively wants to go. No, they are there for bigger reasons than YOU.

As I arrive at every venue where I will speak (or sing this past weekend) I arrive early enough to walk the room and ask myself, what is my message for this audience today? What nugget can I give them that will help them grow and be better? In the case of the wedding song, as much as I want to give a good performance and for everyone to be in awe of me and my talent, I forced my brain to think about the bride and groom and that this was their special day. No one, not one person, was there to see me sing. So I asked myself, what is the message of this song as it relates to the couple at the altar? What truth could this song provide to the 100+ people in the audience?

As the couple moved to light the unity candle and I walked to the microphone to deliver the song I had one last thought – let this be meaningful for those that need this message today. It’s not about me.

It’s Not About You!

The beauty of developing this skill is that after the performance you don’t have a need for people to flock to you and tell you how great you did. Although some will, and that feels good, it’s not what’s important. It’s not about the song, or my skill. It’s about the message and adding value to the lives of the people who were in that room on that day.

Keep your focus off of you and you can do amazing things in front of audiences of any size….whether your are speaking or singing.

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W.A.I.T. – Why Am I Talking?

Tips to Increase Your Influence Through Effective Communication

As a general rule we all talk too much and don’t listen enough! If your first thought is that this is not about you, keep reading, it’s especially about you (and me).

Now, I am a professional speaker; it is my job to speak. But that is when I am on stage. What I am talking about here is when we are with others in a one-on-one or one-on-small group environment. It is so tempting to jump in and hijack the conversation. Whether you are in sales or in parenting, speaking less and listening more is ALWAYS good. BTW, if you are in parenting you are especially in sales.

Master Communicator? Me?

I was once at a business reception and I was speaking with a colleague I didn’t know that well. I asked three questions about their professional history, what they loved about their role in the organization and what they valued most in their work and personal life. I was interested in learning more about them and I enjoyed the conversation very much. As we parted ways the colleague told me I was a great communicator. But wait, they did all the talking!

I would like to provide some tips on how you can perceived as a master communicator when others are doing the talking.

Why Am I Talking (W.A.I.T.)?

People care about three things, themselves, their victories and their challenges. If you are talking about yourself, you are not talking about something in the top three of what they care about. The truly outstanding communicators among us have figured this out and direct their conversations accordingly.

  1. Dare to be Dumb – do you really know everything there is to know about everything? I didn’t think so. Why not ask questions even though you think you already know the answer. It is in listening to the answers others provide where the learning occurs. Learning about the subject, perhaps, but more importantly learning about how they think and feel about the subject.
  2. Master the Pause – it is so tempting to wait for the other person to take breath and mistake that as our invitation to dive in. When someone stops talking, master the pause. Allow a few seconds to elapse to ensure they have completely finished their thought. It is amazingly refreshing to be speaking with someone that is not trying to jump in all the time. Be that person.
  3. Don’t top someone’s story – I am very guilty of this one. I am a highly experienced global traveler. I have been to 40+ countries and I have a ton of stories and experience. When someone starts talking about some travel experience they have had it is really easy for me to say, “That’s nothing compared to the time I…..” To increase my influence with others I am working hard to say, “That must have been harrowing, tell me more.” Let others have their story. If they ask you about yours, got for it, but in most cases they don’t care as much about your experience as they do about telling you their experience.
  4. Ask yourself these W.A.I.T. questions:
    1. Is this the time to share? Is what I want to share on topic? Don’t divert the conversation away from what they are speaking about just because, “that reminds me of a time when…”
    2. Is it my turn to share? See item #2 above. Are you mastering the pause?
    3. Is what I want to share going to add to or subtract from what they are sharing? The temptation here is to divert the conversation from them to you. Item #3 above should keep you grounded here.
    4. If you do interject, be concise. Add value and then shut up.

How you communicate with others had an enormous impact on how much influence you have with others. Improve your communication, improve your results by increasing your influence.

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When Was the Last Time Someone Brought You Bad News?

5 Indicators of Highly Approachable People

Some years ago, as the father of teenagers, it occurred to me one day that all I was hearing from them was the good things that were happening. There were no challenges, no issues, and no bad news. About the same time I was leading a team of sales people who were exhibiting the same communication characteristics. It then occurred to me that teenagers and sales people have a lot in common. What both groups seemed to have forgotten is that I was once a teenager and I was once a sales person. There are issues, there are challenges and there is the occasional bad news.

If people are comfortable sharing the bad news with you then you are more than likely an approachable individual. If not, then perhaps one or more of the following five indicators of approachable people is keeping you from deep and meaningful relationships.

Approachable leaders, whether leading at home or at work, engage their followers at a high level and increase their performance and their results.

The 5 Indicators of Highly Approachable People

  1. Authenticity – approachable people are real people. They don’t pretend to have it all together when they don’t. They don’t perform for others, they are comfortable just being themselves with all the good and bad that comes with that.
  2. Consistency of Mood – It’s tempting to over celebrate the good and over condemn the bad. If you exhibit large mood swings people will avoid doing or saying anything to “set you off”. Mind the gap between stimulus (someone sharing bad news) and your response. If there is little or no gap you are reacting not responding and that almost never goes well.
  3. Confess Mistakes – I was wondering why teenage son did not confess his mistakes to me when it occurred to me that I never confessed my own mistakes to him (or anyone). I seemed perfect and the last thing anyone wants to do is confess mistakes to a perfect person. While I wasn’t meaning to come off as perfect, I was trying not to seem weak, and that’s what I thought mistakes said about me. Sharing mistakes opens the door to what Dr. John Maxwell calls, “Failing Forward”. Once we began to share openly we could help each other to learn and grow from every mistake.
  4. Ability to Forgive – people who are not forgiving of the shortcomings of others will not do well in the drive to be more approachable. If you ask for forgiveness and easily forgive those who have wronged you, then you do not allow walls to be constructed between you and others.
  5. Others Oriented – if all of life is about you, then you are not an approachable person. Approachable people value others and make them feel valued. If you put other people first then it becomes easy to celebrate with those who celebrate and mourn with those who mourn. Someone else being successful does not take anything away from you.

Bonus: Mind Your Face – Smile more! People are drawn to people who greet them with a smile!

When you increase your approachability you will increase your influence with others. Increasing your influence will increase their desire to engage with you in whatever you are trying to accomplish. Higher engagement equals improved performance equals better results.