The hard truth is, no one is born a confident speaker. Everyone starts from the same level and has the same ability to work their way up. Even if you have a decade of experience, there’s so much you can do to improve your confidence and appeal when it comes to networking and public speaking. So, it’s about time we talk about the vital importance of communicating with confidence and how you can build toward it.
On today’s episode, we welcome Mai Ling Chan – the CEO and co-founder of XceptionalEd – who contributes her personal expertise in exceptional services, technology, and business management to an international community focused on helping more people with disabilities.
By combining Mai Ling’s expert advice with some strategic guidance, we’re going to take one step closer to mastering self-confidence in networking and public speech.
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Welcome to Ignition Point – the show that’s here to help you take the leap, conquer your week, and achieve your goals. If you’re looking to amplify your mindset with a fresh perspective and spark your momentum – you’re in the right place.
Hey! What’s going on? I’m Steven Miller. Thanks for joining me for another Ignition Point – the show where we cover an influential speech or feature a Guest Keynote to get you fired up and ready to take on another winning week.
We are seventeen episodes into our journey from the summit – square one – to the peak of success. That means we are only seven episodes away from the end of Season 1, so it’s about time we talk about the vital importance of confident communication.
Before you start sending me emails and text messages that read, “we already talked about this in Episode 7,” keep in mind that body language is only half the battle. The hard truth is, no one is born a confident speaker. Growing confidence, especially as a communicator and a networker, is an evolution. Everyone starts from the same level and has the same ability to work their way up.
Barrie Davenport said, “low self-confidence isn’t a life sentence. Self-Confidence can be learned, practiced, and mastered – just like any other skill.”
So even if you hate the idea of public speaking, making introductions, or presenting on stage, there’s hope for you yet – you can build toward confident communication, and that’s exactly what we’re talking about today, with our special guest, Mai Ling Chan.
Mai Ling is a highly networked speech pathologist who understands the value of building meaningful relationships with people who make a difference in the world. She is 100% dedicated to supporting people with special needs by connecting amazing thought leaders in special education and rehabilitation with people who want to learn from them on a global level. All told, she’s an expert in language and communication across the lifespan who has a remarkable aptitude for disability-focused business.
As CEO and co-founder of XceptionalEd, Mai Ling contributes her personal expertise in exceptional services, technology, and business management to an international community focused on helping more people with disabilities. While her podcast – Xceptional Leaders – shares priceless tips and first-hand stories from successful entrepreneurs and other amazing people who focus their efforts on helping people with disabilities.
Here to help you take one step closer to mastering self-confidence in networking and public speech, this is Mai Ling Chan.
Let’s get after it!
THE WEEKLY MONOLOGUE – Mai Ling Chan
Your body is saying things you can control. We've all been there. Your mouth is moving, but your body is sending out all sorts of conflicting signals. You walk into a room and people are already in small groups conversations. They're listening intently to the person speaking and nodding and smiling in agreement, and you jump in with your name and what you do.
Or you're sitting in a company meeting and your turn to speak is coming up. After waiting patiently while the person before you is nailing their point home and as your colleagues are furiously taking notes and nodding their heads quietly, you stand up and zip through all five bullet points on the slide.
But did you use vocal inflection and targeted pauses to really call attention and insight understanding and support?
How about when it's just you – in the biggest in-person customer meeting, and you're about to explain how you can alleviate their pain points and make all their dreams come true. How are you standing or sitting? Are you conscious of using mirroring techniques to deeply align and connect with your customer?
The thing is, is that nowadays with so many opportunities to access self-development tools, there are so many ways that you can help to reprogram that innate uncomfortableness. It really starts with what you bring to experiences and how you're thinking about them. For example, people always say to me, “oh, you're so good at podcasting,” or, “you're such a great presenter,” and the truth is, I hated doing these things in the beginning.
As a speech language pathologist, I'm an expert in both verbal and nonverbal language and how these crucial elements shape the success of our interpersonal communication. But way before returning from my master's degree, I understood the value of nonverbal language on a very personal level.
Although it's a very unique and culturally rich combination, one of the results of having a Colombian and Chinese ethnicity is being vertically challenged at five feet, no inches. Due to this blessing, I've embraced the daily challenges of reaching something on the middle shelf, standing out in a crowd or commanding respect. Navigating my personal journey and ultimately establishing self confidence in a myriad of situations required a combination of creativity, education, and trial and error.
In order to streamline your process, I'm happy to share these tips with you to boost your confidence and increase the effectiveness of your message.
Let's talk about voice. Selected stress – or inflection in your voice – affecting the rise and fall within words like syllables, the entire word, and the ends of phrases calls specific attention and allows you so much control beyond the words themselves. For example, “time to eat, grandma?” Versus, “time to eat Grandma!” Same words, totally different meanings.
So, using your voice is very specific to an individual, and it can change over your lifespan. It can change in an hour. It can convey when you're sick, and it can convey when you're not interested. You can also convey emotion. You can convey curiosity.
If there is something important that you want to convey, script it out and practice your exact vocal delivery combined with your genuine feelings surrounding your message. You don't have to rote memorize everything you say, but make sure you are solid on the few points that are paramount to achieving your ultimate goal.
How about gestures? I wish I could say that this topic is as simple as keeping your hands folded in your lap to minimize the look of flailing while you speak, but unfortunately there's a delicate balance to when you should enhance your words with gestures and when you should not.
My husband came home one evening and said, “I don't ever want to see air quotes ever again in my life.” Just to be clear, air quotes are two finger movements on both hands with full up and down arm movements to emphasize quotation marks around syllables, words, or phrases. Go ahead and do it now while saying, “really important.”
We've all done this, of course. Providing a visual marker is so powerful and helps with recall. When done effectively, it is unforgettable. Who can forget Doctor Evil in the Austin Powers movies using air quotes every time he said, “laser,” which made it even funnier because he thought this was a brilliant, new idea.
In contrast, when this gesture is overused, it calls attention to unimportant points, distracts the listener as their mind attempts to decipher the meaning of the gesture, or in the worst-case scenario overpowers the entire conversation and results in very little of the overall message being communicated.
My husband estimated that the person he met with that day used air quotes no less than 20 times in 30 minutes. The main message here is that any gestures can be powerful and also detrimental to the overall message.
Another facial movement that communicates on a deeper level is eye contact. When my children were as young as four and five years old, I insisted that they learn how to execute a firm handshake with solid eye contact and a smile. As they grew, they practiced this with all adults we encountered. This included neighbors, store employees, my colleagues, and any other people who were willing to engage with them – and to this day, they continue to receive compliments on how mature and respectful they are. Now, in their early twenties, they've told me this always sets them up with a little bit of a confidence kick when they're meeting someone new. Having this as a practiced skill removes the initial insecurities and sets them up for a strong first impression with their communication partner.
On a public speaking or presentation level, it is always empowering to make contact with specific individuals in the audience or group. Some people use it in such an amazing way that you actually feel like there's no one else in the room. Eye contact is the holy grail of human communication. Take the time to truly connect, eyeball-to-eyeball, even if only for a moment. You might even share a head nod together or directly ask them a question, which is – of course – also intended for the entire group.
Not looking into someone's eyes during conversation, also sends messages. Are you distracted? Not paying attention? Thinking? Contemplating? Or lying?
Now, you definitely don't want to engage people in a stare down or make them feel uncomfortable, about intense or unnatural eye contact, but taking control of what you are communicating with your eyes is a very important piece of your overall communication strategy.
How about body language? We've all heard it before, “stand up straight and don't shuffle when you walk!” But why do you want to have to think about these things? These are the hallmarks of nonverbal communication.
Again, as a vertically challenged woman, I've learned to command attention during conversations using my voice, gestures, and solid eye contact, but the most important part of my tools has been the power of my body in my immediate space. Not only do I always wear some sort of high heels to place my eyesight at least a little closer to the general standing population, but I'm also conscious of how I walk in those heels. How I’m positioned in a chair. How my arm lays comfortably on the table, never crossed in front of me, or tightly gripping my purse; because I'm speaking volumes with my body.
Going back to infancy, the nonverbal gesture of mirroring someone makes us feel more connected with a greater sense of engagement and belonging within a situation. This can be as simple as adopting the same hand positioning or sitting in the same manner as the person you're talking to.
Please keep in mind that over-copying someone's movements can definitely be overdone and can lead to an uncomfortable and unnatural interaction, but when executed in a controlled yet natural manner, you purposefully manage the nonverbal relationship and increase the overall success of your messaging.
The best way to increase your effectiveness is to start by just paying attention to how you are currently communicating. What gestures do you typically use and how effective are they? Do you command your voice to emphasize and call attention to your most important points? Are you consistent and comfortable with eye contact in one-on-one as well as in larger group situations? What is your whole body doing? Are you comfortable and inviting? Then just choose two to three areas to focus on in all interactions.
The more you practice, the more natural they will become – and ultimately – you can then benefit from a solid confidence that comes from knowing that your nonverbal language is aligned with your goals and supports the high-performance human interactions that true success requires.
STRATEGY FOR SUCCESS
As someone who has a long-standing love-hate relationship with public speech, trust me when I tell you that Mai Ling is spot on. Growing your confidence in the public discourse is a practiced skill. Even if you have a decade of experience, there’s so much you can do to improve your confidence and appeal when it comes to networking and public speaking.
Before I break down some of the other ways you can build on Mai Ling’s advice, I want you to take pause. When you’re too quick to inspect your communication skills and you start dissecting your use of voice, gestures, and body language, you might end up feeling self-conscious. That’s not what we are aiming for here. You need to take action in the present and work to apply the lessons gradually instead of going into full rebuild mode.
Making gradual improvement allows you to take steps forward without stepping backward. Work on creating new, positive habits instead of accosting yourself for what you used to do. This is how you set yourself up for success.
I think it’s important to understand that conversation and presentation skills benefit from a blend of technical and strategic advice. Seeing as I lack Mai Ling’s credentials, I want to share some of my personal, strategic advice to complement the insights that she shared.
First of all, whenever you walk into a room, you’ve got to begin with the end in mind. What topics can you speak with a degree of expert knowledge on? You need set yourself apart by relating to your audience. That can make the difference between a 2-minute conversation and a 20-minute conversation.
Do you want to build new relationships and network around the crowd?
If you’re networking, you should prepare to ask people questions about themselves. Dale Carnegie said in his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
What if you’re approaching someone you want to recruit or otherwise sell to?
If the focus is selling or recruiting, you need to modify the approach. Ask questions and probe for the person's wants and needs. When you know what they’re looking for, you can speak to how you can fill their needs and satisfy their wants.
If you know where you want to guide the conversation, you can keep it on track; but in almost any circumstance, you need to prioritize expert listening over being a subject matter expert.
Expert listening takes both internal and external effort. The internal effort – paying close attention – allows you to acknowledge the other person’s perspectives and motivation, while the outer facing effort is depicted by how your audience perceives your attentiveness. This aligns with all the skills Mai Ling spoke about. Are you giving them solid eye contact? Are you present in the conversation? Is your body language demonstrating that you’re connected?
If you struggle with this, the best place to start is cutting out distractions. Make the person you’re speaking with feel like you want to hear more, as opposed to feeling like you’ve got better places to be. That means you can’t fidget or constantly glance at your watch or your phone.
You need to make them feel like they’re in the spotlight, so give them nonverbal and verbal feedback that shows you’re interested. Mirror their body language or lean in. Give them affirmations. By the end of your conversation, if you listened, you’ll be able to tie it all together and serve your ideal conclusion.
Last on my list this week, is to tell your story and wear a little more of your heart on your sleeve. Now more than ever, storytelling is an on-trend, acceptable communication strategy for both networking and when you’re presenting. You’ve probably seen a TED Talk online or attended a Story Jam in your area – those are just a few examples of where you can draw inspiration from.
Sharing stories is a very powerful skill because you have to go on a journey to share one. You have to really introspect, digging in to your memories and tapping into your feelings. Whether you’re reflecting on a challenge, a question in your life, or something you achieved, your story humanizes your experiences and creates new directions for your conversations.
What you probably don’t realize is that you do it more often than you’d think. When someone asks you about your day, you’re telling them a story. You have to choose what bits and pieces to craft the story around; you share how it made you feel, and by the end of the story, the person you’re communicating with has the opportunity to relate with you on a more personal level.
Certain stories can be really powerful; like sharing how you came up with your ideas or what your biggest challenges were. In this process, you’re sharing experiences that are special to you which allows you to reconnect with the behind-the-scenes truth of your story.
In that moment, you’re reaffirming that you overcame something; you achieved something; you did something amazing. That affirmation boosts your confidence and opens the door to sharing the emotions that are tied to the story. So, while the people you share that type of story with are getting to see who you are and where you come from, they’re also feeling what you felt.
Showing your cards can be a phenomenal tool for building trust, connecting on a new level, and developing the confidence that comes from being accepted at your most vulnerable moments.
Don’t let low self-confidence stand in the way of networking or working up to public speaking. You can build greater confidence in these situations just by leaning into them.
Start by taking Mai Ling’s advice and build up better conversational habits in the way you use your voice, gestures, eye contact and body language. Then take a strategic approach by beginning with the end in mind, listening intently, and sharing relatable personal stories.
If you fail, remember that there’s always another opportunity to try again. Your failure isn’t a life sentence. Speaking with confidence is learned, practiced, and mastered, just like any other skill.
I’m so glad that Mai Ling Chan was able to join me for this week’s show. She does so much amazing work in our community, so it means the world that she could find the time to share her perspectives on confident speech.
If you’d like to work with Mai Ling and learn more about her, check out her website at MaiLingChan.com. You should also check out her amazing podcast – Xceptional Leaders – which is available wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts or online at XceptionalLeaders.com.
Ignition Point is all about making a positive impact, so please share the show with someone you think it would help. Your feedback helps Ignition Point to keep moving forward, so send me an email to email@example.com or write a review for the show on Apple Podcasts to let me know what you think.
If you want to own every room you walk into, speak up and be heard.
Stay motivated and keep moving forward. If you put in the hard work right now – one day – you could be the one motivating the world with your story.
I’ll look forward to speaking with you next time on another Ignition Point.
Now get on out there and win the week!
Connect with Our Special Guest, Mai Ling Chan!
Follow @MaiLingChan on Twitter
Follow @MaiLingChan on Instagram
Check Out Her Website MaiLingChan.com
Check Out Her Coaching Page on Facebook
Connect with Mai Ling Chan on LinkedIn
Listen to the Xceptional Leaders Podcast
Learn More About Xceptional ED