I had been waiting for this opportunity for some time. To meet up face-to-face with Blog Guest Author Charlie Walker-Wise and get his first-hand account of how attention to Space and Time can create more effective communication.
Charlie had written two articles a year ago on this Blog about space and time – the links are in ‘further reading’ below. Since then I have referred my coaching clients a number of times to Charlie’s wisdom on this subject. When they needed to make a landmark presentation to a number of people. Or when they had a forthcoming significant one-to-one discussion – a so called ‘moment of truth’ or ‘crucial conversation’. Either way, Charlie’s articles kept bouncing back to me as part of my coach’s toolkit.
For me the space was on Tuesday last week at Balthazar’s French Bistro in London’s Covent Garden. The time was lunch time. I originally intended to call this article ‘Lunch with Charlie Walker-Wise’, but didn’t think it would really grab your attention dear reader!
I have known Charlie since he was 12. His parents had a home in our village when we moved in 28 years ago (you do the maths). It’s so very gratifying to see him now. Married with two young children. A successful career as Client Director with RADA Business. It’s this combination of acting and business that fuels my imagination and drives me to seek out his views.
So here we are meeting for lunch and I announce to Charlie I have an agenda. I want to pick his brains about space and time.
I started by asking Charlie for his thoughts on time. In his first Blog article on the subject – The Communication Continuum – he said we need to take more time for our audience to catch up with our ideas. Also to give ourselves time to think about what we want to say next. “Chunk up your thoughts into bits” Charlie suggested. “Use oral punctuation. Breath is the punctuation. It separates ideas and allows the audience to catch up”. Good advice I thought. We can often be in too much of a hurry to ‘get through’ a presentation or a one-to-one meeting. Take your time. Put emphasis on each discrete ‘chunk’ of your message. Slow the pace.
Charlie continued: “Don’t forget to use the power of the pause. This exudes confidence and gravitas. We are drawn to confident people”. He went on to suggest that confidence is a trick. But then I guess this comes from his background in the performing arts. I tell him I prefer the word ‘technique’. This implies something to learn and to practice. I’m struck by the similarity between the words gravitas and gravlax – which was what Charlie chose for his first course.
In his Blog article Charlie asked us to think about the way we engage and interact with the environment we are in. “This isn’t just a case of where do I stand in a room, although that can certainly be a part of it. It is actually to do with how well we see the physical and emotional environment we are engaging with, as well as how available we make ourselves to others”.
“Begin by having an open window”. By this Charlie explains we should enter the location where the presentation or meeting is about to take place by fully seeing and engaging with the new space we are in. I call this ‘owning the space’ or ‘opening up’. Being open is often displayed by congruent non-verbal signals such as open arms, palms of the hands showing and a smile on the face. It’s another component in the confident communication continuum. “Use your peripheral vision and look up and out, rather than focussing down and in. This open window approach shows your availability as a leader. When people can see your eyes it helps them trust you”. In his previous Blog article Charlie issued us a challenge about looking up and out. “The next meeting you go into, check to see if you enter the space with your eyes towards the door handle or towards the floor. I’d bet that nine out of ten times you do. It’s not surprising given the number of challenges most of us are digesting all the time. But this has the effect of not making us fully present”.
I ask Charlie what the mind-set should be for the leader at this point as they enter the new space. I’m keen in my coaching for clients to check their mind-set and self-talk at critical points. A positive attitude is crucial for managing your impact. “The thing is” Charlie replies “People think too much about themselves when they are the least important person in the room”. This is where the negative thoughts can emerge. Do I know enough about my subject? Will this be of value to them? Am I good enough to do this? “Avoid carrying your bag of self-doubt on your back and heaving it onto the floor before you address people”. This heavy load can affect your whole physical demeanour and leave you looking down and forwards rather than upwards and outwards. “Think, I’m providing a service to them; a gift; a present-ation”.
Being in command of the space does not mean you need to physically move around in it. Charlie concludes: “Never underestimate the power of stillness. Standing your ground and being grounded versus being ‘shifty’ in your demeanour”. I’m struck by the way Charlie’s choice of a main course for his lunch reflects the openness we have been discussing – spatchcock chicken. It’s literally a small whole chicken that has been opened up prior to cooking. Yes, I know, it’s a bit of a forced fit. Ha ha.
Breathing and Voice
We had finished our two course working lunch and I had covered the two topics on my agenda – space and time. I thought we could now settle down to a leisurely coffee. But Charlie had two more things he wanted to share his ideas on – breathing and voice.
The Latin verb ‘spirare’, meaning ‘breathe’, is the source of a number of words in the English language. To aspire (which literally means ‘breathe on’) is to try to be or do something. To conspire (which literally means ‘breath together’) is to plot, or plan with others. And to inspire (which literally means ‘breathe in’) is having an emotion or feeling that prompts one to create or to cause something to happen. So much meaning in one short breath!
I told Charlie I had noticed that the people who tend to grab attention in a group often pre-face an engaging statement with a rapid in-breath. Charlie replied: “It shows they are fully engaged and present. But be careful with this one. The in-breath is a product of being connected and present rather than a ‘tool’ we can use. Rather than being something you can ‘do’ it’s actually about already being in the right state – relaxed yet engaged. You’re right to comment on this, but the inhalation actually prefaced every vocal communication we make, we just don’t notice it most of the time”.
So what about ‘voice’ I asked Charlie. “Breath is the fuel to the voice. The voice should be dynamic, interesting, pleasing to the ear, capture attention and be surprising. The British voice typically uses only three tones. However, we have three octaves of each of 8 tones available to us. That’s a total of 24. Use the range. If you want to move people with your words, move the words”. At this point, much to the surprise of the people on the next table, I demonstrate his point with my best baritone rendition of ‘doh ray me fah soh lah te doh’. The Sound of Music indeed. I don’t think I’ll be invited back to Balthazar’s in a hurry!