Back in college (otherwise known as “university” for those not in the States), I spent most of my time studying human behavior. My two degrees were in Interpersonal Communication and Social Psychology, which explains why I spend so much time thinking and writing about it.
While in my studies, there was one particular statistic drilled into our heads that I still can’t get away from today. And it’s that over 70% of our communication is nonverbal.
When you hear that, you probably get it. When I say, “You’re so awesome,” it can either come off as sarcastic or truly genuine. My nonverbal cues (the sound of my voice, positioning of my hands and eyes, etc.) all provide context for what I’m really saying.
A couple weeks ago, I was reminded of this at GAN’s annual Summit.
Every Summit in that past has had similar content — content about how to make accelerators better, how to find the best startups, what it means to support the supports who have already gone through our programs, and much more.
And, the format was always pretty similar. We would have very short talks (seriously, they’d only last between 5 to 20 minutes) and then we’d move onto the next subject. This kind of pace helped everything feel fast and exciting. But everyone seemed to leave feeling overwhelmed, like we covered a bunch of information that was an inch deep and a mile wide.
So this year, we decided to blow up the format. No single talk would be under 30 minutes long. Each person would truly drill into a very specific issue they’re currently working through, and then they’d spend 30–60 minutes discussing it with the group.
The feedback so far? The change in format allowed everyone to understand highly complex issues, work through them, and digest the content in a way that they can remember.
Another way of saying it: The change in format drastically shifted everyone’s ability to understand the messages.
Applying This to Running a Company
If there is one area where I think startups (and business people) don’t focus enough of their attention, day-to-day, it’s this particular issue. They pay attention to their message but pay very little attention to the method in which their message is conveyed. Here are a few quick examples of how I’m working on this, in particular.
How I Appreciate My Colleagues
I could easily 1) not appreciate my colleagues, 2) do it haphazardly whenever I feel like its deserved, or 3) provide appreciation all the time.
And all of those could work.
But what I’ve found is that, when I provide feedback on the fly, it didn’t sit well. People were either taken aback or surprised because they didn’t think it was coming. And then that surprise caused them to not be able to hear my message.
So I wanted to find a way to provide ongoing feedback that felt authentic and didn’t surprise people.
So, we created a practice we call “Appreciates.”
Every Monday, just after our team meeting, our entire staff goes around the table for 30 minutes and we thank each person on the team for something that they’ve done to improve the company, support us as co-workers, or any way they’ve added value to us and the team.
This format helps each of us know that we’re about to be appreciated and it gets everyone in the right mindset to receive that feedback. Plus, it’s a pretty solid feel-good session, where everyone leaves team meetings on an incredibly high note.
In other words, the medium allows us to hear the message.
How I Pitch My Company
When I first started running GAN seven years ago, it was called the “Techstars Network.” Here’s a quick photo for how we originally pitched ourselves.
And check out how we’ve adjusted the slides to describe what we do now.
The message is the same. We’re still a network of accelerators (and now work with partners and investors), but the way in which we showcase ourselves has drastically changed.
It allows people to have a much better understanding of what we do.
When startups approach our venture fund for money, this seems to be where they struggle the most. They offer us great content, but their words aren’t supported by their imagery in a way that tells a cohesive story that makes sense. It’s why I always suggest that startups get help from a designer — someone who can clean up a few slides, even if only for $100–200. Because that $100–200 will up your game and allow your message to be received. Design certainly won’t save your business; if you have a crummy product or service, design won’t sell it. But, it can certainly make the difference between confused investors and investors who feel confident in knowing what you’re selling.
How We Speak to Groups
If you’re a CEO (or really, anyone in business today), you’re going to have to speak in front of groups. And when it comes to public speaking and doing it well, I tend to hear one thing repeatedly:
I just need to “be myself” and then everything will be okay.
A few months ago, I hired a pretty famous speaking coach and author to work with me on some of my speeches. His name is Curt Steinhorst and, while we were chatting, he told me that “just being yourself and believing everything will be okay” is pretty horrible advice. Think about it. In all of the best presentations I’ve heard, I can’t think of a single one that just sounds like someone is sitting across from me, having a casual conversation.
Instead, the best public speakers tend to employ very strategic methods for communicating their ideas well. They use “you” instead of “I” language. They talk in short sentences. They raise their voices and then lower them.
None of these presentation tricks are things we employ in natural conversation when we’re just “being ourselves.”
Noticing this has helped me realize that, when I speak to groups, I have to take a different posture. So I’m reading a lot about it and putting in a lot of work to improve my own presentation game.
Why am I Bringing This Up Now?
If I’m not being really intentional about how I communicate my message, it will often fall flat. People will miss what I’m actually trying to say. And that means that I might not just cause some interpersonal issues between myself and my colleagues, but I might also miss important business opportunities along the way. My effectiveness, not only as a leader who manages a growing team, but as someone who runs a company, could falter if I’m not paying attention to how my messages are delivered.
If we’re doing our jobs well, we want people to hear our message. We want people to understand what we’re trying to convey.
So I’m reading a ton about it.
All so that my medium doesn’t get in the way of my message.
I’d love to hear what you’re doing around effective communication strategies, as well. Feel free to send me a note. I’d love to share a few of my favorites in my weekly newsletter.