How to own the room
COMMONNESS - Bong R. Osorio (The Philippine Star) - November 29, 2015 - 9:00am

"Owning a room” is an idiom usually applied to situations where a performer, speaker or interviewee is amply amusing, considerate and fascinating. He makes everyone present pay close attention to everything he says or does. Of late, the expression has gained currency and is a vital element in the quality of one’s leadership style.

People are attracted to and predisposed to work with you if you communicate authentically, and this gift allows you to connect easily and establish immediate rapport and presence. You “own the room” and you project the awesome ability to consistently and clearly articulate your value proposition while influencing others.

“One of the greatest challenges of presence is feeling that you can get up in front of the organization and speak with authenticity. Many leaders struggle to stay on corporate message while delivering a message to their teams, divisions or even the media that feels like their own,” observed Amy Jen Su and Muriel M. Wilkins, whose book Own the Room: Discover your Signature Voice to Master your Leadership Presence provides a road map on how to recognize the voice or tonality of communication you use most often and tweak it to become a stronger leader who can hook any audience with sincerity.

Signature voice

You are authentic if you have a “signature voice” — a means of self-expression that is uniquely and distinctly your own. “The challenge all individuals face is to adaptively use both voices: to speak for yourself, your team, and your function and to know when to do the same for others, their teams, and their functions,” Su and Wilkins declare. They illustrate a voice quadrant that features four voice types: passive, driving, supportive and signature.

A driving voice finds you consistently speaking about yourself, your needs and your vision, while a supportive voice makes you listen more and offer support. And when you consistently use either a driving or supportive voice, conclusions and judgments are made about you and your ability to lead. The signature voice is the sweet spot where the driving voice and supportive voice are balanced. And once you realize and speak about your own signature voice, you’ll be ready to take your attractive qualities to the next level. “As you move along the leadership pipeline and the demands on you increase, you must adapt your voice for self and voice for others, expanding your abilities to demonstrate your value and to connect and align with others,” the authors emphasize.

Fair warning: Discovering your signature voice does not mean abandoning your natural style. For those who rose through the ranks using either a supportive voice or an assertive one, their style has merit in that it’s obviously worked for them. Recognize, instead, if your instinctive style is proving ineffective. As such, strategically shift between your voice to yourself and your voice to others.

The ace framework

Following the principle of “unlearn first to learn well,” the book debunks three myths about presence, which are: one, people naturally either have presence or not; two, presence means copying someone else and that one size fits all; and three, when you’ve got it, presence is static and you don’t have to keep evolving and growing. Su and Wilkins believe that presence can be learned and made more authentic, and suggested the use of what they call the “ACE” model — an acronym for assumptions, communication strategy and energy.

Know your assumptions. These are what you assume and bring to your interactions with others. They can drive you to a level of importance or delay your progress, but left unaware of these suppositions, you will never understand how they are working for you. Thus you have to situate them, nurturing those that work, and dumping those that tear you down. The significant assumptions that you should examine include: What you bring to the table or your level of confidence; what you wear or your perspective; what your values are; how you feel about authority; what unique strengths you possess, and what you contribute that others don’t; the scope of your role and your sphere of influence; and what success looks like in your role. Positively framing these assumptions can help you flex your leadership muscle to  “own the room.”

Own your communications style. The techniques and tools you use to engage, influence and inspire others must be precise. And this you can develop through practice, practice and practice. You must know what key messages to convey and choose the right strategy to properly project them. There are many possibilities and platforms in which communication can be launched, and the points to consider in order to achieve the best communication strategy are: how to frame the discussion; what advocacy to adopt; which channels to tap that can bring effective audience connectivity and what activities to implement to effectively engage your audience.

“Those who try and mimic someone else stifle their own creativity and innovation and fail to build on their own strengths.” Common advice suggests that to have presence, all you need to do is to watch successful people and emulate their presence. While you can gain a signature presence by taking a broader perspective, you don’t gain it by pretending to be someone else. Be honest about your presence and identifying patterns of behavior that aren’t serving you anymore. Are there communication habits you have carried with you from past experiences that aren’t serving you right now? How do you plan on adapting them to improve your professional presence and own every room you’re in?

Harness and put your energy to good work. Energy is physically conditioning yourself to help strengthen the delivery of your key messages, and manage the impact of your nonverbal cues or emotions on others. People can get all sorts of cues from your non-verbal behavior and it is important for you to make sure that you are sending the right ones. To make your actions speak louder, your words have to match your physical cues; set the tone of your words with your energy, and make your presence known by identifying key members you need to interface with.

By focusing on the ACE outline, you are able to address your mental and physical self, and your skills. Su and Wilkins’ diagnostic framework enables you to spot your current level of presence and identify the areas in which you need improvement.

Through their coaching experience, the authors shared the cases of some interesting characters like Bill Gates and Al Gore among others, whose stories are conveniently relatable in your workplace. By simply aligning the ACE technique they were able to assess their current presence and bring out their personal best. Gates, despite being a self-proclaimed introvert, has a presentation style that fills a room with laser clarity of vision and values and defies many conventions of how powerful leaders tend to look and feel. Gore, whose once-robotic communication style as vice president and presidential candidate gave way to warmth, poise and passion for environmental causes, is now an acclaimed filmmaker and Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Another narrative they cited is the first televised US presidential debate involving Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy. It was a break point in understanding what makes an enduring imprint. During the debate, radio listeners thought Richard Nixon prevailed, but television viewers felt John F. Kennedy’s charisma, and this helped him win the 1960 election.

Substance matters, but Su and Wilkins’ tome shows that, coupled with style, your substance can sizzle even more, earn you big promotions and make you truly “own the room.”

* * *

Email bongosorio@yahoo.com for comments, questions or suggestions. Thank you for communicating.

ACIRC AMY JEN SU AND MURIEL M BILL GATES AND AL GORE JOHN F OTHERS PRESENCE SIGNATURE STRONG STYLE SU AND WILKINS VOICE
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