For a long time, I have spoken in public settings. At first I taught software classes and then moved to keynote speeches to support my books. I had a great deal to learn about this type of public speaking. To that end, quickly started following communications coach and theorist Nick Morgan. I found his blog to be replete with much-needed insight on communications, the subject of my next book.
I recently sat down with Nick to talk about his new book Power Cues: The Subtle Science of Leading Groups, Persuading Others, and Maximizing Your Personal Impact.
PS: Power Cues is about influence and how to lead people. However, in a way that's different from how we normally think about it. What's going on? What were you hoping to achieve in writing the book?
NM: Most of our communication is unconscious. Our conscious brains can handle something like 40 bits of information a second. That sounds like a lot until you know that our unconscious minds can handle 11 million bits of information per second. And so we've evolved to push much of our behavior down to our unconscious minds because they can handle these important chores so much more powerfully and rapidly. Including most of influence and leadership.
Precisely because all of this mental activity is unconscious, we're not aware of it until it has already started to happen. Studies show, in fact, that we make most decisions unconsciously, and only become aware of them consciously afterward, once we already start acting on that decision. The delay can be as long as nine seconds.
In short, for most of the things that matter, your unconscious mind rules you, not the other way around.
So, the questions I wanted to ask in the book were, what if you could learn to become aware of the important parts of this unconscious mental activity? What if you could learn to read it in others' minds? And what if you could control conversations, meetings, and all sorts of interactions among the people around you using that conscious awareness of everyone's unconscious minds, including your own?
What if you could walk into a room and effortlessly (or apparently effortlessly) take charge of it? What if you could switch on charisma at will, making all heads swivel in your direction when you walk into that room? What if you could become the natural leader -- the go-to person -- of most of the groups that you join?
What if you could learn the essential power cues that will enable you to master virtually any situation where you want or need to be in control?
Would that be worth the effort? That's what Power Cues explores -- and I believe the answer to that last question is yes!
PS: What are the Power Cues?
NM: The first power cue is all about self-awareness. How do you show up when you walk into a room? You need to begin to get some sense of how you inhabit space, what your characteristic gestures are, and how you affect others. Are you powerful and commanding? Are you friendly and warm? Do people fear you, trust you, like you, avoid you, flock to you -- what happens? Do you take charge or take a back seat? These are the sort of impressions we need to understand better in order to begin the process of turning you into a charismatic version of yourself.
The second power cue involves taking charge of your non-verbal communications in order to project the persona you want to project -- through your emotions. What emotions do you convey for important meetings, conversations, and presentations?
Most of us are not charismatic most of the time because we don't manage and focus our emotions. So we meet other people with a hundred things on our minds, and a mixed bag of emotions, like our cluttered to-do lists. The result is muddle, not charisma.
The third power cue helps you learn to read others' unconscious messages. What unconscious messages are you receiving from others?
Once you've developed these basic understandings of how people relate to one another, you're ready for the other power cues, which talk about how to extend your influence and maximize your leadership.
PS: What is the most surprising thing you've learned researching all this neuroscience?
NM: The research on the voice is surprising and little known, and it will give you an edge over your colleagues and competitors that you will be able to master with some weeks' practice. The results can be powerful and life-changing, if you undertake them carefully and thoroughly. Your voice is something you likely take for granted and rarely think about except when you have a cold, but it is one of the primary ways in which you connect with and influence people every day. It's worth the effort. For sci-fi fans, you can create something like the fictional "Voice" in Frank Herbert's Dune.
PS: What changed for you in working on this book?
NM: I have focused as a coach on working with individuals and small groups, on helping people become more powerful communicators. But working on Power Cues for two years taught me that we humans are much more communal than we realize. It's something we've forgotten, as we tune in separately to our thousand channels of entertainment and news using devices that isolate us even as they offer pseudo-connections to the group through the music or the headlines or the games. We only remember our communality when we get together as a group to hear a speech or attend a concert or root for a sports franchise.
But when we get together in groups, we become a tribe again, and we instinctively want to have a leader. That's your chance to take control, consciously using the power of everyone's unconscious mind.
That's why an audience is so eager for a speaker to succeed, for example, and so disappointed when one fails. There's an opportunity that is squandered a thousand times a day in a thousand meeting rooms around the world. Instead of focusing on the group, the emotion, and the need for leadership, speakers think about PowerPoint and content. What a huge amount of wasted effort!
We create a leader to make us feel safe, and to give us a group purpose, or direction. Because, like a group of fish or birds or zebra, we need and want the guidance. As we'll see, the unconscious signals that the speaker sends out to the audience must create trust and credibility or else the audience gives up, disappointed, and looks elsewhere for another leader.