Painfully long – that’s how I’d describe my list of unseen Oscar movies. But I just celebrated a minor victory when I watched The Iron Lady, which details the life of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. In addition to being a testament to Meryl Streep’s continued excellence (come on, there really is no equal), the movie also speaks to the incredible impact that behavior has on a communication experience.
In one memorable scene, members of Parliament jeer and mock Thatcher for “screeching.”
Did you catch her snappy response? “If the right honorable gentleman could perhaps attend more closely to what I am saying, rather than how I am saying it, he may receive a valuable education in spite of himself.”
Seems like a good retort, at first. Like Thatcher, we assume that if we say the right words, the audience will hear us and understand. But it isn’t that simple. The message has to come through us, and if our behavior isn’t consistent with our content, we can block our own message.
We’ve blogged before about Albert Mehrabian’s classic “Silent Messages.” From this book came the research that shows vocal and visual outweigh the verbal when you have a conflicted message. What does this mean? If what we say doesn’t match how we say it, people might not get it. It means that something as simple as Thatcher’s naturally high pitch and nasal tone could detrimentally effect how others perceived her.
This has profound implications on our daily lives! We tend to spend 99 percent of our time working on a speech, meeting agenda, or PowerPoint deck and we’re lucky if we even consider how we’re going to deliver it. But what people see and hear from us does impact the communication experience.
Bringing it back to Margaret Thatcher, she made changes in her behavior so her ideas could be heard and taken seriously. She received vocal coaching to reduce her “screeching.” She learned to project her voice at a louder volume and in a lower register to command respect and authority. The results were remarkable.
Learn from the Iron Lady.
Video yourself and watch it back. Record a voice memo of yourself on your iPhone. Then, consider how you come across both vocally and visually. Is there anything blocking your message from your listeners? What adjustments in your behavior will help the message come more clearly through you? Taking these steps will ensure that others receive a valuable education from you (spoken in my most punchy British accent).