By Julie Lays

In case you’re wondering, the rock concert yesterday afternoon was in room L100ABC, during the Legislative Staff University course on communication skills.

Sari de la MotteSari de la Motte, a nonverbal communications expert, who knows how to teach just about anyone to "communicate like a rock star," told a packed room that we all can polish our leadership skills, deal with difficult people and situations more effectively, and inspire those around us by focusing more on the message we convey—with our eyes, body, voice and breath—than the words we say.

With lots of humor and great nonverbal presentation skills, de la Motte had the audience engaged from the start as she discussed the importance of certain behaviors many of us, I assume, had never considered before. To communicate like a rock star, she said, we must ask ourselves these questions.

1. What is the person looking at? If you pay attention to where his eyes go, you’ll know what he really wants to discuss. If they are on your eyes, he most likely wants to engage with you. Now is the time to share something about yourself. But if he keeps looking at the report in your hand, don’t chat about your day; get right to the results of the report.

2. What is the person’s stance telling you? If her weight is over both her feet, her palms face down, and her head still and straight, she is in an authoritative stance. The opposite (head and weight shifted to one side, palms up) expresses a more approachable state. Match your stance to hers and communication will go much more smoothly.

3. How does the person sound? Again, there are two patterns, the authoritative voice comes from a still head, chin down, voice dropping down at end of statements. This is the voice to use when delivering serious or bad news. The approachable voice is rhythmic and goes up at the end of a statement. It expresses openness to questions and a readiness to empathize.

4. How’s he or she breathing? This is the most important tip for all you future rock stars, she said. Breath identifies how we are—holding our breath or breathing shallow conveys we are totally engaged (if not totally terrorized) in what’s happening, while deep and low breathing says we are not emotionally engaged with this person or in this topic and can handle whatever is communicated. Both come in handy at different times in our lives. But, you’ll never be a real rock star, she says, unless you can control your breathing.

Rock stars know who they are and are comfortable in their own skins. They are authentic. And that’s just how de la Motte came across. She ended to enthusiastic applause. “That was great, really useful,” I heard more than one participant say. “Awesome,” another staffer said while holding her breath, looking toward de la Motte, with her chin down, her weight over both feet, her palms down and back. “Really awesome.”

Julie Lays is the editor of State Legislatures magazine.

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This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.


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