You Can’t be Inspirational via Email

Also, the story of how I joined a Toastmasters club.

As a new manager, how many times did I sit at my desk and earnestly type out a well-intended message to my team?  Something along the lines of, “You’re all doing great but we could do better!  Let’s focus on hitting our targets for measures X, Y, and Z.  While I have your attention let’s also stop doing this other Not Good Thing.  Thanks!”  As an introvert this seemed so natural.  Who wants to languish in meetings or get interrupted by someone just to talk?

I was so certain my tone would come across just right.  No misinterpretation, no subjective terms, no problem!  My team would read that mile of dense, unbroken text properly in my “voice” with the right inflection, understand what they needed to do, and would happily comply.  Teamwork, right?

I cringe.

As an employee, how many times did I receive an email, just as careful in selection of words and appropriate tone, and internally roll my eyes and go right back to doing what made sense to me?

Cringe cringe cringe.

What about you?    Have you ever received an email and felt truly inspired?  Marvel with a colleague about how compelling and effective it was?  If there were Spammy Awards for carefully-crafted emails, have you received any winners?

I’ll guess no.

You cannot be inspirational via email.  You have to speak it.

Until recently, I was not great at this.  I had promising, research-based ideas and solutions that were not getting the attention I felt they deserved.  But I was slowly killing my audience via email – no wonder I couldn’t get buy-in.  

If I have brilliant ideas, or even brilliant execution, but fail to convey them in a meaningful way, I may as well have nothing.

I had to speak it.

The change for me was when a leadership development class challenged us to come up with our best vision for the future – the session was titled, “Inspire a Shared Vision.”  Even the word inspire implies breath, or speaking:  You breathe life into your idea.  I was the sole participant (sucker?) out of 70 classmates to put my name in the hat, get hauled up in front of the group, and talk.  

I don’t entirely remember what I said.  But I saw it– the moment the crowd attuned to what I was saying — shock and unease as I described a problem, laughter at a few moments, and then hope as I described a solution.  People leaned forward and their faces reflected my words.  They were getting it.  The vision I had in my head was now in theirs, too.

People came to chat with me afterward, while my hands were still shaking.  They remained engaged days, weeks later!  They had questions!  Ideas!  Energy!

This power is within you, too.  But you must speak it into being.

That nerve-wracking session convinced me I needed to practice verbalizing ideas in meaningful ways.  I didn’t want my hands to shake any more.  That day felt like a fluke, a lucky break for a beginner.  I wanted to be consistently effective.  One of the best places to practice these skills in a safe, supportive environment is a Toastmasters group:  helpful feedback is an expected part of every session and you can find many opportunities to contribute.  Each skill builds into the next with a clear path for progress.   

We’re nearing the end of 2018.  My local Toastmasters club typically sees a crowd of “New Year’s Resolutions” folks, so you will probably encounter a batch of new faces right alongside you!   Nab a friend and find a local club for yourself.  One of the best things about my club –they hear me say it all the time– it’s a safe place to try new things and make some mistakes.

Speaking in front of a group is more terrifying than the first drop of a roller-coaster.  But it doesn’t have to be!  Step away from your keyboard and imagine how effective you could be when you breathe life into your ideas!  You’ll have a group of people cheering for you at the end.

One Reply to “You Can’t be Inspirational via Email”

  1. Completely agree with the “tone” of emails. Nothing beats a quick chat whenever you want to really get your point across. Group emails are a bit more complicated, that instantly means speech time…

    I remember feeling the same thing every time I have to get up in front of everyone at work. Even though I’ve been there for-ev-er, I’m still a bundle of nerves when all eyes are on me. Shaking hands and all. But what a rush!

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