Are you as influential as you think? Research says probably not. Ninety-five percent of leaders think they are more influential than they are.

In January, I went to a workshop on Communicating with Influence. The facilitators videotaped us several times, making for an eye-opening (and a little painful) experience. I thought of myself as an effective and influential communicator. Turns out I’m not. Truth be told, I am not nearly as effective as I could be. I am using what I learned in the workshop to clean up my act. I thought you might appreciate a little refresher as well.

According to Stacy Hanke, author of Influence Redefined, the disconnect between how influential we think we are and how influential we actually are can be traced to two reasons. One is a phenomenon called illusionary superiority, which means people overestimate their positive qualities and downplay their negative ones. The second reason is a misperception of what it means to be influential. Hanke talks about three myths of influence:

  • Myth One: I feel influential; therefore, I am.
    Reality: Influence is evidenced by results. Just feeling confident, credible and knowledgeable when you see your audience members nodding their heads doesn’t mean you really are. Will they ultimately do what you want them to do?
  • Myth Two: Influence is situational. Some people think you turn influence on for important events—board meetings, product launches, conferences—but that it’s not necessary to be influential in our day-to-day-transactions.
    Reality: Real influence is exerted every day, in every exchange, with every supervisor, co-worker, or client. It’s developed through the accumulation of daily actions and interactions.
  • Myth Three: Title equals influence.
    Reality: Anyone has the capacity to be influential if you are willing to do the work. It is not something awarded or mandated. Influence is earned.

Getting Their Attention

A key component of influence is communicating effectively, and that requires getting someone’s attention. If you don’t have their attention, you can’t influence them. In our efforts to capture attention, technology is often our biggest nemesis. We’ve all been in meetings where people are texting or checking emails while we are talking. You could ignore them, assuming they are multitasking. You might talk louder and faster, hoping to draw their attention. You may even be tempted to call them out, which embarrasses them and makes you look like a first-class jerk.

Hanke has some ideas to regain control in these situations:

  1. Pause. Silence will grab the offender’s attention and bring it back to you and your message.
  2. Engage listeners by holding eye contact with them through a complete thought.
  3. Take control from the beginning. Ask everyone to put their devices away to honor the time of everyone in the room, which will allow an on-time ending.
  4. Be interesting! Don’t read from slides. Make a connection with your audience and communicate with passion and authenticity.

Business communication consultant Ben Decker says building an emotional connection with our audience is critical to inspiring them. Conveying authenticity and warmth through your behaviors and your voice will foster this connection. Decker, co-author of Communicate to Influence: How to Inspire Your Audience to Action, recommends that messages be structured but not scripted. He offers the Decker Grid, which can be downloaded at decker.com. The Decker Grid helps you prepare your message, create and maintain focus, build listener-friendly messages, involve and connect with your audience and move from information to influence. In short, this simple tool can help you increase your effectiveness in all communication opportunities, which are also opportunities to influence.

If my training in January paid off, you’re already thinking of ways to make your messages clearer and more interesting. You may even want to attend a class so you can get an honest look at how you come across when you have a message to deliver. If none of this is resonating for you, then I better keep practicing my influence skills.

McDaid is The Council’s SVP of leadership and management resources. elizabeth.mcdaid@ciab.com