Dan Beverly

The Art of Conversation is a key leadership skill. Challenging conversations. Coaching conversations. Negotiations. Review and feedback conversations. Crucial conversations. If I could give an up-and-coming leader a handful of superpowers, conversation would be one of them.

And one useful conversation style to have in your leadership toolkit (including your self-leadership toolkit!) is the Art of the Pep Talk. A short, but impactful exchange that elevates the motivation, self-belief, courage and enthusiasm of a conversation partner who’s feeling the pressure ahead of an upcoming performance event or the impact of a hard-hitting setback.

Now, the first thought might be that a pep talk is not a skill that needs intentional focus, attention or work. Why? Because there’s apparently not much to them. And because we’re all well-intentioned human beings and to bring positivity in service to another is generally in our DNA.

But the art of the pep talk does need thought:

  • Yes, they are short. But that raises the stakes because my communication needs to be impactful in just a few short words. Powerfully succinct communications need practise.
  • And yes, they are about being positive. But genuinely helpful positivity is easily undone with some pep talk pitfalls. Take a look at the list below and remind yourself of the feelings you’ve had when you’ve received these comments:

Pep Talk Pitfalls

  • “You’ll be fine.”
  • “Go for it.”
  • “Just remember to smile.”
  • “Go out there and enjoy yourself.”
  • “You’re sure to do well.”
  • “You’ve nothing to worry about.”

What do you notice about these statements? Positive? Yes. Well-intentioned? Probably. But notice how dismissive they are: negating the real work and focus that’s needed for success; relegating any interest in helping me find solutions behind whatever else is on your mind, right now; even making me feel stupid for raising the “non-issue” (!) in the first place.

To avoid these pitfalls and elevate the quality of your Pep Talk, let’s introduce a little A-GAME with these 5 thoughts:

A is for ATTENTIVE.

We know instantly when a pep talk opportunity presents itself. And many of us get excited – it’s great to be asked, great to be of service. But our (over-)eagerness to oblige often means we miss that important first step of paying proper attention: to the context and to the ask. Before launching into your words of wisdom (!), understand the situation. Your talk will be likely be far more focused and beneficial if you understand what’s behind this.

G is for GENUINE.

Your talk will have diminished value and little effect if the message doesn’t come from the heart. We can always tell when someone isn’t being sincere. And how can we expect to elevate someone’s self-belief if it’s clear we don’t believe what we’re saying either! First rule: be genuine. And don’t patronise!

A is for AFFIRMING.

Your talk needs to be grounded in fact and evidence. “You’ll knock it out of the park” is not the worst thing to say. But far more impactful to link that in with evidence and example. Something like: “You’ve given similar talks to similar audiences before with great success.” Build the other person’s faith with real-world reasoning, clearly communicated.

M is for MOTIVATING.

The very best pep talks leave the other person on fire with desire and raring to go. But of course, we can’t give people motivation; it’s a state we must help the other person awaken in themselves. Revising previous wins is a great way to get the person back to motivation. Helping them connect with the positive outcomes that will come from their next step also ignites that fire.

E is for EMPATHIC.

Your talk doesn’t want to focus in on the negative emotions – that just strengthens those feelings and can have us both spiralling downward. BUT: you do want to recognise and acknowledge feelings of self-doubt, anxiety and fear. Notice how some of the pitfall statements above summarily fail in this respect – and I’m left with even more self-doubt and fear! Acknowledge the feelings, simply, succinctly and without emotional charge; before moving the conversation on to more powerfully positive thoughts.

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Dan Beverly

Dan Beverly is a leadership and performance coach helping women in leadership achieve their highest potential.

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