By Steve Adubato, PhD
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the fact that I firmly believe great communicators are not "born" but rather are developed. Great communication comes from a combination of practice, persistence and patience. It also comes from a burning desire to connect with other people in a more meaningful, personal fashion.
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with one of the more charismatic, and no doubt effective, communicators in the world of business. Charles Hamm is the recently retired President and CEO and currently Chairman of a major New York based bank that does a lot of business in New Jersey. When I interviewed Mr. Hamm for public television, I was struck by his ability to articulate in a clear, concise and compelling fashion. He used powerful anecdotes and spoke in a conversational fashion. He was so good that I felt compelled to ask him how he got to be that good. "Were you born with it?" "Did it come naturally?" "Were you a big talker as a kid?" Charles Hamm's response shocked me.
"I was dyslexic. I couldn't read or write. I struggled through school and just barely made it through, albeit the best schools around. I was quiet and remote. And the reason was because I was worried about speaking. Everything was backwards or upside down; D's and B's and Q's and G's. They put my homework on the board and made fun of it. I learned to listen. I was so afraid to communicate that I absorbed everything."
At the time, Hamm was a top-level executive in advertising and marketing. Yet, despite how much he absorbed he continued to be afraid to speak in public because of his dyslexia and his childhood memories until he was 35. For over two decades, Hamm would write out his speeches and had problems reading them afterward. It was then that he made the decision that not only changed his career, but literally changed his life. Finally, Charles Hamm decided to face his fear head on.
"At the advice of a speech therapist, I decided to swallow my fear. I threw out the fear, threw out the notes and went up shaking like a leaf and did it. And I've never stopped."
But it's not that simple. Hamm decided to go with what he knew and, in fact, speak from the heart. Instead of potentially getting confused and overwhelmed by a mass of numbers, statistics and data, he took a more personal and human approach to the way he spoke in front of others, whether at a meeting, a presentation or putting together a one-on one deal. "What I try to do is understand the subject, be passionate about it and understand what the essence of that subject means to someone else and then give it to them. I just expose myself as an emotional commitment to an idea."
Then I asked Hamm to respond to those in the banking or any other business who are convinced that speaking in a more informal and personal fashion is risky and rather opt to communicate in purely rational, logical and bottom line terms. "Rationality and logic do not rule the world. It's an excuse. Emotion rules the world. And if you can use that wisely and support it with logic and rationale, that's what happens."
Bottom line, like millions of others who were born with certain challenges and obstacles, Charles Hamm more than overcame dyslexia and painful shyness to become a giant communicator in the world of industry. But like I said, that just doesn't happen by osmosis. He made it a priority in his life. He decided to take a risk. He speaks from his heart and the bottom line seems to have worked out. Funny how that happens, isn't it? Charles Hamm is undoubtedly a communication all-star.