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Impactful Communication: Lauren Hope Of Second Service Foundation On 5 Essential Techniques for…

Impactful Communication: Lauren Hope Of Second Service Foundation On 5 Essential Techniques for Becoming an Effective Communicator

An Interview With Athalia Monae

Practice. You really do need to practice! By practicing more and more, I built my own confidence and established expertise. It feels awkward to practice, it really does, but that just means you’re not done yet. You have to keep practicing until you know it in and out, and you can have the conversation without even thinking about it. I’m talking about public speaking, but I’m also talking about a sales pitch. Know your pitch inside and out, know it so well that you can give it half asleep. It matters.

In an age dominated by digital communication, the power of articulate and effective verbal communication cannot be understated. Whether it’s delivering a keynote address, leading a team meeting, or engaging in a one-on-one conversation, impactful speaking can open doors, inspire change, and create lasting impressions. But what truly sets apart an effective communicator? What techniques and nuances elevate a speech from mundane to memorable? As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing: Lauren Hope

Lauren Hope is the Executive Director of Second Service Foundation, a serial entrepreneur, and an active-duty military spouse. Her entrepreneurial journey includes being owner and artisan behind Hope Design Ltd., starting the #ShopMilitary social media campaign, graduating top of her class at The Culinary Institute of America, and being named best student chef by Food & Wine Magazine.

Lauren currently serves on the board for the Military Spouse Corporate Career Network and is an alumna of the Military Family Advisory Network’s advisory board. The Military Family Advisory Network is the authentic voice of the modern military family and the bridge that connects military families to the resources, people, and information they depend on to successfully navigate all phases of military life. Lauren advises the Military Spouse Corporate Career Network’s “Arm-Me Up© Careers Campaign,” which provides Army spouses with no-cost job placement assistance and career progression services.

Lauren is an avid public speaker, motivating and inspiring crowds at events such as the Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year® Town Halls, NMSN Congressional Round Table, Institute for Veterans and Military Families, Wounded Warrior Project, and the Military Influencer Conference.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion about communication, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

“Growing up, I was a people pleaser. I was not the main character, even in my own life, as crazy as that sounds. I wasn’t a popular kid in high school, so I never really put myself out there. I was on the cheerleading team in my younger years and got cut by freshman year so I didn’t really fit in with the main crowds.

We were required to take a public speaking class our senior year, and I hated it. I would literally cry in the corner. I didn’t want to get up in front of my peers because it was so embarrassing and so hard. I don’t think anyone had ever really cheerleaded me to a public speaking space before. But this teacher, she believed in me. I went from the kid who cried in the corner — worst speaker ever — to the point where I was voted the Most Improved by the end of my senior year.

Our big speech that we gave at the end of the year was freestyle, and the theme of my speech was ‘Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail.’ And so with Fail to Plan, I made it super awkward for like a minute and a half where the teacher called me up to the room to give my speech (she was in on it). I puttered about and was so embarrassed and slunk back in my chair, going through my backpack for my papers, and was like, “oh boy.” I finally collected myself and went up to the front of the room. Then I snapped to, and said, ‘Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail. You never know where life’s greatest opportunities are. So if you plan to the best of your abilities, then when the right opportunity comes along, you certainly can’t fail.’

I think it’s really fundamental as to why I love doing what I’m doing so much right now because it just took one person really believing in me and pushing me into a place that was really uncomfortable — but it was good for me. Mark Rockefeller believed in me. That’s why he put me in this role as Executive Director of the Second Service Foundation. I just recently spoke at the Military Influencer Conference — Founder Curtez Riggs heard me speak once publicly, and said, “People need to hear this; I am putting you in this role.”

I now get the same opportunity to do that every single day for other people. I’ll never forget looking at Monica Bassett of Stronghold Food Pantry after she pitched at the Military Spouse of the Year® pitch competition. She was so scared to even enter the pitch competition, but getting to push her into a place where I knew that she could grow and then for her to get the highest score that we’ve ever had as a pitch competitor was amazing. To then share that news with her was incredible, especially because I saw so much of my high school self in her. She did a really hard thing, and she nailed it. I love watching people from our pitch classes grow.”

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

“I started carrying giant checks around the airport by accident to communicate with people what I do for a living and who I’m looking to connect with. So on the back of one of these giant show checks, I had an extra because I didn’t make any spelling mistakes that day. I had written: ‘I believe in giving a hand up and not a handout to those who put their life on the line for the American Dream. Join me in supporting military entrepreneurs as we build the Military American Dream™.’ And somebody behind me in line at the airport line read the sign, and said, “I’ll bite.” I turned around, gave them my elevator pitch, and let them know that I’m always looking to connect with military entrepreneurs, sponsors, donors, and venture capitalists to help me build the Military American Dream™. He chuckled and said, “I happen to work in venture capitalism; let’s talk.” To my delight, it ended up being former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.

So when we talk about the caliber of people, this job has taught me to shoot my shot because you never know who’s listening, who’s willing to say yes, and what’s their threshold. If you don’t ask, you won’t know.”

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

“Listening — without a doubt, listening. When I sit in the quiet and listen to what someone else has to say, I get to read their heart. From that, I can start to strategize a win-win. Being an effective communicator is working with someone, not talking at them. When I design a win-win, everybody gets what they want. We strengthen our relationship and we open up more doorways and opportunities for communicating. Listening demonstrates that I’m willing to put in the time to know what’s important to them, even if I don’t agree with them.

I met Bridget Ross at Business Beyond the Battlefield. She was a panel speaker discussing access to capital. Given that our foundation supports military entrepreneurs through coaching, capital, and resources, I knew I needed to meet her. I was very intentional when I saw her in the hotel lobby afterwards, to go out of my way to introduce myself. She happened to stop and listen to the tail end of a conversation I was having with someone else, and realized what I was discussing would actually be of great benefit to her company. We ended up talking for over three hours about what her business needs are, and the beautiful symmetry between those needs and what my nonprofit can offer. By listening to her pain points, I was able to strategize a win-win and make a valuable offer to stay in touch.

Win-win is the second one — that is my mental policy, it’s my life policy. I’m never looking to win. It’s never a “me versus you,” especially in negotiating because negotiating is a really unique form of communicating. Everybody is going into the negotiation with a need and a desire, and they’re not willing to exit that communication until they get what they want. I tend to catch many business people off guard because I always go in wanting the win-win. I know that if I get everything and you get nothing, it’s not gonna work in the long run because you’re not happy, so I’m never aiming for the win-lose. When I think of win-win, it pulls in that listening piece. Also — dare I say it? — pausing before speaking. It’s something that people don’t do often enough. It really gives me an opportunity to make sure that those are the words I want to put out into the world because once you say it, you can’t take it back.

I’d say the last effective communication tip is the physical side of it. It’s the small basics that we all know — be aware of your physical self because that says way more than your words ever will. Make eye contact. Understand what the other person’s body is saying, not just their words. I can’t tell you how many times I’ll stop a conversation or go back to someone after a conversation, and say, ‘ heard your words, but I’m sensing something else.’ Usually the floodgates will open, that’s when I get the real story, and that’s when I get what they actually want. Once I learn what they actually want, that’s when we can start. Negotiating or communicating and figuring out what’s gonna work best for both of us because until someone’s willing to be honest and really open up. They’re not getting what they really need.”

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Let’s begin with a basic definition so that we are all on the same page. How would you define an “Effective Communicator?” What are the characteristics of an effective communicator?

“An effective communicator is not just someone who speaks, but someone who is listened to, someone who captures their audience’s attention in a memorable way.

I was at an event recently; I often sit in other speakers’ breakouts just to see how they do it so maybe I’ll learn something. I love watching how people speak to audiences now, but this speaker was very condescending. They were delivering their information in an ‘I know everything and you know nothing’ way. They didn’t ask who was in the room. Then an audience member basically let them know that they didn’t appreciate their tone and had an issue with the speaker being condescending. Then the speaker was defensive for the rest of the talk. In addition to not understanding who the audience was or what they needed out of this talk, the speaker just kept pushing their own agenda. I think there’s so much value in pausing, reading the room, and pivoting. Because you can walk in with the greatest plan, but if your plan is not working, then it’s gonna fail, so why not pivot and go for something that will work? Why not adjust? I then took that lesson and did my own breakout session and it went famously well. I captured my audience’s hearts to the point where they still interact with me to this day.”

How can one tailor their communication style to different audiences or situations?

“When I’m speaking publicly, I literally ask who’s in the room. I usually have a general idea who is in the room — if I’m at a military veterans’ event, I know that it’s a room usually full of veterans, but who’s active duty? Who’s a veteran? Who’s a military spouse? If there’s a broader topic, like at an entrepreneurship conference, I ask ‘who are the entrepreneurs?’ Then I ask the information I really want to know: ‘Do we have anybody that’s a sponsor, a donor, a partner, a venture capitalist?’ Because if you don’t know who’s in the room, how can you speak to them?

There are different levels of experience. Who’s new, who’s been in it for five to10 years, who’s been in it for over 20. If you know who your audience is, you can adjust how you say what you say quite often. When I learn that there’s a room with, let’s say, 20% of the audience who has a lot of experience, I’ll open up the floor and say, “did I miss anything? Does anyone have some good tips that they’d like to add to what I’ve just said?” It lets them establish and validate their experience within the room, but it also teaches me something. I don’t know everything, and I’m always willing to grow. So I might take that nugget and use it at my next talk.

I’ve also watched a lot of pitches fail before because they didn’t read the room or they didn’t know who was in the room. In our pitch practice classes. I always start out with, ‘Who am I? Who are you pitching to? Am I your client? Am I your investor? Am I a potential employee? Who are you pitching?’ There’s so many different people that you interact with and pitch to in your business, so once I know what lens I’m evaluating their pitch with, I can be an effective evaluator.

Here is an example of how to pivot your communication or pitch based on your audience: I sell a loaf of white bread. If I’m talking to a potential customer, I imagine who my customer is. It’s a parent who is packing their kids’ sandwiches for their school lunch. Then I think about what problems the parent has and what problems my bread can solve. My bread is softer, fresher, longer, doesn’t fall apart, doesn’t get crumbs across your floor. I think of our selling points that matter to that person, and that’s what I work to communicate. Now imagine I’m selling that same loaf of white bread to you, but you manage a grocery store. What makes my loaf of bread different from the other 400 loaves that are already on your shelves? Well, my bread slices differently. Maybe my packaging is brighter. Maybe I have a delivery schedule that’s more accommodating to your needs. Or maybe I have a better inventory system which means you can rely on us for our customer service.

If I’m pitching my next investor, they may ask, ‘why should I invest in your white bread over everyone else’s white bread?’ Well, it’s my grandmother’s recipe, so let me share the story of how this loaf of white bread became the best loaf of bread in the entire world. It’s got an incredibly high profit margin and I know that’s what speaks to my venture capitalist. So I’ll probably speak to that and establish sales. I will discuss what business relationships I’ve already built out, if I have already established all the logistics, the supply chain, the marketing, and discuss what the terms of the agreement they are walking into.

Those are three wildly different pitches for the same loaf of white bread.”

Can you provide an example of a time when you had to adapt your communication style to reach a particular audience successfully?

“In my speaking schedule this year, I have spoken predominantly to military veterans that are in the process of retiring, veterans who have retired with several years of experience in the military, or military spouses, whether active-duty spouses or retired veteran spouses. I found myself in a very unique situation recently at AUSA where, for the first time, I was speaking with extremely experienced military service members and government contractors, all with decades of experience under their belt. One may have viewed them as much senior to me both in age and experience. But I had something they didn’t have: wisdom in business on the civilian side. We interact in a different way. I very much had to pivot my talk because I was not speaking with grassroots or starter businesses; I was talking to people who had much larger visions than what I’m accustomed to. All of a sudden we’re talking government contracting and millions of dollar contracts, which is very different from a hobby business that’s ready to take it to the next level and grow. So I relied on my knowledge of government contracting and venture capitalism, and spoke to my audience in a very different way based on who was in the room.”

How do you handle difficult or sensitive conversations while maintaining open and effective communication?

“Several years ago, I was part of a panel. One of the panelists brought up childbirth as she had recently had a child, and it was not a fairytale story. There were a few complications, but all in all the story ended happily and quickly. I read the room and saw some emotional rearing back because childbirth is not easy or wonderful for everyone, and you can’t judge others based on your own situations. In reading the room and knowing that it was a sensitive topic, I offered up my story too, which was far more tragic — it resulted with my son dying in labor. But it opened up the opportunity for everyone to be a little more vulnerable in the room, and that’s when the stories started coming forward. One of the audience members was experiencing postpartum depression, but she didn’t know it until those moments as we were all talking through this, after describing it, and after someone gave it a name, and she said, ‘oh my gosh, I think that’s right.’ And she asked me, ‘what should I do?’ But I’m not a licensed anybody! I am not qualified to advise anyone or suggest what they should do, so I was just honest. I said, ‘I don’t know how to answer that because I’m not the right person to answer that. My heart wants to help you and I want to get you to the right place. But does anyone here have a better suggestion on what her first step should be?’ And there were other people that raised their hands who had also had postpartum depression and said, ‘this therapist was a great thing for me, you should start by talking to your PCM,’ and other people helped — quickly — build an actual plan forward to help this person in their cry for help. In my free How To Pitch classes online, I tell everyone: ‘don’t BS.’ I really mean it. People know when you’re making it up, or if they don’t know it at the time, they’re gonna figure it out in the future, and they’re gonna think a whole lot less of you. So it’s okay to say ‘I don’t know,’ or ‘let me get back to you on that one. Follow up with me after class.’

I’ll never forget that gal looking at me for help and I didn’t know what to do, but I think owning not being the one to help her was probably the first right place even though I want to help. I think that was the day I earned street cred with a lot of people.”

In your experience, how does storytelling play a role in impactful speaking? Why do you think stories are effective in communication?

“Storytelling is everything in effective communication. It’s a display that I know what I’m talking about. You know that I know what you’re going through because you can relate to my story because I’ve selected the right story for that audience. If it builds trust, it establishes subject matter expertise. A story can do a lot of things. It can feel like one-upping at times, but it’s really saying, ‘I see you, and I hear you.’ So I use storytelling at the very beginning of talks to show people that I know this military life as a military entrepreneur. ‘Look at all the hard things I’ve gone through because we’ve gone through this life together.’ Totally different timelines than someone else, but same story. Once they know, like, and trust me, they’re willing to learn and listen. Then I use stories all along the way for humor and engagement because it’s way better than reading slides.

What are your “5 Essential Techniques for Becoming an Effective Communicator”?

“1 . Know your audience.

2 . Fewer words mean more.

3 . Confidence is everything. Comedian and 2023 Air Force Spouse of the Year Ashley Gutermuth is the reason that my speaking style changed drastically recently this year. I’m always nervous in front of audiences. ‘What are they gonna think of me?’ was the fear that would go through my head. One of her pieces of advice in her speaking class was, ‘You have to care more about your audience and the fact that they need the information that you’re going to give them than you can be concerned about your own nerves.’ With practice, I realized how much my audience really needs the guidance that I’m giving them, and I care about my audience. So why on earth do I care about what they think of me? They’re not even judging me; they’re judging themselves as I talk because I’m highlighting all these things that do and don’t work. Confidence is everything because I became confident that my audience needed to know what I was teaching them. I pushed through my own nerves to deliver that.

4 . Practice. You really do need to practice! By practicing more and more, I built my own confidence and established expertise. It feels awkward to practice, it really does, but that just means you’re not done yet. You have to keep practicing until you know it in and out, and you can have the conversation without even thinking about it. I’m talking about public speaking, but I’m also talking about a sales pitch. Know your pitch inside and out, know it so well that you can give it half asleep. It matters.

5 . “Listening is a key and essential technique for an effective communicator. If you’re not listening to what the audience or the other person wants or needs or has to hear, how do you know what to tell them? Recently I was listening to one of the program managers at IVMF [D’Aniello Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University] — actually, this is how Finding Your Second Service came to be! — talk about the grant fund that we were participating in. We were doing a great job spending the grant and doing all of the things, but other grant recipients were not, so the grant manager was worried about people not spending the funds before the end of the program. So I listened to what all of his issues were, and I heard an opportunity. I asked a couple of clarifying questions, and said ‘if I came up with a plan that would help you with your issues, would you be willing to hear out a proposal?’ They said, ‘well, absolutely.’ So after listening, I shot my shot and created the proposal. And that turned into the Finding Your Second Service executive coaching program. That was not funding that we were entitled to have, but we received it by listening to someone else’s issues. By reiterating what I thought were key points and then clarifying that I had heard them correctly, I created an opportunity for our nonprofit, and brought goodness into the world.”

How do you integrate non-verbal cues into your communication? Can you provide an example of its importance?

“Verbal cues are everything.They are so important for you to recognize what the other is saying, and also match them in a similar manner. For example, if someone is timid, it can be intimidating for the one they are speaking with to be in a powerful stance or with their hands on their hips. But if your body language suggests that you are thinking in the same vein as they are, they will drop their guard, relax, and you will be able to enjoy a rich conversation. In the same way, if you are speaking to someone who is domineering, you need to be able to match them in confidence so they recognize you are an equal partner who can discuss difficult or complicated matters.”

How has digital communication changed the way you convey your messages? Are there any specific challenges or advantages you’ve encountered?

Digital communication has removed all of the non-verbal use in a conversation, whether that’s the body language or the mannerisms or the tonality. It’s removed everything. It stripped it down to just words. So you have to choose your words carefully. I don’t think people choose their words very carefully anymore. I’m guilty of using AI to write something for me, and it would be a real shame if people didn’t review what they didn’t write before they put it out into the world as their own. Does it have its advantages? Sure. I no longer have to have small-talk conversations when I really just have one quick question that needs to be answered. But at the same time, it has removed the emotion and connections that communication is supposed to bring.

Alternatively: video. Let’s talk about video communication as being a wild game changer. I think of it as a huge advantage because I get to know people from across the world now because I can have a video conversation or watch someone’s video of their lives. At the drop of a hat from anywhere — it’s wild!”

Public speaking is a common fear. What techniques or strategies do you recommend to manage and overcome stage fright?

“I’ve got to go back and quote Ashley Gutermuth again. In one of our virtual classes, she talked about your energy when you walk into the room. As soon as you walk on stage, if you’re nervous, if you’re scared, your volume is gonna turn down three or four notches. So you need to make sure before you go on stage, that you have your volume turned up five notches more than what you need so that when you go down you walk onto the stage with the right energy. If that’s putting on headphones or dancing in the bathroom like no one’s listening, go and be loud and be big and get pumped up. Call the friend who is your accountability who is gonna talk you to the moon so that you know that you are meant to be on that stage and share these amazing things with the world. Do what makes you happy and picks you up so that nerves don’t even have an opportunity to knock on the door.”

What additional resources do you recommend for individuals looking to improve communication skills?

“The Second Service Foundation has online pitch workshops that teach you how to pitch yourself and your business. Additionally, we get together twice a month to practice our pitch. Come learn from others who are perfecting their pitch and work on yours in our virtual class. It’s an opportunity for people to network and learn.”

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

“We’re a nonprofit. We’re already doing the work for our space in the military community. So I think it’s a matter of pitching what we’re doing to additional audiences who might listen to what we are building: the Military American Dream™. We believe in giving a hand up and not a handout to those who put their life on the line for the American Dream. We put our donors’ dollars to work and make an investment in military entrepreneurs who have the the grit, the stick-with-it-to-thrive edge in entrepreneurship

Another movement I would love to start would simply be inspire others to practice their pitch. I love teaching people to practice their pitch because it’s not just a sales technique, it’s a style of life, it is a way to succeed in life. Speaking with confidence matters.”

How can our readers further follow you online?

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Athalia Monae is a product creator, published author, entrepreneur, advocate for Feed Our Starving Children, contributing writer for Entrepreneur Media, and founder of Pouches By Alahta.

Impactful Communication: Lauren Hope Of Second Service Foundation On 5 Essential Techniques for… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.