Keep calm… and carry on. That is the communication tip for day #13 of this series on 31 days of Communication Tips.

One of the most important things a communicator, leader, or speaker can do is to stay calm. A calm person is confident, not swayed by every emotion or issue coming one’s way. A calm communicator remains professional and polite. A calm person smiles easily. That is not to say to avoid or not acknowledge human emotions… it is simply to remain calm, especially under pressure.

It is possible to be firm and calm even when others’ emotions or voices are heightened. It involves an intentional decision and emotional intelligence.

I coach team policy debate, and the cross-examination portion of a team policy debate round is the only opportunity for the two opponents to verbally address one another. They stand side by side, face the judge, but do not look at one another. The cross-examiner asks questions of his opponent, the opponent answers, and the cross-examination continues on. Tensions can potentially rise when the questioner demands an answer, and the respondent refuses, or sidesteps answers, or when either side becomes dominating. Emotions can run high if there is an obvious clash occurring. The questioner is seeking to poke holes in the respondent’s case, or gain admissions, yet a savvy and experienced debater will not easily “give in” and offer the admission that the questioner is seeking.

Witnessing a cross-examination between experienced debaters is fascinating, as they become skilled at answering questions. A skilled cross-examination becomes an interesting dance of words. Most cross-examinations continue without strong negative emotion, but occasionally, tensions can run high. The team or person that can stay calm often comes out on top, at least in the mind of the audience. I have spoken to others after a heated round, and the team that stayed calm is the one that generally leaves the more positive impression.

In coaching, I remind students to stay calm if they see tensions escalating during a cross-examination. Staying calm highlights the contrast between an agitated personality and a serene one, and the judge will notice the difference. A calm person is a confident, trustworthy, and credible person. A furious or easily excitable person can quickly lose credibility with an audience.

It is okay to be passionate about a topic, but there is a difference between a genuine, honest passion  and an agitated, ruffled one. I can think of examples of both; can you?

Of course, this advice applies not only to public speaking and leading, but also in many other situations and relationships in life. Just imagine how many regrettable words have been uttered because an individual did not remain calm? Many, right? If we are honest, we can admit we have certainly done so ourselves.

Staying calm as a communicator sends the message that you are confident and trustworthy. A calm leader or communicator spreads that same mindset to others, and models appropriate emotional responses. If you are trying to persuade or inform an audience, staying calm reassures the audience and you earn their respect. So, keep calm… and carry on.

Question for you: Think of a communicator, leader, or speaker you admire. Is this person generally calm under pressure?