Archive for the ‘Communication Skill’ Category

3 Communication Tips Culled From Watching the Republican Candidates


Monday, December 5th, 2011

Observing the presidential contenders in action (in debates and interviews) is an excellent opportunity to witness the impact of communication style.

You don’t need to be a political pundit to see that Republicans don’t like Mitt Romney. Just about every other Republican contender has, for at least a few weeks, challenged his front-runner status. Republican voters seem to want to find any alternative to this polished (too polished?) and articulate (as long as he’s debating and not responding to a media query) candidate. Voters are leery about his inconsistent positions on important issues. David Gergen, presidential advisor and CNN political analyst, observed in an article in Parade Magazine this past weekend, that Americans feel as if they don’t really know the candidate. He seems inauthentic and therefore not trustworthy.

Herman Cain suspended his candidacy yesterday after a non-stop series of women challenged his “holier than thou” image. Politicians’ personal lives shouldn’t sway our decisions about their competency to handle elected positions. But Americans don’t tolerate inconsistencies between what politicians say and do. A definite trust-buster. Frankly, Cain’s other mistakes were to 1) blame the media for taking him off-message (it’s not the media’s job to allow you to stay on-message); and 2) deny responsibility (haven’t politicians learned that their audience doesn’t want to be lied to?).  I am still waiting for voters to apply the same high standards that they do to personal values and actions, to political promises. When that happens, all candidates — whether Republican or Democrat — will truly do what’s best for all Americans.

Rick Perry brought us the “Perry moment.” Since that fateful Republican debate, Perry is no longer known for his positions or even the mistakes he makes (e.g. about the voting age…).  He’ll be forever associated with his mind going blank when under pressure. The problem wasn’t that his mind went blank (which happens to all of us), rather that he forgot the third of three messages that supposedly represented his core convictions. Made you wonder whether they were deeply held beliefs or just political rhetoric.  Not to mention that being President of the United States is a really high-pressure position, so we’re left wondering what he might say — or forget to say — if he were elected.

Newt Gingrich’s communication style seems intentionally provocative and unintentionally revealing about troubling beliefs. His delivery mocks and disrespects the people he hopes will elect him.  People are definitely talking about Newt Gingrich — and he’s taken the lead in the polls in Iowa — but the majority of the conversation is critical...as it should be!

I’ll save an exploration of President Obama’s communication style for another blog.

With the above observations in mind, the following are three lessons for business communicators:

  1. Authenticity absolutely drives trust.
  2. Our words and actions need to be aligned.
  3. Nail your three core messages. If you can’t remember them, why should anyone else?

 

3 Public Speaking Mistakes Observed On a College Tour


Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

My daughter is taking a public speaking class at college and she called home to talk with me about an assignment she had. Of course, she and her brother grew up with an annoyingly intense focus on their presentation skills thanks to a father who makes business presentations on a regular basis and a mom who makes a living helping business executives communicate well.

2009 NYTimes story about college tour guides

My daughter’s class assignment was to talk about the worst public speaker she’d ever heard.  She reminded me about the tour guide at one of the colleges she visited during her junior year of high school.  We had a hard time imagining why this individual was selected to represent her school to prospective students and their families.  She didn’t seem particularly excited to be with us…or at the college. Unlike most college tour guides who have mastered walking backwards so they can stay 100% connected with their audience (whether or not it’s the safest skill), this young woman barely looked at us at all as she talked — whether walking around the campus or standing inside a lecture hall. We got her unintended message loud and clear, “I could care less about being here speaking with you.”  Her delivery had no passion…in fact no emotion at all. When I tried to help the tour guide by asking if students were happy at this school, she mumbled (while looking down at her toes), “Yeah, I guess so.” We didn’t stick around for the end of the tour and my daughter crossed this college off her list of potential schools. The school never had a chance after the tour…well really the tour guide.

This awful speaker made three classic presenter mistakes:

  1. No insight into the expectations, needs and wants of your audience: Prospective families visiting a college expect the tour guide to help them fall in love with the school. Anything less has the exact opposite effect.
  2. No effort to build a connection with her audience. Good speakers deliver their messages eyeball to eyeball. They smile. Their facial expressions and body language respond as they speak with (not at) their audience.
  3. No passion in her delivery. If the speaker has no passion about their topic, why should the audience.

P.S. During this excruciatingly bad tour my daughter decided that she wanted to be a college tour guide because she knew she could do it so much better. She applied to the tour guide program as a first semester freshman, was selected and trained, and is a proud, exuberant and articulate tour guide for The George Washington University where she’s taking a public speaking class….

10 Ways to Be More Confident


Thursday, September 1st, 2011

I’m often asked by clients to help managers stepping up into more visible leadership roles.  They typically say, “He’s very smart and has great ideas…but he needs to be more confident.”

While there is no “confident” switch, there are ways to help us feel more confident. Here are ten suggestions:

  1. Focus on why you have the position, the seat at the table, the opportunity to speak at a conference…Think about your successes and accomplishments — give yourself a silent, in-the-moment pep talk!
  2. Don’t wing it when meeting people for the first time. There is no excuse today not to be prepared with insights about a prospective client (both the company and individual).  It’s easy to do a quick Google search or check someone’s profile on LinkedIn, yet it always impresses the other person, which boosts your confidence!
  3. Use that preparation to help you shape your point of view and then own it! Deliver your point of view eyeball to eyeball!
  4. Banish tentative language. “I think…” “We might…” “I’m pretty confident.” If you don’t sound like you believe in what you’re saying, why should anyone else care?
  5. Don’t fidget. No nail biting or cuticle picking or hair twirling or pen clicking or coin-rattling in your pocket.
  6. Stand tall. Excellent posture exudes confidence. If seated, lean into the conversation vs. retreating into the back of your chair.
  7. Smile. Remind yourself that you’re happy to be there, in that situation, at that event, at that moment.
  8. Anticipate conversation starters and questions that will demonstrate sincere interest in others. 
  9. Look confident. Dress the part.
  10. Beware of the “wet fish” handshake. When you enter a conference room or restaurant, put your hand out to confidently shake the other person’s hand. Have a firm (but still friendly) handshake and make eye contact.

 

The next time someone says to you, “you just need to be more confident,” remember these ten suggestions.

Notable Quotable Quote


Sunday, August 14th, 2011

At the end of every media training I lead for executive spokespersons I say, “Start noticing quotable quotes as you read the newspaper, magazines and your industry’s trades.  Take an extra minute to think about what makes the quote stand out.”

With that tip in mind, I wanted to share a quotable quote in this morning’s Boston Globe Magazine article, Are 3-D Mammograms a Breast Cancer Breakthrough?  “It’s a step, but it’s a step by a person who has a stride of 7 feet,” said Dr. Elizabeth Rafferty, a radiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital’s breast imaging clinic, of the promise of new 3-D mammograms for detection and fewer false alarms.

This is a brilliant example of a quotable quote. In one concise, visual statement the spokesperson puts this announcement in crystal clear perspective. 

To help the rest of us learn from this wonderful example, let’s dissect the quote:

  • The doctor wanted to keep the announcement in perspective. Earlier in the interview she said, “I don’t want to call it a magic bullet, because that would oversell…”  So “a step.” 
  • But not a baby step, as we’ve heard about so many other medical announcements. The doctor wants us to understand the huge potential of this announcement, “a step by a person who has a stride of 7 feet.” A really big step. 
This single, memorable sentence helps us understand how to think about this announcement. 

What notable quotable quotes did you read today? 

 

How to Use Quotable Language That Connects with Your Audience


Friday, August 12th, 2011

Ace Hotel lobby, FastCompany.com

Getting my morning dose of social media, I came across an article on Fast Company.com about an intriguing hotel concept.  “Creatives gravitate to a showy New York hotel lobby [The Ace Hotel] to work hard and look good doing so,” according to the article’s author, Lizzy Goodman in \”Ace Hotel\’s Communal Workspace Shows A Winning Hand\” I highly recommend reading about this very creative — and successful — concept.

But this isn’t a blog about the Ace Hotel. This blog was inspired by a quote in the article. I’m always struck by brilliant examples of well-delivered messages, odd sentence constructions or examples of spokespersons trying too hard

“The environment here is more or less a spontaneous organism striving for homeostasis,” said one of the hotel’s co-founders.

This quote certainly makes you stop and think. But rather than ponder what the spokesperson meant, I immediately formed an impression of the spokesperson as trying too hard to be erudite.

The article’s author wrote about the experience in a way I found more immediately descriptive, “For a class of designers, academics, stylists, advertising execs, writers and entrepreneurs,” (the reader can now visualize who’s sitting in the hotel lobby), “the Ace Hotel lobby is their collective workspace….The Ace is a model of the modern workplace in a borderless world.” Got it!  And more…I love it!

Here are three suggestions for how you can speak in quotable language that connects with your audience and creates a positive impression of you as the spokesperson:

  1. Use image-rich words and metaphors that paint a picture for your audience. One example in the quote above is, “collective workplace.” Another example — very relevant during today’s tumultous economy — is the contrast between “Wall Street” and “Main Street.” Crystal clear and very visual. Here’s one more fun example:

Flight attendants typically warn us to, “Please keep your seat belts fastened until we land and the plane comes to a full stop.”  (Blah-blah-blah….) How might we listen differently if they instead said, ” If you’d like to avoid the humiliation of falling down in the aisle, please stay in your seats with your seat belts fastened until we come to a stop at the terminal.(Much more visual, conversational and fun, and this phrasing has the added benefit of being unexpected.)

2. Explore word play:

 Alliteration: “artsy ambiance,” “the practical, popular place-to-be.”

Parallel Construction: “adjusting their expectations but not yet adjusting their pocketbooks” (adapted from a quote by a financial industry spokesperson)

Compare and Contrast:

“More than 15 million people are involved in traffic crashes each year.  That’s equivalent to the populations of New York City, Chicago and the entire state of Virginia.”

“In 1990, three million people were injured and 42,000 died in auto accidents. That’s an average of 115 deaths per day or, said another way, the equivalent of a major airline crash every day of the year.”

3. Simplify or dramatize:

Physicists used to call an important phenomenon, “a gravitationally completely collapsed object.”  No one cared, or could remember the concept, until someone related the phenomenon as “a black hole.” 

Please forgive one tangent…Reading about the Ace Hotel lobby reminded me of the late 1970’s when I met with publishing friends and an occasional author in the lobby of the Algonquin Hotel. I never quite felt like an insider in this amazing lobby frequented by literary and theatrical legends, but relished every moment soaking up the ambiance. The lobby — even more than the hotel rooms — was a population destination.  

How to Give Positive Feedback That Means Something And Avoid Being a Human “Like” Button


Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

Do you worry that you’re giving praise so often that you risk diluting its impact and value? Is there such a thing as being too nice?

Recent critique of the current season of “American Idol” proposes that either America has suddenly become more talented or the new judges just like everything. “When human ‘Like’ buttons Steven, Jennifer and Randy give out too many gold stars the value of gold drops,” according to Time Magazine writer, James Poniewozik in \”Six Thumbs Up!\”

Managers in Loeb Group training often say that they sometimes withhold positive feedback until a team member does something truly extraordinary rather than praise everything and render their feedback meaningless. This concern is expressed most often by the Baby Boomer generation who worry that Generation X and Millenials have grown up receiving trophies for coming in first, second, third AND last place. If you get a prize for just showing up, does the prize still mean anything?

The reality is, however, that most managers are far from over-praising their team members. A more common mistake managers make is giving feedback that is so generic “Good job” or “Well done” that it feels good for the moment but doesn’t let a team member know exactly what they did that they should repeat in the future.

Smaller things that merit positive feedback: Most often when people leave a conference room, they leave behind their empty coffee cups and papers. It’s clear that they think someone else will come in after them to clean up. But you’ve noticed that one team member (and not the most junior person on the team) always stays behind to get the room ready for the next meeting. Acknowledge this person’s thoughtfulness, awareness of his surroundings and attention to detail. Every effort that helps us all work together is important.

Bigger effort pays off: Have you noticed that you are making fewer changes when you edit something written by your team member? While you might be thinking “It’s about time that this guy finally wrote something good, instead try saying, “Thank you for the hard work you’ve been doing on your writing. The last three documents you asked me to approve were well-organized with a great opening paragraph and strong close, written with our audience in mind, and proof-read so that there were no typos.”

Exceptional accomplishments: Maybe one team member in particular has demonstrated exceptional initiative, commitment and perseverance over the past few weeks of annual program planning for an important client. While other team members seemed exhausted by the added pressure, this team member remained upbeat and demonstrated a “can do” spirit whenever asked to do more. Say exactly that!

Specific and timely feedback is not mindless and not the equivalent of the “like” button on Facebook. Recognition of the big and little things will be appreciated and will result in accountability and the excellence that you want to encourage.

Tip for Executive Spokespersons: Beware of numbers that don’t tell your story!


Monday, April 25th, 2011

7.1 million iPads sold in 2010. China’s population is projected to be 1.4 billion by the end of 2011. Those are big and impressive numbers.

Tyler Perry’s movie grossed almost $26 million during it’s debut weekend. That already large number sounds even more significant when compared with two other movies that also debuted this past weekend: “Water for Elephants” grossed $17.5 million and “African Cats” grossed only $6.4 million ($20 million dollars less than “Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family”).

What about the fact that there are forty concert grand pianos in the basement of Steinway Hall in NYC? Forty raises more questions than it answers. How large is a concert grand piano? What does a room look like filled with forty pianos? Are the pianos in the basement dusty and decrepit…unsellable? What happens when we add to the story that those forty pianos are waiting to be requested by one of the world’s top performing artists as their piano of choice during a concert performance or recording? With just a little more context, the number forty is actually quite significant!

How about when a company announces that it has fourteen research experts in major markets around the globe. What does the number fourteen tell us? Not much — in fact it seems a bit paltry — unless we know that the company’s two top competitors combined only have eleven.

Executive spokespersons are encouraged to include  statistics when talking with the media about corporate or product announcements. They just need to make sure that the data they share isn’t just a number.

What are your “Four Questions?”


Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

In the spirit of Passover, the Jewish holiday celebrated around the world this week, I’m dedicating this blog to the practice of asking questions — so important for families and also business leaders, managers and client service professionals.

In Jewish tradition, the youngest children at the Passover seder (the holiday dinner) ask four questions about the holiday’s traditions. We ask the same four questions every year (and have for more than three thousand years) and yet everyone gets excited to ask and answer the four questions. I grew up asking the questions in yiddish, hebrew and english. Today at our family’s seder table children and adults ask the questions because we recognize that all of us are still learning. We ask the questions in yiddish, hebrew, english and have added french, spanish and, this year, mandarin. Everyone actively participates — including my eight-five year old aunt and my six-year old cousin.

Why bother asking the same four questions each year? In addition to honoring tradition, asking the same four questions is part of a structure, a practiced and disciplined way of examining a situation.

Why bother asking the same four questions when we know the answer? At this time every year, we revisit the questions and answers, and both provide lessons for us. The essence of the answer remains the same but the context in which we explore the answers evolves in response to our lives and world conditions.

Why bother innovating how we ask the questions? Building on the tradition is part of the mandate of this holiday — to enlarge upon the telling of the Passover story. In addition, innovating encourages us to take a new look, to examine what we’ve done for years from a different perspective.

What questions do your children know they’ll be asked at the dinner table? What questions do your team members know they’ll be asked to explore during your weekly status meetings? What questions do you explore during your quarterly or annual planning sessions with your client?  How can you enlarge upon those questions? How can you innovate to make sure that everyone’s really paying attention?


Are you a “yes” or “no” person?


Friday, April 15th, 2011

In a gross oversimplification of the workplace, there are two kinds of people: those who say “yes” and those whose default response is “no.”

Let’s take a closer look at an account executive at a large public relations firm who says “yes” to everything. Not only is he considered one of the most positive, eager and open people on the planet, he’s also one of the most overworked and stressed. Despite all his effort, his work is inconsistent and he’s disappointing rather than impressing his manager. He is the first person to volunteer to take on a new project or opportunity to learn new skills. But he also says “yes” even when he doesn’t have a moment free in the day, even when he might not be the best person to get the job done and when he doesn’t feel prepared to do the work. “Yep…got it!” But does he really? When would it be better for this account executive to say “no” and how could he say “no” in a way that enhances rather than hinders his reputation?

Managers love a team member who is on top of his work, eager to take on additional responsibility and shows initiative. They welcome the confident individual who says, “Yes, I’d like to do that” followed by either “and I’ll have the work completed by 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday,” or “I have a few questions that I’d like to talk about with you so that I understand your expectations and make sure I approach the task successfully.”  Or “I have some other work due later this week and I want to confirm that I can meet those deadlines and still work on this project.”

Managers also know which of their team members always respond with the same knee-jerk, “Nope.” “Can’t do that.” “No time.” “I’m far too busy.” Or worse, “That’s not something I do…”

What about those times when a team member is genuinely swamped and the manager isn’t really asking for a “yes” or “no” rather just insisting something has to get done in what she knows is an unreasonable time frame. “The client really, really, really needs this tomorrow morning” (said apologetically yet firmly). Typically the manager has already agreed to the tight deadline in the spirit of keeping the client happy.

Is the answer to pull another all-niter or is there an alternative to keep the account executive, manager and client happy? Instead of grinning and bearing it, the account executive can do some probing to learn what the client really needs by the deadline looming less than 24 hours away. Perhaps instead of a finished product (completed to the agency’s usual high standards), the account executive could present a well-thought-through outline, or questions for discussion, or samples of work done for other clients to be used as a jumping-off point for the discussion.

The account executive hasn’t exactly said “yes.”  But he hasn’t said “no,” is still being helpful and has proposed a compromise that may make more sense given the time frame. Of course there will always be those times when the tight turn-around isn’t negotiable. But wouldn’t it be great to make those the exception rather than the rule?

As with most things in life, people in the workplace are best-served by striking a balance between the unrealistic eager beaver and the self-obsessed, unhelpful naysayer. You want to be known as the person who is positive, enthusiastic and standing with two feet firmly — and successfully — grounded in reality!


Winning Ways for First Meetings


Saturday, April 2nd, 2011

What were you thinking about during a recent first meeting with a prospective client? Were you listening intently or were you distracted by what you wanted to say?

I’ve been thinking about a great first meeting that I had with a prospective client last week. From the moment we sat down the conversation was off and running. The meeting was an important opportunity, but I resisted the natural pull to stay stuck in my own brain and instead focused on the other person. Reflecting back, the meeting’s success was due to two things: 1) Curiosity-fueled preparation and 2) Demonstrating (not telling) the ways in which I could be a helpful resource.

Curiosity-Fueled Preparation

  1. I read through the background information found on the company’s web-site and in a Google search, and profile information on LinkedIn, to learn about the other person and her company but also to identify what I didn’t know yet. Rather than plan out what I wanted to say about my business, I focused on what I wanted to ask about my prospect’s business.
  2. Armed with what I knew and what I wanted to know, I anticipated a few possible openers to kick off the conversation.

Demonstrating vs. Telling

  1. I built on my questions by sharing new perspectives and insights from my unique vantage point.
  2. I respected the prospective client’s expertise and demonstrated how my knowledge, expertise and experience complement it.
  3. I offered a sneak peak at what the prospect would experience when we work together: relevant suggestions, fresh thinking about her business and tips that will help her business be more successful.

Your next business lunch

Just for fun…the next time you’re in a restaurant on a weekday, observe the conversation of business people lunching nearby.  Chances are you’ll be able to spot the good listeners and those preoccupied with their own thoughts.