Perhaps until now you've been content with watching people's eyes glaze over when you speak. Perhaps you haven't minded too much that people continually check their watch, their Blackberry or whether they have something in their teeth when you give a presentation.
But it's time to get real. If "exciting" or "riveting" or even "interesting" has never been connected with your name or what you have to say, then it's time to realize your communication skills need some help.
Because here's the deal: If you can't get people to listen to you, then you could be in real trouble. In today's hyper-connected, hyper-competitive work environment, you've got to make sure that people understand why you're valuable. And the only way to do that is to make sure they think what you're saying is worth listening to.
First, find out the size of the problem. Ask some trusted colleagues or even a mentor if you are an effective communicator. Do you have a tendency to ramble? Do you have a reputation of being boring? Are you seen as uninteresting? If these or any other issues are cited by friends or co-workers or even bosses, then you've got to make some changes.
Here are some ways to add some excitement to your communications:
1. Look in the mirror. It sounds trite, I know, but no one is going to listen to you if you are physically a mess. It's important that you dress so that you fit in with the company culture, but you should also pay attention that you don't fade into the wallpaper. An attractive hairstyle, wearing colors that flatter your skintone and standing up straight while making eye contact is the first step to getting someone to pay attention.
2. Talk, don't lecture. No one wants to feel like they're back in classroom, held captive by a boring professor. If you give a presentation, don't read directly from your notes. Know the material well enough that you can "talk" to your audience. Don't bury people in statistics -- present written material to the audience and just hit the highlights, inviting questions. If you're just having a casual conversation, don't revert to data-speak. "I can send you those figures in an e-mail, but let's talk about why they're important for you." Conversations are always more interesting.
3. Look for warning signs. If people start to fidget, yawn or check their watch, then you need to pep things up. Ask a question or solicit an opinion. "What's been your experience with this?" "Is there anything you would do differently?" "What are your concerns?" People respond positively when they feel like you've got an interest in their opinion.
4. Ask for help. "I get excited about this stuff, but I know that may not be the case for everyone. Just give me a sign when you feel yourself going numb...." This enlists others to help you out -- they become an ally in helping you be more interesting.
5. Practice. Maybe you sound much more interesting when you're at home practicing in front of the mirror. But when you have face-to-face conversations at work, or are in a meeting, you are the very definition of "boring." Do what the professional communicators do -- come up with some great lines that will help others understand you better. Comparisons and similes are great, as are a reference to current events. "Trying to install this new system by next month is like the Detroit Lions winning the Super Bowl next year. Definitely tough and definitely challenging -- but not impossible."
What are some other ways to become more interesting when you communicate?