Thursday, April 2, 2009

5 Steps to Making "Excitement" Your Middle Name

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?


David Benjamin said...

Another excellent post!

Funny enough, I was just part of Startup weekend in Detroit and my company "Pitchlab" is in the process of creating an online, video presentation site where professionals rate your pitch. Designed to help professionals to perfect their presentation skills.

I highly recommend video taping your presentation and then have several people review and comment. Like practicing in the mirror, the feedback can be revealing.

Anita said...

Great suggestion, David. This would also be a good idea for those who are too shy or uncomfortable to initially ask others for help.

Ian said...

As Anita has pointed out in her 'first' point. The key is still to listen first & then talk.

1. Listen to others' concern about your topic; instead of guess/assume about their concerns.

2. Maybe let some questions in during the presentation, that way you will know what's going on with the audience & what they are interested in, plus it becomes more interactive.

I believe communication is a 2-way street, so let them in first & be interested in them; then they naturally will have more interest in you.

Dan Erwin said...

Excellent post. I'd add the necessity of good stories. Put your materials into a brief story format. It communicates better, and it is also easier for the audience to remember.

Anita said...

Well put! You've really made a good point that if you're a good listener, people usually will afford you the same consideration.

Anita said...

Telling stories is a wonderful addition to this post. I would only add that you make sure the story has a point -- that you relate it directly to the message you are trying to convey.