Avoid This Stupid Mistake #1: Offer to Strain Your Voice

May 28, 2007

Here’s the situation:  At a workshop I attended recently, the room was set up with chairs and tables to accommodate 50 people.  Fifteen participants attended the event.  And, as you might predict, those 15 people chose seats widely scattered toward the back of the room.  As the speaker walked to the front, the first two rows were empty, leaving around 20 feet between the speaker (where she stood by her laptop) and the first row of participants.

The presenter made a joke about no one sitting in the front rows and then she said, “My voice usually projects really well.  I think we’ll be fine, but let me know if you can’t hear me.” 

Here’s the stupid mistake:  The speaker abdicated her responsibility and missed an opportunity.

It’s natural for a group of strangers to “hold back” in a new situation.  As a workshop starts, the participants are typically risk-adverse.  They choose their seats for psychological safety rather than engagement with the rest of the group.  It’s the speaker’s job to set the tone for any event, and to initiate the involvement essential for the highest level of learning, networking, and enjoyment.  A tone of engagement must be set in the opening seconds of the event, or it will be nearly impossible to recover.

Looking at this situation objectively, the speaker made an idiotic offer:  “I’ll strain my voice throughout the morning so that you don’t have to move.”

Here’s the solution:  The speaker should have, in a confident and good-humored way, insisted that the participants move toward the front.  Both the confidence and the good humor are important.  Audience members expect the speaker to take charge, and they begin to relax when it happens.  At the same time, they want to feel like adults, not children being herded by a schoolmarm. 

Note that this speaker was experienced and competent.  The morning was okay, and I learned some things.  Had she taken responsibility for true engagement, however, her competence might have swelled into excellence.  Building on the speaker’s and each other’s ideas, the group might have reached a whole new level.  Personally, whether I’m the speaker or a participant, that’s what I’m striving for.  How about you? 

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A Simple Law of Persuasion

May 9, 2007

When I think of immutable laws, I usually think of things like gravity and thermodynamics.  Lately, I’ve been reading and thinking more about the law of reciprocity.  It’s amazing that something so simple is so reliable:  if you are helpful and gracious to others, they will feel obligated to be helpful and gracious to you.  This can play an important role in your success.

Experts tell us that the law of reciprocity is deeply ingrained in society—perhaps because give and take was originally essential to human survival.  For example, if I shared a portion of my harvest with you, it was critical to survival that I receive something sustaining in return.  So much rested on the law of reciprocity that it remains powerful (and often operates at an unconscious level) in our non-agricultural society.  I recently read of a study that demonstrated how people are inclined to feel indebted over very small gestures—as small a gift as a can of soda. 

A high percentage of top-level leaders share characteristics that stretch beyond intelligence, talent, and hard work.  Others describe these leaders as friendly, respectful, helpful, generous—even selfless. Top level leaders are prone to follow the law of reciprocity—and it works.  Others go out of their way to help these leaders succeed.  We can all learn from the example.