Need More Information? Stop Talking

February 4, 2010

An executive, who is a coaching client, and I were discussing the use of questions to uncover what’s behind a person’s position on a particular issue. We discussed a number of open-ended questions, like the following:

  1. Can you give me a bit of the history behind this process? What problem did it originally solve? Who was on the team of developers?
  2. Here are the facts as I see them. What else do I need to look at? What am I missing? 
  3. In an ideal world, we would proceed in the following way…. What concerns does this raise for your department?

The executive expressed some disappointment: “I was hoping you’d tell me some questions to get behind these issues.” Later, I realized the opportunity I had missed. Nothing was wrong with the list of questions. The secret the executive was hoping to find lies in the way we handle the responses we get to the questions.

For example, if a person’s answer to a well-formulated question still leaves us murky about what she really thinks, we can respond with a simple statement: “Please tell me more.” The secret, then, is to stop talking. Assuming you are not asking for private or embarrassing information, a pause is a powerful tool. In western culture, if one person is silent after a question is answered, someone else will rush in to fill the vacuum. In the process, that person will often provide more information in relation to the question—exactly what the silent person is looking for.


Don’t Make this Stupid Mistake #15: Expect People to be Supremely Interested in Your Story

February 4, 2010

Here’s the situation:  It was a big networking event, and the speaker was introduced as a networking guru, brought in from another state.  The speaker began her presentation with a funny story about how someone bored her by talking only about himself over a get-to-know-you lunch.  The speaker then announced that she would share five important networking tips with the audience.

Here’s the stupid mistake:  “But,” the speaker said, “first I have to tell you more about my personal story.”  The audience members let out a collective sigh.  Fifteen minutes later, the audience still  hadn’t heard the five tips, and people began to discreetly leave the room.  I confess that I was one of the ones who left.  A person I met just outside the room gave me an unsolicited comment.  “I don’t care a bit about her personal story!”  The speaker had broken her own rule about considering herself a bit too interesting!

Here’s the solution:  Organize your comments, spoken or written,  by beginning with whatever is most relevant to the receiver.  Give the punchline first or as soon as you possibly can.  The temptation to present a message chronologically is a trap.  People don’t care how you came to know something.  They just want you to tell them what you know and why it is important.

 Yes, your personal story can add some interest and context–when it is kept to the minimum.   Avoid leading up to your key points–start with them!   Once you’ve established the message, you can add examples, illustrations, or humor.  This is the way to keep your audience members “present” and engaged.


Don’t Make this Stupid Mistake #13

January 11, 2010

Here’s the Situation:  About a year ago, I changed my route to work, causing me to pass through a small town at least twice  per day.  One day, I stopped to browse in a lovely antique store.  As I entered the store, the owner was sharing a relaxing chat with a friend in the rear of the store.

Here’s the Stupid Mistake:  The owner didn’t get up, greet me, or ask me if I was looking for something in particular.  In fact, she ignored me completely.  Although I found a few items that interested me, I wasn’t inclined to interrupt a conversation to ask for information or a price.  I felt both irritated and invisible.  Although I love antiques and have passed this antique store at least 1000 times in the last year, I’ve never gone inside again.  I am decidedly resistant to this store–I have no receptivity to the store’s charms.

Here’s the Solution:  No matter what  situation you find yourself in, receptivity to your ideas is key to your success.  Whether the situation involves sales, a training class, a meeting, a networking  event, or you are speaking  from a large stage, the people in the room want to be acknowledged.  If you are in charge of a meeting, or the speaker at an event, go out of your way to welcome people, respect their time and let them know you understand their frustrations. Even when you have no leadership responsibilities in a situation, make the first move to introduce yourself to others. 

It might seem like a simple thing, but a gracious greeting can open others up to be receptive to your proposals and your products.  A  little investment here will  go a long way to increasing your persuasive powers.


Don’t Make this Stupid Mistake #10: Too Much Info Too Soon

August 13, 2009

Here’s the situation:  John was eager to make a good impression.  A  highly qualified individual,  John was was interviewing  for a desirable position.

Here’s the stupid mistake:  John told me the mistake in his own words:  “I just blew an interview,” John said. “I droned on and on about my background for 45 minutes and bored the interviewer. The guy’s eyes glazed over, and I didn’t get called back.” 

In their eagerness to make a good impression, job seekers often provide too much information too soon. They miss the opportunity for a dialogue and the chance to make an impression by targeting the interests of the other party.

Salespeople make the exact same mistake. So do project managers reporting on the outcome of a project. Chances are you make the very same mistake on a regular basis–in e-mails, presentations and proposals. Providing too much information too soon is the top communication mistake.

Here’s the solution:  One of the strategies I recommend to my clients comes from Garr Reynolds–on the topic of simplicity.

Reynolds is right when he says that simplicity is an exercise in subtraction. Conciseness is an exercise in subtraction as well. As you plan a presentation, a project report, an e-mail, a proposal or an interview, ask yourself what is essential to your receiver understanding your message. Subtract everything else.

Once you subtract the nonessential, your communication will become more clear, concise and powerful. What’s more, you’ll open up communication “space” in the situation, which allows you to receive and respond to the interests and concerns of the other party. This is the heart of persuasion.


Powerful Presentation and Influence Tip: Treat the Context as Critical to Success

July 8, 2008

Today I was reminded of a critical presentation skill while watching Gene Veno, Executive Vice President of the PA Chiropractic Association.  Veno had a mere 10 minutes to state his position about a proposed insurance merger before the PA Department of Insurance.  Since I had consulted with Veno regarding his testimony, I took the opportunity to see him in action.  Veno’s testimony was a success, and in this case at least, his success had very little to do with my consultation.

Veno submitted the written testimony we had worked on, then he used his 10 minutes to extemporaneously address his three main points.  Veno was clear, concise, and on-target.  These things contributed to his success, but none was the essence of his success. 

At the end of Veno’s testimony, Pennsylvania’s Insurance Commissioner, Joel Ario, said how much he appreciated Veno’s involvement with his committee. The Commissioner said something like this, “We appreciate that you bring up specific issues  we need to deal with.  What’s more, you come with solutions and experience that we can apply to those issues.”

Essentially, the Commissioner said to Veno, “We listen to what you say because you are positive, specific, practical, and helpful.  We pay attention to individual pieces of communication you send our way because of the context you have established.”  

It’s a powerful presentation and influence tip:  any individual presentation, no matter how perfect or polished, can stand or fall because of the overall context of the relationship.  The context you establish is critical to success.


Three Words to Make You a Good Listener

April 20, 2008

Recently, I attended a presentation by Sandra Yancey, founder of e-women network.  When she referred to three “X” words, something clicked for me.  These aren’t X-Rated words but X-Relationship-building words or X-Make me-a-good-listener words, or X-Now-I-get-what you-mean words.

When you really want to understand someone, or make them understand that you seek to understand them, try these three words:

  • Example—“Can you give me an example of that?”
  • Explain—“Could you explain your point in a little more detail?”
  • Expand—“Could you expand on that?”

Three “X” words.  Very simple.  Very powerful.


Organize Your Business Writing or Presentation with a Strategy You Can Count On

April 6, 2008

Have you ever had the task of engaging people with differing needs in the same message?  Do you wonder how to address executives and technical specialists with the same message?  Here’s a strategy you can count on.

At first, provide the material as an overview.  In presentations, use a short description, perhaps illustrated by an uncluttered slide.  In documents, discipline yourself to provide an executive summary (even if there are no executives involved).   Make this overview both concise and complete, so that if a person receives only this piece, it will provide the essential information or argument.

Follow the overview with a deeper layer.  Use the skeleton of the overview, but add supporting explanations, examples, flow charts, or statistics, as needed.  In a document, this layer follows the executive summary. In a presentation, this layer is the heart of your message. 

When finished with the second layer, summarize the skeleton of the overview.  Reiterate the importance of the information or the action you request.  End with power and action.

As take-away material, provide a detailed handout, an appendix, or a link to in-depth content a skeptic or a technical specialist will require.

This strategy allows the listener or reader to grasp key concepts quickly and to process supporting material with the bigger picture in mind.  It allows the receiver to make an initial judgment about the priority or feasibility of your information.  It provides the detail needed, but allows the receiver to access that material on his or her own terms.

Use this strategy to shape your next message.  You’ll engage the executives, technical specialists, and the folks in between.

© 2008 by Bonnie Budzowski, InCredible Messages, LP

I invite you to download a free “before and after” of a persuasive business document at http://www.inCredibleMessages.com . You’ll find lots of free articles on powerful presentations as well.