Writing Tip: How a strategic break helps get better results

July 12, 2012

Facilitators who guide groups in brainstorming sessions have something to teach writers who want to save time and energy.  A  facilitator breaks a brainstorming session into two distinct tasks:  generating ideas and choosing which ideas to keep.  A professional facilitator always calls for a break between the two tasks. 

A break after the expenditure of energy to generate ideas seems natural to participants, but it is much more than that to the facilitator.  The break is essential.  It is deliberately placed to allow participants to shift gears.  The break helps participants to disengage the generative, creative portion of the brain and to engage the critical, judgmental portion of the brain.

To do your best work on any writing project, follow the same procedure.  First, generate as many ideas as you can without judging them.  When you’ve finished, grab a cup of coffee, make a phone call, or take a walk.  When you come back to your project, evaluate your ideas critically.  Which ideas and examples are strongest? Which ones have power to persuade your target audience? 

Cut away all but the best ideas.  Then spend your energy refining those ideas and getting the words just right.


Nervous Before a Presentation? Check for Counterfeit Breathing

January 25, 2010

You are in a meeting, anticipating your turn to stand and present before a large group.  It’s natural to feel the jitters.  The speaker before you drones on, and you feel your heart begin to race.  What can you do to settle your nerves?

Both friend and speech coach will give the same advice:  take a few deep breaths.  It’s good advice as far as it goes, but this advice can lead to danger.  Did you know there is such a thing as counterfeit deep breathing—the type makes things worse rather than better?

To make sure you know the difference, try the following:  Stand in front of a mirror, and take some rapid deep breaths.  You should see your shoulders move, and you’ll know you are engaged in counterfeit deep breathing.  When the shoulders and upper chest move, the breathing is quick and shallow.  This type of breathing is counterproductive when you are nervous. 

Slow, deep breathing calms your nerves, delivering a full load of oxygen to your body.  Practice like this:  Place your hands on your rib cage.  Breathe in through your nose, directing your breath until you feel your ribs expand like a tire inflating.  Fill yourself up with air, and then slowly exhale through your mouth.  Take another breath through your nose and exhale through your mouth.  You’ll notice in the mirror that your shoulders are no longer moving.  Keep your shoulders relaxed as you fill your body with oxygen.

Nervous before a presentation?  Take some deep breaths.  Just make sure you use the authentic kind.  Don’t be fooled by counterfeit breathing.


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.


Add Power to Speech with the 7-Second Rule

March 25, 2008

On television, images change approximately every 7 seconds.  Yet, in organizational settings and conference presentations, we expect audience members to watch the stationery body of a presenter, speaking from behind a podium, for an hour or more.  No wonder people dread these presentations!

To be effective as a speaker, you have to recognize that our culture is increasing fast-paced and increasingly visual.  Here are some tips to build changes into your next presentation:

  Give up the podium.   It’s okay to use the podium as a home base.  Just don’t plant yourself there!  When you move with purpose, you add interest and variety for your audience.  For example, try moving away from the podium when you make a key point, or when you ask for audience participation. Of course, random pacing, due to nervousness, doesn’t count as purposeful movement.  Think:  walk, plant your feet; walk again, plant your feet again.      

Make your PowerPoint visual.   An agenda for the presentation is helpful for the audience as well as the speaker.  Overall, however, words on a slide don’t work as visual stimulation—no matter how often you change them.  If you choose to use PowerPoint, add changes with photographs and dramatic graphs.  Show brief video clips that support your points.  Just make sure that everything you use is relevant and easy for the audience to grasp.        

 Add vocal or auditory changes.  Raise the volume of your voice to emphasize a point.  Try a stage whisper to draw the audience into a little-known fact.  Practice a powerful pause.  If possible, add brief musical transitions between points.

Give your stories the stage.  Concrete examples, brief case studies, and stories are powerful ways to add variety, interest, and practicality to presentations.  Make these gems stand out in the midst of a PowerPoint presentation by hitting the “b” key on your laptop.  “B” will give you a blank slide, so that you, the presenter, can move forward and connect with your audience in a powerful way.  The change will be refreshing to audience members.  When you wish to return to the slides.  Simply hit the “b” key again.

Use natural gestures.  Use the gestures that come naturally in conversations.  These include suggestive gestures like shaking your head and demonstrative gestures like showing the height of an object.  Even a shrug will create a brief change for the audience.  For a bigger change, consider using a prop or two as natural extensions of your gestures.

It’s hard to compete with a change every 7 seconds.  Unfortunately, this is what your audience members have come to expect, even if they don’t realize it.  Build changes into the content and the delivery of your next presentation.  You’ll be rewarded with a more engaged and attentive audience.


Law of Persuasion: Is Likeability Really Important in Business?

March 7, 2008

Technical whiz kids, scientists, and others professionals focus on increasing their skills:  the goal is to be an expert in their chosen field.  While education and expertise are important, researchers now insist that more is needed for success.  The highest levels of achievement come to those who mix expertise with likeability.

Research studies consistently reveal that people respond positively to others whom they like.  People prefer to do business with and to buy products from people they like.  Mitch Anthony, author of Selling with Emotional Intelligence,puts it succinctly, “Likeability is as important as ability.” 

While you may not officially be in sales, you must sell your ideas, your credibility, and your recommendations every day.  Here are some suggestions:

  • Accept the fact that developing likeability is an important success strategy.
  •  Find and mention the points of contact or similarity you have with others.
  • Learn to listen respectfully and to demonstrate an open mind.
  • Engage in small courtesies and expressions of appreciation, regardless of the other person’s formal status.      
  • Learn to keep gossip, unkind words, and disparaging remarks unsaid.
  •  Take time to laugh with others.
  • Choose a likeability mentor—observe and learn from someone who excels in likeability.

Persuasion Technique: Imagine This!

March 3, 2008

An article on the power of suggestion in persuasive communication relays an important lesson for business communicators.  Most of us approach persuasion as an exercise in  logic and statistics.  According to Don Price, we’ll get much better results if we appeal to a person’s imagination (http://searchwarp.com/swa119495.htm).   

Price claims that the power in the words of politicians, sales, and marketing professionals just might be hypnotic.  These folks can mesmerize us, moving us to fall in love with a product or a position by stringing words together in a way that “fires off your imagination” in a persuasive way.  Is this hypnotic?  You decide!  Can it help your next business pitch?  Absolutely!

Price compares a salesperson’s “pitch” to classical hypnosis, as follows (in italics with slight adaptions):

A Salesperson’s communication may go like this:

  •  When you own this home you are going to love holding her in you arms, late at night, while sitting by this fireplace. You’ll create memories to last a lifetime.      
  • Imagine coming home on a cold winter night and snuggling up in front of the warmth of this fireplace.

Classical hypnosis may go like this:

  • As you relax more deeply on the object you’re on, it will begin to feel like you are floating back deeply into a wonderful journey.     
  • You’ll soon discover that your mind will readily absorb all the positive suggestions that I have given you just like a sponge absorbs water.

The structure is the same in the sales communication and classical hypnosis, but the content and verbal suggestion is quite different. All the suggestions set up expectations in the mind of the listener. Our imaginations fill in the blanks as to what the expectations are. The choice of words and the order in which you use them has the power to change how people think and influence the actions they take. 

For the most part, business communicators don’t work to “fire” the imagination.  We say things like, “This fireplace is an asset during cold winter nights.”  There’s no trigger for the imagination, nothing to “grab” the listener’s attention.  In short, there’s no persuasive power. 

Competent business presentations will always contain logic and statistics.  The most powerful ones, however, will also appeal to the imagination, to the deeply held values and desires of individuals and the organization.  In your next formal or informal business presentation, insert the words, “Imagine this. . . !”  You just might tap into some true persuasive power.


Don’t Make this Stupid Mistake #8: Promise to Conclude Your Speech Before You Intend to Conclude

January 9, 2008

Here’s the situation:  Recently I attended a presentation that was relevant to me.  I wanted to be there.  At the same time, a thousand other things were clamoring for my attention that day.  I’m sure you have the same problem.  We all feel we are too busy, and we give our time and attention as a gift.  Effective speakers let their audiences know they are aware of time constraints and will stick to them. 

Here’s the stupid mistake:  Several times, the speaker said “in summary” and then kept talking.  Each time, I began mentally ready for the presentation to be over.  When the speaker kept talking, I became irritated.  It was like he made a promise and then broke it.Looking back, I think this speaker was using “in summary” as a transition between one point and the next.  The problem is that listeners are conditioned to hear this phrase as “this speech is coming to an end!”

Here’s the solution:  Think of the words, “in summary,” or “in conclusion” as a promise that the presentation will be over momentarily.  The audience hears these words as a promise—don’t say the words unless you intend to k Think of the words, “in summary,” or “in conclusion” as a promise that the presentation will be over momentarily.  The audience hears these words as a promise—don’t say the words unless you intend to keep the promise.  When you need a transition, choose a different phrase!

For more stupid mistakes that sabotage your speech, go to http://www.incrediblemessages.com/products.htm#howtowin.