“Treating people with respect and valuing them is a universal language. Culture trumps strategy.”—Howard Schultz, Starbucks’ CEO
Written in an easy-to-read conversational style, this short book will inspire you to spread respect far and wide.
The book is also available in print format ($8.00).
“What do you think about your department’s budget allocations this year?” Lisa’s boss asked.
Lisa’s stomach seemed to turn inside out as the all-too-familiar panic set in. Why is he asking? What should I say? How much should I say? What if I say the wrong thing? I don’t even know where to start! The thoughts churned in Lisa’s mind, creating a vortex of anxiety.
“They’re fine, I guess,” Lisa said. What? Why did I say that? Fine? Duh! Why can’t I say what I want to say?
Later, Lisa experienced delayed intelligence and had the perfect answer, but it was too late.
Has that ever happened to you? Has someone asked you a question at work and your mind freezes up? Does your response leave you feeling inadequate? Do you worry how you come across?
You are not alone. Speaking off-the-cuff, or impromptu speaking, is difficult for many people.
You might be tempted to throw your hands in the air and give up, thinking, “I’m just not good at speaking off-the-cuff.”
However, becoming more proficient at impromptu speaking can propel your career and position you as a thought-leader and team player who can clearly and confidently get a point across.
To become better at impromptu speaking situations you need to address three basic elements:
The first element, preparation, may seem odd for speaking-off-the cuff, but it is crucial for impromptu speaking at work. You have to know your stuff. You have to know the staff (the people involved). You have to know the situation. You need to have deep knowledge on your area of expertise and wide knowledge on the organization (mission, goals, history). You need to know the people involved—their functional areas, their responsibilities, their personalities and how they all fit together. And, you need to know the situation—the time of year (sales cycle, production cycle, etc.) and current specific information. If you are going to a meeting, for example, expect that you may be asked to speak on something relevant to the meeting topic and prepare a few points.
The second element, patterns, simply means that you can structure your response to fit a pattern, which gives you a comfortable framework for your response and makes you sound quite articulate. Below are eight patterns plus some opening and closing techniques:
PREP is an acronym for Point, Reason, Example and Point.
Point: State your main point, or opinion
Reason: Give one or more reasons
Example: Give an example.
Point: Restate your point or opinion “So, that’s why I think . . .”
By using an example (or telling a relevant story), you don’t have to think too hard about what you will say next. Plus, examples always get people’s attention and give them something concrete to hook your point on to. If people can remember your example, they are more likely to remember your point. Examples can be used in all of the following patterns.
You can recycle the PREP pattern if you have more than one point.
Here are a couple of variations, too:
Problem/Cause/Solution—add in the cause if the cause is not known.
CAR: Challenge, Action, Result. This pattern variation is especially useful if you are being interviewed for a job or need to toot your own horn in a performance review. Tell about the challenge that was faced, then tell about the action you took and finally, tell about the positive result of your action.
3. Pros and Cons
Present the pros and cons of something, but if you want to be persuasive, one case should be weaker than the other, so you can end by taking a stand.
Typically you would use past, present, future, but if you are trying to cast a vision you could change up the order to be future vision, relevant past, present action needed.
Describe a process: first, second, third.
Explore an issue topically, taking first one topic and then the next.
Sometimes it makes sense to talk about something based on location.
8. Five Ws
Use this journalistic technique to address the Who, What, When, Where and Why in giving background information.
Start out with one or two patterns that seem the most useful for the types of questions you most often get. The PREP pattern is probably the most generally useful pattern.
The trickiest parts of impromptu speaking are the opening and the closing.
- Listen to the question carefully.
- Listen for key words and repeat them in your response. In the opening example, the key words are “budget allocations.”
- Ask questions to clarify the question, if needed (plus you will come across as a good listener).
- Repeat or rephrase the question (and it’s OK to repeat it more than once, which will buy you some time and sound like you are building up to your response).
- Reframe the question to a more positive question, if necessary. For example, if someone asks you the loaded question, “Why do you charge so much?” empathize and redirect the question to one you want to answer. “I can understand your concern about price. I believe you are really concerned about whether you are getting a good value. This is a good value because . . .”
- Pause before answering. Take a breath. Think. And then, answer. A thoughtful pause before a direct answer is better than a quick and rambling response.
- Defer. If another person is available who would have a better response, let them answer the question.
- Repeat (or rephrase) your main point, using key words.
- Recap your reasons.
- Reaffirm understanding (“does that make sense?”) and mutually agree on next steps.
Finally, the third element, practice. How can you practice impromptu speaking? Take the opportunity to speak up in lower-stakes situations—in conversations with friends, family and coworkers. Make a game of it! At meals have people write a word or phrase on a slip of paper to give to someone else. Then each person has to speak for a couple of minutes on a topic. Consider joining Toastmasters, where every meeting features an impromptu speaking segment. Take an improv class to help you get better at thinking on your feet. And, if you are really self-motivated, practice responses to work related questions on the way to or from work.
Prepare. Use patterns. Practice. Speak off-the-cuff without sounding off-the-wall!
What have you found to be useful in impromptu speaking?
Has this ever happened to you? Have you gone through the grocery store checkout and felt, well, invisible, like the two men in the above Doonesbury comic strip? Have you noticed a decline in interpersonal communication skills in recent years?
Are we too busy texting, tweeting, updating Facebook, listening to our iPods or just turning in to ourselves and tuning out others that we don’t really see or interact with the people right in front of us?
Can we blame technology-enabled communication?
Don’t get me wrong! I wouldn’t want to go back to pre-email, pre-texting, pre-social media days. I love my iPhone and am rarely more than a room away from it (although I don’t use it that much for actually making phone calls). When I can get Skype to work well, it’s a wondrous thing. I met my son-in-law via Skype before I met him in person. Being able to converse back and forth, in real time, seeing his facial expressions and body language and hearing his tone of voice greatly enhanced my feeling that I got to know him before we met in person. Through Facebook, I keep in touch with far-flung friends and relatives, people I wouldn’t connect with much otherwise.
But are we losing the subtle nuances of face-to-face, real-time back-and-forth interpersonal skills?
More than one business owner has told me recently that their employees, especially the younger ones don’t want to pick up the phone and talk to a client–even if a direct conversation would be less complicated and much quicker.
Why is that? Why do so many people shun face-to-face (or phone) conversations?
I’ll be exploring that question, and possible solutions in upcoming posts, but I’d love to hear what you think!
“So, what do you do?” or the variation, “So, what do you do for a living?” are probably the most common opening questions when people meet. While many people give boring answers to these questions and others spew out an elevator pitch, there are a few people who realize that the questions themselves are problematic.
They can be an attempt to discover who the top dog is.
Why not ask a question that engages people in sharing what they know and what they care about in a way that connects them with you? Ask them a question that gets them to share a personal story. Personal stories can be an equalizer. That’s what radio host, Malcolm “Minister Faust” Azania, shares in this Tedx talk, “How to Engage in Better Small Talk.”
Azania uses 7 question zones to encourage story sharing:
1. Food. “Tell me the story of your most powerful associations with bread . . . ” Azania related a story of asking that question of a friend who told him about when his dog ate a loaf and an half of bread dough.
2. Favorite teacher. It’s amazing how much people want to answer this question. Who are the heroes without their teachers . . . the ones who helped them transform?
3. Forest. Ask about their connection with nature.
4. Film & culture. People will tell you remarkable things about how their favorite book or movie affected them. Instead of asking, “Have you read book X?” ask “Tell me about a book that changed you.” Or, “Tell me about your favorite book dealing with X . . . or about Y . . . or by Z.” Other questions: “Tell me about a movie that makes you cry.” And, “Who would you want to play you in a movie?”
5. Forlorn or fond. “Tell me about the songs that profoundly remind you of your own youth and why.”
6. Fear. Ask them about their fear—a fear they’ve overcome. “Tell me if and when you ever personally overcame racial tension.”
7. For the Win. “Tell me the story of one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for you.” Or, “Tell me about a time when you discovered that you were stronger than you thought you were.”
These types of questions aren’t intended to arrive at specific point, but where they take you can be much more interesting than the response to “what do you do for a living?”
Use small talk to get to the big talk by encouraging people to tell stories.
Woman texts her husband on a cold winter’s morning:
Husband texts her back:
“Pour some lukewarm water over it.”
Woman texts back:
“Computer completely dead now.”
Maybe you haven’t ever misconstrued a text (or “miscontexted”) that badly, but the above joke highlights one of the challenges of texting: a greater likelihood of misinterpretation.
Don’t get me wrong. I love texting! Texting is great for short, informational messages. Plus, you don’t have to worry as much about interrupting people (although people will often interrupt themselves to look at a text). And, I prefer receiving a text to receiving voice mail (does anybody really like voicemail?).
My biggest concern with texting is for teens and young adults, who may be losing the ability to make conversation and small talk, which is still a vital skill in the workplace (and in personal life).
According to a study published last year by the Pew Research Center, “Young adults are the most avid texters by a wide margin. Cell owners between the ages of 18 and 24 exchange an average of 109.5 messages on a normal day—that works out to more than 3,200 texts per month—and the typical or median cell owner in this age group sends or receives 50 messages per day (or 1500 messages per month). Cell owners between the ages of 18 and 24 exchange an average of 109.5 messages on a normal day—that works out to more than 3,200 texts per month—and the typical or median cell owner in this age group sends or receives 50 messages per day (or 1500 messages per month).” Pew’s more recent research shows that the number of texts for median teen texter (ages 12-17) has risen to 60 text per day from 50 texts per day in 2009.
That’s a lot of texting. That’s a lot of time not talking. “Heavy text users are much more likely to prefer texting to talking. Some 55% of those who exchange more than 50 messages a day say they would rather get a text than a voice call.”
The preference for texting over talking has, anectodally, resulted in decreased interpersonal communication skills, on the phone and face-to-face. Are we losing the art of small talk?
“It is an art that’s becoming as valuable as good writing,” says Janet Sternberg, a professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University in New York who is also a linguist.
In the most extreme cases, she’s noticed that more students don’t look her in the eye and have trouble with the basics of direct conversation – habits that, she says, will not serve them well as they enter a world where many of their elders still expect an in-person conversation, or at the very least a phone call.
On today’s college campuses, the dynamic is often different. Forget about things like “office hours,” for instance. Many professors say they rarely see students outside of class.
“I sit in my office hours lonely now because if students have a question, they email, often late at night,” says Renee Houston, an associate professor of communication studies at the University of Puget Sound in Washington state.
“And they never call, ever.”
She recalls overhearing students chuckling about the way people older than them communicate.
“My parents left me a VOICEMAIL. Can you believe it?” one said, as if voicemail had gone the way of the dinosaurs.
Here’s a table of some of the talking vs. texting issues that I see:
Texting is a valuable mode of communication, but it can’t completely replace voice or face-to-face conversations (which include online face-to-face technologies such as Skype).
What can we do to ensure that texting isn’t the death of small talk? A few ideas:
- No-texting zones/rules (for example, no texting family members in the same house)
- Eat dinner with your family and don’t allow texting at dinner. Talk.
- Encourage video/Skype/Facetime conversations with people at a distance
- High School and College Classes on interpersonal communication
- Use of the Toastmasters International’s Interpersonal Communication Program for Youth
- Encourage young adults (well, anyone over 18) to visit a Toastmasters club, to see how they might benefit from the communication and leadership skills
- Speech classes that include a component of impromptu speaking (which is something I include in my youth classes as detailed in Speech Class for Teens)
- Give the young adults in your life a copy of Small Talk Big Results: Chit Chat Your Way to Success! It’s a quick read on the basics of small talk and networking (and yes, I wrote it!)
Do you have some ideas?
opening joke source