When you introduce yourself to new people… when you pitch new business… when you “tell us about your role on this project,” you’re telling your story.
And often, you’re telling your organization’s story, too.
That’s because there’s a big area of overlap between stories about:
What you do
What your organization does
The people who benefit, and
The supporters, investors, or strategic partners that make all this possible.
Consider These Personal-Meets-Professional Story Examples:
I’ve been with the company for nineteen years, and during that time, I’ve helped choose, negotiate, and install furniture at more than 50,000 work stations. We use top-quality vendors who offer you a wide range of colors and styles, so your new headquarters will be a vibrant reflection of your company’s culture. As your project manager, my job is to make sure that when you and your employees walk into that new space, you smile.
We’re a not-for-profit that supplies elementary schools with musical instruments for their students to play. I learned how to play the violin in second grade, and even though I’ll never make it to Carnegie Hall, I know how much musical training can help kids excel in all their studies.
I started investing in high school, with the money I made stocking shelves at our local grocery. Pretty soon, I was investing for all my friends, and then their parents, and I loved it. I got my MBA from Stanford and went to work for a high-powered company, but I missed the personal connection with investors. That’s why I started this firm, and that’s why we’ve built it around Friends & Family funds.
Your Story Needs to Have a Point
Notice that, in each of the examples above, our storyteller knew the point that he or she wanted to make:
The furniture project manager stressed high quality vendors and a fun, exciting outcome.
The not-for-profit staffer is pitching music as an academic benefit.
The investment firm founder is explaining why his firm is built on personal connections.
And notice that, to make that point, our storyteller included information about themselves, and information about their organization, often showing how their goals, experience, and values and the organization’s goals, experience, and values overlap.
Follow These Four Steps To Prepare an Effective Organizational Story
First, think about who you’re talking to. What is their relationship to your organization? (Are they a customer, a shareholder, an inspector, etc?
Then consider what you want from them. (And if that seems too manipulative, ask yourself, “What would I like them to do, think, or feel ?”)
Then choose a story that will bring your position or “ask” (what you’re asking for) to life and help your listener experience why it’s so important.
Finally, pick the elements that your story will include, and practice saying them out loud until you can do so in a comfortable and confident way.
As millions of people now know, Marie Kondo — the international de-cluttering guru and author of four bestselling books — has a new show on Netflix called Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.
Her message is simple and powerful: You can live a better life when every object in your home matters (in Kondo’s words, “sparks joy”).
Now I’m no stranger to tidying/organizing/purging. I live in a 750-square ft. New York City apartment with my spouse, a jazz guitarist (equipment!), so getting rid of things is pretty much the definition of self-defense. But when I’d tried to read Kondo’s first book, I couldn’t get past page 10. Her approach seemed too absolute, too austere, too much.
So figure my surprise when, halfway through episode 1 of her TV show, I was sold.
I couldn’t wait to start tidying!
The Marie Kondo Approach to Streamlining
For every object in your house, the Kondo’s (self-named) method, “KonMari,” asks:
Does it “spark joy”?
And (if you can’t answer that question),
Do I want to take it into the future?
And though the method has five steps — first you tidy up clothes, then books, then papers, then “miscellaneous” (bathrooms, kitchen, basement, etc.), then sentimental items like photos — the most important step comes before those five.
That’s when Kondo asks you to imagine the life you’d like to have in the future… the one that you may or may not be taking your current stuff into.
How KonMari and My Public Speaking Coaching Services Are Similar
Here are just a few things our methods have in common:
Remember when Kondo asks you to imagine the life you’d like to have in the future? Well with public speaking coaching, we do the same. We’ll imagine the person you want to be when you communicate for business. And then we’ll work to get you there.
But there are other important similarities, too — and the main one is how Marie Kondo works with her clients.
Many people are caught up in the chaos that’s created when their homes overflow with stuff. And many public speakers are caught up in the chaos that’s created when their messages overflow with words.
Would you rather hear someone say:
We’re working toward providing the sort of quality in our new product that meets and exceeds the expectations of our target audience.”
We’re working hard to make new products that you’ll love!”
That’s what it sounds like when you eliminate public speaking clutter. (Marie Kondo would be proud!)
But that’s not even the biggest similarity between KonMari and public speaking coaching.
3. Real Transformation Can Only Happen When You Do The Work Yourself
A lot of “makeover” shows present themselves as DIY — but aren’t really do-it-yourself because a behind-the-scenes crew is doing all the hard work that goes into a transformation.
Take Queer Eye, one of my favorite reality shows.
If you haven’t seen the latest season, five gay guys from Atlanta drive to someplace in rural Georgia, pop out of their van, and induct someone (usually, though not always, a straight man) into the ranks of cool by teaching him how to dress, groom, decorate his home, and cook party basics.
The show couldn’t be more delightful, and the relationship stories are always winners.
The only problem, from a DIY point of view, is that most of the real magic happens offstage. The person who’s being transformed doesn’t do most of the grunt work, and we viewers don’t get to observe that process and find out how it’s really done.
Not so with Marie Kondo, who instructs, offers support, and then sets her subjects off on a journey where they will do the heavy lifting themselves.
There are lots and lots of steps in between idea and execution as a public speaker, just as there are lots and lots of steps if you want to pursue the KonMari method of tidying.
Just as Marie Kondo has her clients touch, evaluate, and relate to every object in their homes, my clients get to touch, evaluate, and measure their commitment to every word in a speech that we’re writing together.
They get to experience what it’s like to speak every single word in a message with clarity and commitment, instead of rushing through some prefab phrase and hoping that the point is made.
4. Learn What Sparks Public Speaking Joy for You
Most of all, my clients, like Marie Kondo’s, develop a sensitivity to what sparks joy in them.
Because if an idea doesn’t spark joy in you — the person who’s speaking it — how will it ever spark joy in an audience?
So, if you want to tidy up your public speaking — if you want to envision the best public speaker that you can be and then work step-by-step to achieve that result — and if you’re not afraid to jump in, learn a new skill, and get your hands and mind, and body deeply involved in a fantastically satisfying DIY project, public speaker coaching with me might be just the method for you.
No one wants to deal with mistakes! But staying professional as you handle your customer (and yourself) can determine whether a mistake becomes a disaster, or is just a temporary set-back.
These six tips will help you turn a crisis into an opportunity and strengthen the relationship with your customer:
Tip 1: Stay Calm
When something goes wrong, don’t retreat from reality; step forward to handle your customer in a way that lets him or her know that you’re taking charge. Describe and discuss the situation objectively. Don’t try to hide the scope of what’s happened, but don’t make it sound like a catastrophe, either. Stay clear, calm, and objective when you’re discussing the problem.
To do this…
Tip 2: Manage Your Reaction First
It’s hard to handle your customer effectively if you’re battling guilt, overwhelm, panic, or self-doubt. So manage your own feelings first. Talk to a friend or trusted colleague, write down your thoughts, meditate, exercise, yell, throw things, do whatever you need to do to level your head and then talk to your customer.
Remember: Your customer doesn’t care how you feel. They just want to know what you’re going to do to make things right.
Tip 3: Accept Responsibility…
It’s OK to explainwhat went wrong (if your customer wants to know), but don’t make excuses or blame others.
Your customer may want to tell you how angry, upset, or disappointed they are — and in most cases, you can calm them down by listening closely and expressing sincere empathy (“Of course you’re frustrated. We are, too, and that’s why we’re going to fix this ASAP”).
Sometimes, though, it’s just not possible to handle your customer in a positive, productive way. If they’re screaming, cursing, or throwing around insults or threats, you’ll have to draw a clear, professional boundary.
Before delivering bad news to an abusive customer, talk to your manager, mentor, and/or experienced colleagues about what it’s OK for you to say. It’s good to know where your company sits on the continuum between “the customer is always right” (no matter how wrong they’re acting) and “abusive customers can take their business someplace else.” Find out specifically, is it OK to say, “Mr. Customer, please stop yelling at me”? How about, “Ms. Customer, threats and swearing aren’t going to get this fixed any faster”?
Practice your point of view. Once you’ve decided what you’re going to say, practice saying it — out loud, often, and preferably in front of others. This will make it easier to speak confidently if and when you need to draw a line.
Enlist support. Invite someone with more experience or authority to join the call and help you handle your customer. Asking for support is not a sign of weakness. In this case, it shows mature judgment and forethought on your part.
Prepare your exit. One of the phrases you should practice out loud is an (approved) exit line, such as “I’m going to hang up now. I’ll call you tomorrow to talk more about this.”
Tip 5: Be Impeccably Professional
Your customer is counting on your expertise to save the day; show them that their trust is not misplaced. So, as you’re working to fix the problem, also work to fix any damage to your team’s image by demonstrating leadership and seriousness:
Give your customer brief, realistic updates.
Continue to discuss things calmly.
If there are further setbacks, acknowledge them and adjust your game plan.
And last but not least…
Tip 6: Keep Things in Perspective
Six months from now, this episode will either be a dim memory or a good lesson learned.
In either case, you will see it very differently then; so try to keep it in perspective now!
Public speaking — the art of thinking, and expressing yourself clearly — can help you everywhere, from the board room to the bedroom!
And that’s a good thing because, if you’re over the age of 12, you’ve probably noticed that sexual desire makes all of us stupid.
Add to that the usual difficulties that people have communicating clearly, and you’ve got an opportunity for misunderstandings, misbehaviors, misdemeanors, or worse. (And that’s not even getting into the problem of bad people acting badly. I’m talking about the mess that well-meaning people can create when sexual attraction is involved.)
What’s the solution for this problem? It’s called consent — the idea that before anything sexual occurs, the concerned parties should be very clear that everyone has agreed to participate.
But even consent, as many have found to their sorrow, can be a tricky concept: If you don’t say “no,” is that consent? If you say yes, but then change your mind, have you consented? Are there situations in which consent can’t be given?
With the holidays (read: booze!) coming up, these are more than abstract questions. So here, as a public service, are some thoughts about consent and communication.
Freely given. Consenting is a choice you make without pressure, manipulation, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Reversible. Anyone can change their mind about what they feel like doing, anytime. Even if you’ve done it before, and even if you’re both naked in bed.
Informed. You can only consent to something if you have the full story. For example, if someone says they’ll use a condom and then they don’t, there isn’t full consent.
Enthusiastic. When it comes to sex, you should only do stuff you WANT to do, not things that you feel you’re expected to do.
Specific. Saying yes to one thing (like going to the bedroom to make out) doesn’t mean you’ve said yes to others (like having sex).
There’s No Substitute for Saying You Agree!
Planned Parenthood’s advice goes on to specify:
You get the final say over what happens with your body. It doesn’t matter if you’ve hooked up before or even if you said yes earlier and then changed your mind. You’re allowed to say ‘stop’ at any time, and your partner needs to respect that.
Consent is never implied by things like your past behavior, what you wear, or where you go. Sexual consent is always clearly communicated — there should be no question or mystery. Silence is not consent. And it’s not just important the first time you’re with someone. Couples who’ve had sex before or even ones who’ve been together for a long time also need to consent before sex — every time.”
Are There Times When Consent Isn’t Possible?
There are some situations in which consent just can’t happen. These include situations in which one or both people are:
Drunk, using heavy drugs, or otherwise impaired
Unconscious or asleep (come on, shouldn’t this one be a no-brainer!???)
Under the legal “age of consent” (which is different state by state, so check!)
What Are Your Choices When You’re Asked to Consent?
In movies and romance novels, couples are often shown as being equally, completely enthralled with each other.
That’s good entertainment; but in real life, things are usually more lopsided. Often, one person is lobbying for an encounter while the other is still trying to suss out how they feel.
If someone is asking for your consent, it helps to know that you have three clear options:
1. “Yes, I would like to do that.” (If you’re not sure, or have any doubt that the other person understands the reversible nature of consent, spell it out. Say, “I think I’d like to try what you’re suggesting, but I reserve the right to change my mind or stop at any time. Do you agree to that?”)
2. “Sorry, I’m not interested” (or, if you want, “Thanks, but I”m not interested.”) Just be aware that any hard pushback at this point is a big red flag. It can be hard for women to hold onto ‘no’ when a man lays the guilt (or name-calling) on thick. But think of it this way: If you tentatively offer to sell someone your car, and then change your mind, do they have a right to come back screaming about how you’re a tease and you owe it to them to go through with the sale??!)
3. “I’m not interested in what you’re suggesting, but how about if we do this other thing instead?” This is called a counter-offer, and it’s a great move when you’re interested in the person but not the proposed activity.
What’s Your Status? (And Tell the Truth!)
Having AIDS or an STD is no shame, but it also shouldn’t be a secret.
If you’re thinking of asking someone for consent, you need to disclose your health status, whether or not you’re using birth control, and what safer sex practices you require.
Without this information, the other person can’t give truly informed consent, and you’re cruising for a serious problem when it comes out that you misled them by staying silent about something important.
Doesn’t All this Consent Stuff Take the Fun Out of Sex?
It’s actually more fun to have sex that you know won’t end in an ugly tangle.
And consent conversations don’t have to be a drag. They can be light, even flirty (as in this parody of the 1944 Frank Loesser song “Baby It’s Cold Outside”), as long as the bottom line is clear:
Baby, Just GO Outside - YouTube
As with all good communication, the trick is to be clear, be concise, be honest, and most importantly, listen to the other person and ask them to clarify if you don’t understand.
For a very small effort, you can reap a very big gain — and save yourself a world of hurt in the process.
When I was in school, I had to write a lot of essays. This was great practice for thinking logically (and becoming a speechwriter!), and I hope that essays haven’t gone the way of the rotary telephone.
But today, TED Talks are also being assigned in class.
So I sometimes hear from students who have sophisticated questions — like this one:
A Letter from Australia…
HI, I’m a year 9 student involved in a group project to deliver a TED-style speech on minimising the impacts of hurricanes, cyclones, and typhoons due to climate change. The case study we have chosen is hurricane Maria that hit Puerto Rico late last year. My group wants to present an engaging piece but we are not sure of how to start. We would like to include a lot of facts and information without boring the audience. And we want to develop a strong awareness and use an analogy but we can’t think of one that is most suitable and catchy.”
…and the TED Talk Advice I Sent Back
It sounds like you and your group have picked an ambitious and exciting topic!
Surprisingly, it doesn’t really matter what format you choose for your talk, as long as things fit together and flow in a conversational way. This means, don’t try to force things into your talk. Instead, build your talk around one idea, and then add the facts, figures, stories, etc., that help bring your idea to life.
Your Opening Can Be the Last Thing You Decide On
Whatever format you choose, though, it’s best to wait and write your opening last.
That’s because it’s hard to open a talk you haven’t written yet. Once you have the body of it pretty clear, you will know what works for your opening; and then, ideally, you can revisit and pay off the opening in your close.
Openings that work well for TED talks (and other speeches) include:
A heartfelt story that has meaning for the person presenting it
A question that engages the audience (“Have you ever felt like…?”)
An invitation to imagine something (“Think about a time when…”)
A surprising statistic (“Did you know that….”)
In the case of your talk, you could use any of these approaches. You could:
Begin your talk with a story about one person who was caught in Hurricane Maria.
Or ask the audience a question that brings up the feelings of being caught in a life-threatening disaster (“Have you ever had to run for your life with only the things you could carry?”)
Or invite them to imagine what it would be like to, for example, live without electricity for six months, or to sleep in a home whose roof has been blown away, or lose your home to a hurricane.
And there are many mind-boggling statistics about what happened in Puerto Rico
Think about Your TED Talk’s Overall Flow
Another good public speaking trick is — in the body of your talk — to go from a very specific focus (Hurricane Maria) to a more general focus (the many impacts of climate change) to then offering your thoughts about solutions.
Then, you circle around to your opening and close the circle with the big idea you want your audience to take away (“If we work on this together, maybe we can prevent another tragedy that leaves thousands of families homeless”), and you have a speech.
Speaking at the Women’s Alliance of Xerox annual meeting
What can help you speak up — for yourself, for your team, and for your ideas?
To “speak up,” you need a combination of skill and will. This means that you’re clear about wanting to be heard by others, and that you have the basic public speaking skills (you speak loudly enough, your words can be understood, you pace what you’re saying, etc.) to take that leap, and get your message across.
Of course, skill and will can both be developed:
Shy people can become more determined.
People who are ambivalent about what they’re saying can become more clear.
And (this is the easiest challenge to fix) someone who lacks public speaking skills can build them.
Is It Harder for Women to Speak Up?
The skill + will equation applies to both men and women.
But because many women — certainly, women of my generation — were raised to be helpers rather than superstars, we face an additional barrier: the niggling fear that perhaps we shouldn’t speak up at all!
A surprising number of women from every generation and background have that secret self-doubt. And women may have to dig especially deep to find the will to speak up about our professional needs, goals, and accomplishments. That’s true even if we hold just a small bit of the unconscious idea that women shouldn’t have careers in the first place. (To assess your own hidden attitudes about this, take the 5-minute Gender and Careers Implicit Bias test.)
Helping Women at Xerox Speak Up
I explored this point — and shared best practices to help both men and women speak up — at the annual meeting of The Womens Alliance of Xerox last year. (TWA wisely welcomes men who want to see their talented female colleagues succeed.)
Assertiveness is “your ability to put your needs, thoughts and opinions out into the world — even when doing so invites opposition or conflict or causes you to take a stand.”
As public speakers, we are the ambassadors for our thoughts, beliefs, suggestions, content. It isn’t easy to assert our ideas in a straightforward, unapologetic way, but doing that is an important source of our public speaking power.
Business Communication Skills Can Help with More than Just Business
You won’t hear this at a job interview, but the fact is, there’s a lot of inter-personal emotion mixed into our daily business lives:
People have trouble accepting feedback.
People get annoyed with (and are sometimes rude to) their coworkers.
Personal situations show up at the office. That baseball game your boss’s son lost? The argument a colleague had with their spouse at breakfast? A bad night’s sleep, a worry about the mortgage? They might spill over into your co-worker’s day — and from there, maybe into yours.
No wonder communicating with your business or work colleagues can feel so much like communicating with the people at home: In both settings, people can get on your last nerve!
Whether You’re at Work or at Home, People Can Be Annoying
I’ll bet you’ve noticed that.
I was recently reminded of it during a five-day road trip I took with my husband and our adult daughter, who was visiting us.
The trip was primarily relaxing and fun, but at various moments, I was both annoying to them, and annoyed with them.
To add insult to injury, my annoyance was often triggered by ridiculously petty things that I knew weren’t worth reacting to. (Do I really need to comment on which spot my husband chooses in a parking lot?? Apparently I do, which is embarrassing.)
The funny thing is, the more you care about someone — or the more time you spend with them — the more annoying they can seem. And it’s hard to put the brakes on your reactivity because you have to focus on the annoyance to decide how to handle it.
This is a job for business communication skills!
Image by Joe Green | Unsplash
To Solve a Communications Problem, Start by Defining It
It’s often easy, both at work and at home, to think of what you want to say. But it can be a lot harder to anticipate how your comments are going to land with the person you’re talking to.
That’s why, in speaker coaching sessions, I ask my clients things like:
Will speaking out help you get what you want?
Is the other person willing to talk about this problem?
How can you frame your message in a way that they’ll be able to hear?
During my road trip with Husband and Daughter, I tried to apply that same approach.
The result was The Annoyance Grid, which you can download below.
The Grid will help you think about whether to voice your annoyance or suck it up. (If you’re annoyed with someone at work, there’s a third option, which is to discuss it with your manager.)
Whether You’re Annoyed at Work or at Home, Start by Asking “Whose Problem Is This, Anyway?”
As you’ll see from The Annoyance Grid, there are two possible answers to the “Whose problem is this?” question: The problem is either mine or yours.
If my reaction seems extreme (I want to scream because you’re taking 30 seconds to choose a parking space), the problem is probably mine. But if your behavior seems extreme (you’re taking 20 minutes to choose a parking space), the problem might be yours.
If my reaction seems random (I usually think your pink shirt is cute, but today, for some reason, I hate it and “have to” tell you), the problem is probably mine. But if your behavior seems random (you’re usually polite, but you just snapped at me to shut up), the problem might be yours.
If my reaction is isolated (shared by no one else), the problem is probably mine. But if my reaction is typical (your behavior is annoying lots of other people, too), the problem might be yours.
Since it’s so easy to blame the other person for what you’re feeling, try to start with a default assumption that the problem might be yours. That won’t always be true, but it’s true often enough that it’s worth keeping an open mind.
What’s your next step? Download The Annoyance Grid... explore the process it suggests at home… and don’t forget to transfer this business communication skill back to the office!