word choice

Success Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry

sorry-229978__180Love Story was a popular move in 1970. It starred Ryan O'Neill and Ali McGraw. In one scene they have a fight and go their separate ways. O'Neill finds McGraw after he cools off and apologizes for the fight. She stops him and says through her tears, "Love means never having to say you're sorry." I don't know if most people in conflict would agree with that. What people may agree with is the overuse of the word "Sorry" in the workplace. This is especially prevalent among women. When I speak to organizations about executive presence and confidence, I advise women to avoid weak speak or what I call wimpy words. Certain modifiers such as "only," or "just" weaken conviction. That is, the speaker negates everything that follows the words "only" or "just". For example, "This is just an idea," is less powerful than saying "This is an idea."

Related to these two modifiers is the word "sorry". To use the word "sorry" in emails and spoken language is to the detriment of women. An apologetic communication style sabotages leadership and authority. Leaders are perceived as decisive and willing to take a risk. Saying "sorry' too frequently is a way to avoid taking a stand and not be taken seriously.

The word "sorry" is also used as a substitute for "excuse me". Instead of asking the speaker to clarify or repeat, some women will say "Sorry?" rather than use the more effective phrase, "Excuse me?".

There's an app for that

How can women rid this undermining word from their vocabulary? The first step is awareness. Technology to the rescue! Now there is an app that identifies wimpy words when they are used in emails.

The Just Not Sorry extension for Chrome is downloadable at the Chrome app store. The app identifies wimpy words in Gmail by underlining them in red and providing explanations of how the word weakens the message in the email. Whether the reason for using wimpy words is a subconscious lack of confidence or simply a bad habit, this tool can create conscious awareness for women so that they can become more successful leaders and communicators.

After all, success means never having to say you're sorry.

Public Speaking: The Power of 7

7I just got back from a networking event.  Networking is a form of public speaking - it's your sales presentation.  If you're like me, you experience the speakers as unclear or they're so long-winded that you tune out.  In business, your elevator speech is the most important presentation.  Speakers who are unclear are leaving money on the table. So I decided to challenge myself to describe what I do in 7 words or less.  There's a magic to the number 7:  Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, The Seven Seals, Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, and Lucky Sevens.

Here's what I came up with: Reduce speaking anxiety and monetize your mouth.

After I sent this out to our listserve, a number of people commented about how much they loved it and how well it describes what I do as an executive speaking strategist.  So, I decided to offer the same challenge to people in my network.  Admittedly, it was difficult.  But I was proud of some of the responses that came in.  Here is a sampling:

What about you?  What do you do in seven words or less?  Let us know in the comments.

Confidence Class for Teens: Focus on Image

Public speaking is taught too late, if at all. Confidence results from a good self image and from developing skills. Good public speaking skills are paving the way to a confident self image for these girls.

The Cost of Poor Presentation Skills

The other day I stopped in at my local furrier. I had a wool coat with fur trim which I love but the lining was ripped.  Since Fall is coming, I thought I should replace the lining before the cold weather arrives. The manager was sitting at his desk and buzzed me into the store. Years ago I had bought a coat there and thought they might offer this service. After a brief hello, and with coat in hand, I asked him if he could put in a new lining. He wasn't sure. He said, "The person who does this won't be in until Monday. I don't know if we put in warmer liners. Maybe Dawn would know if you call her". "Warmer liners?" I asked incredulously.  "I didn't ask for a warmer liner".   "Oh, people sometimes want warmer liners in their coats," he explained.  He sounded ditzy and was not presenting himself in a way that inspired confidence. "This lining is ripped and I want to replace it", I told him.  "A regular lining? We can do that," he said and proceeded to grab my coat and put it on a hanger. "It will be expensive," he stated. "It will cost $215 dollars."  "No thanks," I said, and left the store with my coat. I was so turned off by his poor presentation. He didn't listen, didn't ask a question, didn't look at the coat, and didn't seem to know what service was available. There was no way he was getting my business. People will pay more for value, but based on his presentation I didn't value him or his service. So I visited my local dry cleaner who had done some tailoring for me in the past. She looked at the coat, determined how much it would cost to purchase the material and the time to construct the lining  and gave me a price. It was a lot less. Done. She got my business.

Had the first vendor been a better communicator I might have done business with him. After all, I didn't know the standard cost of a lining. But because of his poor presentation he seemed dispassionate and uninformed.  I walked out.  He lost $215 in five minutes because of his presentation and he probably thinks the reason was strictly price. I've come to realize that I show people how to monetize their mouth. People gain and lose business opportunities every day because of how they present themselves. Speaking is the new competitive weapon.

What are your stories about the impact of presentation skills on business opportunities?

How to Give a Knockout Eulogy

On Saturday, September 3rd, we gathered together for the funeral of my cousin, Craig Gundersen who died at the age of 34 of lung cancer. He was not a smoker. His uncle Rich gave the eulogy. He began with the simple opening line, "For those of you who don't know me, I'm Rich, Craig's favorite uncle. " Everyone laughed.  With this one line Rich disarmed the crowd and put them at ease. Opening with humor broke the tension and enabled everyone to relax and listen. He addressed the other uncles in the room and with tongue- in -cheek told them that Craig was a diplomat and he really was the favorite uncle. Rich continued his eulogy with a series of personal stories extolling Craig's virtues and shortcomings. He spoke of the time when Craig asked him to finance his first year in college. (He had missed the deadline for applying for financial aid). Rich acknowledged that Craig built a good case but during his presentation,  Rich's attention was riveted on a white bandage on Craig's arm. He explained his fascination with the bandage. "I knew he had dropped a deuce to pay for that tatoo, and here he was asking me for money." Again there was laughter in the church.  It was his colorful language Craig with his father, Roy

(dropped a deuce instead of paid 200 dollars) that made it funny. Rich gave him the money. When Craig's grades dropped Rich confided that in any other case that would have been a deal breaker. But because Craig was such a special person, he financed him against his own rules. Several times Rich got choked up but was able to pull it together and continue. Showing emotion only makes the speaker more human and gives the audience permission to feel their feelings.  Unlike some eulogies where a villain suddenly transforms into a superhero, Rich painted a balanced picture of Craig.  Rather than a perfect person on a pedestal, he spoke of the real person-a special, loving, happy guy who was also human.  We got a true glimpse of who Craig really was through the words of his uncle. He acknowledged the parents and Craig's fiancee and how much they meant to Craig. When Rich finished his eulogy the congregation was so moved they burst into applause.  He captured the essence of Craig, the life he led, the lives he touched and spoke to us from his heart and with humor. It was a winning formula for any knockout presentation.

We miss you, Craig. 7/2/1977-8/30/2011

Matt Damon Can Act. But Can He Speak?

Matt Damon is a good actor but is he a good public speaker? Every year while watching the Academy Awards, I'm amazed at the poor quality of the acceptance speeches.  It would seem that a professional actor would be a good speaker. The major public speaking flaw of these acceptance speeches is they go on too long and the actors ramble. So after reading Matt Damon's speech to the teachers' rally in Washington, D.C. I would give him high marks on a simple, to the point, and brief presentation.  What lessons can we learn? He begins by complimenting the audience and gets right to the point. He talks about how he flew from Vancouver to demonstrate it was important for him to be there. This creates rapport with the audience. He establishes his credibility when he speaks  about his mother being a teacher, his experience as a student and the impact of his teachers on his success today.  He addresses the current issues of teaching to achieve test scores vs " encouraging creativity and original ideas; knowing who students are,  seeing their strengths and helping them realize their talents". Mr. Damon ends by acknowledging teachers for their impact even in the face of criticism and unproductive reforms.  He begins his speech on a  high note and he ends on a high.  He challenges the audience during times of negative media to remember that there are millions who stand behind them.  He followed Franklin D. Roosevelt's  sage public speaking advice, "Be sincere, be brief and be seated."

To read his speech click here.

3 Interview Questions You Must Master

Here are the facts:More people are interviewing for jobs. Hiring decisions are based on 60% chemistry and 40% skills. Your presentation skills are critical for interviewing success.

And there are 3 questions you must master. When I coach C-level executives in transition we begin with these 3 potent questions:

  1. Tell me about yourself
  2. Why did you leave your job?
  3. Why should I hire you?

Question number 1 is a selling opportunity. Lead with your 3 strengths or elevator speech. Don't start with your job history. Briefly highlight your job history and accomplishments. Close the loop by saying, "And what I'm looking to do next is..."

Question number 2 must be clear, brief, and stated with confidence. If you give too many details or seem hesitant, the interviewer will seize the moment and drill down. Don't raise a red flag by defending your position. State the facts. "There was a restructuring and my job was eliminated."

Question number 3 is a final opportunity to sell your knowledge, skills, and abilities. Listen to their needs and demonstrate how your skills match the job description.

An interview is public speaking. These 3 questions are the core of every interview. Get ready to prepare, polish and present.

The Language of Influence

There's an old Jimmy Cliff  song, "You can get it if you really want but you must try, try and try, try and try." I would make one change to that. You can get what you really want if you use the right language. Yes, words have power. Words have magnetic attracting power.

So often a speaker has a great product or service but it gets lost in translation. You hear this daily at networking meetings. People drone on with their elevator speeches and nobody understands what they do. Why? Because they're not using the language of influence.

Language can make or break a sale. The right words can uplift or offend. It's all in the language. Marketers know that certain words have selling power. Words like free, guarantee, gain, results, new and improved move people to action.

What if you could change your results simply by tweaking the language? Take a look at this video.  Pause it and try to imagine what the woman writes on the sign. And then tell me why you think the final words worked magic.

Words Have Power

Monday, January 24th was National Compliment Day.  I had to travel two hours to coach a CEO who was out- of - state and I didn't have much computer time. So before I left, I sent a tweet telling my followers to compliment five people. I was surprised when one person immediately sent me a compliment. It made me feel good. I emailed a few people my compliments and took off for my trip. I was not prepared for what was about to happen next. People started responding to my words. One friend wrote:

"YOU have no idea what a wonderful friend you are and always will be to me, or how much I needed this today.  I had a horrible day at work and your compliment lifted my spirits to the sun and back. Thank you."

Another person wrote:  "Thank you so much, Diane. You have no idea how much I needed that."

When I told my husband I sent him a compliment he started walking upstairs. I asked him where he was going. He said, "I'm going to the computer to read my compliment."

It truly hit home what power there is in words and how starved people are for a word of appreciation. They weren't sent a testimonial letter-just one simple compliment. Their reaction surprised me. It made me want to continue wrapping people in  words of praise.  Words not only have the power to change people's emotions and self-esteem, but they empower the speaker who uses them. Imagine how one sentence can change the way someone experiences their day.

Public  speakers  have an incredible power.  It's the power of the spoken word. A  public speaker has a platform and what a privilege it is! The right word, perfectly timed, and said in the right voice can LITERALLY lift people's spirits. Martin Luther King had this gift. Joel Osteen has this gift, too. But you don't have to be a gifted speaker to impact lives in a positive way. You don't even have to be in front of a group. All you have to do is speak your word. And then the magic happens.

When the Speaker Turns a Toast into a Roast

Sunday night we watched the Golden Globe awards spiral downward into a verbal slapfest. Ricky Gervais, the emcee for the evening, pushed the envelope and went beyond edgy to offensive. A comedian is supposed to be funny, witty, and a little risque. However, as a public speaker, Gervais seemed to be oblivious to the fact that he was speaking in public. Rather than being funny, his comments and barbs were insulting and at times downright mean. Although others may disagree, an awards ceremony should honor the winners while using wit and humor to poke fun at the recipients and film industry. Think Billy Crystal. What makes the commentary funny is that there is a kernel of truth in the joke which makes the audience laugh. When introducing actor Robert Downey Jr, Gervais  said, "But many of you in this room probably know him best from such facilities as the Betty Ford Clinic and Los Angeles County Jail." Ouch. As a listener, it didn't feel good and it didn't make me laugh. It felt like an attack. The real humor was missing because the comments lacked a lightness.

Downey shot back, "Aside from the fact that it's been hugely mean-spirited with mildly sinister undertones, I'd say the vibe of the show has been pretty good so far, wouldn't you?"  As a coach, I must say that this was a good comeback. It was quick, clever, and he acknowledged the elephant in the room. I've attended roasts at the Friar's Club in New York City and they can be brutal. But one thing is different. Most of the jokes are funny and there's a lot of laughter. When hosting an awards ceremony or even a roast, it's not about the emcee. It's about the honorees.

Gervais was not alone in his bad behavior. After accepting the Cecil B. DeMille award, Robert De Niro  hurled a zinger at the foreign press.  " I'm sorry more members of the Hollywood Foreign Press aren't with us tonight, but most of them got deported right before the show. Along with most of the waiters. And Javier Bardem." De Niro was not gracious. This kind of poor judgment is exactly the kind of communication that causes people to lose their jobs. As a public speaker, your presentation is your brand. And your words will live on long after you exit the stage.

Speaking Resolutions: Eleven for 2011

Make this your best year. Start by polishing your presentation and communication skills. Resolve to follow these eleven speaking principles to speak with greater impact.

  1. Make a promise to improve your communication skills. A promise is stronger than a goal. When you promise, it's the strongest commitment you can make to yourself.

  2. Follow the 6-by-6 Rule when using PowerPoint. Aim for reader-friendly slides: 6 words or less per line and 6 lines or less per slide.

  3. Give a speech without PowerPoint. We are PowerPointed out! Don't use slides as a crutch. Try connecting with the audience. The key word in visual aid is AID. You are the message.

  4. Get comfortable with silence. Most people fear silence and this causes them to speak too fast and to use lots of 'um's and 'ah's. Practice dramatic pauses.

  5. Listen to the audience listening. There's always a silent communication between the speaker and the audience. Tune in, feel, and hear what the audience is telling you.
  6. Speak from your head and your heart. Speakers either give too much data and stay on the intellectual plane or they just tell entertaining stories without enough substance. Today's audiences want hard data in an entertaining style.

  7. Tell more stories. Stories create word pictures, which are memorable and touch the heart. Even a business presentation is more effective when using stories, analogies, and metaphors.
  8. Don't be afraid to be real. You don't have to be a perfect presenter. Most audiences don't relate to someone who's slick and overly polished. Don't imitate someone else. Be your authentic self - the audience can see through phoniness.
  9. Kick your energy up a notch. Enthusiasm sells and with bigger groups you need greater energy to make an impact. You need to push your energy past your comfort level, especially on video and television, which tend to reduce energy.
  10. Practice the Rule of Three. Most people think in threes. When crafting a presentation, aim for three agenda items, three main points, three benefits.
  11. Get over yourself - it's not about you, it's about the audience. Fear of public speaking is still at the top of our list of phobias. Take the focus off of YOU - when you're nervous, you're self-centered. Focus on the audience.

Good communicators are more successful in all areas of life: relationships, career, and well-being. And speaking is the new competitive weapon.

What Preachers Can Teach Us About Public Speaking

A Canadian preacher told a story  to his congregation during a television broadcast. He recalled two travelers talking to each other on a train platform. One traveler sees the train arrive with a sign to Ottawa. He turns to the stranger and says, "It looks like the train is going  to Ottawa." The stranger agrees as they watch the train pull out of the station and head in the direction of Ottawa. Another train arrives some time later and both men acknowledge that this train, too, is going to Ottawa. The train leaves and neither man ever gets on the train. They both believed that the train was going to Ottawa but belief was not enough. Without the commitment to get on the train they might as well be going to Timbuktu. They would never arrive at their destination. The preacher then compared the action of the strangers watching the train go by to practicing one's faith. It's not enough to believe. One must make a commitment and take action to live one's faith By using the train analogy the preacher created a memorable word picture that will stick in the minds of the listeners. When public speakers use word pictures in place of facts, the message has an emotional and lasting impact. The next time you have a speech or presentation look around for everyday events and like an artist, paint word pictures for your audience.