• Making S*%# Up

    She doesn’t return your phone call. He doesn’t respond to your e-mail. She glances away from you when you try to make eye contact. 

    And now, as my friend Susan put it, you “make s*%# up.” She must be mad at me. I must have offended him. She wants to avoid me. 

    This is normal. When there is a void, our mind needs to fill it. Unfortunately, we usually fill it with s*%#.

    We would be happier if we could automatically think, “She must be busy,” or, “Maybe my e-mail landed in his junk mail,” or, “She must have a lot on his mind.” 

    I have found that more than 90% of the time, the s*%# I made up turned out to not be true. Not even close. 

    Give everyone a break. It's probably not personal.


  • "Please Hold your Questions 'Til the End."

    Have you ever heard a speaker say, "Please hold your questions 'til the end?" I have, hundreds of times. Here's why that's a bad idea:

    1. People who have a burning question on their mind are distracted and unlikely to fully grasp whatever comes next. Their learning is now compromised.
    2. Unless people write their question down, they might forget what it was. 
    3. When you ask your audience to be silent 'til the end, you create an unnatural relationship. In fact, you prevent a relationship from developing.
    4. You show that you are fearful of something. Losing track? Losing control? Running out of time? Not knowing the answer? Competent speakers have the tools to prevent these possibilities.

    If you are lucky enough to get questions, you may have to "praise and limit." You might say, "I'm delighted that you are so interested! I want to be sure I deliver what I promised, so I'll take one more question now."

    Here is my final argument against "Hold your questions 'til the end." Would you ask the same of a dining companion? "I thought you should know my lunch rule: I will do all the talking until the final five minutes. At that time, you can ask questions or offer your opinion."

    You'd be a very lonely diner indeed! Don't be a lonely diner and don't be a lonely speaker either.

  • They Didn't Want to Be There

    Speakers should beware when the organizers of a workshop use the M word (Mandatory) about attendance.

    When people have no choice, there is immediate resistance. And who bears the brunt of that resistance? The management team, of course. But that’s usually not expressed overtly. What is overt is the body language of the participants as they arrive at the last minute and sit in the back row with crossed arms.

    When I’m in front of a group that is suffering from “Mandatory-itis,” I tell this story:

    “When I was eighteen, I worked in the claims department of an insurance company. One day we were told to attend a customer service workshop, but we weren’t told why. ‘Have we done something wrong?’ we wondered.

    My buddies and I had to attend, but we didn’t have to like it!

    About half an hour into the workshop, I noticed that I had dropped my resistance and was actually interested in what was being presented. My friends were too. I am certain that the speaker noticed the shift in our demeanor, and had even anticipated it. 

    So, if any of you are feeling the way I did, I completely understand. Maybe as we get underway, you’ll discover that this information could be useful to you. Let’s begin!”

    This approach is an example of my axiom: “If you can’t hide it, paint it red.” When you do this, the resistant people will probably relax and nod in agreement. 

    On the other hand, if you were to pretend the M situation didn’t exist, the participants would most likely feel that you don't “get” them. Their resistance would become more pronounced and possibly verbal. “Why do we have to be here? We don’t need this.”

    Know your audience. Find out in advance how the event was presented to them. Ask to see the workshop announcement. Find out if it is mandatory. If it is, ask why. 

    This information is your friend. 



  • What Makes a Great Thank-You Note?

    I recently received five excellent thank-you notes from high school students following a presentation I gave on public speaking. What made them excellent?

    1. The handwriting was clear and attractive.
    2. The card stock was of top quality and the graphics were simple.
    3. Each note mentioned a specific way in which my tips were useful.
    4. They included proper greetings and words of farewell.
    5. They used a proper postage stamp instead of a postage meter.

    In these days of instant and abbreviated communication, a proper thank-you note has more impact than ever. People who wish to stand out should make a habit of sending thank-you notes, perhaps following an e-mail of gratitude.