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Category Archives: Confident speaking
- Technical Skills Can Land You a Good Job, but it Won’t Help You Climb the Job Ladder: The Importance of Communication Skills at Work
- At a Job Interview, Think of Your Experience as a Bunch of Brightly Coloured Story Balloons
- “The Machine Stops”: A 1909 novel by E. M. Forster that predicted our addiction with social media (like “Wall-E”, but written 100 years previously)
- Sometimes the Old-Timers Get It Right: Too much texting, not enough conversation going on
- Learning to Use Free Association to Speak with Anyone (including future employers and mentors)
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- Active listening
- Business presentations & storytelling
- Business woman
- Confident speaking
- Donald Trump
- Interview skills
- Job hunting
- Job interview skills
- Lascaux Caves & Storytelling
- Listening and empathy
- Media & Communication
- Public speaking
- Public speaking
- Science Fiction
- Scientific Writing
- Small talk
- Social English
- Social media
- Soft skills
- The Hero
I’ll start this blog with a story that relates to the last blog I posted, in which I stated that:
- Learning to listen and discover the other person’s “why” for doing what they do is significant because
- With this information, you can align your “why” with their “why”. Then the real interaction and mutual benefit can take place.
I did this when I was living in Singapore. I had received a call from the assistant of a very high-ranking government official: I was being considered as a public speaking coach for this gentleman; might we be able to discuss this project soon? He would like to visit me in my home.
Eeek. I also discovered that this official was involved in government security; when I told my friends who this person was, they freaked out. “You do realize you are being observed right now,” they said, “and ALL your records are being gone over with a fine-tooth comb.” They then ran away so they wouldn’t be seen in public with me.
Well. I sighed, cleaned my apartment and waited for the meeting. At exactly the appointed time, a black limo glided into view and there was a knock on my door.
A very mild-looking, trim man came in. He was modest in demeanour and soft-spoken—not a scary individual at all. He quickly glanced around the apartment and made a small nod—of approval, I thought. I invited him to sit and offered him tea, which he politely declined.
So what happened? Did he ask me piercing questions about my past, trying to sniff out any infractions I might have committed? Absolutely not. We spoke about Singapore history, the effectiveness of many of its policies, the social problems the country still faced and possible solutions. We did not discuss any business interaction, and I did not rush in to reassure him that I could be a fabulous coach. At the end of the interview he smiled, shook my hand and said, “We’ll be in touch.”
Within a few hours, I had this man as a client.
#1 (of course), my apartment was pristinely clean—reflecting the respect due an honoured guest
#2, I demonstrated to him that, though I was an outsider living in Singapore, I was an interested outsider. I knew key things about its history, I spoke with sincere admiration about many of the island’s accomplishments and yet also demonstrated I was not blind to some of the social problems its citizens faced.
#3, I listened carefully to what he said, asked him to clarify some of the things he mentioned, and made it clear that I was honoured to learn from him.
Basically, I let this individual know that I appreciated living in Singapore and was committed to living there and understanding as much about it as I could. I cared about the country and communicated my concern and interest.
This government official and I shared this interest. That was enough for him; I got the job.
In the next blog, I’ll discuss how I used active listening to draw the person out. I’ll examine the bits of that conversation and what made me get the gig.
I’m owner of the Melbourne-based company Eloquent English, and I can help you find YOUR story: in a CV, a job interview, a website, annual report or a presentation.
“It’s your story. Get it right.”
OK, I lie. What I’m about to discuss is not free association per se; that’s a technique in which the patient blurts out any thought associations that come to mind, no matter how seemingly unrelated they may seem to be.
In this blog and the next, I’ll be taking a modified version of this exercise to help you become the best conversationalist you can be. These days, hundreds of people are competing for everyone’s attention: between the Facebook posts and Tweets, how can you get someone to pay attention to YOU and what YOU can offer? It’s not easy to stand above the crowd.
The unfortunate reality is: we are all selfish beasts at heart. When you’re trying to impress someone else, you need to remember that the other person is doubtless thinking: “What’s in it for me? Why should I be interested in this person?”
This harsh reality is especially true when we’re searching for mentors, job leads or are facing a job interview. If you can find out what you and the other person have in common—and can focus on those commonalities—you can create a bond that just might lead to someplace amazing.
Motivational speaker Simon Sinek gave one of the most famous Ted talks of all time, with millions of hits*. His message is a simple one:
We do not make decisions logically. We make decisions with the part of our brain that processes feelings like trust and loyalty. We do not automatically analyse data and then carefully make a decision.
You need to make people get to the “Why”: WHY should they be interested in you? What’s in it for them? Simply listing all the wonderful things you can offer won’t get you anywhere, for everyone does this; your words will become part of the endless chatter and noise that usually lead to Nowheresville. You need to forge a connection between you and the other person: Why do you want to get out of bed in the morning? What passion motivates you? Do you and the other share the same passion? It’s up to YOU to build a bridge that links you and the other through verbal acts of active discovery.
I gave a communications workshop at a scientific organisation in Melbourne the other week, and one of the participants left, saying, “Gee, this is more complex than I thought.”
Yes, that is true. But learning how to (kind of) free associate with the other individual, to get to each other’s similar “why” can result in wonderful things.
Specific techniques will come tomorrow. Stay tuned.
I’m owner of the Melbourne-based company Eloquent English, and I can help you find YOUR story: in a CV, a job interview, a website, annual report or a presentation.
“It’s your story. Get it right.”
My last blog was on learning how to become a great conversationalist through careful observation and listening, and asking targeted questions. As mentioned, when you do this, you can create a bond with the other person, and through such bonding, many wonderful things may happen. (https://eloquentenglishsite.wordpress.com/2017/06/07/i-know-the-difference-between-open-ended-and-close-ended-questions-and-i-still-cant-talk-to-strangers-whats-going-on/).
I just finished a book by Michael Faber* called Under the Skin. What a strange book: part science fiction, part horror, part black comedy. After reading it, I realized that it perfectly illustrates how to use open-ended questions to create an empathic bond with others — but in this case, the reason for developing this empathy is so, so wrong.
Potential Spoiler Alert
The main character’s name is Isserley, and when you meet her, she is driving around Scotland, trying to pick up men: she only wants well-muscled, fit specimens. As you continue to read, you realise that there is something not quite right about her: her appearance, the way she talks . . . and that she happily anaesthetises each man after she’s chatted with him. Eventually you realise that she is taking them to her company’s headquarters so her colleagues can kill them for meat. Isserley and her co-workers come from another planet, and they do not recognise us Earthlings as being truly human; they do love munching on our tender flesh, however.
Isserley understands that she must select people who do not have family or friends in the area, because their absence would be immediately noted; hence, she drives extremely carefully to avoid police detection and asks all her potential victims targeted, open-ended questions to get them to open up to her so she can ascertain whether they can safely disappear. Forever. Bums, drunkards, students, professionals; she knows how to chat them all up.
Below are two examples of her conversations with potential victims. I have sometimes changed the words to standard English versus the thick Scottish dialect Faber has his characters speak. (I stands for Isserley and V for Victim.)
I: “So what brings you out on the road today?”
V: “Staying at home was driving me crazy.”
I: “In between jobs, then?”
V: “Jobs don’t exist up here. No such fuckin’ thing.”
I: “The government still expects you to look for them though, doesn’t it?”
Go, Isserley. She infers that the guy is out of work because he is staying at home all day. Aha! If this guy isn’t working, maybe he doesn’t have a lot of contacts, so he could be a possible specimen.
I: “What is there for you in Thurso?
V: “I don’t know. Perhaps nothing.”
I: “And if there is nothing?”
V: “I’m going there because I have never been there.”
I: “You’re travelling through the entire country?”
I: “Travelling alone?”
I: “For the first time?”
V: “When I was young I have travelled a lot in Europe with my parents.”
OK, she does ask close-ended questions as well, but Isserley is weaving a web of questions around her victims, just as a spider does to a fly. Very soon, these men find themselves giving away far too much information under her seemingly harmless queries.
Hopefully, you do not want to create empathy for destructive purposes! I hope it can be argued that one can learn from terrible people (or aliens) as well as from wonderful ones . . . and fiction, in the hands of a skilful writer, can illuminate communication better than almost anything.
Next time you pick up a book, start noticing the type conversations the characters have with each other. Doubtless you can learn tons from your own books, as well. Feel free to email me with interesting titles!
*Under the Skin by Michael Faber. New York: Harcourt, 2000.
(In 2014, this book was the inspiration for a film of the same name, starring Scarlett Johansson.)
I am a communications coach in the Melbourne and Geelong area, and my company is called Eloquent English: www.eloquentenglish.com.
I offer workshops in public speaking, self presentation, active listening and pronunciation, among others.
I know the difference between open-ended and close-ended questions—and I still can’t talk to strangers! What’s going on?
I was leading a workshop on Having a Conversation with Australians several weeks ago when a participant stated, “Look, I understand that you’re to ask people open-ended questions in order to have a good conversation. But once I ask this type question and they give a response, I’m like, ‘Uhh . . . OK,’ and then I don’t know what to do.”
Excellent point. First, let’s backtrack a bit.
#1, what’s the issue with open-ended and close-ended questions and socialising? Open-ended questions are just that: a question that requires more than a “yes-or-no” response. Close-ended questions are answered with a single “yes”, “no” or single-word response.
Close-ended question: Did you have a good time at footy yesterday?
Open-ended question: Tell me a little about the footy game you went to over the weekend; I’ve never been to one and am thinking of going to a game.
A: Well, FIRST . . . (and away they go!)
I’m sure you can see how trying to generate open-ended answers will be much more fruitful—and interesting—than simply getting a lot of “Uhh . . . yes . . . no . . . yellow!” as responses. That’s like pulling teeth! Generating extended narratives and (potentially) exciting stories is what you want for the following reasons: 1) The speaker will think YOU are a fabulous conversationalist (even though YOU’RE doing all the listening) and 2) You can really get to know a person this way and create a bond with that person. Which is what you want, whether you are seeking potential mentors, friends or business connections.
Active listening is what it’s all about.
But that workshop participants had a good point. Plying the active listening trade really is easy, but you should know a few tricks in order to become a master.
Let me give you an example. This young participant and I were doing a role play about chatting with someone in a café. The conversation was to be on coffee. (And using the old “come-here-often”? ploy usually falls F.L.A.T.)
P (participant): “So, err, what kind of coffee do you prefer?
M (me): “Black, usually.”
P: “Uhh . . . OK . . .” and she looked at me helplessly and fell out of her role. “See, now I don’t know what to do!”
So, what DO you say, now that you know this person likes black coffee? Lots! Scour your brain. What do you know about black coffee and human beings? Keep being focused on that person. Look at that individual closely and try and make connections between coffee and that individual. It’s not about YOU, it’s about the PERSON YOU’RE TRYIING TO GET TO KNOW. Here are a few options. They may not be witty, but they’ll get the job done and will require a detailed response from the other individual:
Black! Wow. You must be a real coffee connoisseur.
I tried drinking black, but I need milk and sugar. How do you get used to drinking black coffee?
Are there certain coffee beans that you like more than others?
I also love black coffee. Do you think certain types of people that like their coffee black? (This one may be a bit . . . yukky, perhaps like you’re trying to flirt. And if you are—try it!)
You look very fit (if the person does look athletic). Do you deliberately drink black coffee as part of your diet? (This response will give the person a compliment, AND demand a more detailed answer—killing two proverbial birds with one stone! Good on ya!)
You might NOT want to puff up your own knowledge and say things such as: “Coffee originated in Ethiopia, you know. . .” and then spout a litany of facts, or say, “I read a report that stated that drinking black coffee can make your hair fall out.” Remember, it’s not about you.
Let’s say this person answered to your #2 question, on getting used to drinking black coffee:
It took me a few years, but now I can’t stand milk or sugar in my coffee; it’s too sweet and rich for me that way.
Now, THERE’S an opening. You could then say:
You must be a disciplined person. Are you disciplined in other areas, as well?
Let me guess. You don’t consume many sweets, do you?
Do you eat cheese, then? Cheese has milk in it. I couldn’t live without cheese! (OK, this response DOES have “you” in it, but you are humorously contrasting yourself with that person who you are praising as being very disciplined.)
I hope you see the pattern here. FOCUS ON the person, LISTEN to the person’s response, make connections, actively show your interest in what that person has to say and see where it takes you.
I am a communications coach in the Melbourne and Geelong area, and my company is called Eloquent English: www.eloquentenglish.com. I offer workshops in public speaking, self presentation, active listening and pronunciation, among others.
Balloons and job interviews? Yes. All my blogs talk about the importance of storytelling and active listening in all forms of communication: “small talk” in the office, in writing science articles, and in acing that job interview.
When you have a job interview, you have to “show, not tell.” Never say, “I will work hard.” Blecchhh. SHOW how you work hard—and work BETTER. In other words, if the interviewer asks you a question such as “What is the most significant thing you have ever done?” he or she wants more information than “I successfully meet challenges when I’m faced with them.” Too vague!
You will want to give a story such as the one below (and this actually happened in my own professional life when I was marketing and sales director of a U.S. publishing company):
It was September 12 and 13, 2001. The Twin Towers had just crashed. People were devastated, but they also wanted to buy any and all available books about the Twin Towers. It just so happened that my publishing company had recently published such a book. Demand for the title was overwhelming. I was dealing with my own shock of the situation—we all were—yet I was able to work with people in production, customer service, and acquisitions to develop a production plan that would immediately meet the public need, and yet not produce too many so that we would be inundated with returns. It was a horrible time in our history, yet we had a public service to do, and we did it very well. (We ended up with very few books being returned.)
In the story, above, I illustrated how I was able to demonstrate team work, leadership under stress, both professional and emotional. THAT is the kind of story you would want to have at your disposal.
Think of these stories as brightly coloured balloons. Before the job interview, make sure you have created at least three or four of these stories. Frankly, some of the stories could be interchangeable. I could use this story to answer the question “How well do you deal with stress?” as well as “What is the most significant thing you have ever done?” Have a story ready for the following questions:
- How well do you work under stress?
- How successfully do you meet challenges?
- What is your strong point?
- What is your weak point?
- How do you demonstrate leadership?
- Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years? (Yes, even for a question like this, have a story ready: this story should demonstrate how you have taken some job or task and made it better / more efficient. That story will show how you are always looking to improve both the work situation and yourself. Then conclude the story by tying it in to the job interview at hand: “So you can see that I am always eager to try new things, to do things in a better way. I look forward to doing this, and perhaps rising within your company.” Even if you’re pretty sure you won’t want to stay with that company, NEVER SAY that . . . always show your creative, innovative side, and how that can benefit the company you’re interested in now.)
So. Start thinking of stories.
SHOW, not TELL.
When the time is ripe, pull that red balloon story out of your mind and use it.
Contact me at email@example.com
See my website: www.eloquentenglish.com
Celeste Headlee, radio host in the USA, gave a great talk on Ted.com on how to have a better conversation:
If you can have an open mind and be prepared to believe that every person has a fascinating story to tell, she states, you can make almost every interaction one full of meaning and significance. She gives 10 rules to have a great conversation; here they are, paraphrased.
Think about using these tips during job interviews; during chats with your colleagues; even when you’re having fun with your friends. You never know what you’ll discover about others—and about yourself.
1) Don’t multitask. Of course you shouldn’t be texting or using your phone while having this conversation. But even more than that—BE PRESENT. BE IN THE MOMENT. Don’t be thinking about anything else.
2) Don’t pontificate—don’t talk “at” that person. If you want to just express your opinion without worrying about reciprocity—write a blog. Enter every conversation with an assumption that you want to LEARN. Really open up your mind to the other person. I come into every conversation believing that “everybody is an expert in something,” she states, “and I’ve never been disappointed.”
3) Use open-ended questions: Who, what, where, when, why, how? Ask people questions that they really have to think about. Keep the questions simple so people will give interesting, extended answers.
4) “Go with the flow.” Let your thoughts come in and then go out of your mind. Keep being present.
5) If you don’t know, SAY that you don’t know. Err on the side of caution.
6) Don’t equate your experience with theirs. For example: If a person talks about some bad situation, don’t give them YOUR bad situation. All experiences are individual. This conversation isn’t necessarily about YOU. Conversations are not meant to be your opportunity for self-promotion.
7) Do not repeat yourself; it’s condescending.
8) Ignore extraneous details—don’t worry about little details such as dates, names of others, etc. People care about YOU—the big picture you’re telling.
9) THE MOST IMPORTANT POINT—ACTIVE LISTENING. It’s the most important skill you can have. She paraphrased Buddha: If your mouth is open, you’re not listening. When you’re talking, you feel like you’re in control . . . so you continue to speak. We talk 250 words per minute, but we can listen up to 500 words per minute, so our minds are filling in those extra 275 words. It takes ENERGY to PAY ATTENTION to someone. Most of us don’t listen to the intent to UNDERSTAND. We listen with the intent to REPLY.
10) Be interested in other people. Keep your mouth shut, your mind open, and always be prepared to be amazed.
Feel free to email me with comments or questions: firstname.lastname@example.org.
My website is www.eloquentenglish.com
According to a recent article in Business Insider, “Australian businesses are making do with mediocre senior executives because they can’t find enough with the right skills to motivate and get the best from staff.”1
Everyone knows that Australia is hungry for people with IT, engineering, and meta-data skills. Everyone knows that these skills can (eventually) land you that first job.
But those skills won’t hoist you up the job ladder. For real advancement, you need to have seriously good people skills. It’s those soft skills that are needed to become a leader; as this Business Insider article states:
“Critical soft skills are missing or under-developed: empathy, problem solving and creativity, and fostering collaboration and innovation.”
The article cites a LinkedIn study that observed that 69% of human resources decision-makers in Australia and New Zealand say that it’s difﬁcult to ﬁll leadership positions.
That’s over two-thirds! And it’s not for want of available person-power: organisations receive hundreds of CVs daily from people stuffed with astonishing technical credentials.
Leaders are those who, through example, can inspire creativity and innovation. The militaristic leader who could bellow “Just do it!” is becoming a thing of the past. Indeed, many studies have also shown that active listening is a skill needed by all leaders; Forbes published an article entitled “Six Ways Effective Listening Can Make you a Better Leader.”2
The Virgin Group founder Richard Branson agrees: “If you want to stand out as a leader, a good place to begin is by listening,” he said.“Great listeners are often terrific at uncovering and putting in place strategies and plans that have a big impact.”3
Problem is, people are so busy checking out stuff on their cells phones that the crucial skill of INTERPERSONAL OBSERVATION is beginning to become a bit . . . obsolete. It’s hard to pay attention to your fellow humans when Pokemon beckons.
Don’t let this happen! If you can start honing your observational skills early, the better a colleague you’ll be. The better a leader you’ll be. And those skills can be used right at the beginning: at your job interview.