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I live in a medium-size town in Australia, with a population of 16,000. Yesterday I attended a town meeting: a big corporation has been approved to establish a commercial goat farm here—with all its accompanying pollution, health hazards and quality-of-life issues. Town residents are not happy at the prospect, and we all turned up to voice our disapproval. More than 400 people attended.
Being new to the Australian political process, I sat back and listened as the townspeople spoke out passionately about the problems such a farm would create. We then listened to a woman with a Ph.D. in public health discuss the obvious and not-so-obvious health concerns that such a farm could create. She did two things right:
1) Clear Voice: She had a clear, crisp voice that could be easily heard by everyone in the audience. She did not speak in a monotone, and she carefully emphasized words that she wanted to stress. She enunciated her words and spoke at a moderate pace.
2) Clear Message: She immediately mentioned her own credentials and how she obtained her data (peer-reviewed journals). She immediately let the audience know what she was going to discuss—and then she delved into the data and discussed it in a way that we could all understand. The information she gave supported her point of view, and we all listened intently and gave her a huge round of applause when she finished. We learnt something that evening.
Then a gentleman discussed the history of this farm and what it intended to do. He made two huge mistakes:
1) Unclear Voice: He mumbled. Even though he had a mic, people were continually clamoring, “Speak up, mate!” Perversely, I felt better, for I thought that perhaps only I could not understand his very pronounced Australian twang. But no. Even with the mic practically down his throat, he kept the sound in his larynx and never projected it forward. He did not emphasize words; they all came out jumbled.
2) Unclear Message: As this individual was droning on, talking about the history of the goat farm, its purpose, the jobs it might bring in, the market it would serve, I wondered: Whose side is he on? These statistics were interesting, and they could be used to promote the pro-farm agenda. Well, I thought, so he is representing the goat farm. Turned out that he was also opposed to the building of the farm—but his content initially did not make his position clear. (It also did not help that we could only understand one-third of what he was saying.) This gentleman was obviously a well-respected member of the community, and people politely clapped when he finished talking. I glanced at my husband. “Blah-blah-blah,” he mouthed back at me.
While the first speaker came armed with a clear voice and a clear message, the second speaker felt he could rely on his amicable relationship with the crowd. As a result, he hadn’t developed his voice, or his message, to meet the needs of the audience. And that was a pity, for he had a lot to say (I think).
Whether you are giving a speech at an academic conference, sales meeting or town-hall meeting, prepare. Make sure your voice and message tell a clear story and give a clear message.
I am a coach specialising in the communications needs of non-native English speakers living in the Melbourne and Geelong areas. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Remember: It’s your story. Get it right.”
When you have a job interview, you have to “show, not tell.”Try not to say, “I will work hard.” Blecchhh. . . how cliche! 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 and leadership under severe emotional stress. Now think about your own experience: which key moments can be transformed into gripping narratives?
Think of these stories as brightly coloured balloons. Before the job interview, make sure you have created at least three or four such narratives. Frankly, some of the stories could be interchangeable. I could use the Twin Towers 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?” Don’t be afraid of including things you have done in your personal, non-work life as well. Did you run a marathon for charity and raise $3,000? Did you take a creative writing course? Both these activities show an eagerness to do new things, which is a quality highly valued by most employers. Don’t forget, too, that many of your extra-curricular activities demonstrate work-related skills such as organisation, time management and so on.
The graphic below shows some theoretical episodes in a life that could be balloon stories to illustrate some of the questions you might encounter.
Before you go to the interview, have stories available to answer the following questions:
- How well do you work under stress?
- How successfully do you meet challenges?
- How do you demonstrate leadership?
- What is your strong point?
- What is your weak point?
- Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years?
Yes, even for the last question, tell a story that connects your values with the company’s values. Perhaps both you and the company honour innovation and creativity. Mention that you, too, demand creativity in your work, and tell a story that shows how you have done this, perhaps both in your personal and work life. (Don’t get too personal.) Mention that you look forward to an exciting career with that organisation, which can give you space to grow and flourish.
Even if you’re pretty sure you wouldn’t want to stay with that company, NEVER say so. . . in the case above, you would highlight your creative side, and discuss how your creativity could benefit the organisation for years in the future.
Remember: SHOW, not TELL.
When the time is ripe, pull that red balloon story out of your mind and use it.
I am a communications coach with Eloquent English in the Melbourne and Geelong area, and I can help you find your story: in your presentation, business report, “elevator pitch”, CV, website or job interview.
“It’s your story. Get it right.”