Archive for January, 2008

How To Interview (Applicants) With X-Ray Vision

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

Most Employers consider interviewing applicants to be a waste of time (at worst) or an administrative requirement (at best).  That is, until they get the full Bill for making a bad hire, wasted orientation and training, reduced morale, termination and then starting the entire process all over again. 

A thorough and focused interview can avoid unnecessary surprises and stabilize your work team. The key is to not accept applicants at face value and in haste. Here’s what you can do to improve your chances of making a good hire: 

1)     Avoid asking questions that require only a “Yes” or “No” answer 

2)   Let the candidate talk 80 % of the time (no one really wants to hear about your  “brushes with greatness” or golf game) 

 3)    Note their punctuality (or lack thereof), body language, eye contact, grooming and follow-up.  They will never act better than on their interview, so imagine if you could live with their being twice as late, and three times as uninterested

  4)   Ask the applicant to try to solve a pending work problem and wait for them to answer (even if you have to pause for a long 5 minutes).  Their  thought process, rather than their actual solution, will tell you a great deal about them

  5)    Don’t hire the individual that you want to have a beer with. Pick the candidate that will best represent or serve your organization.

 Today’s Tip:  An interview is like a first date.  Your candidate will never look, sound or act better.  Develop your interviewing X-ray vision and figure out exactly who the person across from you really is.

The Naked Truth

Monday, January 28th, 2008

Ever since 7th grade speech class we have been told that the one way to overcome our fear of public speaking is to imagine the audience naked. 


I don’t know about you, but that never worked for me. As a matter of fact, it made me even more apprehensive about that really fat guy in the 3rd row.

The amazing truth is that, even in the 21st century, there are few things that rattle the most sophisticated businessperson more than having to speak in public. Normally calm and cool titans of industry feel the onset of heart palpitations, itchy rash and hives at the mere allusion to presenting in front of a group. What is it about public speaking that can induce insomnia, cold sweats and a complete and utter lack of self-confidence?

Is it:

-the possibility of looking foolish in front of a crowd?

-the chance that you will forget everything that you prepared?

-the fear of not being able to respond to a spontaneous question from the audience?

-the concern that your credibility will instantly evaporate?

The list of fears and anxieties can be endless—and it doesn’t have to be.

Here are 10 things that anyone can do to become a much more comfortable and effective speaker:

1. Research and prepare your material more than you think you need to.

2. Try to imagine your audience and where they might get bored.

3. Write an interesting, attention-getting and witty introduction and closing.

4. Practice changing your phrasing and inflection.

5. Familiarize with your material so that, if necessary, you could deliver it without notes.

6. Practice it in front of a mirror, and if possible, in front of a friend or family member.

7. Practice delivering the speech while walking around the room.

8. Understand the need to feel and exude self-confidence (regardless of how you feel inside).

9. Wear an outfit that you have worn before to the presentation.

10. Get to site early and note or modify seating, lighting and setting.

 Today’s Tip:  Don’t let an upcoming speech stress you out.  Forget the imaginary naked people in the audience.  Believe in yourself, ooze self-confidence and never let them see you sweat.

The Eyes Are The Window To The Goal

Friday, January 25th, 2008

You can have the most penetrating ideas and thoughts to share, but if you are staring at your feet, your fake Rolex watch or the obscenely good-looking account rep across the room, you are done.  The listener does the calculus this way: “If you’re not looking at me, I must not matter.” 

Imagine how devastating it would be to your team if 9 months of research, analysis, preparation and practice were obliterated within seconds of your VP of Marketing’s first stare at his accumulated voice-mails on his cell-phone during the big meeting.  Ugh! 

We are a very visual society.  That’s why we focus so much on clothing, hair and facial expressions.  Our eyes, however, are always drawn to someone else’s eyes.  It’s almost biological.  Someone else’s eyes tell us that they are there and what they are feeling.  For us to look elsewhere, breaks the invisible line of connection and trust.  You may not have intended it, but broken eye contact can mistakenly be interpreted as disrespect, boredom or lack of interest. 

And then, there is the sworn arch-enemy of civil and professional eye contact-the Blackberry (“BB”) or PDA.  No device in history has done more to promote poor eye contact and blatant rudeness than these little technological marvels (Note to reader: I have a Blackberry and I love it.  I do try, however, to be careful not to use it when I am in the presence of others).  I have several friends that actually put their BBs on the table while we are having dinner together.  As they continually look to see what their latest received spam is, I feel pretty insignificant.  To make matters worse, some people cannot stop their “crackberry” addiction and even check their messages during the middle of a business meeting.  Trust me, this type of behavior will not ingratiate you with others. 

 Last week, I observed an investment banker thumb-scrolling his BB during his daughter’s dance recital.  How special do you think that would have made her feel (if she had seen him do it)? 

So, at your next business meeting, concentrate on the other person’s eyes.  Avoid the temptation to look anywhere other than at the person who is speaking. Laser beam into their pupils and they will consider you to be interested, respectful and approachable (regardless of what you really think about them).

 Today’s Tip:   In any business context, eye contact can make or break you.   

“Is This Mike On?”

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008

Other than triple root canal or waiting for your college acceptance/rejection letters to arrive, there aren’t many things that can induce nausea as fast as finding out that you have to prepare and give a speech. It can be absolutely paralyzing.

The basic fear is that of having others see you fail or under-perform in such a public manner. When you are the only one up there speaking, you are the only one whom can be blamed for “bombing.”

While this is just a general guide, the secret is in the 3 P’s:

  1. Prepare
  2. Perform
  3. Ping-pong

Prepare: Most people make a very dangerous presumption: that just because they know the subject matter in their head, that they will have no trouble communicating it to others in an interesting and effective manner. WRONG!!!!

After organizing your thoughts in writing, create bullet points and talk through your speech. Listen to yourself and see if one thought smoothly flows into another. Is your opening interesting and attention-getting? (Your audience will judge you in the first 3 minutes, so make them damn good!). Does your ending bring it all home? What is your call to action? (e.g. buy my product, accept my opinion, learn my information, be entertained).
Deliver the speech in front of a mirror and do it enough times so that you can deliver it without notes
(or, at most, with just outline headings).

Perform: When the big day comes, wear clothing and jewelry that you have worn before and are comfortable in. Scratching or fidgeting in new garb is distracting (“Didn’t hear a word of what he said, but I do think that he needs a better moisturizer”).

Forget that old maxim about imagining the audience naked (that only made me want to run and hide). Your focus, should be on radiating self-confidence (even if you don’t feel that way).

Exude excitement and passion. If you think that your topic is sleep-inducing, what should your audience think?

Ping-pong: Bounce around the room a little (if possible, avoid staying in the same comfortable place at the podium). Change your voice volume, inflection and talking speed. It keeps the audience’s attention.

It is important to look at everyone in the room while you speak (that’s one of the benefits of not reading word-for-word from a prepared text). Make the last row feel involved. If you are looking at them, they will listen to you.

Also, don’t hide behind the mundane, predictable nature of slides (Nothing induces deep REM quicker than the phrase “and now as we look at slide 1 of 369…”).

Today’s Question: What was the worst speech you ever sat through?

Today’s Tip: If you shake it up by changing your speaking location, voice and presentation, your audience will follow.

Clearing My Throat

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008

Welcome to my blog. This is where I plan to talk, chat, mumble, discuss, pontificate, whine, kvetch and opine about all aspects of oral communication.Yes, there is no escaping it. Everyday, we wake up, go about our business and interact with dozens, if not hundreds, of people—and they are all doing the same thing: making very important judgments about us based upon the words we choose, how we say them and how we look when we say them. Good thing that you got that piece of spinach out of your teeth!

So, what I want to do is “talk” about this rarely appreciated phenomenon—speaking in public. That can include formal speeches, informal conversations, presentations, interviews, ordering dinner, complex negotiations, asking your kids to clean up their room, closing the largest deal of the year, yelling at the dry cleaner and everything in between.

You may ask: “Who the hell are you?” (it’s a question my wife frequently asks me).  They call me Scott (which is a good thing because that’s my name).  For the last 22 years, I have worked as an attorney, professional negotiator, lecturer, speechwriter and trainer. I have learned how important words can be (and I have made every conceivable and embarrassing mistake one can make).

I wanted to create this blog so that we can have a “dialogue” about talking (pretty existential, huh?).

Every couple of days I will write about either a broad topic or a specific experience that I had relating to the effective (or ineffective) use of public speaking, presentations, negotiations, persuasion, interviewing, jabbering, etc.

Please feel free to comment, criticize or confirm.

Looking forward to our next chat.