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Verbal Dexterity: Talking the Talk » 2008 »

Archive for February, 2008

Giving Good Phone

Thursday, February 28th, 2008

While not as over-utilized as e-mails, a significant percentage of business does take place over the telephone. Good telephone skills can make a difference to a business deal, interview or social interaction (why don’t we teach this to kids in school?). Here are some basics:

1) Make sure that your equipment is of good quality (that $3.00 knock-off you bought from someone at a Flea market may not be of the highest quality) Otherwise, this can give new meaning to the phrase that “talk is cheap.”

2) Prepare to speak in a place where you can hear and be heard (Note to file: avoid Led Zeppelin reunion rehearsals or baby changing stations).

3) Avoid eating or drinking during call (you don’t think that we can hear you slurping that power drink, but we can. Heck, we can almost smell that pepperoni you had for lunch!).

4) If it’s only you and one other person on the call, avoid using the speaker-phone (you’re not impressing anyone).

5) Have bullets points pre-written and in front of you, so that you can make sure that everything gets covered.

6) Take notes while you are on the call. You really won’t remember a blessed thing 30 minutes from now.

7) Never put the other party on mute while you are listening. One quick and unexpected question to you and you will be so busted (been there, done that).

8) Have likely-to-be-referred-to materials nearby (it’s always good to avoid blurting out phrases like “hmmm… I know I put your memo somewhere in my gym bag”).

9) Don’t have a second conversation with someone else while you are on the phone. Give the person on the other line your full attention (nothing breaks the flow of a good call quicker than one party suddenly blurting out “hold the mayo, but extra cheese on mine”).

10)Always end with a polite and respectful sign-off and make sure that you are disconnected before you discuss the call with your associate sitting next to you (many a deal has fallen through due to comments made by one party while the other party was still on the line—a syndrome that I like to call “premature articulation”).

Today’s Tip: Always keep all of your business contact info (telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, etc.) in at least two separate databases/locations. Otherwise, you will be only one computer meltdown away from a personal meltdown.

Today’s Question: What is the strangest thing that you ever heard in the background of a business call?

Your Elevator Speech: Is The Elevator Going Up or Down?

Monday, February 25th, 2008

Your “elevator speech” is the 30 second explanation of your business, service or product that you would presumably give to an executive or a prospective client/customer if you were riding in an elevator together. Could you do it? Go ahead. Say it aloud right now.  Come on. 

You have 25 seconds left.  I ‘m waiting. 

Tick tock 

Stop.

Times up. 

The elevator door just opened and closed.You are still fumbling the words while your next job just left the building. OK.  Relax.  I didn’t mean to slap you around (well, maybe just a little).  The point is that it is much harder to boil down what you can do or provide to a 30 second sound bite.  But you need to.  You never know when you may meet someone at a bus stop, networking event or in an elevator.  So, exhale.

Now let’s take the time to get you ready for that next magical moment. Here’s what you need to do:

1)     Carry business cards with you at all times (on vacation, to a doctor’s appointment, when you go pick up a pizza, etc.). 2)     Write down on a piece of paper what you or your business can really do to help someone.

3)     Why and how are you different than the 450 other people that I could use (including my cousin Ernie who is sloppy but cheap)?

4)     Come up with a quick and memorable tag line (“I help people retire 10 years earlier than they expected to”).

5)     Acknowledge the current market or landscape and rise above it (“I know that there are thousands of contactors out there…but I’m the one whom customers return to.”

6)     Whittle down your comments to 2 sentences and practice saying it and hearing yourself say it out loud. 

Ok. Now go find yourself an elevator.

Today’s Tip:  Don’t watch the elevator doors close.  Always be ready to explain your business to others in a concise, clever and alluring manner.

Tips From All Articles To Date

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

Public Speaking: If you shake it up by changing your speaking location, voice and presentation, your audience will follow (from Article dated 1-23-08; “Is This Mike On”).

Eye Contact: In any business context, eye contact can make or break you (1-25-08; “The Eyes Are The Window To The Goal”).

Standing In Front Of A Room: 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 (1-28-08; “The Naked Truth”).

Conducting An Interview: 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 (1-31-08; “How To Interview Applicants With X-ray Vision).

The Business Meal: A business meal is not a relaxing event. You need to be “on” from beginning to end and very aware of your manners.
Others may judge your credibility and competence by your table behavior (2-4-08; “Some Things Are Hard To Swallow”).

Meetings: Schedule some unscheduled time into your workday to cover extended meetings and unexpected developments, emergencies and delays.
It will help you finish the day “on time” (2-6-08; “Minutes To Go Before I Meet”).

Networking: Your business card is a reflection of you.
High quality, dependable and memorable individuals have cards of similar construction (2-11-08; “A Font Of Information”).

Complaining: Before you go into a stream of consciousness rage, think before you complain. Use logic, past realtionships and respect to score points with the listener.
Your goal is to get what you expected, not a pound of flesh (2-14-08; “The Sweetest Whine Of All”).

Corporate Jargon: Don’t fall into the corp-speak trap. Use clear, concise language to direct others or ask your leader to clarify. Nodding your head to phrases that are meaningless WILL come back to haunt you. You can bet your evolving paradigm on it! (2-21-08; “Drilling Down To The Synergies Of Leveraged Empowerment Opportunities…or Does Anyone Speak Plain English In Corporate America Anymore?).

Drilling Down To The Synergies Of Leveraged Empowerment Opportunities and The Metrics Of Best Practices In Deliverable Action-Plans That Integrate Pro-Active Change Management Competencies And Outside-The-Box Paradigms In The Value-Added Workplace (Or Does Anyone Speak Plain English In Corporate America Anymore?)

Monday, February 18th, 2008

Corporate-speak just cracks me up.
Really.

People use words (like those in my tongue-in-cheek title) as convenient, self-important reference points or to show that they have fully absorbed a given company’s culture and that they “belong.”

The truth is, these words just fill up air and space.
They actually confuse and misdirect rather than enhance and clarify.

These phrases are so jargon-laden that they have become utterly meaningless to the listener. The scary part is that everyone is afraid to tell the speaker that they have embarrassed themselves and that no one knows what the speaker really wants them to do. It is the perfect example of the “Emperor Has No Clothes” syndrome.

At meeting after meeting, a leader drones on about Project 2.0 and inertia while flocks of flacks sit back, hypnotized into a deep trance. At the meeting’s conclusion, it is not uncommon for one worker bee to say to another, “Now, what the hell are we supposed to do?”

With broad-based considerations flying and bottom-line issues addressed, the minions work with all deliberate and expedited confusion towards satisfying their bosses fast tracked and high-profile agenda. Everything is mission-critical and results-driven, but no-one really knows exactly how to reach a tactical conclusion.

Some delusional speakers have embedded this type of vernacular so deeply into their DNA, that you can imagine them using it in their personal life at home with the family:
“Johnny, your diaper has way too much in the pipeline. I appreciate your pushing the envelope but it can’t possibly hold this much bandwidth. The big picture is that you have crapped all over our mission statement.”

One commonly experienced variation on Corp-speak is sports-speak. This is used by Supervisors (both male & female) in an attempt to clarify and motivate their direct reports.

Under their leadership you must:

-carry the ball downfield
-hit one out of the park
-take one for the team
-ace it
-call an audible
-throw a curve ball
-check the opponent into the boards
-hang five
-avoid swinging at the first pitch
-never fumble and
-get a “10“ from the Russian judge
(I think that you get the idea).

So, there are two morals to the story:

For the speaker: Enough already! Cut it out. Yes, fine. We are all impressed at your attempt to demonstrate your grasp of …ah…whatever…but we still do NOT have the foggiest clue about what you are talking about, what you want us to do or what you want us to include. Really. We are completely confused. Tell it to us straight Boss and we will climb mountains for you. Just use identifiable words and phrases and we will get the project done the right way, on-time. Promise

For the listener: You must gently tell your Emperor that you can see his exposed rear. If you don’t have the guts to raise your hand and ask for a little clarification, you deserve what you get. Sorry, but it is a 2-way street. Meet you Boss half way or be prepared to have your infrastructure right-sized!

(Unfortunate Note: I have actually heard every word or phrase cited in this article, during the course of actual meetings).

Today’s Tip: Don’t fall into the corp-speak trap. Use clear, concise language to direct others or ask your leader to clarify. Nodding your head to phrases that are meaningless WILL come back to haunt you. You can bet your evolving paradigm on it!

Today’s Question: What words/phrases have you heard during a meeting that sounded important and were, ultimately, meaningless?

The Sweetest Whine Of All (How To Complain)

Thursday, February 14th, 2008

Disppointment.
Poor service.
Bad Surprises.

Your connecting flight was cancelled.
They lost your restaurant reservation.
Your entree came late.
The service person was rude.

Now what?

Yes. It is time to complain.
But how can you do it well?

The art of complaining is completely counter-intuitive.
Most people make the same mistakes and end up getting nothing.

Here are some tried and true tips:

  • never yell at the person that can help you (they didn’t cause the problem, so why take it out on them?)
  • clearly, directly and respectfully explain your expectation, the process, the result and your reaction (lead the listener down a path of logic and calm…and by the time you get to the punchline, they too will be offended). For example, don’t say “This place stinks. Our food wasn’t cooked properly. I want all of my food for free.” Instead say “we were so looking forward to coming here tonight. I picked your restaurant because we are celebrating a special event. We specifically ordered our steaks rare. The waiter even confirmed our order. Unfortunately, he brought them out well done. Mistakes happen. We understand that. But then he brought out a second batch that were even more overcooked than the first. I was hoping for a better memory of tonight than this.”
  • Always establish your realtionship to the entity (”I am a Platinum Frequent Flyer:” I have been a customer for 15 years;” ““I have always brought my clients here).”
  • The more that other disgruntled customers are yelling, the cooler and calmer you will need to be (it will be noticed by the customer service liason and will pay you big dividends).
  • Suggest the specific “remedy” that you are looking for.
  • Speak up for yourself, but never let your words or tone get out of control.
  • Try to inject a little humor into the situation.
  • Focus on the problem/issue. Refrain from personal attacks against the service provider.
  • Today’s Tip: Before you go into a stream of consciousness rage, think before you complain. Use logic, past relationships and respect to score points with the listener. Your goal is to get what you expected, not a pound of flesh.

    Today’s Question: What was the best result that you ever had to a complaint and why?

    A Font Of Information

    Monday, February 11th, 2008

    In the business world, the written reflection of yourself  is incredibly persuasive and important.

    The most common manifestation of this is your business card…and most people underestimate its importance.

    Here’s what you should know:

    1) All businesses need to watch costs, but your business card is one of the “first impressions” that a potential client, colleague or employer will use to assess who you really are (that or they can simply call up your mother).

    2) Make sure that your card is made of high quality stock with significant weight (thin is great for super-models, not business cards).

    3) Use a professional printer.  We know when you have printed yours at home.

    4) Make sure that all appropriate information is included (telephone, e-mail address, etc.) and that it is accurate and easy to read.

    5) Pick a style, color, font and shape that reflects the nature of your business. 

    6) Think about printing something on the back of the card as well.

    7) If I attended a trade conference and collected 50 business cards, would yours stand out?

    8) Contemplate having a personal (non-business related) card made as well.

    9) Always keep several cards on you at all times. You never know when and where you will meet an important contact.

    10) Treat someone else’s card with the same respect that you would expect regarding yours.

    Today’s Tip: Your business card is a reflection of you.  High quality, dependable and memorable individuals have cards of similar construction.

    Minutes To Go Before I Meet

    Wednesday, February 6th, 2008

    Why are you always running late?

    Lateness is the easiest way to kill your business reputation.

    The sad part is, you don’t even know it.

     

    Here’s what happens when you are late to a meeting (or on a project):

    1. People talk about you in a negative way (but note: it’s not really behind your back, as you are not even in the room).
    2. Those around you assume that you are overwhelmed by your current workload.
    3. You can lose the client’s respect and future business.
    4. Your competition now has an opening to walk in (and over you).
    5. You are unintentionally implying that you had something more important to do.

    So, how can you avoid being late?

    1. Buy a good wristwatch with an alarm and set it to go off in advance of your next meeting.
    2. Have all of your papers and summaries ready, well in advance (avoid that crazed “where did I put that file?” moment).
    3. Partner with a colleague to watch each other’s backs.
    4. Change your usual methodology: work harder, later and arrive earlier.
    5. End this meeting on time or else you will be late for the next one (and try not to schedule meetings back to back).

    Common sense?   Sure.  Just not so easy to apply.

    My goodness, look at the time.  Have to run to a meeting.

    Hmmm.   I wonder who will take the “minutes?”

    Today’s Tip: Schedule some unscheduled time into your workday to cover extended meetings and unexpected developments, emergencies and delays.  It will help you finish the day “on time.”

    Some Things Are Hard To Swallow

    Monday, February 4th, 2008

    Chew on this.   

    No matter what your vocation, there will come a time when you will need to have a business lunch or dinner.  Sounds like fun and games, but it’s not. 

    Many a deal has been won or lost due to the nature of this time-honored tradition and how you handle yourself during the repast. 

    Some things to consider: 

    -everyone at the table IS watching you (whether you notice it or not) 

    -your focus needs to be on the goal not the pasta choices 

     -your mother’s advice was right: don’t talk with your mouth full and put the damn napkin in your lap

    -avoid unfamiliar or unusual foods (you want to be remembered for your insightful comments not your facial expression when the sautéed monkey brains omelet arrived) 

    -choose the seat that puts you in the center of the conversation (contrary to popular thought, the “head of the table” seat is the worst one for purposes of hearing and participating in conversations)

    -if possible, check out the restaurant in advance of your meeting (even better, introduce yourself to the maitre d’ for better service later) 

    -never order the most or least expensive wine 

    -remember, your bread plate is on the left, your glass is on the right 

    -if you called the meeting, pick up the check.  If it’s someone else‘s meeting, offer to pay   

    It’s all enough to give you indigestion.

    Today’s Tip: A business meal is not a relaxing event.  You need to be “on” from beginning to end and very aware of your manners.  Others may judge your credibility and competence by your table behavior. 

    Today’s Question:  What is the worst business meal experience that you ever had?