The Importance of Enthusiasm – Especially as We Get Another Year Older

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        If you lead a team or are a member of a team, take this quick test. Who has the most enthusiasm in the group? Then ask yourself this question: how do the team members view that person? Sure, there are those occasional overeager folks we deal with, but more often enthusiasm is one of the secret traits everyone looks for and feeds off, especially when you are involved in team projects. The best news is there is no age limit for who wins this distinction!

Recently I worked with a team hoping to win a job worth more than a billion dollars. As we went around the room and each person delivered their part of a presentation, two people really stood out – and it had to do with their enthusiasm. They smiled, joked and used more vocal variety than their colleagues. They engaged the room and seemed more comfortable in their own skin. They told better stories (or maybe we just wanted to listen a little more to them?) and they most consistently delivered their message, even during long practice sessions.

Their secret? I believe it is enthusiasm. Young or not-so-young, experienced or not, female or male, big title or not, enthusiasm speaks with its own language, cuts through differences and brings people together in a way few characteristics can. The best thing about this secret weapon is that you don’t need a special degree or license to use it. Most often, all you need is to care about the topic at hand and demonstrate a willingness to show it. If you are easily embarrassed or shy it may not come easily, but here are three quick ways to flip the enthusiasm switch:

What do your eyes say? Watch an actor who can perfect a bored character and you’ll see it instantly. Their eyes are dead. What are your eyes saying? Sometimes someone else needs to point it out, but always be aware of the importance of your eyes and make sure they are alive and full of energy.

What does your voice say? You can be very convinced of your message, but if your voice doesn’t show it you are sunk. People in conversation with you or in an audience are always judging, and one measure they use is does your voice tone match your message? If you are saying you are excited, but sound bored, don’t be surprised if the connection is quickly lost.

What does your mouth say? You might think I’m focused on the words here, but not so this time. Instead, are you smiling? If you have an enthusiastic message and you never smile your mouth is letting you down. It is my most often offered advice. Just smile and watch how the reaction changes.

As age issues become more a part of my world (I’ll turn 60 in 2017), I see enthusiasm as one way that levels the playing field for my colleagues. Young or not, showing energy and engagement will keep you in the game and keep those around you focused on the good you have to offer.

 

Follow along with Cary on Twitter @CaryPfeffer

 

Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting, www.clear-comm.net, a Phoenix, AZ-based communications consulting firm which is helping people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: cary@clear-comm.net.

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How to Address Your Team on Delicate Issues

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The events of the last 30 days have sparked a lot of discussion about handling delicate issues at work. What happens when the topic of the Presidential election comes up and what if the discussion gets heated? What should leaders say, if anything, on this topic and is there an overall tone that can be suggested for the workplace?

A couple of examples have come forward that may spark thought and discussion in your workplace and, because this often comes down to communication style and tone, the Monthly Memo seems like the right forum to have a discussion. Also, as always, I try to avoid specific political discussions in this world – there are plenty of other places to talk that out.

GrubHub CEO Matt Maloney made headlines with his communication to his team shortly after the election. Maloney’s intention was to speak out against intolerance and hateful speech, but his line that followed that message is what got a lot of attention: “If you do not agree with this statement then please reply to this email with your resignation because you have no place here. We do not tolerate hateful attitudes on our team. I want to repeat what Hillary said this morning, that the new administration deserves our open minds and a chance to lead, but never stop believing that the fight for what’s right is worth it.”

To me, here is the mistake in this communication. Maloney has tied “resign” with a statement about what, “Hillary said this morning.” It’s hard for someone who voted for Donald Trump to not feel like they are “on the outside” at their workplace. When you lead a group – especially employees – you must remember the full impact your words will carry. So, let’s look at another example from a national firm’s CEO.

(I received this directly through the company so I am not revealing the name.)

        After acknowledging the difficulty of the election season and wishing it had not been so negative, the CEO said this: Now that the campaign is over, I simply want to say to all of you how deeply I care about all of you and your families. I care deeply that you see (this company) as a place that treats everyone with respect and honor … a place where differences are celebrated and strengthen our ability to serve clients. Some percent of (employees) hearts are broken, and some celebrate. But this note is not about winning or losing an election. It is not about rehashing who said or did what on the campaign trails or in the years before. It is simply my message to all of you to say I believe in you, I have enormous confidence in you, I care about you … and I promise to loyally and respectfully serve all of you with every ounce of my professional energy for every day I am honored to be the CEO…”

Work is about work. We have a customer to serve. This CEO chose to take a divisive time and use it as an opportunity to speak frankly about his feelings for the employees.

With both examples, important things to consider, especially in a time when it seems easier to think of how divided we are rather than the ways we can come together.

 

Follow along with Cary on Twitter @CaryPfeffer

 

Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting, www.clear-comm.net, a Scottsdale, AZ communications consulting firm that helps people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: cary@clear-comm.net.

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Do you ask about your communication style? Why you should right now!

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The huge advantage of being around smart people is that they will say something brilliant, which I can then share with others. During a recent talk I was giving, my friend and colleague, aviation expert Pete Agur, mentioned a breakthrough happened when he asked his first boss to access his communication style. A light went on inside my head immediately. Why don’t we ALL do that? Have you ever asked those you work with you or work for you for feedback on your communication style?

Imagine the possibilities: Whether it is in everyday conversation around the workplace or during critical conversations or presentations, wouldn’t it be great to make that a regular metric you measure, just as you would gauge success rates or customer satisfaction? Why do I get the feeling we would actually impact all of the metrics when we think regularly about our communication style and ask about it? (Oh, and perhaps you are thinking about a similar conversation you might have with your significant other? I’ll leave that for you to sort out #NotDrPhil! 🙂

When we track sales numbers and customer complaints and a hundred other items we are immediately saying ‘these things matter.’ Well, many times when we drill down through these metrics, the improvements can be found in smarter communication. Listening skill, clean direction giving, crisp writing and succinct messages are the foundation posts for a successful business. Maybe it’s time we turned the assessment process upside down and STARTED with communication skill.

Suggestions on what and when to ask: When I am in a client’s conference rooms, I see the “Meeting Rules” memo posted on the wall many times. Usually I wonder how often anyone pays attention to the note. These suggestions only work when we come up with a plan to make it ‘part of the DNA’ of the organization. So, just these questions can start an interesting dialogue within your team or company. “Could you give me feedback on my communication style?” or “What are the strengths and challenges in my communication?” “When am I most effective?” “What are the little things that I can do to improve the way we communicate?” “What long-term communication goals can we set together?”

As for when this conversation should take place, how about right now? If not now, set it on the schedule for your next meeting and make it a priority. If you champion this cause, no matter what your job title, your leadership skill will shine through pretty clearly in any thoughtful organization. So, thanks Pete Agur, for sharing your experience and giving us all great food for thought!

 

Follow along with Cary on Twitter @CaryPfeffer

 

Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting, www.clear-comm.net, a Scottsdale, AZ communications consulting firm that helps people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: cary@clear-comm.net.

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Is Fall Your Time to Refocus and Begin Again?

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Maybe it has to do with the beginning of the school year? Maybe it is the change in seasons? Perhaps it is the end of ‘vacation time’ and the need to ‘get back to work.’ For many of us, the fall is a time to refocus and reset. I was reminded of that rhythm a few months back reading Martin Short’s funny, thoughtful book, “I Must Say.” Short puts it this way, “…I still operate according to the school-year calendar, where September heralds a new start and May/June the conclusion of another grade. I am finishing up what I think of as Grade 59.” I think Martin Short is probably not alone.

When a fresh start is before us, it should be energizing – an opportunity not to be overlooked. But what do we do with that new beginning? Can I suggest communication skill should be part of what we stay focused on as we begin the 2016/2017 year of learning, no matter what ‘grade’ you might be in.

Focus on what makes a difference: As I look ahead, I also consider what I’ve learned. You might think writing a book on communication means you no longer have a lot to learn on the topic, but the opposite has been true. After writing “There’s Not an App for That!” last year and spending some of this year talking about the topic, it has been a revelation. One of the biggest learning moments came around the idea that communication skill really is the difference maker for many of us. Your great idea has exactly no chance of moving ahead unless you or someone you know can explain the idea to a bigger group. If you are the person who has both a great idea AND the ability to explain it, you are golden.

Part of the reason for writing the book was to provide smart people some of the overlooked, yet critical tools designed to make them that unique individual who can do both. Do you know someone who needs a more balanced skill set? Get them the book. Force them to read it and incorporate the lessons. It can be a fresh start for them – leaving behind frustration and opening doors to the world where great ideas can really take off.

It’s the little things: I just received a note from a student who had heard me speak and her words rang true. “Little things I am starting to pay attention to are actually very big things.” Yes. Every day is a job interview. Look upon this fall as the time you pay more attention to dressing professionally, having something worthwhile to say in conversation and telling your story in a more compelling way. Are you an interesting person to meet, or just another face in the crowd? A strong social media presence is terrific, but what happens when people meet you? Now you are entering my world – the stuff I think about all of the time. This is not about vanity or self-importance, but instead it is about being your very best more and more often.

The leaves start changing. What about you? We keep moving ahead or we start moving back. Make better communication part of your plan and really work at it. It’s a little thing which makes a huge difference.

 

 

Follow along with Cary on Twitter @CaryPfeffer

 

Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting, www.clear-comm.net, a Scottsdale, AZ communications consulting firm that helps people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: cary@clear-comm.net.

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Have you ever received a text with a hidden message?

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Think about that for a second. A text is usually just a few words on a screen. How can it carry a hidden message? Especially when it is something basic. Have you read “fine”, “okay” or “got it” and instantly knew something was wrong? The topic came up when a friend said he knew his daughter was concerned about something all the way across the country just by the way she responded to a text message. Have you seen the same thing? Suddenly you know life is out of sync because the person just isn’t acting normally – yet you don’t hear them or see them!

The key point is we take in a lot more than we realize, even with a text message, and we communicate a lot more than we might think through even the smallest gestures. If we can pick up on a problem or concern with just a few words on a screen, how much more are we taking in during every in-person conversation? What about when we are in front of a group of people? And what about the utterly mundane moments of the day? Is it any wonder people ask, “What’s up with the boss?” even though the boss hasn’t said a word? One executive I recently spoke with told me he had to watch how he walked into the office at the beginning of the day because employees were picking up on his body language, even if his body language had nothing to do with how he was feeling about the employees.

The same rule applies for everyone. Think of this as a constant in human behavior if you are the newest employee on the crew or the CEO. We are all observing way more than we ever articulate on any given day.

So does that mean you must look like Miss Sunshine or Mr. Upbeat at every minute of the day, no matter what? Of course not, but also know that those judgements are being made. Become just a little more self-aware so you can have an understanding of the impact you have on others. Ask for feedback from those you trust. Offer the same for them. And if you happen to be the boss, your communication skills are even more important. Having a difficult day with the loss of a loved one? Maybe that gets communicated to the team in an appropriate way. There also will be times when you have to smile on the outside while troubling issues are worked out. But, don’t be surprised if especially observant employees say, “I thought something was wrong with you,” when it all comes out. Most of us aren’t very good at masking our feelings, even when we are doing our best to hide them.

So, get comfortable with the idea you that you are ALWAYS communicating – walking down the street, sitting in the back of a meeting or just sending out that one-word text!

Follow along with Cary on Twitter @CaryPfeffer

Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting, www.clear-comm.net, a Scottsdale, AZ communications consulting firm that helps people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: cary@clear-comm.net.

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How to Get Them Back When an Audience Stops Paying Attention

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Whether you are talking with the boss, a new client or an audience of 300 people, what happens when they stop listening? How do you get them back? It can happen in any set of circumstances for any number of reasons. Sometimes it’s our own fault. Sometimes the acoustics in the room work against us. Sometimes you just might be in front of some rude people. Or maybe something else has happened that has created a distraction. First, a quick story about that last situation.

On the day the verdict was read in the O.J. Simpson trial I was actually a juror in the Los Angeles court system, sitting in judgment of a civil case. The judge hearing our case knew it would be unfair to have the case go on while it seemed like the whole world wondered what the jurors in the O.J. case had decided. He knew the lawyers wouldn’t have a very attentive jury and his staff would be wondering what was happening across the street in the most famous courtroom in the country. To solve the dilemma, he released us for an hour-long break during the reading of the verdict and then we went back to our work. Problem solved.

It happens: Realize it can happen and have a plan in place. The biggest challenge occurs when you are caught off guard by an audience. Does this crowd have a history of that kind of behavior? Is your boss someone who starts looking around 5 minutes into every conversation? Is your Board of Directors made up of impatient souls? Plan ahead for those easily distracted people and you’ll always feel better about the experience. Now on to some solutions:

Stop talking: Sometimes when an audience isn’t paying attention, I’ll just stop talking. If you can be comfortable with silence it can be a very effective attention getter and usually gives you a chance to start fresh. You can smile – not making it a huge negative – and get back to what you were saying, perhaps in a shortened form. For those who have slides up a screen, make sure you are using a slide advance system that offers you a chance to make the screen go blank. That little trick signals immediately something has changed and the audience usually stops what they were doing to see what’s going on.

Offer to change things up: If it’s not working, ask what can be done to make it better right then and there. You immediately get credit for bravery as well as thinking on your feet. One of two things usually happens. Your audience will refocus and say you should just carry on, or a real suggestion will come forward for you to work with. Either way you can still work in your points, while also incorporating the suggestion.

Introduce a new sound/idea/visual: When I know I am in front of a noisy, distracted dinner setting, at an awards ceremony for example, I will bring up a piece of glassware and a spoon. Just clink them together in front of the microphone and you’ll see a magical affect. The next thing you know, there is silence. You can do the same with a surprise visual, tucked away in your slide deck. Or how about just asking everyone to stand up and stretch?

We live in a distracted world. Instead of being upset, have a plan and you’ll handle one of the most common challenges you can face.

Follow along with Cary on Twitter @CaryPfeffer

Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting, www.clear-comm.net, a Scottsdale, AZ communications consulting firm that helps people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: cary@clear-comm.net.

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Landing the plane is important in aviation – and in conversation

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How about a tip which not only makes you a better communicator, but also eases your nerves and helps you get to the point? Heck, at this rate I should also say it will help pay your bills, too, but I won’t go quite that far. Whenever I am talking to clients about an important conversation or presentation they are making, I first emphasize the need to set a plan for how they will start. And then we talk about “landing the plane.”

Just like any experienced aviator, you should have a plan for how you will “land the plane” in any important conversation, talk or speech. When you hear people say they often “wing it” in those situations, with that comment comes something like, “I prefer to be spontaneous.” And I can usually predict the future – you are in for a bumpy ride.

Can I suggest anyone without a plan for how they will end an important conversation will, much like a lost pilot, search around, possibly panic and probably just bring the experience to an end without any real chance the encounter will be a good one for anyone involved. So let’s talk about landing the plane well and the many advantages that come with it.

You always know where you are going: An experienced and skilled communicator always knows where they ultimately will take the conversation. Might there be adjustments along the way? Sure. But, having a plan in place provides you with a North Star. You are less likely to get distracted by irrelevant issues and you will appear to be much clearer in your thinking. When interacting with a reporter, for example, the savvy communicator always knows her message – even though the interview could go in different directions.

You will be more relaxed: Anyone who struggles with nerves in a job interview, critical conversation or speech should always ask, “Do I know how I will land this plane?” Nerves are often the result of lack of planning. Practice and forethought are your best friends. A surprise question suddenly isn’t so scary when you know what message you want your audience to leave the room remembering. A job interview answer goes from, “Huh, that’s a good question. I’ll have to think about it,” to something like, “Well, you may meet people with a more impressive resume but I can tell you no one will outwork me. I am totally committed to this job and I have done the research to get off to a great start.” Insert your own specific message, but you can see the difference.

No more wandering: Do you sometimes get feedback saying you take too long to make your point? Have bosses said, “Okay, what do you need?” “I need to get to my next meeting.” Or the dreaded, “What’s your point!?” If those words come your way too often you probably need a clearer plan for landing the plane. A detail oriented person (engineer, researcher or academic for example) loves the small stuff, but the details can sometimes get in the way of a clear final point. That same smart, detail-focused person will always be more effective when they can also succinctly let their audience know “this is my final, most important point.”

So, always start with a clear map of how you will end, perhaps even planning out the exact words you might use. The result? A smooth landing and a better chance of a great impression from the person hearing those words.


Join in the conversation @CaryPfeffer

Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting, www.clear-comm.net, a Scottsdale, AZ communications consulting firm that helps people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: cary@clear-comm.net.

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A Memorable Morning at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta

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When you hear a church service will last two hours, “maybe longer because it’s Mother’s Day,” you might start to plan your escape route. Not in this case. I was sitting at Ebenezer Baptist Church in downtown Atlanta, the historic church home of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. With that kind of speaking history, you can expect anyone who preaches to do a great job and you would be correct!

During recent travels I found myself with a free Sunday morning and thought it would be great to take in a service at Ebenezer. The old church building is now a museum, but the new sanctuary right across the street is brimming with life on Sunday mornings. If you get a chance, put it on your schedule, too. You will not be disappointed. Here are some highlights:

Never in a hurry: Rev. Raphael Warnock is never in a rush to get to his point, and in that he lets each point shine. One clue you are dealing with an inexperienced speaker is their rush to get through their time on stage. That is never the case for Rev. Warnock and it is a thing of beauty to watch. He allows air to pass between his thoughts. He gives you a moment to ponder. Each point gets its due and you come away with both clarity and calm. That is not to say Rev. Warnock speaks slowly, because he does not. Instead he allows pausing and pacing to set up the key thought he wants you to remember. His extreme comfort in front of the congregation gives it all an unhurried yet energized feel. It’s a remarkable combination I think you won’t often find.

Remembering through repetition: If you want your audience to remember something, make sure you repeat it. Rev. Warnock uses this simple tool to perfection because it is not overused. The pacing and pausing helps you savor these points instead of feeling you are being pummeled. When he repeats one of the key Bible passage it has been correctly set up first. The repetition then only serves to make it special. It’s as if he was shining a light on his point and you not only can’t miss it, but you are right there with him.

Movement: Whether it is the movement of the choir, the speakers or even the audience, there is regular movement. The two hours fly by because even though you are sitting in a traditional church pew, there is energy in what is happening. Clapping, singing, standing up, sitting down or greeting your neighbor, those who attend Ebenezer Baptist are not just passive viewers. At the same time it is not a clichéd scene or a movie depiction. There is a dignity and warmth here that makes everyone – even a newcomer like me – feel comfortable and welcome.

Oh, by the way, not to ignore the obvious, the sermon’s message was excellent. Dr. King would be proud of how his church home continues to grow. But my point is not about a particular religion or faith. No matter your personal religious background, great communication skills can be learned in many places. Not surprisingly, Ebenezer Baptist is one of them.

Follow along with Cary on Twitter @CaryPfeffer

Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting, www.clear-comm.net, a Scottsdale, AZ communications consulting firm that helps people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: cary@clear-comm.net.

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Some thoughts on networking etiquette

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You can enjoy networking, hate it or be somewhere in between but, even if you don’t call it networking, we all have to do it. Put simply, we need to be out-and-about, learn from others, expand the pool of people we know and get some practice telling our story.

Having said all of that, there are networking etiquette rules we should all be mindful of as we go about our business. Not following these rules can damage your standing in the community, hurt your company’s reputation and even result in a completely avoidable argument or two along the way.

Keep an eye on the clock: At most networking events there are a few key people most everyone wants to speak with. If you happen to get the attention of one of the stars of the show make your point, say your piece and get the heck out of the way! No one likes the person who is oblivious to the crowd behind them who is patiently waiting to get their few moments with this person. If you happen to be the star, you can help out the clueless by moving your eye contact to the others briefly. If that doesn’t work, mention to the time hog that others are waiting and you need to chat with them as well. It may seem like a small thing, but as we have noted in this space often, your reputation is based on many things, including situational understanding. (The Japanese have a saying for that: “Reading the air.”) In this case you can damage how you are viewed without even saying a word.

Don’t be the serial card dispenser: Have you met this person before? They aren’t really interested in a conversation and certainly aren’t listening at all. Their only goal is to hand out as many business cards as possible. Really? You don’t want to be this person. When you are talking to someone at these events you will stand out by listening carefully.
Showing genuine interest in others will go a long way to enhance your reputation and help you stand out from the crowd. Provide cards when requested or ask for the other person’s card and then exchange them. Little steps like this can make a big difference in how people view you long term. It’s never about the moment, but what you represent over time.

Respect the promises you make: Ever go to one of these events and have someone promise to connect/call/send a note/whatever and then they do nothing? If you say you’ll do something, do it! Small gestures of kindness often say more about you than a grand show. Say what you will do and do what you say.

Always offer your name in introductions: Being in a busy room it is easy to forget a name or misplace a face because it is not in the usual space. Never assume people will remember your name and so offer your name to all but close friends. It puts everyone at ease and smooths the way for future introductions.

Want to network with me? I’ll be in New York, Tampa, Atlanta, Omaha, New Orleans, Los Angeles and Fresno for book events and other fun over the coming weeks. Check out the schedule on Twitter and Facebook or shoot me a note so we can catch up!

Follow along with Cary on Twitter @CaryPfeffer

Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting, www.clear-comm.net, a Scottsdale, AZ communications consulting firm that helps people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: cary@clear-comm.net.

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Why Good Writing is Not Usually Good Speaking

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Anytime you stand up to speak you should ask yourself, “When I was preparing this was I thinking about the eye or the ear – or did this question even cross my mind?” It is critical and it’s a mistake that happens all of the time. Really smart people put down their best thoughts for a speech or presentation and they get in front of the audience to little or no effect. Why? The ideas and thoughts are very compelling, but they have been prepared in a way best suited for the EYE, not the EAR.

Here is why this is such a common issue. Really smart people are often writing – articles, textbooks, white papers, etc. It’s how they process their thoughts. And if they are speaking it is often in front of a group of like-minded people – classrooms, lecture halls, symposium audiences, etc. Those people are already on the same wavelength – they know the back story most times. (This is why if you walk into the back of a conference meeting for a specific industry you have no idea what they are talking about!)

But here is the critical part. This entire process goes completely off the rails when that same smart person steps in front of a more general audience. If you are or you work with a really smart person this is an important discussion to have, and it starts with this question, “Is your message something which can best be understood by the EYE or the EAR?”

Recently I heard a professor address a business owners group and I would be surprised if he landed even one of his ideas in the brain of the people he was speaking to that day. What a loss. Here is what then happens. The professor is never asked to come back, the audience misses out on his insights and precious time is wasted.
So, here is how this dilemma is solved.

Simplify: This is often really hard for smart people. But, in order to reach someone who is just sitting in front of you (and not an industry expert) they have to hear ideas in a way they can quickly process. Sure, PowerPoint might help and a hand-out might bridge some of the gaps, but we process ideas in bite size pieces or through stories. Can the message this smart person is trying to communicate be stripped down to its essence and then reinforced with a story?

Shorten: Often a smart person wants to tell you everything. We don’t want to know everything. It’s that simple. We already have plenty going on in our lives. Speaking for 45 minutes in a way we don’t understand is not nearly as good as 15 minutes of just one or two good ideas. (And that’s why we have TED Talks!)

Share: The smart person can always continue the conversation by sharing a web site or book or link to additional information or a jump drive with a copy of the full report. At this point I do have to warn you – here’s what may happen. Nothing. Remember, people have a lot of other things going on in their lives – like checking Facebook updates and important things like that! At least the smart person has made every attempt to share the bigger picture without bowling them over in a talk designed more for the eye than the ear.

Follow along with Cary on Twitter @CaryPfeffer

Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting, www.clear-comm.net, a Scottsdale, AZ communications consulting firm that helps people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: cary@clear-comm.net.

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