Recently I witnessed the introduction of a local politician from a large city. This was clearly not the first time the person had been called upon to provide remarks, yet within just a few words they showed themselves to be an immature and inexperienced speaker. Can it be that easy to spot? Yes, and you want to keep these tips in mind anytime you might be called upon to say a few words.
After the obligatory introduction, the officeholder stepped to the microphone and…talked about themselves. And kept on talking about that favorite topic for almost the entirety of the next five minutes. One of the easiest ways to spot someone who doesn’t understand what is happening right in front of them is when they can’t help but focus on themselves. Whether we are talking about a quick conversation in the breakroom or a major presentation in front of the Board of Directors, the mistake is the same – and it is painful.
It’s always about them, not you:
Take an inventory. Ask for feedback. Whatever you can do, try to figure out what your default conversational topic list tends to be – and be brutal. The reason I refer to this as a sign of immaturity is because we fully expect a child to be self-obsessed, but it should be something we all grow out of at some point. If you see friends or co-workers, what do you talk about? If you are called upon to make some brief, off-the-cuff comments to your team or an interest group, where do you naturally go? The person I saw speak should have done some homework. “Let me talk about the great work you’re doing and how much the City appreciates you,” would have been a great start. Instead we were treated to a re-reading of the politician’s resume and all they had done. Yikes.
Read the room. What are they like RIGHT NOW?:
A common mistake any of us can make is to assume people are unchanged day-to-day. “Oh, I know them,” or “I’ve spoken in front of them before,” can be a trap. What if things have changed for them? Not only should you make your comments about them, but try to fine tune those comments to take into consideration where they are today. Has their industry changed? What about their personal situation? What impact did the election have? What does the new year bring? In a speech, that all should be part of your research. In a conversation, use your listening and observational skills to notice where this person is right now.
But what if you ARE asked to talk about yourself?
Again, that can be a trap. Sure, you might tell your story, but ALWAYS wrap it around THEIR story. Suddenly, “I was born in a log cabin,” turns into, “I know many of you have known challenges in your life…” You may have the most interesting story in the room, but as humans we can overestimate its power. A detail can be meaningful to us because we lived it, but does it have the same impact on your audience?
True confessions time. This is my secret fear about myself. Too often, as a person is speaking to me, I am thinking about a related anecdote I can share as soon as they stop talking. Then I have to tell myself to shut up! “Just listen and appreciate the person in front of you,” Join me in making this version of a rule: “It’s always about them first, then maybe about me. Maybe.”