What we've got here is a failure to communicate.
—Boss Man to Luke in Cool Hand Luke
The KISS principle of keeping it simple is more important than ever in today's fast-paced, sound bite–oriented world of communication. Make sure you don't tell your audience how to build a watch in answer to the question: What time is it?
Conciseness is just one of the Cs of Communication, which also include: Conversational; Careful; Candid; Cogent; Convincing; Confident; Clear; Compassionate; Cool, Calm, and Collected; Correct; Compelling;Consistent; Credible; and Crisis
Conscious. Along with Controversial, which often gets you quoted. And, of course, Charismatic.
Blaise Pascal wrote: "I have made this letter longer than usual because I lack the time to make it short." By asking, "How much time do we have?" you put boundaries around the communication. How often is the game over when the pitcher has finally warmed up? Audiences appreciate respect for their time and will pay more attention when the end is in sight.
In a media interview, you should limit the time, too. Early in his career, Tiger Woods spent too much time with Gentleman's Quarterly and told more than he should have. So did a well-respected but controversial builder in Los Angeles who got himself in deeper and deeper in a six-hour interview with the Los Angeles Times. Graciously, make it clear to the interviewer that your time is limited, so when you have finished discussing what you intended to say, you can exit smoothly by asking for just one last question.
If the answer to "How much time do we have?" is always less time than you need to explain, talk, or catch up, you may be talking too much. This is frustrating for both sides of the conversation: the long-winded side because the audience doesn't pay attention and to the short-attention side because there's more talking than interest.
It's important to read your audience members here, too. Do they care about what you are telling them? Or are they just trying to be polite? How do you know? Are they asking questions or shifting in their seats? Looking at you or their watches? Appearing relaxed or gathering their things?
When you are being paid to give a speech or lecture or to conduct a seminar or workshop, someone is always watching the clock for you. Most often, it's a better idea to let an audience out a little early — "Time off for good behavior," I usually tell them — than to drag it out. Someone wise once said, "The human mind can only absorb as long as the butt can sit still."
But to make sure your sponsor is getting his money's worth, announce your availability for private conversation after the audience is excused and stay in the room until the time is up. Sometimes people come back with personal questions even after they've left with their coworkers.
The most effective way to plug a product, service, or book is to mention it, by name, in conversation. First, title a book or name your company, product, or service in a way that is easy to include in both written and verbal conversation. For example, "Getting Ready for Media will allow you to," "You're not Ready yet," "When you are Ready for Media interviews," "Being Ready for Media and personal appearances means," "At Ready for Media, we coach you to...." Then practice dropping your mention into conversation easily and naturally, without overdoing it. Twice in a five-minute TV appearance is enough, accompanied by new information that will tweak the audience's interest. Instead of referring to your company as us, we, it, and your product as new and improved, the most technically advanced on the market, or above and beyond the competition, name it as the subject of your sentence. Talk about it by name. Use it as a noun instead of a pronoun. Perhaps, surprisingly, not saying the name you want to promote is the most common mistake businesspeople make in sales, media, and personal ap pearances as well as events. It's verbal as well as visual signage. For example, "people in business need to know what to say at a moment's notice by learning how to speak off the cuff."
A sound bite is correctly called "the shot heard round the world." Good or bad, sound bites seem to live forever. And all too often they become their author's personal moniker, tag line, or advertising slogan. And in our fast-paced, information-hungry world, the quotable quote says a lot with a few, well-chosen words. It is a good exercise to sum up the essence of your purpose, your speech, or your mission statement in a sound bite you can deliver, with spontaneity, in a simple sentence or phrase of five to seven seconds.
Tactful candor and simple honesty is very refreshing in today's world of bluffing and hype. But don't wait until you arrive and are asked a question to decide what you can reveal. Explore with yourself and your company what you are willing to share ahead of time. If you can't give your questioners or interviewers everything, which in most cases you shouldn't, know what you can give them to make a story or anecdote colorful, interesting, and worth listening to or writing about. Because Ready for Media's studio is near Hollywood, we are often asked to coach celebrities who are usually gun-shy about the press. Exploring, in advance, what secrets they feel safe in giving away — adventures from a recent vacation or set location, favorite sports or hobbies, environmental concerns, etc. — is the secret to making them interesting interviewees. Speak to audiences as you would a friend with a big mouth: with careful candor, circumspect trust, and respect.
Defined by Merriam-Webster's Dictionary as forceful and to the point; compelling, and persuasive. Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Successful People includes the practice of beginning with the end in mind. Begin, then, by deciding what opinion you want changed or action you want taken by your presentation, and go for it.
Show respect for your audience with a logical presentation. Does it come to a reasonable conclusion? The most compelling speech is one that makes sense. Ask any debater, it isn't the side you're on, but how convincingly you make your case. Does your presentation have structure? Like all good stories, does it have a beginning, middle, and an end?
There's an old saying in coaching, "Fake it till you make it." Or act "as if" you've had more experience, know-how, or education. Be as prepared and knowledgeable as possible. Then ask yourself, If not now, then when? And rise to the occasion. If you are in the position to do something, chances are that you are there for a good reason. Sure, you will do it better next time, but this experience will help ensure that. There's a first time for everything and everyone. Be your own confidence coach. Smile and radiate confidence. Remember that the best defense is a good offense and that, in Hayes's words, "The expert at anything was once a beginner."
Logical flow can go a long way to making a case. Ask any lawyer. But one person's clarity is another's confusion. So test your logic on friends to make sure it stands up to scrutiny.
Show your passion, compassion, warmth, and humor. Radiate confidence and energy. Use the mantra professed by New York maven Dorothy Sarnoff, "I'm glad I'm here, I'm glad you're here. I know what I know and I care about you."
Keep your cool. Stay calm and collected. Bottom-line each point, one at a time in a simple sentence. Use your second sentence to trigger the next question.
It's a fact-checked world, so acknowledge what you know and don't try to answer hypothetical questions. If you are posed one, reject it in favor of the facts as they are known to you. For example, in a press conference, the press corps may ask you to speculate in "what if" scenarios. Resist them and go back to the facts. Avoid beginning your answer with "I," as in, "I don't know" or even "I don't have the answer." It sounds guilty. Begin with any word but "I." Say instead, "The answer isn't clear yet." Acknowledge the question without verifying or admitting to it, then bridge to your answer, which is delivered conversationally.
To be correct, you must be honest. Not only with what is true, but what your audience understands to be true. If you are going to take issue with the audience's understanding, then that is your speech.
Does your communication make people care? Do you touch your audience with your voice, your side of things, your predicament, or the audience's? You will know by the audience's reaction and action in response to you and your case for or against something.
As a spokesperson for yourself, an issue, or your company, consistency of the message is crucial. And it's not only what you say with words, but with actions, too. Are your habits, behaviors, and conversation consistent with your values? For example, if your word is your bond, how much integrity do you have if you are chronically late? If you value organization, shouldn't it be reflected in a desk that's neat enough to find things?
One company or one voice is more of a challenge when your message reaches around the world. Client companies have taken my communications consulting firm, Ready for Media worldwide from Santa Clara, California, to Tokyo to Munich to Hong Kong and back to make sure that their message rings true for every audience. Singing from the same hymnbook in all of your communications makes you credible.
You need to be credible and trustworthy, as a company, as a spokesperson and as an individual. Establish your credibility by name-dropping as background. It answers the questions that people are often too intimidated to ask.
In a crisis situation, answer questions with an acknowledgment of compassion, the bottom line in a sound bite, appropriate history, repetition of the sound bite, and the next steps. Sometimes this scenario is repeated over and over again throughout the hours and days of a crisis. It helps to follow this agenda, the details of which you revise as time makes things more clear.
The media and their audiences love their bad boys. As John F. Kennedy said, "My experience in government is that when things are non-controversial, beautifully coordinated and all the rest, it must be because there is not much going on."
So, if controversy serves your purpose, use it. Remember, though, that you are not the only one who should be served.
Audiences quickly tire of outspoken spokespeople who take a self-serving approach and are merely in it for themselves.
Gifted with God's grace or favor, Charisma is an elusive butterfly that's hard to define but you know it when you find it. It may simply be the quality that makes everyone feel good about about being themselves.
According to Merriam- Webster 's Dictionary, charisma comes from the Greek words charis ("grace, beauty, kindness") and charizesthai ("to show favor to"). It's defined as a divinely inspired gift, grace, or talent; a special quality of leadership that captures the popular imagination and inspires unswerving allegiance and devotion. It's been my experience that charismatic people are also funny, generous, kind, and compassionate for the human condition.
One of the nation's most charismatic presidents, John F. Kennedy, quoted Francis Bacon in an address to a White House dinner and reception honoring Nobel Prize winners in April of 1962: "In a time of turbulence and change, it is more true than ever that knowledge is power." In referring to his audience of honorees, the president went on to say, "I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone."
One of the most charismatic women I know has a habit of making everyone feel important and valued. And she is selective. She knows that she can't be all things to all people, so she chooses carefully who does the most for her, too. She shares some of her personality with everyone she knows and is adored by the people who work for her.
From the handshake to handing over your business card, don't look for the whites of their eyes, but look at the color.
Once you've registered the color of the eyes that are being introduced to you, you've kept enough direct eye contact to be considered charismatic. U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are legendary for this skill.
Because communication is the third C after chemistry and compatibility in any relationship, it should not surprise you that establishing a command of all the Cs will change your relationships and the life that you build around them.