By Mark Wiskup
Off you march to your meeting to pitch your perfect project. Everyone got your memo last week and you’ve spent 146 hours working on your PowerPoint presentation. Your whole life has led up to this moment.
You’re expecting a green light, a round of applause, three cheers and a plaque in the lobby.
But instead of a blessing, you take a beating. You never even get the chance to fire up the Proxima Projector. Three minutes into your monologue you’re cut off and told we have other priorities. Details need fleshing out. Folks who aren’t around the table need to be consulted with. We tried something like this once before and it didn’t pan out. The timing’s not right. Let’s hold off for now.
You leave the meeting dazed and confused. You close the door to your office and throw a private pity party. What’s wrong with these people?
The truth is, it’s not them. It’s you. You blew it. Feel free to blame your parents. Back in the days of diapers and sippy cups, your folks hung on your every word. Everything you babbled was magic. You were special.
"Every parent I know, including myself, greets a child’s first few months of talking as if those monosyllabic grunts were more substantive, robust and inspiring than the Sermon on the Mount, the Gettysburg Address and the Beatles’ first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, all rolled into one," says author Mark Wiskup.
But it didn’t last. In no time, your sleep-deprived parents tuned out and begged for a moment of silence. They bribed you with snacks and Sesame Street. During roadtrips, they cranked the volume on Raffi’s greatest hits so loud the family station wagon turned into a thumper car.
Yet you kept on talking and haven’t shut up since. And like your parents, no one’s listening and no one cares what you have to say.
"People will not love listening to you just because you are you," says Wiskup. "They will love listening to you only after you’ve built a strong connection with them."
Building that connection takes work and a lot of humility. You need constant reminding that the world is not necessarily and automatically a better place just because you’re talking and you’re naturally brilliant. No one cares what you know until they know that you care.
"Communication superstars know that they need to do more than just be accurate and right; they first need to convince others that they are worth listening to. Proving they are right might come later. It takes the connection to motivate, inspire and encourage others."
So here’s what you need to do to quit talking and start connecting.
Take the time and make the effort to clearly explain why you’re saying what you’re saying. Why should anyone pay attention? What’s the payoff?
The reward? The risk?
Learn to use words to paint pictures so people can easily visualize what you’re saying. "They will pay attention to you, but only if you make it easy for them to do so. Otherwise, their attention will flow to something that’s easier or more interesting to deal with."
Strip out jargon, cliches and what Wiskup calls the eight deadly sins of lazy communication. These sins include telling others you’re being honest and saying "basically" over and over again.
"If your goal is to get under the skin of the people you are talking with, make liberal use of the worthless word ‘basically’."
You also need to break the annoying habits of answering your own questions, using well-worn sports analogies and describing yourself as a people person.
Learn how to connect with others through the art of small talk. Don’t drone on about the heat and humidity or the Leafs’ chances of making the playoffs this year. Instead, ask about someone’s profession, their hometown and favourite hobbies and activities. "If you go all the way to the gutter of small talk — the weather — you are sending signals that you may be borderline socially pathetic," warns Wiskup.
And one last homework assignment. Work on your personal elevator speech. "It’s your audition for professional attention, your calculated attempt to be noticed and to matter to others." When someone says, "so tell me about yourself," you’ll know exactly what to say and you leave people saying "wow, you’re someone I’ve got to get to know."
Most of us make the mistake of tossing out mindnumbing facts and stats, boring job titles and meaningless industry jargon, business speak, marketing slogans, mission statements, vision statements and tag lines when describing ourselves or the organizations we work for.
Here’s how to retool your elevator speech in four easy steps. Describe what you do using non-jargon words. Focus on your customers and what you do for them. Talk about a challenge facing your customers. And then wrap up your speech with a happy customer ending where you’ve provided the solution.
"There’s a cadence and a beat to every good elevator pitch," says Wiskup. "It’s not just smooth and easy to understand, but it’s also filled with impact and individuality. A good elevator pitch always impresses the listener with its intensity."
Great communicators — the ones who get noticed, listened to and who lead change — burn a ton of mental calories in turning every conversation into meaningful connections. Wiskup shows how it’s done with a practical book that should be required reading for anyone in need of our undivided attention.