Steve Boyd’s February Communication Newsletter

Coaching Made Easy

     In a “Wizard of Id” cartoon, the first scene shows the king finishing a speech to his people. As the king leaves, his assistant says to the audience, “If you would like a copy of the king’s speech, you should probably seek psychiatric help.”  The final scene shows the assistant being carried off to prison saying, “I couldn’t help it!” 

     We still face the same problem today. Presentations are often boring and have little significant content. Many times it is due to the fact that getting up to speak is a great fear for many people.

     Yet few skills are more important in order to advance in your career. A recent Wall Street Journal article stressed that presentation skills training and coaching are in more demand today than ever because those skills are essential for promotion and recognition in most careers. To demonstrate the demand, author Joann Lublin says that you can spend $19.95 for a book by a speech coach or pay $1,995 and three days on an American Management Association seminar.

     If you are not ready to lay out your money or the company’s money to be coached or trained in presentation skills, why not be your own “speech coach?”  Here are some ways to “coach” yourself.

     Ask a colleague to tape your next speech. With technology as it is today, small inconspicuous cameras are available that would not be a distraction to the audience or to you as you speak. Soon after the speech (before you forget the setting and context of the speech), watch yourself deliver that speech. Take notes on what you did well and what you can do to improve. Put those notes in the folder you will use for your next presentation and review it as you prepare the next speech.

     Make a deal with a co-worker that you will be in the audience at his or her next speech to critique it and provide notes for him or her, and that person will do the same for you. Follow up with that person and discuss the speaking experience. The person does not have to be an expert in public speaking to give you good feedback. Just ask the person to share with you what was appealing and what you could do to improve.

     Practice all or part of your next speech in front of a mirror. This may seem awkward at first, but once you get used to watching yourself in the mirror, you’ll find it helpful. You can easily make immediate corrections as you pick up on delivery mannerisms or facial features that may not match your content.

     If after doing these three things you still need help, contact a speech coach or trainer. I’ve coached several hundred people over the past 30 years and would be glad to work with you on how you can move to the next level as a speaker.

Just Someone to Listen

     In the information-sharing society in which we live, finding people who will listen is a challenge. In a New Yorker cartoon, a man at a bar says to several people around him, “I’d like to buy everyone a drink. All I ask in return is that you listen patiently to my shallow and simplistic views on a broad range of social and political issues.”  He speaks for all of us in our desire to have someone listen.     
     Certainly the last thing most of us need in our busy lives is to spend a bigger chunk of time listening to people. But here are some suggestions on how you can maximize your time by giving your “ear” to people around you.

     Get to your office l5 minutes earlier than usual and respond to emails and paperwork that does not involve interaction with people. Close the door so you are not disturbed. By concentrating on this first, you will get more done because you are not attempting to listen to others as you do this. When you finish, open the door or turn your chair to the open area of your environment and anyone who needs to see you will notice the visual ways you show you are available to listen.

     A family version of this is to arrive in the kitchen early enough so that you are available as children and spouse get breakfast or prepare to leave for school or work. Sitting to have a cup of coffee (without your head in the newspaper) lets them know you are available to discuss family or personal matters.

     Schedule listening time. You schedule lunch, getting your car serviced, and exercise time, so why not schedule listening time?  Don’t call it “listening time” to people around you, but identify it for yourself by allowing more flexibility between appointments. Let’s say an appointment with this person or that meeting usually takes 30 minutes. Make it 45 minutes on your calendar. You are building in listening time with this change. Knowing you have more time will encourage you to ask another question or to say, “What else do we need to talk about?” when you would usually rise to make your exiting obvious.

     Finally, commit to talk less and listen more. We all know people we don’t enjoy being with because they dominate the conversation by talking all the time. Don’t develop this reputation. Limit the number of times you make contributions in a social or business setting. This may seem mechanical at first, but literally keep track of the number of times you talk in a meeting or at a meal. You may be surprised how often you speak and how little you listen. Keeping track a few times will encourage you to concentrate on listening. If you find yourself talking too much, make a real effort to stop and ask an open question of another person. This will immediately place you in the listening mode.

     When you just listen, people will believe you are a great conversationalist—even when you don’t say a word!

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Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor of Speech Communication in the College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights, Kentucky. He works with companies and associations whose people want to speak and listen more effectively to improve personal and professional success. He can be reached at          800.727.6520         or through his website at www.sboyd.com.