AU HO 022318 FINAL - Flipbook - Page 13
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8 Common Pitfalls to Avoid When You Speak: Turn Dull to Dynamic
By Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE
Whenever you open your mouth, whether your audience is one person or a thousand, you want to get a specific message
across. Perhaps you want to lead a training session, have your opinions heard at meetings, or deliver a formal presentation.
Possibly your sales team needs to improve its customer communications, or you’re in a position to help your CEO design an
Anyone who sets out to present, persuade, and propel with the spoken word faces eight major pitfalls.
1. UNCLEAR THINKING. If you can’t describe what you are talking about in one sentence, you may be guilty of fuzzy focus or
trying to cover too many topics. Your listeners will probably be confused too, and their attention will soon wander. Whether
you are improving your own skills or helping someone else create a presentation, the biggest (and most difficult) challenge
is starting with a one-sentence premise or objective.
2. NO CLEAR STRUCTURE. Make it easy for people to follow what you are saying. They’ll remember it better, and you will,
too, as you deliver your information and ideas. If you waffle, ramble, or never get to the point, your listeners will tune out.
Start with a strong opening related to your premise; state your premise or central theme; list the rationales or “Points of
Wisdom” that support your premise, illustrating each with examples such as stories, statistics, or case histories. Review
what you’ve covered, take questions if appropriate, and then use a strong close.
3. NO MEMORABLE STORIES. People rarely remember your exact words. Instead, they remember the mental images that
your words inspire. Support your key points with vivid, relevant stories. Help your listeners see your message by using memorable characters, engaging situations, dialogue, suspense, drama, and natural humor. A good example can simplify the
complex, get your audience emotionally involved, and transport them to another time and place.
4. NO EMOTIONAL CONNECTION. The most powerful communication combines both intellectual and emotional connections. Intellectual means appealing to the rational self-interest with data and reasoned arguments. Emotional connection
comes from engaging the listeners’ imaginations, involving them in your illustrative stories, and by answering their unspoken question, “What’s in this for me?” Use what I call a high “You/I balance.” For example: Not “I’m going to talk to you
about . . .,” but rather “You’re going to learn the latest trends in . . .” Not “I want to tell you about Bobby Lewis,” but “Come
with me to Oklahoma City. Let me introduce you to my friend, proud father Bobby Lewis.” You’ve pulled the listener into
5. WRONG LEVEL OF ABSTRACTION. Are you providing the big picture and generalities when your listeners are hungry for
details, facts, and specific how-tos? Or are you drowning them in data when they need to position themselves with an overview and find out why they should care? Get on the same wavelength as your listeners. My colleague, Dr. David Palmer, a
Silicon Valley negotiations expert, refers to “fat” and “skinny” words and phrases. Fat words describe the big picture, goals,
ideals, outcomes. Skinny words are minute details and specific who, what, when, and how. In general, senior management
wants a high level overview which may be considered fat words. Middle management requires medium words. Technical
staff and consumer hotline users are hungry for skinny words. Feed them all according to their appetites.
6. NO PAUSES. Good music and good communication both contain changes of pace, pauses, and full rests. As counterintuitive as it may seem, your listeners connect to you more in the silence as they digest what they have heard. When you give
your audience time to consider how your message applies to them, they are more likely to remember and repeat your key
ideas and message. If you rush on at full speed to crowd in as much information as possible, chances are the audience will
tune out. It’s okay to talk quickly if you pause whenever you say something profound or proactive or ask a rhetorical question. This gives the audience a chance to think about what you’ve said and internalize it.
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