Thursday, April 2, 2009

5 Steps to Making "Excitement" Your Middle Name

Perhaps until now you've been content with watching people's eyes glaze over when you speak. Perhaps you haven't minded too much that people continually check their watch, their Blackberry or whether they have something in their teeth when you give a presentation.

But it's time to get real. If "exciting" or "riveting" or even "interesting" has never been connected with your name or what you have to say, then it's time to realize your communication skills need some help.

Because here's the deal: If you can't get people to listen to you, then you could be in real trouble. In today's hyper-connected, hyper-competitive work environment, you've got to make sure that people understand why you're valuable. And the only way to do that is to make sure they think what you're saying is worth listening to.

First, find out the size of the problem. Ask some trusted colleagues or even a mentor if you are an effective communicator. Do you have a tendency to ramble? Do you have a reputation of being boring? Are you seen as uninteresting? If these or any other issues are cited by friends or co-workers or even bosses, then you've got to make some changes.

Here are some ways to add some excitement to your communications:

1. Look in the mirror. It sounds trite, I know, but no one is going to listen to you if you are physically a mess. It's important that you dress so that you fit in with the company culture, but you should also pay attention that you don't fade into the wallpaper. An attractive hairstyle, wearing colors that flatter your skintone and standing up straight while making eye contact is the first step to getting someone to pay attention.

2. Talk, don't lecture. No one wants to feel like they're back in classroom, held captive by a boring professor. If you give a presentation, don't read directly from your notes. Know the material well enough that you can "talk" to your audience. Don't bury people in statistics -- present written material to the audience and just hit the highlights, inviting questions. If you're just having a casual conversation, don't revert to data-speak. "I can send you those figures in an e-mail, but let's talk about why they're important for you." Conversations are always more interesting.

3. Look for warning signs. If people start to fidget, yawn or check their watch, then you need to pep things up. Ask a question or solicit an opinion. "What's been your experience with this?" "Is there anything you would do differently?" "What are your concerns?" People respond positively when they feel like you've got an interest in their opinion.

4. Ask for help. "I get excited about this stuff, but I know that may not be the case for everyone. Just give me a sign when you feel yourself going numb...." This enlists others to help you out -- they become an ally in helping you be more interesting.

5. Practice. Maybe you sound much more interesting when you're at home practicing in front of the mirror. But when you have face-to-face conversations at work, or are in a meeting, you are the very definition of "boring." Do what the professional communicators do -- come up with some great lines that will help others understand you better. Comparisons and similes are great, as are a reference to current events. "Trying to install this new system by next month is like the Detroit Lions winning the Super Bowl next year. Definitely tough and definitely challenging -- but not impossible."

What are some other ways to become more interesting when you communicate?

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Ten Rules Guaranteed to Cause You Less Stress

It's Friday. TGIF, right? You've put in some long hours, dedicated yourself to the job and figured out a way to whittle your lunch tab down to $1.25 (ketchup put into hot water makes tomato soup, right?).

I know you're stressed. That's why I'm here to tell you that it's really OK if you:

1. See that when you're the only one getting on the elevator with the top boss you suddenly say: "Oops! I forgot something! You go ahead!" Some days you just really don't want to do the whole elevator-pitch thing, ya know?

2. Claim you already gave to the latest charitable cause for which a colleague is collecting money. You're not a bad person, but if it comes down to saving the sea turtles or a latte, well...

3. Don't watch "The Office" because it depresses you. It cuts a little to close to the bone. "Dwight" has inhabited the cubicle next to you for three very, very long years.

4. Are determined to best your personal record of 17 straight spins in your chair. You brought some WD-40 to work, and are waiting for everyone to leave before trying for your personal goal of 35 spins.

5. Have scoped out a future retiree's larger, more private work space and are already schmoozing the office manager to make sure that when the time comes, that baby is YOURS.

6. Claim you didn't get the phone message from your boss over the weekend because your service sucks. And the e-mail? Same thing.

7. Show up for the company potluck with your personal, extra-secret recipe for chocolate chip cookies. Good thing Mrs. Field's is near your house...

8.Have written an entire novel in your head during a human resources presentation on "Know Your Company, Love Your Company."

9.Paid the snotty parking lot attendant all in pennies on the day he reported you were parked in vacationing employee's spot.

10. Offer your opinion on the latest business books, although you didn't actually read them. But those reviews are so helpful, aren't they?

If you want to add to this list, feel free. It's Friday. It's OK.

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Thursday, June 5, 2008

Understanding Why You Really Get Distracted at Work

If you feel like you're going to scream the next time someone interrupts you at work, pay attention. The problem may not be them -- but you.

That's right. You're the cause of your own distractions. You may be responsible for driving yourself crazy.

Let's be real. That candy dish on your desk? A "hello, stop and chat" magnet if ever there was one. Looking up whenever someone walks by (smile optional)-- a sure sign you're willing to shoot the breeze.

And let's talk about those cute little toys on your desk and the funny posters that cover your cubicle or office walls. That doesn't exactly say you're serious about work, now does it? You may consider them just part of your work space, but to some people they say: "Whoopee! Always ready to be interrupted for whatever silly thing you have to say!"

OK, so now that we've started getting to the truth of why you can't concentrate at work, let's get a bit tougher. There is no reason that once you've greeted everyone with a smile or friendly hello at the beginning of the day, you should keep it up. You're not a cruise director are you? You can always just nod when you pass someone in the hallway -- but keep moving! If an unexpected visitor shows up, you can offer a friendly smile or greeting, but stand up and offer your hand, while saying: “How can I help you?” This shows that you’re ready for business, and keeps the person from lingering for too long.

Some other tips for cutting down on distractions:
• Talk to yourself. You can either do this in your head or aloud, but continually say to yourself: “What is the most important thing I need to be doing right now?” This serves two purposes: It helps you stay focused and your muttering concerns just enough people to keep them from getting too close.
• Find your hiding spot. The advantage of having laptops is that they allow you to pick up your work and head for another destination. Ask the boss if you can go to a local coffee shop or book an empty conference room so that you can have some uninterrupted time. Turn off your cell phone and only check it once an hour.
• Consider your own behavior. It could be that one of the reasons you’re getting off track is because you’re part of the problem. How many times do you stop and talk to others in a typical day? When you’re waiting on phone calls, or between projects, do you wander over to someone else’s desk to talk? Do you linger around the coffeepot? By behaving in such a way, you aren’t respecting the time of others – and they may be only too happy to return the favor when you least need it.

What are some of your most common distractions? Do you have ways to eliminate them?


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