Today’s post is much shorter than usual.
When engaging in business, in communication, or in anything else, please remember the following:
Shortcuts rarely are.
Terrible grammar aside, the above is very, very true. Shortcuts rarely save you time. They rarely save you money. They rarely spare you any work. In fact, saving any of those three things via a shortcut happens so infrequently that you should count on spending more time, more money, and doing more work than you would have if you just did it the right way the first time.
For my American friends, here is a guide to holiday dinner etiquette. Note the hilarity that can be created by using technically correct words in an unexpected context.
Or just have fun with the sheer puerile nature of this offering. Don’t show it to your kids.
During a presentation I was delivering last week, one of the attendees asked what to do about communication methods that we dislike. Specifically, he was wondering about how to handle modes of transmission that make us uncomfortable – things like email, texting, telephone, and the like.
The multiplicity of communication methods we have available at the moment make it seem like we can cherry-pick which style of contact we choose to use. In reality, this is pretty lousy business practice. Different methods have different strengths and weaknesses, and regardless whether they are intuitive for us on an individual basis, we need to learn to make use of them all.
Understanding why a certain method doesn’t work for you is extremely useful; it’s worth taking the time to figure out what aspects of that mode make you uncomfortable. Once you know why, let’s say, email gives you the heebie jeebies, you can start to find ways to mitigate that problem. Telephones have been my personal bugbear for some time. Like most teens, I spent an aggravating amount of time glued to one. Once email became the de rigeur mode of communication among my peers, however, I started to hate the phone with a passion. Ringing telephones would send my heart rate through the roof, and by the time I was out of university and in the workforce, I’d do just about anything to avoid a phone conversation.
Eventually I figured out that the main reason for this aversion was the fact that I can’t see the body language of the person on the other end. This drove me batty. I rely quite heavily on that kind of info, and when it was stripped from real-time conversation, I became anxious. Email gave me time to ruminate over the message and its nuances and craft a more thoughtful response. Phones demanded that I give a response on the spot without having a pretty big chunk of info about the mental state of the person I was conversing with. This was not a problem when I was a teen – I spent so much time on the phone that listening for vocal cues instead of physical cues was easy. I had simply forgotten how to do it.
Once I figured out why I disliked phone conversations, I could focus on the benefits. One five minute phone call could resolve something that would take hours over email. Phone conversations were more intimate and friendly. They improved relationships; clients often expressed considerable pleasure at having me call and talk to them than simply corresponding via email. In order to get over my discomfort with not being able to see the other person, I now focus on nuances my conversant’s voice. I make a concerted effort to call people instead of emailing them or sending them messages via FaceBook. Phone calls are slowly growing on me again.
If you dislike email, what is it about the email that puts you off? If it’s the technology or interface that trips you up, spend some time learning how to use it more effectively. If you feel that you never know what tone the other person is using, try reading the emails out loud a few times with different expressions to hear how it might sound out loud. Is texting bothering you but your clients insist on it? Treat it like a pager – if your client sends you several messages, use it as a cue that they want you to call them. Figure out what you need to learn or do to make using the technology easier, and then focus on the benefits to make it a pleasure instead of a pain.
Be careful when you ask for honest feedback or honest opinions. You might just get them.
Have you ever wondered how to tell when it’s time to shut your gob?
Causing a child to cry is a pretty good indication:
Poor thing. I’ve felt that way during truly atrocious presentations.
Incidentally, Canadian news gets rather choked with election-related stories every time the American Presidential elections are on. I at once love and loathe those elections. They are so aggravatingly relentless and yet so very, very full of beautiful examples of public speaking boondoggles and general political jackassery. The comedic potential is huge. If they elicit such strong feelings among myself and fellow Canadians, I can only imagine what they must do to American citizens.
I took a couple of weeks away from blogging, speaking, computers, and just about everything else communication. This was a refreshing, if unplanned break. As my wee boy was in a major growth spurt, I needed time to make up for a lot of broken, unsettled sleep and dial down my daily activities a little.
Once he started giving me longer, more predictable stretches of sleep, I started taking up a few of my old activities. One such activity was returning to Toastmasters (baby in tow) and delivering an advanced manual speech. Outlines were outlined, drafts were drafted, and as the meeting approached my confidence in the quality of the speech and my ability to deliver it got shakier and shakier.
By the time I got to the meeting, I was completely convinced that I was going to bomb. In my haste to get my baby loaded up and into the car, I even managed to forget the sample of the product that I was to pitch in my speech. The speech was terrible, I told myself, the pitch unconvincing. The other Toastmasters, accustomed to my generally skilled and enthusiastic deliveries, would be dismayed at my lackluster, amateurish performance. I hadn’t given a speech for two months; heck, I hadn’t even done any business interactions during that period except for some blogging and a couple coaching sessions with one of my most motivated clients. Perhaps it was the baby-induced brain-fog that new parents everywhere experienced, but I actually worried that two months with no speeches was two months too long. By the time I stood up to deliver my speech, I was convinced that I had no business speaking, much less helping other people improve their own speaking abilities.
Despite knowing that I was giving a speech in a warm, welcoming, completely non-threatening environment, I was having a case of the jitters that would have made a frightened newbie proud. There really wasn’t any reason for it; I certainly could have crafted a better speech, had I more time, but what I had was certainly passable. I knew my topic and what I wanted to say, and taking two months to adjust to a new baby certainly isn’t unreasonable.
A few of the Toastmaster meeting attendees expressed surprise when I said how nervous I was. They knew that I speak often, in myriad settings, and enjoy it. Why would someone with skill and experience get nervous in front of a familiar audience? The only reason I can give is that the jitters never really go away. Delivering a speech always puts you in a vulnerable position; you cannot force an audience to accept what you have to say, and the risk of rejection is always there. Jitters are evidence that you perceive this risk and are responsive to it.
Jitters are a sign that you care.
This is a very good thing as audiences can tell when a presenter doesn’t care. There is nothing more uninteresting than a speaker who is uninterested in what they have to say or the audience they are saying it to. One of my favourite dancers said that the day you are no longer nervous when stepping on to the stage is the day you should stop dancing; if you aren’t nervous, then the dance no longer matters to you. This goes for speaking, presenting, or anything that puts you up in front of a group of people. Don’t fight the jitters. Don’t pretend they aren’t there or that you are unaffected by them. When you welcome them without letting them get the better of you, jitters can be your ally. They give you a rush of adreneline, they increase your sensitivity to your surroundings, and they remind you that what you are doing – getting and using people’s time and attention – is important and should be respected.
In the end, my speech-cum-product-pitch was received extremely well by my fellow Toastmasters, and all was right in the universe. I pulled out and used the control techniques I teach my clients – controlled breathing, open posture and expression, keeping to a mental outline, and so on. I was still anxious, even for several minutes after it was over, but it was an exciting sort of nervousness. It was the sort of nervousness that reminded me that I really, really like doing what I do. It was a case of the jitters that I needed – and wanted – to feel.