2. When you speak to someone . . .

. . . strive to be interesting!

“Talking well and conversing well are not the same thing. We often make the mistake of thinking someone is a good conversationalist because they’re funny, witty or tell good stories. But that’s what a stand-up comedian does well, and you’d hardly describe an evening ata comedy club as a conversation.’
From “How to Have a Better Conversations”. by Celeste Headlee, Toastmasters’ Magazine.

(1) Ask yourself, ‘Why am I telling the person this?’
Someone I know tells me long meandering stories without getting to the point. I keep trying to understand her underlying message, but fail. I finally ask her, ‘Why are you telling me this?’ She responds by continuing to tell me her story. She doesn’t understand that I am bewildered, and doesn’t attempt to understand her motives for speaking to me.

I ask her again, ‘What is the point you’re making?’

She doesn’t answer me because she doesn’t know. That’s why her conversations don’t end. She speaks to me to alleviate her loneliness, I suspect. The trouble is, by not having a message she bores people silly and frightens them away. And exacerbates her loneliness.

Don’t be like her. Instead, be like Mr Ed. Don’t speak unless you have something to say. Know precisely what your message is, and give it. If you are telling a story or giving information, ask yourself,
‘Why am I telling them this?’
‘What’s the best way to make my point?’

If you cannot think of an answer, conclude the conversation.

‘Examine your feelings and intent before the conversation., to ensure you know what you want to say and why you want to say it. Pinpoint your ultimate goal and how it will impact the person you are talking to. We have to think, ‘What’s in it for them?’ ‘What’s my bottom line and how am I going to get it across.’ says Robyn Hatcher in her book, ‘Standing Ovation Presentations’, and brought to my attention by Toastmaster Kathleen Fordyce. That advice doesn’t apply to just presentations!

(2) Ask yourself, ‘Does this person want to know this?’
Some people assume that because they themselves are interested in what they are saying, the other person must be interested as well. It’s a big mistake and it’s unacceptable. Don’t make that assumption. Ask yourself:
‘Does this person want to know this?’
‘Does this person really want to hear about my grandchildren? My medical problems? My opinion?’
If the answer is ‘no’, stop telling them.

  When we speak to people our job is not to alleviate our loneliness (it won’t work anyway), it’s to:
– be informative to people who want or need the information, or
– or get something off our chest, and a friend has kindly consensted to accept it, or
– be entertaining.

Otherwise, we need to stop talking.

When we cut our conversations short and only talk when it’s relevant or interesting to the other person, we stop frightening people away. And we begin to connect with them.

(3) Ask yourself, ‘Is the person trying to get away?
Look to see. When I speak at Speakers’ Corner those who have listened long enough just walk away. But when I have only a handful of grasshoppers, some are reluctant to leave for fear of hurting my feelings. But when their eyes look away and their feet splay in the direction they want to go, I immediately conclude and thank them for their interest. They smile and take that as a good time to leave.

I have done them a favour.

It’s my job as a speaker to be interesting, and in day-to-day interactions it’s our job to be interesting. We might fail regularly, but we need to try. Every time we interest someone, we connect with them. That brief bond is undeniable, and important. Get plenty of those interactions during the day and we can’t fail to satisfy our deep need to belong.

The tip again: Look to see if the other person is interested in what you have to say. It’s your job to make sure they are. If they’re not, leave them be.

How will you know? Look for the signs:
– Is the person avoiding eye contact?
– Is their body facing yours, or away?
– Are their answers short, clipped?
– Is the tone of their voice flat?
– Are their smiles forced?

(4) Be watchful for what the person wants.
If the person asks for your opinion on something, they might want a detailed opinion or they might want a one-liner. Ask them which. ‘Do you want me to be thorough, or the quick version?’

(5) Ditch the detail.
Can you remember a time when someone told you a story and it went on forever? And how they included the boring, irrelevant facts just to make sure they got the story right?
‘Last October . . . no, it might have been November . . . Yes, October. I remember because it was my mother’s birthday. . . .’

’My aunt used to live in that house. For four years.’  Their aunt is not relevant to your life, but the speaker doesn’t care about that; they’ll deliver the detail anyway. Painful.

Why do people do it? They do it because they aren’t talking to you for your benefit, they’re talking to you for their benefit. They find the story interesting. They don’t aim to interest you; instead, they throw a story at you and expect you to be interested. Big difference.

Don’t talk like that person. Spare your listener. Omit the boring stuff and the details as you go. Figure out your point and say it succinctly, or not at all. By doing so, you show the person you care about how they are experiencing you.

The exception? A good storyteller will include details to enhance the story. They include the details for your benefit, not theirs. That’s the difference.

In short, the other person doesn’t need to know the name of the newsagent who sold you the newspaper. Dump the details. Get to the meat.

(6) Don’t hog the conversation.
Be brief, or be captivating. Help the other person stay engaged with what you are saying by giving them opportunities to respond. Give them opportunities to ask questions.
  Aim to speak no more than the person you are speaking with.

“Imagine conversation as a game of tennis in which you are constantly hitting the ball back to the other side. Remember that you already know everything you’re going to say and, if you’re going to learn something new, you’re going to have to listen to someone else.”
Celeste Headlees, journalist and public radio host, speaker and expert in communication. 

(7) Don’t be a topper. Let the other person have the moment.
Kim: ‘I once kicked eight goals in a game.’
Dale: ‘I once kicked ten.’
Dale could have graciously refrained from topping Kim’s story. Instead, Dale created a disconnection.

(8) Don’t repeat yourself.
It’s rude and it’s boring.
Australia’s ABC Radio National presenters do it often when presenting an item.

Presenter: ‘Today a cow fell on twelve people. Tim Smith reports to us from the scene.’
Tim Smith: ‘Today a cow fell on twelve people — ’

Yep, we get the same facts told to us twice. I look at my radio and tell the presenter off, though it’s unlikely they hear me.

The presenter would claim the introduction is a ‘teaser’. I call it ‘laziness’. But just because presenters can be lazy doesn’t mean we have to be. Let’s not repeat ourselves.
  Let’s not repeat ourselves. (Irritating, isn’t it?)

‘If you say something ten times, you clearly don’t expect them to listen to you. Notice the way people in authority – police, for example – take control of a situation. A wave of their hand, and the traffic stops. They say things once, and directly.’
From David J. Lieberman’s book, ‘Never Be Lied To Again’.

(9) Don’t litter your paragraphs with terms like, ‘You know’ and ‘You know what I mean?’.
If you can also refrain from other clichés like, ‘The bottom line’ and ‘at the end of the day’, even better!
  And definitely get rid of the ums & ers!

(10) Every ten years tell a stand-alone joke.
I’m thinking of that guy in the party who tells one joke and gets a laugh. He tells another. And another. And another . . . 
  Don’t be that person.
Be as funny as hell in conversation. Quips are fine. But don’t recite more than one stand-alone joke at a time. Unless a joke is relevant to the conversation, (and isn’t torturously long), leave it for a comedian or an emcee to tell. Get on with proper conversation.

(11) Be transparent.
(i) Don’t lie. When you lie, it’s likely that on some level, the person you are speaking to will know it. That will diminish the connection they have with you. Make a conscious decision to not lie when you speak with the people you know and meet.

(ii) Be open. Reveal your faults and insecurities if it’s appropriate. If you’re hiding something, you’re closing yourself off; and if you’re revealing parts of yourself, you’re strengthening the bonds between you and the listener. But don’t blurt your health problems or insecurities if they’re not relevant to the other person. Remember the first two tips: ‘Why am I telling them this?’ and ‘Do they need to know this?’

(12) If you give someone a compliment, make sure it’s genuine.
If you like someone’s dress, tell them. If you like someone’s haircut, tell them. But never lie.

‘Help people feel good about themselves – catch them doing something right.’
From the book, ‘The One Minute Manager’, by Kenneth Blanchard.

(13) Consider inviting other people into the conversation.

(14) Conversations are not a promotional opportunity.
Don’t try to exploit the people you are speaking with, unless you’re meant to be networking.

Exercise 1
oin a public speaking club.
The benefits:
– When writing your speeches you will learn what to include and what to leave out. That’s a good skill to foster!
– You will develop your confidence in speaking with people.
– You will enhance your speaking skills so that when you speak, you do so fluently and clearly. You will know how to vary your pace and tone to enhance their interest.

Exercise 2

‘Be the first to say good morning.’
Ross Gittins.

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