October 2010

What Do You Think Defines Your Life?

“It is the mind that maketh good or ill, that maketh wretch or happy, rich or poor”. – Edmund Spenser.

It has been said that we can control our destiny by controlling ourselves. We are each responsible for our lives and, more importantly, for the thoughts that shape them. To enjoy a more rewarding life, we must be ready to change the way we think.

The human mind is like a computer with an unlimited store of memory. As such, it allows us to keep past experiences for the future, as life is a constant learning process. That way, we learn from both our failures and our successes. Having achieved a negative result, we can reflect on those things that may have gone wrong and avoid similar mistakes in the future.

How Can You Achieve What You Want?

Learn from your experiences, both positive and negative. Every situation presents you with an opportunity to learn, so long as you make the effort to look at it with an open and receptive mind.

Take ownership of your mistakes. Every action is your responsibility. Avoiding responsibility for your actions will create more pain and discomfort, as unresolved issues have a tendency to come back to haunt you.

Never make the same mistake twice. Repeat the same actions and you can expect the same results.

Never be afraid to transform something negative into something positive.With practice, anyone can find a silver lining in the darkest cloud and turn a mistake into an opportunity to learn. In the face of adversity, carefully take note those things you can control and take action to change what you can.

Don’t beat yourself up. There are plenty of people who will do it for you. It’s all right to be your own worst critic, but never undermine yourself. Nor should you let the criticism or scrutiny of others have too much influence your life and your actions.

Your mind will define your life. Be mindful of what you think and always be aware that the way you perceive the world will create your reality.

Online and In the News

I have added two more videos excerpts from the April Power Lunch to my YouTube and Facebook Coaching4Success pages.

www.youtube.com/user/KarinGentonCoaching

The Cooperative Communication Workshops videos posted in March have been viewed over 120 times, while the “Learning From Mistakes” video posted in April has been viewed 130 times.

www.facebook.com/coaching4success

As of today the Coaching4Success Facebook page has 199 friends. Over the past year, it has enjoyed a steady increase in visibility with an average of 200 weekly visits.

Those of you who are able to read Czech might be interested in reading my recent article “Používejte své schopnosti”, which was published in Hospodárske noviny on September 29.

Calendar of Events and Activities

October 9 Power Lunch: The Case for Revenge
October 12 Prague Speakers Forum: Overcoming Dullness (Boring delivery)
November 9 Power Lunch: On Empathy and Emotion
November 16 Prague Speakers Forum: Overcoming Disconnection (Lack of connection with the audience)
December 4-5 Creating and Developing your professional image at the SITE conference in Cape Town (http://www.siteglobal.com/Events/InternationalConference2010/ICEducation/tabid/249/Default.aspx
December 14 Power Lunch: The Long-Term Effects of Short Team Emotions

4 Bad Habits of Highly Ineffective Speakers

Though I speak for a living, and regularly hear people speak professionally, I seldom have the good fortune to hear someone I consider to be an outstanding speaker. In fact, the occasion is rare enough to deserve mention.

So, with great pleasure, I relate to you an experience I had recently at the European Coaching Conference in Paris. There, David Whyte, an English poet and author of several books about expressing ourselves through the fulfillment of work, captivated an international audience of more than six hundred coaches and human resources consultants.

Whyte’s speech, entitled “Life at the Frontier: The Art & Science of Courageous Conversation”, argued the importance of real and open conversation in the corporate world. The subject matter isn’t new, but how Whyte managed to blend his message with real stories, poems and even biblical references was striking.

Watching him keep a multicultural crowd engaged for ninety minutes, I couldn’t help thinking how enjoyable it was to be mesmerized by an inspirational speaker, in comparison with the many disappointing ones I have encountered in the past few months.

While assessing Whyte’s speaking style and characteristics, and trying to figure out what made him such an efficient and attractive speaker, it dawned on me that few people are aware of their speaking idiosyncrasies. Even fewer are aware of their ineffective speaking habits.

Although most speakers participating in business roundtables and conferences are competent professionals and experts in their fields, many make the same speaking mistakes. Despite the plethora of books, articles, blogs and speakers’ associations available to learn how to become a better speaker, most people stick to the patterns of behavior they have acquired over the course of years, without realizing the damaging impact of their ineffective habits.

From my experiences, the four most common bad habits of ineffective speakers are the following:

Bad Habit #1: No Respect for Time

In May, I attended a business presentation in Prague, organized by a British company. On the program, which was sent by email a couple of weeks prior to the event, the first speaker was scheduled to start at 6 pm.

At 7 pm, the moderator opened the conference by apologizing for starting late. His excuse? That he was still on London time, hence the one hour delay.

Though he promised to make up for some of the delay, each speaker used his originally allotted time, and more. By 10 pm, feeling tired and annoyed by the lack of respect for my time, I walked out of a poorly-managed event.

Tip: Make sure to start your presentation on time and keep within the allocated time schedule.

Bad Habit #2: Lack of Focus

While public speaking remains a challenging task for many people, a growing number of professionals are embracing the challenge. But while many seek the chance to express themselves publicly, they often fail to identify their purpose and message.

According to Ralph C. Smedley, founder of Toastmasters International, “A speech without a purpose is like a journey without a destination – it doesn’t go anywhere.”

When putting together a speech or a presentation, try to summarize your ideas early in one simple sentence that the audience can understand and remember. The more specific you can be about what you want to achieve, the easier it is to structure a message that will be memorable and relevant for the audience.

Once you have this structure, stick to it. Make sure that all the information you provide and any stories or examples you use support and illuminate your core message. Anything that doesn’t do that job should be cut away.

Tip: Keep it focused, keep it short and keep it relevant.

Bad Habit #3: Lack of Vocal Engagement

Many people associate a strong voice with self-confidence and a weak voice with lack of conviction and credibility. So, evn though some very self-assured people do speak in a quiet manner, their communication is not always effective.

When I cannot hear what a person is saying, my brain disconnects and I stop listening. To engage listeners, you need to speak loud enough for everyone to be able to hear what you have to say.

A lack of vocal range and variety also hinders attention. A monotonous voice conveys a lack of passion. If you don’t sound interested and passionate about your topic, you will have hard time engaging and convincing your audience.

Some will argue that, as a sign of respect, people should listen regardless of the speaker’s tonality and vocal variety. Unfortunately, I cannot. While I am more than willing to stretch my brain and attention to follow a speaker’s ideas and arguments even if I don’t like the topic or don’t agree with what is being said, sitting through a monotonous and inaudible presentation is a painful experience for me.

Tip: Make sure to speak loudly enough to be heard and with enough vocal variety for the audience to engage with you.

Bad Habit #4: Crutch Words

Crutch words, also known as verbal graffiti, are the sounds or words you say to fill gaps while speaking. The most common crutch words are “uh” or “um”.

Either I’m noticing it more or this habit has become the most frequent of all. Given the number of people I now hear using crutch words while speaking, I am tempted to believe that this habit is contagious.

While most of us do use recurrent words or phrases in a sentence or paragraph, or will resort to fillers when we are searching for a word or trying to remember what we wanted to say, using verbal graffiti is an unconscious speaking habit for too many people.

The most extreme case I ever heard happened a couple of weeks ago when a young manager said “uh” more than eighty times during his twenty minutes presentation – an average of four per minute! I was so distracted by his repetitive “uh” that all I could do to focus on what he was saying was to count them.

The easiest way to eliminate crutch words from your speaking is to simply pause. Don’t be afraid of the silence. Pauses help you emphasize the points you are making, and also give your audience a chance to process the information you are delivering.

Tip: Eliminate crutch words from your speaking, and use pauses instead.

For historical reasons, many Czechs lack the brio American speakers seem to be born with. The Communist regime favored endless tirades over interactive communication, forcing a generation or two of Czechs into reticence. But there is the occasional surprise.

Recently, at one of the many business roundtables organized in Prague, the most effective and eloquent speaker of the four panelists was a Czech lady. When I complimented her on her presentation and her eloquence, she generously attributed her efficiency to her in-house presentation skills trainer.

Top presenters become better by taking the time to sharpen their skills and to practice regularly. They understand the power and impact of efficient speaking skills and the consequences of ineffective habits. To measure your effectiveness, you need to assess your skills, identify your effective and ineffective habits, and then work diligently to improve. Start by identifying and then eliminating the four bad habits above, and your speaking will improve dramatically.