Engage Your Audience. Forget the Bullets. Tell the Story!













So many presentations are simply a waste of time. Too many slides with too many bullets and not enough stories. Your presentation is a story. It’s a story of how this or that project is doing or it’s a story about the marketing strategy for your organization or it’s a story about how you’re keeping employees safe on the job or…well, you get it, right? You’re telling a story. Brene Brown says, “Stories are just data with a soul.” Thom Hartman says, ” Stories are powerful. If you want people to understand your point and to remember it for a long time, embed the information in a story.” Change your thinking. Change the paradigm. Your presentation is your story! Here’s why:

  • Stories elicit visual images and a picture REALLY is worth a 1000 words. (use images not bullets if you use slides)
  • People listen to stories. I’ll repeat…People LISTEN to stories.
  • Stories evoke emotion and emotion can sell ideas and things.
  • Deliver with feeling and passion for your topic.
  • Provide eye-contact to everyone in the room. Be sure you have vocal variety and present a confident posture with gestures that feel natural and support your story.
  • Speak with a strong enough voice so everyone can hear you.
  • Don’t mumble or provide too much information. Be succinct. Take the audience along on the journey.
  • If you realize that you’ve forgotten a part of the story, weave it in later.
  • Find the conflict, the tension (budget issues, project issues, etc.). What do the “characters” want most? What is preventing them from getting it? How does it all get resolved? How do the “characters” change by the end of the story?

Remember: Just think about how your content is really a story that is unfolding or has already unfolded. Enjoy the process. Speak from your heart!

The Soft Skills are the Hardest to Master


Soft skills are people skills.  The skills necessary to have a meaningful conversation, to talk about a conflict situation, to deal with interpersonal differences, to express how you feel about something or someone, etc.  Most of us have had little education in the development of these very vital interpersonal skills.  It’s not until we wind up as adults that we realize we might not be the best communicators.  And, we’ve learned how we say things matters. Sometimes because we don’t know the best way to say something, we just don’t say anything. Or, we choose an inappropriate channel and likely cause a misunderstanding.

The channel is the way you choose to send the message. It could be face-to-face, text, email, phone, video conference, presentation to a group, fax (yes, people still occasionally use the fax machine) FedEx or snail mail. Anytime we have something to say we need to consider the audience, the content and the channel.  Given communication breakdown is possible every time we communicate, it is critical we choose the channel that is best suited for the receiver and the content of the message.

Because the “soft skills” are the hardest to master, people have begun to use the text and email channels as a way to avoid uncomfortable subjects, conflict, confrontation and other types of important face-to-face interpersonal communication.  Don’t get me wrong, text and email have many wonderful uses, just not for anything that is very personal and complex. Since a very large portion of an interpersonal message is comprised of non-verbal language (vocal cues, body language, eye-contact, etc.) using email and text reduce the probability that the message you send will be the message that is received because you won’t be able to read body language and ask direct questions.

People don’t always make the right channel choices. 

Given the over-reliance on text and email in the business community, the next big management craze could be Management by Email or MBE.  Just when a lot of managers mastered “Management by Walking Around,” the technology has pushed many of them back behind those great big desks.  These managers become like the Loch Ness Monster.  You know they are there but nobody has seen them.  Employees who don’t get “face-time” with the leadership of their organizations tend to feel they are not seen as valuable to the organization.  Without that human connection and the occasional pat on the back or supportive handshake, they often stop “going the extra mile” and start “just getting by.”

Choosing the best channel is the place to begin

  • Stop and think before you start speaking or writing.
  • Be mindful and make conscious choices.
  • Ask yourself if text or email is the BEST channel to choose for the message you want to send.  Or, would face-to-face, the phone or a video chat be better? If you do decide to use text for a quick note, be sure the number you’re texting isn’t a landline. I got an email from a client recently that said, Hope all is well with you.  I sent you a text the other day and wanted to know if you would have a few moments to catch up.” Turns out he was texting my business landline and not my cell phone. If he didn’t follow-up with this email he could have thought I wasn’t interested in him as a client and I could have lost work since I didn’t reply to his text.
  • DON’T Use email or text if your message is highly personal and complex in content,  (performance reviews, relationship issues, conflict resolution, confidential communication, health information, job termination, etc.)
  • Avoid choosing channels which can increase the likelihood the consequences of your choice will be hurt feelings, guilt trips, rumors running rampant, misunderstandings, wasted time, lost productivity, anger, frustration, or loss of human connection.

Make careful channel choices and you’ll be on your way to increasing productivity and decreasing communication breakdown while preserving important interpersonal relationships.


Stay Cool When the Heat is On





Aikido and Conflict Resolution

Tom Crum, in his classic book The Magic of Conflict, says, “Literally translated, Aikido means the way of blending energy. In this light, all life, including the physical attack, is energy with which to dance. Attacks are considered just another of the endless gifts of energy to be used creatively and harmoniously. It is important to accept and embrace the attack rather than try to get rid of it. Direct the flow of energy instead of being pushed around by it.”

Here is a simple way to help yourself (and others) learn how to stand in the middle of an attack of anger or criticism, use the energy in a positive way and turn the negative situation into one of positive resolution.

1. Take a deep breath and center yourself. Detach. Don’t take it personally.

2. Tune in to your self-talk…change negatives to positives.

“Stay Calm; this isn’t about me, personally.”
“This is an opportunity to practice.”
“I listen, understand, and Be Here Now.”

3. Let the person dump, moan, complain…“STEP BACK”

4. Acknowledge the speaker, nod, and DON’T BE CONDESCENDING or FLIPPANT!

5. Listen. Get to the real issue. Find out what the speaker needs, what did or didn’t happen or what is happening that is unacceptable. Don’t assume you know how he/she feels.

Reflectively listen; rephrase and repeat what you heard
Ask open-ended questions
AVOID asking “WHY?”
Pay attention to non-verbals (yours and theirs)
Make eye-contact

6. Show empathy and compasion and use I-Statements

“I understand your frustration…”
“I agree we have a problem. Let’s explore solutions.”
“How can I help?”

7. Explore options and solutions. Focus on what you CAN do, not on what you can’t do. Only promise what you can deliver. Explain what you both can do to prevent it from happening again.

8. Select an option; set a deadline if appropriate.

9. Deliver the solution that is appropriate for the situation.

10. Follow-Up: It’s easy to fall down at the last step. After you have agreed on a solution it’s easy to say, “Whew. I’m glad that’s over.” It’s not. Be diligent on your follow through.

Interpersonal Communication is at Risk!

We are riding a tidal wave of technology: Smartphones, the Internet, texting, tablets, email, social media, YouTube, etc. promise to get us more and more, faster and faster. And, they are making good on their promise. Technology has taken us to places we might never have gone. It has connected us with people we might never have met. And it has provided us with a way to access unlimited sources of information we might never have been able to access in a way that is fast, efficient and comprehensive. That’s the good news. The bad news is there’s a price to pay—interpersonal communication is at risk. Just go into any eatery and you can see four friends (or family members) at the table each scrolling through their Smartphone while dining on something scrumptious that they are photographing and posting on their social media page. They aren’t talking to each other. What’s the point of going out for a meal with friends (or family) without interpersonal conversation?

Although we know technology provides many benefits, we tend to rely on it too much for important interpersonal communication especially at work. It’s a paradox. Technology helps us get in touch―and it prevents us from being in touch. It helps us save time―and makes us waste time. It helps us communicate―and it can prevent us from being understood.

As a communication and presentation skills consultant, I regularly see people struggling to be understood and to understand others. Interpersonal conflicts are widespread in most organizations and listening seems to be a lost art. The more we rely on technology, the more these communication challenges become increasingly difficult. It’s one thing to rely on email to keep in contact with people miles away, but it’s quite a different thing to rely on email as they only way you connect with your coworker sitting in the cubicle right next to you.

We often hear people say they spend several hours a day reading and responding to email messages. Many of them require further clarification so still more email is sent and received. Surely some of those messages could have been communicated in person or on the phone, thus minimizing the probability of communication breakdown. But people do not answer their phones and will avoid conflict at all costs. Since a large percentage of the impact of a message is non-verbal (eye-contact, gestures, posture, voice, etc.), that leaves only a very small probability you will truly be understood when you send an email that is more complex than a simple, impersonal message like “Can you meet me at 2:00 pm?”.

Get off your butt and talk to people. Look them in the eye. Listen (this means stop talking, think about what you’re hearing, be sure you understand and if you don’t understand politely ask for clarification). This will help you increase productivity and avoid misunderstandings which often lead to energy draining conflicts. And, stop texting when you’re walking across the street. Don’t get me started on texting!

Gender Jive: Look What Happens When Men and Women Talk

Gender Jive












The differences in the way men and women communicate possibly began like the cartoon above. Or, maybe when Moses was wandering in the desert for forty years and wouldn’t stop to ask for directions (now there’s GPS so men seem to be more willing to ask for directions).

In any event, research indicates men and women are socialized differently and consequently, have diverse styles of speaking. In her classic best-selling book, You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, Deborah Tannen says the sexes often speak virtually different languages. She calls it “report talk” vs. “rapport talk.”

Men tend to use “report talk” to convey information and self-importance, while women tend to use “rapport talk” to establish intimacy and connection. Tannen says that women will often see men as self-centered and domineering, while men will often see women as illogical and insecure. The result is often misunderstandings and hurtful accusations. Men will accuse women of asking for advice and then not taking it, of rambling on about nothing, and of being unable to make decisions. Women will accuse men of not listening, invalidating their feelings, and always stepping in to solve problems with a lot of “you shoulds.”

In the workplace, these differences impact the way messages are sent and received, thus causing communication breakdown, misunderstanding and major frustration. For example, a female supervisor talks to her male boss about a problem she is having with one of her employees. Her intent for the meeting is to inform her boss of the problem. She just wants him to actively listen to her and rephrase and repeat what she’s saying so that she can become more clear on how she wishes to proceed. She’d like him to ask her some probing questions about options, etc. Instead, he begins telling her what she should do with the problem employee. She becomes frustrated and leaves, feeling like her time was wasted. He feels he has solved the problem, and it’s time to move on. Communication breakdown!

Taking this situation into the home, the wife wishes to talk to her husband about a problem she’s having at work and he jumps in with the solution before she has had a chance to process her options. She gets mad and leaves the room saying, “You just never listen!” Communication breakdown!

An immediate translation is what’s needed.

In both scenarios, some very important communication skills are needed. First of all, the woman needs to be up front about what she wants from the man. “I’d really appreciate it if you’d help me process this problem by listening and asking questions,” is one way for her to be clear in the beginning. If she decides she wants his advice, then she can ask for it. If she doesn’t tell him what she wants in the beginning, then he would be wise to ask, “Do you want my advice or just someone to listen to you?”

Having a deeper awareness of gender differences will help you increase understanding, decrease tension and improve teamwork. It is crucial to embrace differences and realize that there may be alternative ways of doing things. It would behoove us to listen to each other and be more open to learning from our differences rather than allowing them to stifle our growth and ability to communicate with one another.

As you move through your career, you know how important it is to establish and maintain relationships with your clients/customers and co-workers so that you can create greater quality and productivity in an ever-changing world. The best way to do this is to continually fine-tune communication skills and accept that people are different, and it’s okay. Here are some tips:

  • Keep an open mind  (I define communication as the transfer of meaning with understanding and without judgment. As soon as you judge, you risk communication breakdown. Evaluate don’t judge).
  • Listen with integrity (Be present).
  • When in doubt, check it out (If you are unsure of your role in the  conversation, ask).
  • Take the time to talk about talking (Don’t let misunderstandings simmer; they’ll erupt and make things worse).
  • Create an environment where people feel safe sharing ideas/opinions (Make it part of the culture you create).

Tell Me More


Jean, one of my clients, was telling me she felt she was pulling the weight of one of her coworkers and now she was harboring negative thoughts and feelings about this person. The negativity kept festering and was interfering with their daily communication. I knew if she avoided confronting the situation much longer things would just get worse. I also knew what she needed to do to prevent that from happening but I had to bite my tongue from telling her what she should do.

I remembered how lousy I felt as an adult every time my mother told me I should do this or that. Even though I’m Jean’s coach, I knew shoulding on her wouldn’t help. I really needed to know more about her situation so I could ask the right questions that would help her discover how she wanted to handle it.

If you have ever wanted to help people without shoulding on them all you have to say is, “Tell me more.” These three words are very powerful. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention.” By saying, “Tell me more,” you’re offering your attention and showing you care. These three words are also great when uncovering what a prospective customer may need or want.

Once I asked Jean to tell me more she went deeper into the details of what happened, how often it happened and how it affected her. She eventually decided she would talk to her coworker using a technique I call The E.D.A. Approach:

Explain how you feel or what you see

I’m really frustrated and angry.

Describe what happened WITHOUT the word YOU

I want to be sure we make our deadlines so I find myself doing your portion of the weekly report when it gets close to the cut-off date. I resent having to do this.

Ask for what you need/want

So, it would help me it if in the future I knew I could count on you to get your part done on time. If you need some help or we need a better process, please let me know so we can make that happen and I can feel less stressed about this important deadline.

You Can’t Lose What You Never Had


I’ve been working with a few self-employed clients lately and I often hear things like, “It sucks that I lost that gig” or, “How could I lose that project? I was perfect for them.” My response is always, “You can’t lose what you never had.”

As self-employed “gig workers” we often think we lose a job/gig when we don’t get the job/gig. But let’s look at the word lose. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary some definitions of lose are:

• to miss from one’s possession or from a customary or supposed place
• to suffer deprivation of: part with especially in an unforeseen or accidental manner
• to be unable to find (someone or something)
• to fail to keep or hold

We also should remember the concept of MEAPLE which I learned while in college studying communication education. It’s an acronym that means…meanings are in people, not in words.
Words have many meanings when used by different people in different contexts. For example, the word staples. It can mean one thing to a grocer (milk, eggs, bread) and another thing to someone who wants to collate papers. If you capitalize it, Staples means a place to buy office products.

During the 30 years I’ve been a self-employed speaker, trainer and executive coach I’ve been passed over for numerous gigs. Maybe the meeting planner didn’t like my message or the HR manager didn’t like my proposal or my fee was too high, or whatever. Regardless of the reason, in the beginning I would take it personally and feel like a loser because the MEAPLE I chose to give the word lose, made me feel bad. I didn’t win. I lost. I’m a loser.

Then one day while I was complaining to a friend about “losing” some gig he said, “You can’t lose what you never had.” I had one of those “ah-ha” moments. In this context it made perfect sense to me. I never had the gig to begin with so how could I lose it? Once I chose to see it like this it was so much easier to accept that I wasn’t a loser and I wasn’t going to see the money from that gig in my bank account (sometimes we self-employed people start spending the money before we have it). Instead, I chose to say, “Okay. What’s next?”

Acceptance is a big part of life. I’ve learned over the years when I accept and let go of what I can’t control, life is a lot less stressed. It’s a lesson I keep learning. It’s time to let go when you realize you can’t control (or understand) why someone decides not to hire you. I’ve also learned it’s never about me personally and it won’t be about you personally, either. So, the next time you’re not chosen for a gig, simply say, “Okay. What’s Next?” I guarantee you, something even better is right around the corner.

Keep Your Attention on Your Intention!


Setting clear intentions keeps you focused and able to communicate clearly. Clear intentions also help you achieve your goals.

I have recently been coaching someone who got laid off. I have known her for quite a while and have seen her grow professionally in a variety of settings. She has  an entrepreneurial spirit and I have always thought she would be better off being her own boss. In one of our early sessions the topic of freelancing or starting a consulting practice came up. We talked about the pros and cons and then she went off on a previously planned family vacation.

The next time I saw her a few weeks later she came into the coaching session and proclaimed, “I’m not going to be an employee reporting to someone else ever again! I want to help others and make money in the process” That’s a very clear intention. From then we started brainstorming things she could do to help others and earn money in the process.  

Several options came up and within a week, she had a name for her consulting business, purchased the URL, had a logo created and had several leads for projects and clients. Within the first six weeks after that she was off and running as a self-employed consultant going to meetings, writing proposals and doing some work. All the while she kept her attention on her intention, “I want to help others and make money in the process.” She is doing just that and I know in my gut she is going to be extremely successful. She has the drive, the knowledge, the people skills and the dedication necessary to achieve her goals.

Let’s look at the concept of intention as it relates to other things. Suppose you have a big presentation to create and deliver. The first thing to ask yourself is, “What is my intention and what do I want the audience to be able to do, be, say, feel or think when I’m done?” Setting a clear intention helps you focus the design of the presentation so it relates back to the answer to this question. If you decide to use slides to help you enhance your message be sure they are visually appealing and not just words on the screen. When it’s time to deliver focus on your intention and simply tell your story with passion and purpose.

When communicating in any situation it’s always a good idea to set a clear intention. Think about how you want the flow to go. Stephen Covey said, “Begin with the end in mind.” That’s good advice. Just keep your attention on your intention and success will be yours.


Are You Ready for a News Crew? Part One













You never know when 60 Minutes will knock on your door and if not them, then maybe a local investigative reporter. A little media savvy is a valuable skill for executives and their image-conscious organizations. Unless you’ve had media training you know most business people would rather face a firing squad than a crew from the 5:00 news. Although most reporters have professional integrity, some can be crafty.

I remember the story about a local fire chief responding to a reporter’s questions. When the story aired, he heard the original question he was asked about one topic. What followed was his answer to another question. The result was disastrous. To avoid the possibility of something like this happening to you, be sure to repeat the question in the form of a statement so there is no way it can be taken out of context. Also be sure to answer in complete sentences. Simple yes or no responses are easily edited.

For example, the question might be, “What are your plans for staffing next year?” A tight response might be, “Our plans for staffing next year include creating three new positions in marketing and sales.” Remember, edits happen very quickly especially since most video is digitally shot. So, don’t take long pauses unless you have completely finished answering the question.

To help you overcome stage fright once the camera is rolling, take a few slow deep breaths before you allow the first question to be asked. If a microphone is pushed in your face in a spontaneous situation, take a second or two to compose yourself and be sure to think before you speak. Take control of the situation. Remember, a significant amount of your communication in non-verbal so pay close attention to the signals you may be sending through your body language, facial expressions and vocal cues.

Saying “no comment” may say more than you may mean. It is often interpreted as a defensive response showing you have something to hide. An alternative would be,“We’ll make a statement just as soon as we have all the facts.” This allows you to buy some time and prepare what you want to say.

When you know in advance that you will be conducting a press conference, be sure to prepare. List the key points you wish to make and be sure the media has been adequately informed as to the purpose of the event. If there are items you don’t want to discuss due to confidentiality, personnel or legal reasons, stipulate up front that these items are off-limits. If the reporter persists, respond in a pleasant tone of voice that you remain firm in your decision not to discuss those issues at this time.

When responding to the “loaded question,” it is best not to rephrase and repeat what you heard. Loaded questions are often confrontational and filled with negative language. The worst thing you can do is get defensive or hostile in your voice or body. In your own words, relate to the issue and be concise. You may want to begin with something like, “I wouldn’t describe the staffing situation like that.” A statement like this to begin with will also allow you to buy a little time think through your response.

If a question is put to you that you do not have an answer for, simply say, “I don’t know. I’ll get back to you on that.” Then find out and follow-up. The worst thing you can do is try to talk around it. Your non-verbal signals will show the audience that you are unsure and insecure.

The bottom-line: Prepare yourself with media training before reporters come knocking on your door. In any situation always remember to respond rather than react. Don’t let your defenses get the best of you. Remain calm and take some slow deep breaths so you can think before you speak. How you say what you say really does matter.

visit us at www.onthespotmediatraining.com for more helpful tips.

Are You Ready for a News Crew? Part Two












Just about anyone who has been in the public eye has a story of the media interview that went south. “I talked to that reporter for an hour and all they used was a ten-second sound bite!” or, “She said she wanted to ask me about X when that was just a way to get in the door so she could talk about Y.” Chances are, the reporter came armed with questions and if she really did her homework, knew what answers to expect. You should be just as prepared. Media training can’t make the tough questions go away, but it can give you the tools to control the interview. Here are some tips:

  • Anticipate the toughest questions and prepare/rehearse your answers in advance. Know going in what YOUR goal is for the interview. Are you releasing new information or reacting to an event or story that’s already out there?
  • Be able to cover key points in a conversational manner. Don’t memorize. It will sound like it.
  • Collect information from the reporter before the interview:

What is the deadline?

What is the story about? What is the hook/interest angle?

How do we fit into the story? What do you want from us? Quote? Statement? Interview?

Who else have you spoken with? What did they say?

What documents do you have/need? (Does the reporter have a document you haven’t seen? Don’t comment until you have had a chance to look it over.  Have them fax or deliver a copy before the interview.)

 When will the story run?

  • Have a mini-tape recorder handy or use your smart phone. Tell the reporter that you’ll be taping the interview, so you have a copy of what is said. This lets her know you’re not a rookie.
  • Beware of the reporter on a “fishing expedition”. Wide-ranging, vague questions can be tricky and potentially dangerous. Reporters are fond of “What if” scenarios or “Could it happen here?” Clarify what she’s going for. “I think what you’re asking is…” It’s O.K. to admit you don’t understand the question or can’t predict the future. If you find the interview veering off-course, bring it back on track. “You said we’d be talking about X and I’ll be happy to answer your questions about that.”
  • Don’t say “off the record” or believe something will be “off the record.” There’s no such thing as “off the record.”
  • Don’t say “no comment” unless you have something to hide. It’s a sure way to raise a red flag. Instead say, “Due to legal reasons I’m unable to make a comment at this time.”
  • Use simple terminology. If the subject is complicated, and the reporter is not up to speed, provide a simple verbal primer on the topic before the interview begins or give the reporter a handout of key information.
  • Take control by bridging the question. If you want to steer the interview back to your key message you can use phreases like, “The most important thing to know is…” or “Let’s look at the bigger picture…” or “Something else to remember is…”
  • Practice. Attend media training. See yourself on camera so you know what the audience will see.
  • Know when to stop talking. Many a damaging sound bite has been uttered when the interviewee’s guard was down, after he/she thought the interview was over.

For more helpful hints or to schedule media training go to www.onthespotmediatraining.com