How to Talk
This is technically the 2nd part of an earlier post entitled “How to Listen”. Here are a few tips for brushing up on talking, something we do every day. Equipped with effective listening AND talking skills - the possibilities are endless! These tips are not from experts. These tips are from my own observations about effective speakers that I have seen in action. Take them or leave them. Better yet - talk about them.
Use your words. Keep the variety in your vocabulary. Try not to lean on phrases or idioms that are well-worn and uninteresting to hear again and again. Work to eliminate the “likes” and “you knows” from your speech. My favorite is prefacing your point with “to be honest”. Aren’t you always honest when you speak? We are all pretty guilty of not using the words that we know and we know so many words! We should use them. But if you feel like your vocabulary is lacking, jot down a few of the words that you always use and look up some synonyms. Then when someone asks you how you are feeling, you can ditch “I’m great” for “Simply splendiferous, thank you for asking.”
Relax and use your body. Penguins, with their cute little wings at their sides, should not be the standard for how we look when we communicate. Try not to be stiff. But try not to flail your arms wildly to make a point, either, since that only serves to distract. Hand gestures are acceptable. Looking around at your audience, even a small one, is nice. Staring off into the distance or down at your hands - not a great way to capture attention. Allowing yourself to be distracted by visual stimuli unrelated to the conversation of the group or what you are speaking about should be avoided.
Practice. This might sound so funny to some of you but just like everything else, practice makes better. Stand in the mirror. Take a look at what other people see when they see you speaking. Plan out your thoughts, particularly if an emotional conversation is at hand. Think about how you commonly introduce yourself or your work if you are going to an event. Practice the one joke you know that always makes people laugh so you have it ready at the bar. One of my favorite shows is Monk, with Tony Shaloub playing a police investigator who is obsessive compulsive. He is so visibly uncomfortable with the unexpected, especially impromptu conversation. As part of his effort to communicate better he decided to write down (on nearly 500 note cards) common topics that pop up, and things he could contribute to the conversation. I applaud his effort but this might be going a bit too far. Being prepared made him a slightly better talker, but a horrible communicator overall. Preparation is not a script - it is just having a good sense of the edges.
Know your audience. We aren’t going to be regarded as a great talker if we are talking above the heads of those listening. Overly technical terms that few are interested in learning more about will not land well with a not-so-technical crowd. Slang and street phrases in a room of leaders or supervisors, maybe not. Curse words with kids around? Check your language. Political rhetoric, humor about bodily functions or conversations centered around complaints or gripes may not be well-received, either. If you are familiar with people, you will know what is acceptable to speak about. If you aren’t as familiar, err on the side of keeping not just your language but the topics more universally acceptable until those barriers are brought down. (The weather, the day of the week, your dress and my dress. Just kidding....sort of.) Believe me - I spend a plenty of time laughing with friends over crass jokes, politics and complaints, with colorful curse words to laugh at even more. But I am among friends so the rules are a bit different.
Lead with what you know. Your opinion. Something you have experienced. Something you happen to know a lot about. It is expected that you would speak from experience. If you are making an argument, starting with what you know is better than starting with what you want to dispute about what another had to say. People talk about speaking from the heart and this applies here. Only we know what is in our hearts or how we feel. Start here. It makes for a much more compelling listen.
Encourage engagement and participation from your listeners. It is so appreciated when there is an opportunity to be a part of the conversation, not just on the fringes of it. We encourage participation when we open the door for comments and chiming in. Whether we ask directly or not, making room for others to share the floor with their interjections of laughter or questions or comments is how good communication works. And when we leave room for others to thoughtfully take the floor and chime in, which leads me to my final tip:
Less is more. The best talkers are really good at knowing when it is time to just stop talking. Bombard your listener with too much information and you lose them completely. Belaboring the point and repeating yourself also offers diminishing returns. Say what you want. Say what needs to be said. Say it well. Read the room if you see attentions fleeting or less interest in your particular point. And then stop talking.