“Increasingly powerful systems seek to ensure that our attention is never truly ours… We are witnessing the dark side of our new technological lives … Vast quantities of high-pressure media content are pumped into our faces.”
You know this because you too are distracted by emails, breaking news and discounts.
This guest opinion NYT essay goes on to share, “You are lucky these days to get 47 seconds of focused attention on a discrete task.”
How do you get heard above the noise when you only have 47 seconds?
Be unique from the get go. Do not begin a meeting, presentation or even a Linked In post with generic pleasantries. Start with a startling statement, a story, a quote, or a solution to a problem targeted to your listeners.
Tell good stories – in a speech, at your holiday party table, or in the hallways at your next conference.
Schedule carefully. Place your presentation mid-morning if possible. Caffeine has been injected and your digital life is under control.
Insert breaks – if you’re talking for more than 90 minutes.
Mix it up. If you’re giving a presentation of any length keep your content moving and include your audience in nonthreatening ways.
Be organized. Tangents will kill you.
Use humor. Carefully. I’m not a fan of jokes because you might alienate others. Use self-deprecating humor. One time my computer blew up. Another time someone stole it. Painful then, funny now … and lessons abound. (Always bring a backup and put your info/ppt in the cloud.)
Bribe often! I always throw snickers into the group to bring home the point that we need to snicker/chuckle more. Take your work seriously, take yourself a little less seriously.
Catching a small piece of chocolate – perfect attention crisis antidote!
You’re headed into this holiday season. You’ll probably encounter extended family and friends. Your conversations will start with small talk, defined as “polite and standard conversation about unimportant things.”
While small talk might seem trivial, it can net big benefits – around the holiday table and in your various business settings.
This initial type of conversation can help drive richer connections by finding common interests while also demonstrating empathy. At the very least you’ll gain more insights about the other person.
Abrahams defines these two types of responses. “Tell me more” is a support response. You are supporting what the other person says. You are inviting the other person to keep expressing themselves. You are winning the gold medal of active listening.
“Shift responses” create the opposite outcome. You shift away from the other person and hook back to your own agenda. In essence, you hijack the conversation.
Example: “We really had a rough travel day! Got stuck in Chicago for 3 hours and missed the connection at DFW.”
Support response: “Tell me more.”
Shift response: “You think that was bad, one time we were going to JFK but landed in Philadelphia because JFK flooded!”
You might have a great story about your JFK/Philly calamity but you’ve shut down the other person.
Other “support responses”
In addition to the best response, “tell me more”, other support responses include asking more questions about the details of the event or the emotions around the event. “What happened next?” or “Did that make you go crazy?” or “How did you handle that?”
When to use “shift responses”
You don’t want to sound like you’re doing a legal deposition either! There does come a time to share your own anecdotes and experiences. Give and take conversations create more meaningful encounters.
So, as you head into the holiday season remember that information talks and wisdom listens. Use more “support responses”.
What’s the most important word to gain your listeners’ attention?
Their name – spelled the way they like it spelled and pronounced the way they like it pronounced.
You exclaim, “I’m horrible at remembering names!” My answer, “You don’t have a Name Recall Chromosome. It’s not in your DNA. To remember names takes energy.”
On a recent fun expedition cruise to the Galapagos Islands I was reminded of this name recall skill set. Juan Carlos, one of the naturalist tour guides, met me on Day One. On Day Two he said, “Good morning Karen. Ready to go on the lava hike?” While excited about the hike, I was beyond impressed that he remembered not only my name, but everyone’s on the boat. That’s 100 people!
Juan Carlos – Galapagos Islands Nature Guide
Here are the 3 name recall strategies used by Juan Carlos with 1.5 bonus tips from me.
1 Takes100% concentration
2 Repeat the name
3 Associate the name with some facial or physical feature of the person
Juan Carlos said, “Karen – it’s a matter of will. I just tell myself, ‘I’m going to learn these names.’” I responded, “You’re right. I tell my clients that name recall is an active vs. passive event.”
My 1.5 Bonus Tips:
1 Don’t introduce yourself to new folks up front, OR ask them their names at the beginning of the conversation. Why? You will have a better chance of recalling their names IF you know some factoids about them. After some introductory conversation THEN share your names.
1.5 Throw them a bone. How many times are you in a conversation and don’t remember their names but you’ve been introduced too many times already. You can’t ask again! In reverse, you might realize that the person you’re talking to is in the same quandary with YOU. So, give them the gift of saying your name in the conversation. Like, “Just the other day Jim said to me, ‘Karen – you should write another book.” You’ve just shared your name and your partner’s name. If the listener is paying attention – they now have The Most Important Word to gain traction. Done.
The trailblazer of interviewing, who won 12 Emmy awards over a 5-decade career, teaches us 3 master lessons on how to leverage any conversation to your advantage.
“Barbara Walters’s superpower was fairness”, writes Matt Zoller Seitz (critic & writer for Vulture and New York). He continues, “Her subjects trusted her to give them as fair a shake as she could, even if she disapproved of what they did, said, or stood for.”
She exemplified an open mind and the ability to listen to the nuance of any situation.
“Barbara Walters, in my estimation, really has the quality of reaching through to the person,” Mike Wallace said. “She will put the person sufficiently at ease and it’s a remarkable gift.”
Looking at her interviews from every U.S. president and first lady from the Nixons to the Obamas to a wide range of celebrities and sports figures she creates rapport through her content and delivery.
They said yes to her when they wouldn’t say yes to anyone else because they liked the atmosphere Walters created onscreen.
Trust requires these three components working together: trust in yourself, trust in the process, and do your homework.
Walters nails this triad. And THEN she goes after the tough questions!
Excerpt from a Walters’ interview, “You’re a New York Times best-selling author, you’re an accomplished and celebrated concert pianist, and a three-time Academy Award–winning actor. Why the porn?’”
Ok – she also plays into the subject’s ego. She usually gave three compliments, and then went in for the kill.
Barbara Walters, who died recently at the age of 93, left a legacy about how to set the stage for a meaningful dialogue.
Even before the pandemic the emphasis has been on digital communication. During the pandemic you may have experienced minimal conversation especially in person.
Now you might be feeling the pain of resuming small talk back in the office.
Jim and I meet in-person with our financial advisor group after two years of periodic virtual meetings. I find myself saying, just seconds after sitting down, “Ok, what’s our plan? Do we need to review, reframe, revisit…?”
Tommy replies with a smile, “First… how are you? What’s going on with your work and family?”
Oh… that’s right … I forget the chatting part of our visit.
What is the value of small talk?
According to Fast Company, “From the polite chitchat among coworkers that eases the start of a stressful meeting to building powerful bridges at networking events, small talk has always been an important ‘social lubricator’ that builds trust and relationships across cultures—even more so for early-career professionals after graduation.”
Is small talk a waste of time?
You might say “yes”. Covid created a time warp. Namely – 30 minutes is the new hour. You’re busy, stressed and want results… now. You only have so much Attention Economy.
Small talk is not a waste of time.
Think about an interaction you’ve had with a barista. Smiling, making eye contact and exchanging a few sentences while ordering your Venti Chai has been found to boost happiness and feelings of belonging.
A quick chat with someone you barely know can uplift your mood or avert feelings of loneliness.
A few brief interactions help gauge the mood of a room and the tone of a discussion.
Professionally, small talk presents opportunities to get to know and hear your clients. You may learn something new about the customer that you can then use in later conversation, or one interaction may turn into someone signing a deal with your company.
Most of all … according to psychologist Susan Pinker, social interaction (including small talk) is the #1 secret to living a longer life.
So, how are you? What’s going on with your family and friends these days?
You may think that the top ways to make a great first impression revolve around what you say. Nope. You may think that your initial impression on others has to do with how you’re dressed. Nope. Finally, you may think your best way to create a positive impression is your eye contact and smile. Wrong again.
Your Top Tip on making a great first impression
All of the above strategies help create rapport with others. But, your posture speaks volumes. And it’s the first way you clock in with others as you enter into a room.
Why are we not getting this right?!
I include me in this question. All of us make mistakes regarding our posture! The culprit: our blessed cell phones.
“Text neck” is a term you might have heard. You’re hunching over to look at your phone compared with holding your head upright.
In addition to neck pain, you’re missing your opportunity of taking advantage of the best way to make a great first impression.
Why posture wins The First Impression Game
Think about people in your world that you hold in high esteem. I’ve ask this question across North America at speaking engagements. Then I ask my audiences, “How does this person you admire walk into a room and interact with others? Are they slumped over or do they have great posture?” Answers from across time (100% of the time): “They have great posture! They walk tall.”
Yes, your eye contact, your smile, your conversations are also excellent ways to make a great first impression. But the way you stand and hold your body, OR sit in a zoom room, begins the process of creating that positive impact.
Author: Karen Cortell Reisman is Founder of Speak For Yourself®, a communication consulting firm, and the author of 2 books on how to communicate. She lives in Dallas, Texas and will try to put down her phone and walk tall when entering any room.
Thank you to C. K. and your inquiry and our conversation today for this blog’s inspiration.