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?
My husband, Jim, asks our dinner host, “Herb, how did you get into your business?”, while our onion ring appetizer gets dropped off at our table.
Herb takes a bite of one big onion ring and begins his business origin story.
Herb goes back to his childhood days… talking with detours, tangents and sidebars.
As he talks, he gestures with this onion ring in his left hand – one bite in.
I’m mesmerized… but NOT with his monologue. Will the onion fall out of its sheath? Will this onion ring fly out of his hand? Can we start eating our main course – which arrives somewhere in between Herb’s second and third job?
While Herb has an interesting fun story to tell – he fails at the art of compelling conversation.
The Cold Onion Rings
Conversations are dialogues, not monologues. As leaders you might feel justified in hogging the floor at your company happy hours, networking events, or even for those few minutes before your meetings.
You find out nothing about your dinner mates if you’re doing all the talking.
This onion ring appetizer gets cold. (Maybe a heart-healthy blessing – ok… delete the word “maybe”.)
Try not to be repetitive.
Stay out of the weeds. We don’t care whether it was Wednesday or Thursday when you got that email.
Compelling Conversation Guidelines
Be relatable. How can your info be useful to others?
Be timely. Is your topic relevant?
Be meaningful. Does anyone care about what you’re saying?
Be brief. Can you share your good stuff without getting sidetracked?
Listen. Can you stop talking and ask questions?
Onion Ring Manifesto
Herb* isn’t the only example of this monologue fiasco. Jim asks a great question. Herb, and everyone who receives an open-ended question, must keep the answer short and keep the ping pong ball in motion.
*False name, true tale, he finally ate that onion ring.
Author: Karen Cortell Reisman is Founder of Speak For Yourself®, a communication consulting firm, and the author of 2 books on how to communicate & sell. She lives in Dallas, TX and tries not to eat onion rings anyway.
I’m 8-years old practicing the piano in our living room, in this non-outfit, and my Mom snapped the photo.
You’ll never see this pic – I’m chubby… and, well, not too much is left to your imagination.
We’ve laughed about that photo (OK – it’s pretty cute) and it resides in a pre-digital-age photo album.
“You’ve never asked me why I’d be practicing the piano wearing just a shower cap,” I say to my sister, Nina, the other day.
“Here’s the context,” I continue. “I was preparing to take a bath. It takes a good five minutes for the water to fill the tub. Rather than watch water coming out of a faucet I realized I could make better use of my time.”
“Nina, I’ve been multi-tasking my whole life!”
Have you ever wondered how you manifest your strengths?
Candice Fitzpatrick, Founder & CEO, and Gary Rifkin, Chief Learning Officer of Core Clarity run a thriving business using the CliftonStrengths Assessment to help companies build teams that work towards its full potential.
I have participated in one of their excellent workshops and their assessment tool uncovered my top five strengths.
Guess what my very top strength is? MAXIMIZER! What a surprise. 🙄.
How is this relevant to you?
You are busy leaders communicating in a crazy world.
You can take this core strength test as well… or you can think back to fun or pivotal moments in your life that exemplify how you solve issues in your business, create momentum around your vision/goals, or work towards your next big success.
What are your top strengths and how are you using them in a positive way? And how might they be getting in your way?
Candace and Gary, and their Core Clarity team, are all about celebrating, understanding and using your strengths to move forward.
And that’s what I’m contemplating now … I have maximized my time and resources, as Founder of Speak For Yourself®, and in my fabulous personal world as well… and life is good.
But, sometimes (OK, most of the time) I squeeze too much into each day. Even though I’m having a blast personally and professionally, it can be draining.
I’m still grabbing those “extra” five minutes. But at least I’m aware. Stay tuned.
Author: Karen Cortell Reisman is Founder of Speak For Yourself®, a communication consulting firm, and the author of 2 books on how to communicate & sell. She lives in Dallas, Texas and promises not to practice the piano, just wearing a shower cap, going forward.
Loved my outfit I wore last week when I gave my Einstein keynote in Portland… until I saw the side profile pics. You tell me… better yet, don’t tell me.
At another recent communication presentation I was asked, “What’re your tips on using humor?” Read on.
Why using humor is a good thing
A lesson taught with humor is a lesson retained.
Humor reduces tension and increases retention.
Everyone wants/needs to laugh.
Humor Do Not’s
Don’t use jokes. You will alienate someone. Jokes poke fun at a social group, a political party, a gender, a college, a religion… Not good.
Don’t use funny quips or cartoons you find online. First – the copyright issues. Second – NOT original. If you see this online then so did 10,000 others.
🙄 🙄 🙄
Your safest bet is to use material about yourself. Keep a log of your own crazy mishaps. Then figure out how to fold your own stories into material that can be relevant to your audience.
Humor = Tragedy + Time
What are you crying about today… that you will laugh about tomorrow? (Well, maybe not the very next day… but with the buffer of time.)
EX: I cried after I found out that I would need a bunch of chemo due to a breast cancer diagnosis 10 years ago. … Time went by. … Then I told my husband, “Jimmy – I’d always thought I’d sleep with someone bald, I just didn’t think it would be me.”
😬 😬 😬
Your Humor Challenge
Observe with purpose.
Find the funny stuff around you. Write it down. Keep a log.
Use these personal stories to support your content.
Ok – the pics from my Portland, Oregon keynote. I don’t think my butt looks big, but do I look fat? Don’t answer that question – it’s a lose – lose proposition.
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 just discovered that the spell checker on her Word software has been somehow reset for Brazil and it wants to change the spelling of this entire blog. You cannot make this stuff up! And it’s going to get used somewhere in Karen’s workshop tomorrow for a new client.
PS: Thank you to Linda Cohen, my friend & colleague, for attending my presentation in Portland, OR and taking these photos!
To be a compelling speaker you want to be clear and clever. The trick is to know when to do what.
Several new clients are working on important upcoming presentations.
I told them, “It’s like building a house. First you lay the foundation and build the structure. After the walls are up and the floors are in, then you add the tile color, cool fixtures and fun furniture.”
I continued, “That’s how you construct a speech. The foundation of your message needs clarity. Don’t make it hard on your audience to figure out what you’re talking about. AFTER the house bones are in place… then you add your décor.”
When to be clear
Your presentation purpose + the time you’ll take to share your message. Example: “In the next 15 minutes I’m going to share a snap shot of our 4th quarter earnings.”
Your ROI (return on investment) to your listeners. What will your audience gain from listening to you? This sentence usually comes just after your statement of purpose. Example: If your purpose is to talk about how to mentor new lawyers then the ROI will be, “You want to mentor your new lawyers because they will be your future bench and gold mine. If not, turnover is costly and time consuming.”
Your main points/categories/reasons/buckets. This is like your Table of Contents. Let your audience know up front the main chapters of your presentation. You’ll stay more focused and less tangential, and your listeners will remain more tuned in. Example: “The main points of my speech are our strategies, costs and value.”
Your call to action. What do you want your audience to do, think or feel as a result of listening to you? State this clearly! Example, “I challenge you to take steps to strengthen your value proposition.”
When to be clever
Your beginning (intro) after you get introduced by someone else. Here is your chance to be clever! Gain your audience’s attention by starting with a story, quote or question.
Your support material. Within each of your main points – add some texture. Include stories, examples, analogies, metaphors, and good visuals.
Your conclusion. After being clear about your Call to Action, end with a quote or another story or a continuation of your story used at the start of your speech.
Example: “Your house is a combination of the cement and wood beams AND your art and pillows. Together you create your unique home. Just like with a compelling presentation.”
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 has never built a house but tries to be both clear and clever when speaking!