the real key to job success
Cambridge, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Washington,
London, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Singapore, Sydney
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HOW TO TALK SO PEOPLE LISTEN. Copyright © 1988 by Sonya Hamlin. All rights
reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or
reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of
brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information address
Harper & Row, Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, N.Y. 10022. Published
simultaneously in Canada by Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited, Toronto.
Designer: Ruth Bornschlegel
Copy editor: Ann Adelrnan
Indexer: Maro Riofrancos
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Hamlin, Sonya.
How to talk so people listen.
Includes index.
1. Business communication. 2. Oral communication. 3. Persuasion (Psychology)
I. Title.
HF5718.H284 1988 658.4’52 87-15624
ISBN 0-06-015669-4
88 89 90 91 92 RRD 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
For information about our audio products, write us at:
Newbridge Book Clubs, 3000 Cinde! Drive, Deiran, NJ 08370
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To my friends:
T.A.W.;C.H.;A.P.;J.N.;N.L.G.; M.D.A.;
E.A.C.: K.V.: I.M.; N.N.; H.S.
The ones who, unlike your family, don’t have to
let you in when you knock, but by voluntarily reaching
for your hand tell you that you are indeed loved and
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1 • WHAT’S THE PROBLEM? Why We Don’t Communicate Well
in the Workplace 1
How Do I Know? 3
Where It Begins 5
How It Develops 6
What We Want 7
Status 8
Usefulness 9
Affection/Acceptance 9
Money/Security 10
What Works, What Doesn’t and Why 12
What We Already Know 13
Achievers 14
Affiliators 15
Influencers 16
Using the Work Types 18
A Predominance of Achievers 19
Listen 21
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The One-sided Nature of Telling 21
Listening Is Work 22
Motivation 22
Self Interest 23
Who’s Telling 25
How They Tell It 31
Basic Techniques of Television Communication 34
Communication Consequences of TV 36
Implications for Business Communication 40
How We Communicate 40
How People Feel About Learning 43
Language 45
Strategies 48
What Goes Wrong and Why 48
Where We Get Stuck 52
Who Is Your Audience? 53
What You Know, What You Need 53
The Basic Idea 56
The Process 57
Objective Goals 58
Emotional Needs 61
Probable Expectations 68
A Chart for the Summoned 74
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Contents ix
Forethought for Larger Audiences 77
Choose and Edit Your Goals 78
When to Meet 81
Which Day 84
Where to Meet 85
To Lunch or Not to Lunch 89
Breakfast Meetings 90
Techniques 91
DESIGNING PRESENTATIONS: What Captures Attention and
Understanding 96
How We Think 97
What We Need So We Understand and Stay
Interested 99
Outline Form 104
Order of Presentation 104
Checklist 109
Why Use Visual Reinforcement 110
What to Show; What to Tell 110
“Leave-Behinds” 112
Basic Guidelines 114
Techniques for Using Visual Aids 117
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6 • CLOSE ENCOUNTERS: One-on-One 119
Before You Begin 120
Change Gears 120
Warm-up 120
Small Talk 121
Where to Sit 123
Amenities 124
Body Language 125
Up Front: Agenda, Goals, Time 126
Sharing the Power 127
Motivation 129
Telling and Explaining 129
Discussion 130
Creative Criticism 132
Getting at the Truth 134
Handling Anger—Yours and His/Hers 135
Recap and Clarify 138
List Next Steps 139
Follow-Up 139
End on a High Note 139
7 • PRESENTATIONS: How to Make Memorable
Speeches 142
How Audiences Feel 142
Profile Your Audience 145
Why Are They Coming 147
Physical Realities 149
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Positioning the Speech 150
Basic Organization of a Speech 153
Written vs. Oral Speeches 154
The Effect of Written Speeches on the Audience 156
The Effects on You, the Speaker 157
For Addicted Speechwriters 158
For Extemporizers 158
The Basic Process 159
Attention-Getting Openings 164
Audience Involvement 168
Presenting Subject Matter 171
Endings 174
Being Yourself 175
How You Feel Toward Your Audience 176
Stage Fright 177
Getting Started 179
The Lectern or Podium 181
Making Language Clear 182
Analogies 183
Use Words Visually 183
Emphasize 184
The Use of Silence 184
The Never-Make-A-Speech-Without-It Checklist 185
8 • THE ART OF BEING QUESTIONED: The Audience or the Boss
Vs. You 188
The Questioning Process 188
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Conditioning 189
How We Answer Questions 189
Why Answer Questions? 191
Preparing for Q & A 193
Getting Started 196
Handling Questions 198
Handling Difficult Questions and Questioners 201
Buying Time 201
Avoiding the Question 203
Turning Questions Around 203
Cutting People Off 204
Getting the Audience on Your Side 204
Why People Get Hostile 205
Techniques for Handling Hostility 207
The Dynamics of Power 211
How Much Room at the Top 211
Preparation 213
Answering Informational Questions 215
Answering Critical Questions 217
Role Play and Practice 220
9 • MEETINGS: Leading and Participating Effectively 222
Factual Issues 222
“Feeling” Issues 224
Why Meetings? 226
Comparison of What Should Be and What Is 227
Players in a Group Interaction 229
Interaction 232
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Contents xiii
Listening 233
Supporting 236
Disagreeing 239
Personal Skills for Leaders 240
Personal Skills for Meeting Participants 243
Planning 246
Creating the Agenda 246
Designing and Implementing the Meeting 249
Leadership Techniques 250
Warm-Ups 250
Openings 251
The Body of the Meeting 252
Assign Visual Charting 253
Closure 255
10 • THE LAST WORD 257
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Now that it’s done, there’s finally time to reflect on the process. No
book ever grows full-blown from the author’s head. It has hands to help
it along the way: phone calls for advice, critical notes written in margins
by friends and colleagues, serious review by professionals and, most of
all, the endless support of always available friends at the other end of
those frantic, exhausted, end-of-my-rope calls for help.
Having already thanked my friends in the dedication, let me now
turn to my professional colleagues. Thanks to the gifted business leader
James D. Robinson III, Chairman and CEO of American Express and
Chairman of the New York City Partnership, who made room in his
super-human schedule to read and critique the chapters as they rolled
out and feed back how they would fit the needs of business. Thanks also
to James J. Walker, Executive Vice-President of CIGNA and to Senior
Vice-Presidents Ida Schmertz and Rennie Roberts and to Vice-President
Kimberly Rupert of American Express for evaluating my theses against
their own experience. Thanks to John Humphrey, CEO of the Forum
Corporation, for information he gave me long ago about meetings.
To business consultant Dr. Herbert Selesnick, whose M.I.T. Sloan
School training and critically analytical mind sifted every word I wrote
and unrelentingly slashed away at the fuzzy passages and the Hamlin
tendency to overwrite—thank you for your dedication and tenacity as
well as your perception and knowledge. I look back on the various
projects we’ve shared with pleasure.
Many thanks to Stephen Glasser, president of Prentice-Hall Law and
Business, publisher of “What Makes Juries Listen,” for permission to
quote from my material in that book.
To Larry Ashmead, executive editor of the Trade Department at
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Harper & Row, thank you for wanting the book and for your tremendous
support and faith in it, and in me. Thanks to John Michel, editor and
trouble-shooter, who dealt with the problems and the phone calls and
husbanded the manuscript through the Scylla and Charybdis of publishing
it. To Ruth Bornschlegel, who willingly welcomed my help and
choices in the interior design and layout of the book, thanks. To Joseph
Montebello, a rare Art Director who let this author in to share ideas
about the color and design of the jacket—thank you for your patience and
thoughtfulness. To Dan Harvey and his PR team, Lisa Berkowitz and
Scott Manning, thanks for all your enthusiasm and dedication to the book
and your sensitivity to me. Thanks to Connie Clauson, my agent, for
launching the book and to Rita Marcus for getting the whole project
Finally, thanks to all the thousands of people I’ve taught. You’ve
taught me more, and kept me humble and continually questioning in the
process . . . .
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Why We Don’t Communicate Well
in the Workplace
Hello. I’m Sonya Hamlin.
How can a book about communicating begin from anywhere else?
Anywhere else than acknowledging the typical order by which we all
make contact with each other? And then using it, step by step, with you?
How can I ask you to listen to me any further unless I first let you do
the usual checking we all do before we start to trust and gather interest
in a potential “teller”?
If a stranger walked into your office and said, “Change the way you
report your fourth quarter results. I know a better way,” would you just
do it? Surely not.
Well, you don’t know me. Because we can’t see each other—a sense
that could give you the first fast layer of information—I’ll have to unfold
our relationship and go through the common order of developing trust
through words alone.
Skipping the next order of natural business—the usual handshake,
smile, and “Glad to meet you” rituals when strangers warily draw
closer—I’ll move directly to step three: What I have to tell and whether
or not you’ll “listen.”
Listening doesn’t happen automatically. It’s based on how quickly I
get to something you can use. You’ll stay if I promise some new insights
and alternative processes that could improve your life; some ideas
that are important and practical enough for you to accept and want to
Now—have we drawn closer? What have you learned so far?
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• This is a rather unusual way to begin a book.
• She writes in a very personal, informal style (says “you” and
“me” and “I’ll,” not “one” or “they” or “people”).
• She asks me to think through an almost automatic process—
getting acquainted—to find out what else is going on and why we
do things a certain way.
• She organizes her material into visual as well as verbal explanations
(the list of • “bullets” that visually tell you they’ll explain
further details of what was just said above).
Okay. Now you’re beginning to get an idea about the style in which
I’ll talk to you and something of the focus I’ll take.
What next?
To hold you and draw you in, I need to tell you what you can expect
to find in these pages that will be useful to you. And I have to show you
that I know enough about you—and what you need—for you to stay
This book is about getting what you want at work. I want to help you
understand what happens in a variety of work situations when you try to
express yourself, and to help you develop the new techniques you need
for being clear and getting the responses you want.
We’ll approach communicating as a complete process involving not
only all of what you’re about but what other people need from you to
In each aspect of your work-communication we will:
• Focus on another dimension: the unfamiliar one of finding out what
else you really want and need before you plan your strategy.
• Understand the hidden and predictable agendas on the other side
of the desk: what does the other person—the one you’re communicating
with—want and need?
• Gain information about issues common to all of us: what usually gets
in the way as we interact at work: why effective communicating is often
so hard to do.
• Absorb some basic principles of communicating and why they work,
in order for you to be most effective.
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What’s the Problem?
• Show you it’s safe to explain yourself—your true self.
• Help you learn to listen and hear and to see so much more.
• Demonstrate how to observe yourself and others through forethought;
gaining some new points of view and much more productive
• Learn how to prepare and design what you’ll communicate.
• Discover alternative communication processes through practical
examples, showing you precisely how to put yourself and your ideas
across to best advantage.
• Practice these new techniques before you actually use them,
allowing you to feel comfortable as you rework your communications
Sounds ambitious? Too much to promise? We’ll see.
But first—there’s one more piece of information you need.
How Do I Know?
Just like the stranger who walked into your office and told you to
change how you always did something, I need to answer your next logical
questions: “Who are you? What do you know? Why should I believe and
accept your advice?”
I’ve worked as a communicator all my life, continually trying to solve
the puzzle of how to get people—an audience of one or many—to
become interested, stay tuned, and then absorb my message. Starting in
childhood, as a dancer and musician, creating as well as performing, the
challenge was to recognize that my audience doesn’t know—or yet
care—about this message I’m burning to give them. I needed to find a
way, non-verbally, to get them to understand me.
As an adult, the challenge was first teaching the arts and then
working with the most difficult audience to capture—the television
audience. Producing, reporting on the arts, making films, hosting my
own talk show for ten years—the letters (and the ratings!) gave me instant
feedback about what works and what goes astray, even with the best of
So I turned to look at the real world: at what happens to us in our
daily lives, at where and how we miss each other, and how I could add
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some clarity and new techniques to this seemingly simple, instinctive,
spontaneous but often unsuccessful process—communicating.
I started working with trial lawyers to show them how their
audience—the jury—sees them, what they expect, and what they need
in order to be persuaded. I worked with doctors on the doctor-patient
relationship and how to establish dialogues, not monologues, in the
office. With politicians, the challenge was to get past the initial cynical
audience response; to find ways to be credible as well as forceful,
interesting, and clear.
The business world presents its own unique challenges and that’s
what this book is about. Whether it’s my work with CEOs, with
executives, managers, or staff, the hardest things to do are to find out
what you actually want to communicate, and then, in your natural style,
to get others to listen and understand.
So—that’s why I know.
Now, let’s begin by setting the scene: Our basic communications
problems; how we communicate in the workplace; and how the three
basic work types, Achiever, Affiliator, and Influencer, operate.
As I walked into the office of one of my clients, a senior vicepresident
of one of America’s major corporations, he said:
“You know, Sonya, it’s incredible. I just walked out of a meeting with
two other executives and I still don’t know if one of them really wants to
do this project or whether the other one even understands it yet!”
“What seemed to be missing?” I asked
“Well, I guess it’s . . . the truth! Ralph just fudges whenever I ask
for a direct answer. I can’t tell if he’s simply unable to make up his mind
or doesn’t want to tell me how he really feels. And Jim, he’s so
competitive I think he’d never admit that he doesn’t understand!”
Why do we keep missing each other as we try to communicate? How
come we end up mainly bad at it, instead of being clear and direct? What
has happened along the way, in our development, so that by the time we
get to the workplace we can no longer communicate? So much so that I’m
called in to work with people on the whole gamut of communicating:
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What’s the Problem?
showing and telling them how to explain clearly, not confusingly: how
not to give false messages; how not to alienate when they mean to be
constructive; and so on.
Where It Begins
When you were little, how often did you hear grownups say: “I don’t
want to hear that from you,” or, “Now, don’t cry” or, “Control that
temper!”? These familiar parental phrases set up an internal conflict that
can have a lasting effect on how we communicate.
We live an interesting script as we learn to grow up. We’re each born
with a sturdy little spirit inside, the essence of our survival, the one that
says, “Me, me. I want. I need.” That little self-spirit sees the world
through one pair of eyes—its own. It pushes us to take what isn’t ours;
to hit when we’re mad; to scream when we’re frustrated; to cry when
we’re hurt or sad. At that early point our feelings have a direct pipeline
to what we say and do. That s how we start.
Our parents’ job is to move us into a world where everyone’s spirit is
telling them, “Me, me. 7 want.” In order to protect us from instant
demolition, they have to teach us to curb and hold back, even to deny
our self-spirit’s outburst of feelings since everyone else’s self-spirit is
doing the very same thing at the very same time! This is the necessary
process of socializing, of adapting to sharing the planet with other
people— who also want what they want, first and instantly.
A necessary process but harmful in the way we do it.
In their zeal to get us on the right survival track, parents often teach
us to deny rather than to modify our first and truest responses to life
experiences so we develop a filter an internal censor that says:
“Before you do anything, run that action past me. There’s danger in
expressing yourself openly. Let’s just see how that’s gonna play in the big
world. Will you get clobbered?”
Now the socialization process works because most of us do grow up
able to survive on the planet with lots of others. But we pay a big price
for it.
That-direct line from feelings—to—action is interrupted, rerouted, and
detoured so often that most of us run the risk of getting out of touch with
the source: How we really felt and what we really wanted. To become
accomplished at surviving, we become good at self-deception, denial,
and public accommodation.
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What we get bad at is letting others or even ourselves know how we
really feel and what we really mean. And that’s where the problem in
communicating begins. If we can’t be in touch with how we really feel or
what we really want, how in the world are we going to transmit it to
others—at work or at home?
How It Develops
This process of detaching ourselves from our feelings starts with
curbing how we behave, but it really gets fine-tuned when we learn to
Example: You’re a kid and you tell your mother, “I don’t like Aunt
Agnes.” What happened? You were told:
“That’s terrible. She’s your aunt! Don’t you let me hear you say that
What lesson did that teach us? It didn’t make us love Aunt Agnes. It
made us guilty and taught us the first lesson in subterfuge; “I do hate her
but that’s bad so I’ll act nice and I sure won’t tell Mom about that
Had we been given an alternative that would allow us not to like
Aunt Agnes and learn how to handle it, then we’d accept and deal with
how we felt while we learned acceptable ways to express it. We’d learn
to choose what to say based on relevance, on how it affects others, and
what our major purpose is. But we would have learned what to do with
the truth—hold onto it—instead of just denying it.
Now, this learned process of denial works well in helping to make us
sound civilized and acceptable to others. But it can also have the
counterproductive effect of totally baffling the people we’re talking to.
Words provide so many choices, so many nuances that they enable us to
tiptoe our way through a host of delicate shadings that safely mask our
true feelings and intentions.
The result? What we really mean becomes open to others’
interpretations of what we mean. How could we expect a relative
stranger to stumble onto the exact inner meaning of our well-couched
phrases? How can we, in the busy, task-oriented world of work, expect
others to grope their way through our verbal smokescreens until they
grasp the real meaning of what we’re saying?
Friends and lovers don’t fare much better. We groove our relationships
into well-worn paths. We talk shorthand and expect those closest to
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What’s the Problem?
us to understand us with much less communication than we put out for
those we don’t know. But half the time we don’t even know how to tell
friends or lovers what we mean!
The process of filtering our true thoughts and feelings long predates
most adult relationships. By the time we start choosing friends and
lovers, we’re so adept at our verbal smokescreens that only a new level
of self-awareness plus a very conscious effort at trying to learn another set
of behaviors could make us change our hard-won methods of survival.
What We Want
What do we want so badly that we would interrupt and subvert
natural expressive processes, at such great cost, to get it?
Affirmation. Affection. Approval. Acceptance. Recognition. All versions
of love—the most basic “food.” Not many of us ever experience
love unconditionally, with no strings attached—or ever get quite enough
of it. For most of us, those strings, those “You’ll get it if you . . . ” last for
our lifetime and deeply affect how we communicate.
So—conditional affirmation or acceptance is one of our greatest
filters: “If I say (or do) X, then Y will accept (reject) me . . . so I better
say (or do) Z and hope. . . . ”
Affirmation/acceptance/affection/recognition can come from many
sources, in many guises. At work it can be a raise, a promotion with more
responsibility, a visibly successful project, a clap on the back from a
senior. It depends on what matters most to you and whose recognition or
what kind of accomplishment has meaning for you. But the gratification
of this primary need is at the very heart of the unconscious choices we
make as we communicate.
It’s little wonder, then, that in those places where we have the
biggest personal investment, with the biggest need for return, we would
be the most careful and, therefore, the most withheld. Just compare how
much freer you feel complaining about exactly what’s wrong to a
stranger, like a waiter, than you do to those you work or live with. For
many people, the more we have to lose, the worse we get at being direct
and explicit.
Therefore, as adults, it’s much rarer to see people able to deal with
conflict or any other form of self-expression by being direct. The risk
seems too great.
So—to communicate in the workplace we need:
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• To know what we really mean—inside—before it ever gets to the
outside world.
• To be able to make informed choices about what we say and how
we say it.
• To use some of that instinctive knowledge of other people we
picked up in our fight for survival to predict how other people
would respond to what we’ll say.
• To discover the best and most productive way to put our
requests and to give our bad news.
That’s the background for the problem. Now, let’s focus on work
itself. Let’s take a good hard look at how we work and why. What we
expect from it beyond the paycheck; where our personal investment—
the one that can make communicating difficult—lies.
We spend three fifths of our waking hours working. During that time
we not only work; we deal continuously with some of the most critical
and stressful problems of our lives—the unresolved personal hungers we
try to feed in everything we say and do. We find it hard to acknowledge
these hungers in a work environment where the medium of exchange is
not feelings but tasks and accomplishments.
Still, those deep and ongoing personal needs continue to create a
noisy turmoil beneath the smooth and unreadable facade we try to
present in the workplace. They scare us whenever they surface into our
consciousness. We try to banish or conquer them for fear we will sound
immature or emotionally impoverished. We work hard at being sure
others don’t know about them, trying to find acceptable ways of getting
what we really want. Let’s look at what’s going on just below the surface,
what hidden emotional agendas we carry that affect, even undermine our
ability to communicate well and freely at work.
We each seek to establish our identity in the outside world through
relative status, based on what our society says it admires. Of course,
many people come up with different subsets of what’s most important—
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What’s the Problem?
the watch, the car, the fur coat, the title, the corner office—but there are
some basic common denominators most everyone agrees give us status.
Most of the time, we look to others to give us our status, our identity,
measuring ourselves through the eyes of our beholders. Therefore, our
need for status imbues other people with power—power they don’t even
know they have since we have secretly given it to them. This creates a
dependency on others, like the people we work with, and makes us see
them as having the power to grant or withhold esteem.
You also become the guardian of a secret—the secret of worrying
about how much respect and appreciation they’re giving you, how they
see you, what they think of you. Consider the stress that creates in your
relationship with the company, your boss, your co-workers, or those who
work under you.
The need to perform in order to get and keep your sense of identity
places major importance—and therefore stress—around how you present
yourself and how you communicate who you are and what you want, to
those “powerful” others.
Feeling that we are an integral part of an ongoing process is vital to
all of us. It says something we all need to know—”I matter. ” Knowing
that your contribution is real and valuable, even unique and crucial, is a
major issue in your daily work.
That sense of personal worth and contribution makes us all continue
to put out effort and stay committed. Without it, jobs become anonymous,
rote, and tedious. Because usefulness is so important to you, you
will keep looking for such affirmation. But it’s very hard to come by since
everyone else is interested in themselves and what affirmation of their
usefulness they’re getting.
The age-old need—to be liked, affirmed, and accepted by the
group—is surely vital in the workplace. We each define the “group”
differently, but the need remains. It stays buried at the bottom of
whatever seemingly serious, objective pursuit we enter into with others.
Though the size of the hunger and how we feed it may vary, it’s a
basic force in all of us; so basic that babies in institutions—deprived of
expressions of warmth and affection—do not develop and can actually die
from its lack.
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The problem is to make this hunger sound, and feel, relevant in the
workplace. Trying to deny this force creates a gulf between what you feel
and what you’re willing to acknowledge and express. Therefore, how to
get your hunger fed, how to become more acceptable and likable
(something we all have some basic doubts about) confuses the supposedly
simple business of communicating: of asking, telling, and explaining.
This is especially true in the workplace, where you are among relative
strangers in whose hands you need to entrust such a basic need and who
have competing hungers of their own.
Money is an uncontested motivator in all societies, but we Americans
surely head the list. It is always more fun to get what you want when you
want it than merely to make do, to have to deny yourself and delay
gratification. But in the workplace, money symbolizes more than the
obvious means to an end and the reason everyone works.
• Making more money is a tangible, objective, and visible measure of
growth and success—a more concrete process than just hoping to gain
status in other people’s eyes.
• Money shows your peers what your superiors think of you.
Therefore, the prospect of not making more—of not being given the
raise, the bonus, the obvious proof of a job well done—seems like a
concrete rejection and creates fear and anxiety.
• Making less money or none is the biggest fear you have. The
prospect of losing your job and its attendant, unthinkable consequences
is one of the biggest factors affecting how you communicate on the job.
You know, as I write this, I imagine you reading it. I hear some of
you thinking: “Hmm, you know, that’s really true.” But I also imagine
others thinking: “Mm,mm—nope. You haven’t got me.”
The fact is that these are very basic motivational forces but they’re
also broad generalizations. They’re intrinsically true for all of us, but one
or another need is much more important to each of us, so it may be hard
for you to identify with all of them. But there are other reasons why you
may not readily be able to identify with these motivators:
• Denial, Perhaps you’ve spent your whole working life trying to
deny them, burying them deep so they don’t interfere with the seeming
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What’s the Problem? 11
outward coolness and businesslike approach of the workplace. Probably
even before working, you had already developed a pretty good sense of
what’s seemly and unseemly, of what you show in public and in private.
So to dredge up your innermost drives and fears at this stage and then to
confront and relate to them may be a bit uncomfortable.
• Men vs. women. Historically, our culture has differentiated between
how men vs. women have been allowed to acknowledge feelings.
Women have always been given an edge here. So, for men particularly,
these considerations have been kept alien indeed, especially by their
role models in the workplace. While some of us grow up comfortable
with confronting our conscious (and unconscious) feelings, some of us—
men, and women, too—have a hard time getting in close touch with
them. Asking you to do that now seems alien and uncomfortable, like
talking a foreign language. You don’t recognize feelings since you’ve held
them at bay for so long.
• Work personalities. Another factor that makes it difficult to accept
the existence of such motivating forces as Status, Usefulness, Affection,
and the deeper meanings of Money is the fact that we all develop
different work personalities, based on which personal needs are most
important to us.
‘Achieving, Affiliating, or Influencing are the basic motivations that
shape our styles and personalities at work (described in detail later in this
chapter). Depending on which are your dominant motivators—concrete
achievement or personal affiliation or influence and power—the needs
for Affection, Status, Usefulness, Recognition, Affirmation, or Money
will each be weighed with greater or lesser meaning.
Since the goal of this book is to put you in touch with yourself and
with your co-workers to discover how and why we all communicate as we
do and how to do it better, it’s important to gain some general
information about how all of us operate. So let’s continue with more of
our basic work habits.
What do we all do to keep each other from knowing about our inner
needs and motivators? We design a public image to make us look like
we’re fine, have no problems, are in control and strong and certainly not
needy. We want to look independent and self-sufficient, in control. Let’s
see how, and if, it works.
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What Works, What Doesn’t and Why
“Hi, how’s it going?”
“Can you get this to me by four?”
“Sure, no problem.”
“Okay. Now you understand what I want, right?”
“Yes. Sure. Of course I understand.”
Sound familiar? Do any of these answers usually describe what’s
really going on? Or aren’t these the answers we give because we’d like
them to be true, they’re supposed to be true, and, most of all, we think
that’s what the other person wants to hear?
What am I prescribing instead? Describe what insoluble obstacles
you’ve hit the next time someone asks you how the project is going? Tell
your co-worker that you can’t figure out how to—or just won’t—get it to
him or her by four?
Sounds like you’d be admitting weakness or ineptitude if you did
that? Pretty self-destructive, right?
Wrong! Isn’t it more destructive to deny yourself and your coworkers
the opportunity to deal with reality? Isn’t it constructive and
much more efficient to explain what the problems really are, what’s not
working, and then find a realistic solution together?
If the job isn’t getting done well, your fear of being honest and
therefore vulnerable to imagined rejection or criticism can make you
experience stress and still not solve the problem. What are the possible
• You may do a less than satisfactory job.
• You may not meet a deadline.
• You may take out your frustration on the people who work for you.
All because you couldn’t find a way to deal with and communicate
the truth constructively.
Wearing a public image that looks like “I’m totally competent at all
times—I know what I’m doing—I’m nice, cooperative, and always in
control” traps you in a bind that can actually hinder your work and
diminish your competence. You may spend so much energy continually
shoring up this artificial image and filling in the cracks that you have less
to give to the actual business of working.
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What’s the Problem? 13
And you know those others? The strangers? The ones who’ve got it
made, who have convinced you with their public image that none of your
concerns apply to them? They’re going through exactly the same thing!
The same inner-outer conflict and the same fears that you’ll find them out!
What’s the bottom line, then? How can we get to a place where we
express ourself as an integrated person? How do we become free enough
to tune into our personal message and skilled and confident enough to
get that message across to others, clearly and persuasively?
What We Already Know
One key to better communication is awareness and discovery. Awareness
of what’s already there and discovery of what you’ve never noticed
before, in yourself and in others. It’s looking for what connects us.
In some respects, you’re really an expert on your opposite number,
your co-workers. Since we all start with the common denominator of
being vulnerable, needy human beings, we’re all eminently able to know
and understand these elements in each other. At work we add the
commonality of sharing specific and unique experiences, known only to
those who work together.
This means that the knowledge to start solving the problem of how
to say what you mean so others listen, understand, and get convinced is
already there. You own it. The blinders that get in the way are forgetting
how potentially connected we all are, despite our uniqueness.
There are also, of course, differences between us. Mankind is a
theme with endless variations. But the ability to understand, recognize,
and diagnose these differences is the other key to better communication.
Recognizing and understanding human differences helps you change and
adapt your communication style. Adjusting your communication behavior
to account for the needs of others gives you the kind of personal
power that makes you more effective at work and in life, generally.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at the basic work personalities to
further define and understand who we are at work and how we operate.
We each have a dominant set of motivations that shape how we
work—based on what matters most to us and what seems the best way to
achieve the gratification of our inner desires.
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Our motivational priorities are established in succeeding waves of
learning what is admired and rewarded:
• First by our families,
• Then by our peers,
• Finally by society at large.
Our techniques for striving and achieving are developed from role
models, innate talents, and life experiences. We give relative and
changing importance to these influences as they occur and as we mature.
The end result is:
• Some of us buy the whole external influence package and strive
toward what others indicate is valuable and successful.
• Others become anti-players, purposely defying that which is set
out for them.
• Still others turn inward to hear and follow their own set of voices.
We respond to our dominant set of motivations by behaving in ways
that feed them. This behavior becomes most apparent in the way we
work and exercise our ability to direct others and relate to them.
Research has shown that in the workplace there are three distinctly
different personality types with distinctly different work and management
Fitting theme song: “Climb Every Mountain.”
These are internally motivated people with high, self-set standards
and goals. Uppermost for them is accomplishment. Although we all feel
we have an achievement motive, research indicates that about 10 percent
of the population is strongly motivated by achievement. We find many
Achievers in positions of business management.
• Achievers like situations in which they take personal responsibility
for finding solutions to problems. They tend not to seek
advice or help except from experts who can provide needed
• They tend to set moderate achievement goals, attainable with
hard work and ability.
* The following discussion of motivation and personality is based on the published work of
Harvard Professor David McClelland.
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What’s the Problem? 15
• They take calculated risks, preferring to work on the outcome
rather than leave it to chance.
• They want concrete feedback on how well they’re doing.
• They’re quite accustomed to having the task itself be enough
motivation for them; concepts about persuasiveness and motivating
others don’t naturally occur to them.
• Communication is often little more than a one-way street for
Achievers, related to explaining what needs to get done. They’re
so strongly goal-oriented that when they look across the desk,
the people they see may simply appear as implementors of the
tasks assigned, not as multi-dimensional, fallible, needy individuals.
• Entrepreneurs tend to be classic Achievers.
To the outside world, Achievers can look insensitive and unfeeling.
Not true. They just work from a different set of motivations than many of
us; the software of human consideration and understanding doesn’t
always seem to be part of their concept of work. Achievers are hard
taskmasters for themselves and therefore bring the same demanding
standards to others with whom they work.
Considerations such as “Do you like me?” are usually beside the
point for Achievers, though this varies. They give themselves love when
they accomplish. An extension of that is to have others know of and
acknowledge their accomplishments. Achievement is where they find
their identity and feel their usefulness. Money may be regarded as a
further affirmation of their ability to achieve.
Fitting theme song: “People Who Need People.”
Affiliators care about belonging, relating, how others treat them.
This is such a high-priority item that it is factored into all the choices they
make about how they do their jobs.
• They need to gain confirmation for their own beliefs from others.
• They would rather be part of a group than be, or work, alone.
• They want and need to be liked and expend great effort to be
sure that happens.
• They prefer conciliation, dislike conflict, and try to find ways to
smooth things out.
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• They like to cooperate and help others, wanting to be liked in
• Willy Loman, the salesman in Arthur Miller’s play Death of a
Salesman, was, among other things, an Affiliator.
Studies have shown that people with strong affiliative needs are often
well suited for jobs that involve people: outreach, coordinating projects,
integrating diverse points of view, mediating conflicts, motivating teams.
They are good at sales jobs that require cultivating and maintaining
long-term relationships.
The high need for affiliation does create problems in decision
making, however, since the need to be liked makes them shy away from
unpopular choices. They can therefore run a less efficient department
than those with more moderate people-needs.
Fitting theme song (adapted): “They Did It My Way.”
This category has a semantics problem. We get very judgmental
around the words “power” and “influence.” They sound underhanded
and manipulative—less than pure—and we generally feel uneasy or
negative about them. In order to understand this motivational category,
we need to look at the influence concept from two points of view:
personal power or influence and socialized or institutional power or
• Personalized power is linked to controlling or influencing others for
the sake of one’s own impact on them as individuals.
• Socialized power deals with leadership of groups such as institutions,
business organizations, or even social movements. It deals with
inspiring co-workers symbolically and collaboratively to reach for higher
goals in support of an organization. It means using power as a leader to
strengthen subordinates’ beliefs in themselves and in their competence
to contribute to an organization’s success.
Given these two different manifestations of the influence or power
motive, we can now examine a basic set of behavior traits’to describe the
• Influencers want to obtain and exercise power and authority.
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What’s the Problem? 17
• They look for positions where they are the ultimate authority or
can make a highly visible impact.
• They are not as interested as Achievers are in figuring out how
to make something work. They care more for making an impact
and influencing others to make something work.
• Unlike Affiliators, who are dependent on other people for
approval, Influencers don’t worry quite so much about their
critics. They know better who they are and what they want. They
are solid in their moves, with few apologies.
• Influencers are self-confident. They have very clear goals, and
have worked out their rationale, which includes the organizational
or institutional accomplishments they often could foster
with their power.
• Loyalty evoked by personalized Influencers is generally of the
kind we associate with a charismatic leader.
• Loyalty evoked by socialized Influencers tends to be more
attached to the team, the task, or institution.
Studies comparing personalized-power managers with socializedpower
managers found the latter to be more effective.
It might help to compare behavior patterns between all three work
types. For example, the kinds of self-help books they would read:
• Achievers would read books with sixteen choices about how to do
something and what makes any of them work, so they could gather the
information and make their own individualistic decision about which way
is best to accomplish their task.
• Affiliators wouldn’t like that many choices. They want more
consensus in their thinking. Therefore they would like the most popular
how-to books to make them more successful from a currently accepted
point of view.
• Influencers would have less interest in either of these types of
books, since neither speaks to their desire for impact on a situation and
its constituents. They would read historical biographies of strong,
successful charismatic leaders and what made them effective.
What about sports?
• Achievers would prefer individual sports like golf, so they could
compare their scores with par or what they did last time. It would give
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them both feedback and a specific goal to shoot for. They would surely go
for the club championship.
• Affiliators would prefer team sports or tennis, but might have a
hard time fighting for a position or beating a friend. They would have
plenty of team spirit and probably be president of the country club.
• Influencers would like any team sport if they could be the coach,
captain, or manager.
A comparison that can help differentiate the communication styles of
these three types is to look at recent American presidents from a
motivational standpoint. Can you quickly name the presidential
Achiever, Affiliator, and Influencer of the last twenty-five years?
Wouldn’t you pick John F. Kennedy as the Achiever, Gerald Ford as
the Affiliator, and Ronald Reagan as the Influencer?
Now, before we get too rigid, none of us is only one type. As strong
as the primary motivation may be, other factors also shape our behavior.
We can all find traces, or even large doses, of all three basic motivations
in our make-up and behavior.
Therefore, use each motivation category for quick and easy identification,
but always with an eye on where there are spillovers from the
others. They can help you predict behavior and understand your fellow
workers. I will use them as a kind of behavioral shorthand throughout the
Using the Work Types
As you read about these three types, I’m sure you not only looked for
and characterized yourself but did an instant search for the people you
work with—those above you, your peers, and your subordinates. And
didn’t it help to explain or give some consistency to the sometimes
inexplicable behavior you’ve seen?
Understanding these personalities—what they want and how they
act it out at work—will give you a handle on how to formulate a strategy
for dealing with them.
Notice and Recognize
Watching and connecting clusters of behavior with this new categorized
set of insights starts you on the road to developing a menu for
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What’s the Problem? 19
dealing with your colleagues at work. As you define each type, you’ll
know whether to choose from Column A, B, or C of your newly gained
communication skills and strategies to be most effective with that
specifically motivated person.
The next step is harder.
Suspend Judgment
A given type may be vastly different from you but, if you can get past
“I hate that” and “What a cold (cruel, bullying, weak, stubborn) way to
be,” you will be able to move into action that suits your needs and solves
your problems.
The steps after these two are what the rest of the book is about. But
before we go on, there is one more issue to discuss:
Most managers in our business world are Achievers.
A Predominance of Achievers
Achieving is the predominant behavioral mode taught at America’s
business schools; most top management in America’s corporations reflects
this approach. Since business management teaching had its origins
in the engineering schools, it’s not surprising that the approach to people
is basically task-centered and technical, focusing on the mechanics of how
to get the job done efficiently and dispassionately, more than on the
people who do it.
Although the typical executive is an Achiever and this is the accepted
mode in a corporate culture, there are Affiliators and Influencers in
executive roles, too, as well as in the middle and lower echelons.
A giant step toward developing better communication in the workplace
occurs when Achievers (the majority) recognize and accept the
skills and behavioral orientations of Affiliators and Influencers (minorities)
as being other valid ways of doing business and useful adjuncts to
existing styles, with their own unique strengths.
You must know all the keys to play to be the best in your field and
at your job. Recognizing, accepting, and learning to deal with all three
types and their unique drives makes for the most effective communication
at work.
This means developing skills and mastering behaviors that may (at
first) work against your basic instincts and personal style but with
someone else’s. Sounds manipulative? If “manipulative” means choosing
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the best techniques to persuade and convince so you can achieve your
goals, what aspect of human relations is not? And besides, what do you
think the other guy is doing?
To learn more about how we do this—what the basic communications
processes are, how they work, and why—let’s move on.
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Why and How People Listen
Imagine for a moment that you’re preparing to make a presentation
about an important project in which you have a large stake. How do you
start planning for it?
Don’t you start from “I”? “I’ll begin by . . .” “Then I’ll tell them . . .”
“Them” doesn’t really enter into it except as the recipients of what you’re
planning to do. And that’s one of the major problems in getting others to
Most of us think of “communicating” as a one-way process. We get
all involved in what we’re saying, how we’re saying it, what choices we
should make to communicate it better. But, in our zeal to achieve our
goal and get our message across to others, we forget that at the other end
of our message is an “other”—someone with his own goals, his own zeal,
and his own concerns. These often do not coincide with ours, especially
at the outset of something we alone have dreamed up to say.
The One-Sided Nature of Telling
Perhaps the greatest single stumbling block to real communication is
the one-sided nature of telling. The first person—very singular—talking
from one point of view.
Truly effective communication can’t be a monologue in which only
the sender is at work. To persuade, inform, or change the listener, both
parties—the teller and the receiver (be it one or many)—must be
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actively involved. So, true communication must be a dialogue, an
exchange between you and your receiver. Two (or more) people actively
engaged in the same pursuit.
Now I can hear you saying, “Wait a minute—no dialogue! I want
them to keep quiet and listen to me! I don’t want equal participation,
especially when I present my idea.” Right. That’s what you want. You
talk and they listen. Seems simple: You have something to say, so you
talk. The hard part is “. . . and they listen.” Think about it. Why should
they? What would make them want to join in your plan?
The real challenge is to get them to listen by making them actively
want to.
Listening Is Work
Listening is an active pursuit. It’s demanding, hard work. Most of all,
when someone is truly listening, it takes time away from the listener’s
most important focus—himself.
Normally our commitment and attention space is taken up by our
own concerns. We have absolutely no reason, at the outset, to give you
any of our valuable attention—like stopping to listen. But unless you can
get both of you (sender and receivers) equally involved—one giving, the
other getting—you may as well deliver your idea or request to the
bathroom mirror, where you practiced it.
So what’s the answer?
Making the listener want to hear you is primary.
Right. But now that you think about it, why would someone else
spontaneously get interested in your vested stuff? You’d need a propellant—
something that could make a difference, something that could
actively turn your audience to your pursuit and away from theirs. What?
When what you have to say clearly intersects with what the other
person wants or needs or cares about.
If your message obviously relates to one or more of the listener’s “hot
buttons,” you have given a primary, compelling reason for listening.
You’re not actually demanding that he/she give up self-involvement.
You’re just piggy-backing on some part of the listener’s own momentum;
his/her self-involvement. You’re defining your message as another facet
of his or her ongoing life concerns.
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The Basics of Communicating 23
Simply put, understanding your listener’s needs is the bottom
Three basic factors shape the answer to every potential listener’s
challenging unspoken question: “Why should I listen?”
• Self-Interest
• Who’s Telling
• How They Tell It
Let’s not get too theoretical. Since you belong to the same species as
your potential listeners, to figure out what basically motivates them,
think about yourself for a moment. What, really, deep down is the prime
motivator that pushes you to do whatever you do—not just listen?
It’s that little self-spirit you were born with, the one I mentioned in
Chapter 1, the one that went underground but that never really went
away as your parents helped you get socialized.
Think about yourselves. Isn’t self-interest at the center of what
makes you, all of us, tick? It motivates you to want, to pursue, to be
attracted to anything that looks like it’s practical, fulfilling, enriching, or
helpful for you. And it never works if someone else simply tells you it’s
good for you. You have to see its applicability for yourself.
Sometimes you even get attracted to what you’ve learned you
shouldn’t do, because other self-interest components (pleasure; revolt
against the rules; “just this once “; to heck with the other guy) outweigh
what the head and the conscience try to restrict.
Gratifying one’s self-interest is an instinct that motivates us without
even needing to come to the conscious surface too often.
Test yourself. What makes you listen or pay attention?
• The newspaper. What do you read first and why? What gets you
past the headlines? What gets you to turn to the follow-up page? Isn’t it
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that you think: “I want to know that. I need to know that. I’ve never
heard of that.” It all has to do with fulfilling various needs of “I.”
• The weekend. What do you find yourself doing? Obviously, with
choices, you go for the juiciest version of what you like best. But what
about the seemingly negative decisions like going somewhere you’d
rather not? If others want to go, and it means keeping peace with friend
or family, you weigh your personal first choice against what the other
issues are and decide on which self-interest is best served. True? Then
you either acquiesce and go, for peace, or decide the wrath is worth
enduring and stay. But both are filtered first through what’s good for
• At work. Who do you call back and how quickly? Which assignments
do you finish first? What stimulates you to learn something new?
It all revolves around the same motivation:
People mostly do what they want to do.
Therefore: To create an attentive, willing audience, to involve
people in that dialogue I mentioned, you first need to direct your
self-interest beam to shine on the dark recesses of another’s self-interest.
You need to learn enough about your audience to discover their
self-interest, their needs, their motivations, in order to get them willing
to listen to you.
Too often we send our messages c/o General Delivery. Unless you
can point your communique toward your unique audience—specific
addressees who will become involved in hearing, absorbing, and accepting
that message—it’s a space shot with no destination.
And it’s not that difficult to do. At work, much of the learning about
your audience has come from your already sharing so many common
experiences. Not just the basic human factors like eating lunch, wanting
a raise, fear of being fired and/or a wish for status and attention, but the
ongoing reality that you work together.
• You both share a common workplace culture.
• You both know the mechanics of how to get things done there (if
not all the same nuances).
• You both interact with the same cast of characters.
• You’re exposed to each other more hours in the day than to any
member of your family or friends, by a lot.
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The Basics of Communicating 25
Therefore, you already have an inside track on your co-worker’s
self-interest. So the upshot is that the number-one way to get people to
listen is to discover and show what’s in it for them. It’s to let them know
that you understand their self-interest by focusing on their point of view
at the start. Before you tell them about yours. That will motivate them
to tune in.
Who’s Telling
The next factor that makes people listen is how they perceive the
teller. Needing to know who’s telling is built into the nature of listening
When you listen, you give power to another. Although the power
may be temporary and you keep an active internal debate going inside as
you listen, basically you’re in a passive state. Something is being done to
you. You’re not in control—yet.
So listening is a big gift, given to the teller by the receiver.
Therefore, who’s “doing it to you,” who’s getting your gift, matters
Trust is, and always has been, a hard-won commodity, not freely
given. Societies have always devised tests for “friend or foe.” For
example, do you know the origin of a salute? Why the right hand at the
brow? It comes from medieval times when men in armor lifted their
visors with an empty right hand to show who they were and that they had
no weapon. And we still do it: We shake right hands and make eye
contact as we great each other.
So—whether it was showing the face or knowing the password,
before a person was welcomed into our midst the first encounter had to
establish his credentials, showing us who he was and how he meant to
relate to us. (That’s why I introduced myself to you on page one of
Chapter 1. It was my verbal handshake—asking you to trust me enough
to become your “teller.”)
Instinctively, we have always been wary of others, needing to know
what their intentions are and what to expect before we let them in. We’re
still wary of others today. When someone says, “Give me the power to
tell you, to sell you, to hold sway while you listen,” our instincts are still
alert. We’re still asking:
“Friend or foe?”
“Are you for me?”
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“Useful to me?”
“What happens if I let you in?”
To answer, we test. We pick up signals, based first of all on our
instincts, life experiences, and preferences. This always comes before we
confer the mantle on whom we trust or admire, and who’s worthy of our
attention. We test in two ways:
• First we notice and respond instinctively to personal style: how
the teller strikes us, person to person.
• Then we shore that up by intellectually considering some
hard-nosed questions about who this person is and how he/she
relates to our lives.
(Notice how this also follows the order in which I introduced myself,
the contents of the book, and my credentials to you at the beginning.)
Personal Style
Who do you like to listen to and who do you resist—whether in a
formal presentation, at a meeting, or one-on-one? Could you list some
basic characteristics that always attract you? What adjectives come to
mind? Look at this list of readily identifiable personal qualities, to see if
you find your preferences among them:
Now think about the quick turn-off qualities you’ve encountered in
speakers or tellers. Perhaps:
closed synthetic
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The Basics of Communicating 27
Depending on whether you’re basically an Achiever, an Affiliator, or
an Influencer, your preference and peeves will vary somewhat. But even
within those variations the first list has appeal and the second list does
not. Why?
Certain basic personal qualities immediately capture us and make us
want to spend time with you or listen to your message. This response is
rooted in how you make us, your listeners, feel, as well as in what climate
your personal qualities create between us.
Positive Qualities
Consider the qualities on the first list:
• Warm, friendly, honest, open put us at ease. They actively invite us
to get closer, creating an environment in which we can relax our guard
and relate more directly and openly. These qualities are usually a
surprise, a welcome alternative to the guarded way most of us behave.
We basically envy and are drawn to the teller because most of us haven’t
learned to express warmth, friendliness, honesty, or openness very
directly or easily, although we respond to them with pleasure. We also
sense how comfortable one must be within oneself to behave in such an
uncluttered way.
• Exciting, creative, and interesting promise pleasure and make us
lose ourselves in a feeling of anticipation and a curiosity about what
comes next.
• Knowledgeable and/or confident are very reassuring. Since the
speaker has obviously done his/her homework, we listen with trust and
the assumption that listening will be both beneficial and definitive.
• Organized satisfies the brain’s need for order and logic delivered in
the format of how we learn best. As we listen, awash in a sea of words and
ideas, we need to see, hear, and imagine the structure that underlies the
message in order to get it and remember it.
• Authentic gives us confidence that what we see is indeed what we
get, that we’re down to bedrock: this is a truthful person speaking,
without subterfuge.
• Inspiring appeals to our deeply rooted willingness to follow a leader
or rise above our own thoughts to absorb another’s enthusiasm and
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Whatever combination of these qualities we perceive, any one of
them can cause us to begin giving center stage away to become a willing
and interested listener.
Negative Qualities
The negative qualities in the second list have one thing in common:
They make us uncomfortable.
By evoking certain responses in us, they create an environment in
which we want to find a way out of listening further to such a person.
• Formal and stuffy styles show us someone operating from a rigid set
of rules unrelated to the situation at hand. The speaker’s greatest effort
seems to be spent not on genuine outreach to us but on hiding behind
prescribed and learned behavior, dictated by anonymous otht?s before
we ever got there.
• Closed and synthetic are worrisome. Who is this person? How can
I predict anything about what he/she really means, feels, believes in?
• Pompous behavior tries to set the teller apart and a step or two
above the listener. This creates two problems. First: the listener
questions who put him/her up there and on what evidence. Second: who
automatically wants to look up to someone before you yourself have
designated him/her worthy?
• Monotonous tellers turn our already passive state into one of torpor.
Remember the nature of listening: it takes work to keep our attention,
since we’re not doing anything active. Being trapped by dull usurpers of
our time makes us look for the nearest escape hatch—tuning out.
• Unenergized makes us mad. If you move into my life but don’t feel
I’m worth much effort, you’ve betrayed my allowing you to enter. How
can you ask for any of my time and attention and not give me the most
of yourself-—a full-fledged commitment to making me listen and understand?
• Vague or complex explainers create anxiety in the listener. We hate
to know we don’t understand. A teller who confuses or doesn’t help us
“get it” betrays the first moments of trust we gave him free, while we
were doing our absorbing and deciding.
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The Basics of Communicating 29
• Irrelevant messages betray the first rule of getting people to
listen—one’s own self-interest. Who needs to hear something that
matters only to someone else, or maybe not even that?
• Patronizing is insulting. If you, the teller, know that we don’t know,
and ask to tell us, you should be in the position of sharing riches, not
berating us for not having them yet.
• Unsure or nervous behavior makes us really uncomfortable! Since
we’ve all been there and hated it, we recognize it and feel it keenly when
we see it in others and can’t bear to watch it. Also—if you’re not sure of
your material or position, how can you ask me to get involved? I’m flying
• Hyper-intense starts us out at too high a level. Such a person is
already at a gallop while we—the blank-slate audience—can only begin
with a walk. It presumes the same level of passion and information on the
part of the listener that the teller has, without working on the gradual
development that might get us there.
Obviously these are only primary-color descriptions, thumbnail
sketches of the much more complex personal styles each of us develops
and gives off when we communicate, whether to one or many. But they
serve to help us analyze the process by which people who are asked to
listen, respond; to become aware of what listeners perceive, how it
affects them, and why they willingly listen to some and not to others.
Since we operate on a primal, instinctual level first, these basic
personal-quality perceptions are in the first line of resistance, the first
things we notice and respond to. We do it viscerally, instinctively,
without thinking, before we go on.
But on we do go. That highly developed brain doesn’t like to take a
back seat for too long. So we come to the second part of what we do when
we ask ourselves “Who’s Telling?” We move up from the gut instinct and
engage the brain in considering the request for a willing listener, for an
Are You Enough?
Based on the individual situation, and whether one is basically an
Achiever, Affiliator, or Influencer, a series of subconscious questions
determine whether the proposed talker has enough credentials to
command our attention:
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• Do you know what I want (need) to know?
• Do I like or admire you already?
• Can I trust you?
• Am I usually comfortable with you?
• How can or do you affect my life?
• What’s my past experience with you?
• Are you reasonable (negotiable, rigid, stubborn)?
• What (or whom) do you represent?
Each of us asks: Is this my version of what a leader (expert, staff
member, co-worker) should be and how one should behave?
Look at the list again. What else would you add? What are your
hidden questions about “Who’s Telling?” Those you don’t really need to
bring to the conscious surface but that color and filter how you receive
information and enter into a dialogue? Think about them a moment,
Can you see how your resistant, wary “tests” and the opinions you
form—often in advance—could shape the outcome of any communication
directed at you? That they would shape the way you would listen as well
as if you would listen.
Instinct Plus Thought = Decision
The process of deciding “Who’s Telling?” has two parts: visceral and
cerebral. But they’re not distinct and separate. Although you bring your
head into it, all the cerebral answers depend on and are filtered through
your feelings.
Most of us don’t consciously think first. We feel first. We like, trust,
believe, follow because our sensory antennae tell our heads we should.
Instincts were there before our earliest learned material. Dealing
with basic survival, this subconscious system puts up the first row of
defense and danger signals as we deal with the world. First comes STOP,
Now, listening is hardly life-threatening, but the visceral evaluation
system for people’s behavior is in place and we use it everywhere.
Therefore, our sensitive instincts “process’ who’s trying to tell us
something and how we feel about them. And about their message. Then
our business head starts operating, adding and weighing hard information.
It’s the combination of the two that gets us to listen and satisfies our
wish to qualify the bearer of the message.
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The Basics of Communicating 31
Know that before you get to your message—and after you establish
their self-interest in listening—you must “lift your visor.” You must let
your audience of one or many see (or feel) who you are, or at least some
pertinent aspect of who you are, and what you intend. And if you don’t
do it consciously, they’ll do it for you. They’re looking for labels and
categories, for recognizable signals seen through your personal approach
to them and your task, that help them know “Who’s Telling?”
How They Tell It
The third reason people listen is technique. Style and technique have
become the principal determinants of whether or not we sell or tell
anything successfully today. Rather than bemoan that fact and say, “The
validity or purity of the message itself should be the central core,” let’s
deal with what is and understand it better: What techniques work to get
a message across these days?
How Communication Has Changed
I say “these days” because the way we communicate—how we give
and get information—has been permanently changed in this half of the
twentieth century. Our new ingredient?
Mass imparting of information visually, with words a secondary
Now visually transmitting information is not new. From the prehistoric
cave painters to the sculptors of old who told the masses about
religion before they could read, we have always found the visual image
the most arresting and the most instantly eloquent. In all other times,
visual images were evocative, designed to trigger the imagination and
emotions of the viewer. But viewing them required work. Commitment.
Response. Rapt attention and personal participation to make the pictures
or statues be eloquent and to receive their message.
Words, too, used to require effort. To listen and understand, to wait
until the end, demanded something from the listener: The willingness to
follow someone else’s unique style and pace, and then to sort out the
ideas and what the words really meant, on one’s own.
That’s how it was. But not now.
Not since television.
The two major differences between how we used to use visual
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information and words and how that’s changed involve passivity and
To see what makes this true and to discover the effect television has
had on us both psychologically and in how we communicate, and then to
assess the implications this has for you in your workplace, let’s look back
at the last hundred years.
How It Used to Be
We used to want to listen—and to read. We delighted in words.
They were our major means of exchange. Written language and skillful
orators were sources of pleasure. Family entertainment meant reading
aloud in the evening. Elocution teachers were the rage. People recited
(even wrote) poetry to express their deepest emotions. And we loved to
read; to go inside ourselves quietly, let someone spin a web, and take us
with them. Slowly. To let our imaginations take off from the springboard
of another’s words and do the rest ourselves.
This reflected the rhythm and phrasing of our lives then. Listening
and words took time. And time ticked at a clippety-clop pace, in tune
with how we lived. The world went by slowly, seen on foot or courtesy
of a horse, touching all our senses.
Every household chore took time.
Going for the doctor took time.
Crafting things by hand took time.
Getting information from afar took lots of time.
So we were accustomed to waiting until we got what we wanted. We
could wait to hear the whole story. We actually enjoyed the detours and
nuances that someone “telling” could provide—the little asides, the
descriptive phrases that triggered our imagination to hum along and
become an active part of the story ourselves.
Our very lives were lived with more commitment and effort. We
were used to—and willing to—go more than halfway to get what we
wanted. We didn’t depend as much on external help to make our lives
better. We developed self-reliant skills and actively pursued what we
wanted, knowing it would never just come to us. And that was reflected
in how we communicated, too.
But time passed and the world and its timing changed.
We saw our landscape speeding by from the windows of our cars,
tightly rolled up.
Airplanes distorted our natural world into a geometric collage, where
time measured the reward of getting there fast, and earthly wonders, the
old realities, increasingly became abstractions.
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The Basics of Communicating 33
Technological marvels gave us control over accepted reality. Objects
and images—visually magnified, distorted, shown inside out—presented
new insights, changing forever how we saw and thought about the
tangible real world.
Machines took over our household chores—leaving us extra, discretionary
We could phone the doctor—more efficient.
Machine-made, mass-produced goods gave us what we needed or
wanted—fast. Goods that were anonymous—and just like everyone
The world got smaller for us, courtesy of unseen hands delivering
more services. Mechanically.
We became a “massed society.”
The new watchword was quantity, not quality.
Product, not process or substance.
The what—not the how.
Little wonder that television would evolve. It filled so many of our
newfound needs.
• Instant gratification.
• Pleasure without personal effort.
• Understanding just enough without wasting time.
• Group consensus about lifestyles and values.
• Getting what we need to know to keep pace.
That’s the key word—pace.
The rhythm of life has changed forever. With that change have gone
our old abilities to live life in longer phrases, seeing longer segments.
The mailroom boy who worked at the same shop for thirty years,
investing in the single, slow rise to the presidency, is now a charming
antique fable. We who once were willing to trek across the country, or
the ocean, with the hope of a brighter day-after-tomorrow, want it now.
No waiting.
We used to let time be an active partner and pacesetter. Knowing
how to invest and spend it, our activities and our pleasures reflected that.
But since we’ve harnessed most of the means to give us a brighter day
right now, the skills that required waiting began to dry up, seeming
redundant and unnecessary. And of all of these, telling, listening, and
reading top the list.
You see, it takes too long to tell and listen—to wait till you get to the
end of a paragraph for me to get the idea.
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And reading? A picture rather than a thousand words—that’s what
we need!
And that’s what we got.
Here are some “telling” facts:
• 77 percent of all Americans get about 90 percent of their news
from television.
• 47 percent get all their news from television.
• Every major U.S. corporation has its own TV studio.
• Videotapes and videodiscs are commonplace in homes and
Since television is now the major method of giving and getting hard
information and factual data today (now that reading and lectures have
lost favor), let’s look at what new techniques are used for TV communication.
And, TV watchers are the general public—including staff and
co-workers, buyers, clients, audiences of any size—we surely need to
explore further how television has affected us in the way we tell and
listen. This is especially true if we wish to build new techniques for
effective business communication, whose main topic is hard information
and factual data—numbers, ideas, issues, marketing strategies.
Basic Techniques of Television Communication
To analyze these techniques and understand their effect on your
audience, and also how to use the best of them, let’s examine the most
common experience of information giving on TV—the nightly news
News Stories Are Short
Basically headlines, one and a half minutes long, they’re designed for
short explanations, not in-depth analysis with background material. They
deal with what’s new, not what is or was. This does wonders for the
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The Basics of Communicating 35
attention span and the desire ever to find out “how,” or “why,” or even
if it’s all true!
Television Compresses Time
The unquestioned illogic of going from the studio (CUT) to a live
scene on location (CUT) to a suspended head talking (CUT) to graphics
appearing on the screen (CUT) without ever seeing how any of it got
there has made us believe in—and expect—magic.
This technological mastery compresses natural time. We want
information now and grow impatient with normal, human methods.
TV Reinforces Information
Using graphics and descriptive written words to identify and clarify,
television news teaches us that “If you don’t catch on, we’ll help you.”
“Don’t bother listening hard, we’ll tell you again.” Even when pictures
are shown, a voice off-camera explains them.
Visuals Are the Message
Words and people are no longer the primary message givers. Now
pictures tell. Human tellers corroborate and embellish as introducers
and voice-overs but are no longer the major source of information.
Television has taught the viewer to expect visual proof, not to take
anyone’s word for it.
What Looks True Is Not True
Since pictures are edited by the reporter, and their content and
point of view chosen by reporter, cameraman, director, and/or producer,
what we see is not pure truth. It’s technologically altered. Time and
reality are distorted with quick, unconnected shots of a scene and
close-ups impossible to do with the naked eye. Now, tellers of tales used
to edit truth for impact, too, leaving it to our imaginations to fill in the
picture. But today TV shows what look like authentic pictures, thus
convincing us they’re true and that that’s the whole story.
The “Talking Head” Taboo
A “talking head” (close-up of a person just talking) is considered so
boring that it’s generally given thirty seconds or less on the air.
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Television producers, knowing that people are basically garrulous and
verbally disorganized, edit most “talking head” statements into a “bite”
from a speech—taking part of this sentence, the middle of that, and a
startling or memorable line to finish. Thus we hear a cogent (albeit
manufactured) pithy statement, made on but also by TV, and not
necessarily intended by the original author. Result: we are now accustomed
to hearing, ultimately wanting, only the essence—the bottom
line—from people. No strolling through the language. Just the facts,
Ma’am. And be quick about it.
Seamless Flow of Words
Consider the anchor person. Flawless. Delivering his or her message
without mistakes. News anchors don’t look for words or look at notes.
They just look at you—keenly, directly, sincerely—and talk. Of course
they’re reading from a TelePrompTer, rolling over the lens so their eyes
don’t move and give it all away. That teaches the audience that people
don’t stumble or falter or think as they work at communicating with you.
No rephrasing or trying again. The only professional, mature, correct
way is seamlessly and effortlessly.
Now this is all very interesting, but what can you do with such
information in the work world?
In order to know what else you have to do to get people to listen to
you these days, let’s see how the new techniques of TV information
giving have conditioned your potential audience. What problems must
you know about and take care of as you prepare to speak to anyone?
Communication Consequences of TV
We no longer have to do very much to gain information. It’s all done
for us—and for free. Delivered in the most painless, least challenging
way to ensure the broadest possible audience. TV delivery of information
has eliminated the participation the old forms of delivery required. And
with it the desire to work very hard at trying to find out and understand
anything or to like being challenged.
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The Basics of Communicating 37
Television has taught us to listen with half an ear. In the past, to
listen or learn you went to a totally focused environment where that was
the only activity: school, college, lecture hall, theater, auditorium,
forum, library.
Now consider the environment in which television gives information
and its effect on concentration. Kitchen, den, living or bedroom. Phones
ring; kids play; moms and dads cook, talk, or read. The business of life—
eating, arguing, laughing, disciplining, attending to daily details—all
vies for equal time with the tube. Television often becomes an obbligato,
a hum or drone in the background. Only occasionally does it rise up to
demand total attention from the disparate group pursuing their activities
in the vicinity. This from the most powerful communications medium
ever created, shared by more people than ever before!
What effect does this have?
We start with the problems we as a species have in ever paying
attention, under any circumstances. Due to the fact that it takes only 15
percent of the brain to process and understand language, we have 85
percent of free “attention span” left over whenever someone speaks to
us. Any speaker has to fight for that other 85 percent in order to keep his
or her audience—fight the wool-gathering, daydreaming, problemsolving,
random thinking we all do with that free brainpower.
Now television comes along, challenging even more of that tenuous
attention base. It teaches us that it’s okay—actually the norm—to listen
just a little, from time to time, instead of helping us focus and
concentrate. Not good for you, the business communicator who needs
rapt attention from beginning to end . . .
hack of Continuity
We get comfortable about coming in on the middle of a subject.
Others fill us in with an even more edited version than the television
show itself presents, and that’s enough for us to climb aboard and tune
in. Otherwise we bumble along till the show or subject comes clear and
hooks us, or we resort to our other great power play—switching channels
without even getting up!
Vetoing the Subject
The ability to snap off communication in mid-sentence, based strictly
on whether it has already grabbed us, bodes ill for anyone wanting to
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impart new, unfamiliar, necessary though difficult information, CLICK
goes the listener, looking for (and being able to find) something that
tickles the palate more. The gimmick rather than the message is what we
are trained to look for. How appealing are your subjects? Your messages?
Commercials Create the Rhythm
We are becoming conditioned to expecting breaks in any communication
every eight to nine minutes. Information—hard or soft—is
delivered in bite-sized pieces, and we’ve learned to expect to get off the
hook in predictable segments and much more often during the news.
Who’s going to sit through your half-hour presentation without wanting
a trip to the refrigerator?
Information Is Automatically Considered Boring
We now automatically know what our society deems “prime.” We
are told what information appeals only to a very small, select audience by
what is programmed during the best—the “prime-time”—viewing hours
and what is served up when most folks are sleeping or out. “Fact shows”
(documentaries, public affairs, serious interview shows) are relegated to
no-man’s-land or public (read “egghead”) television.
And what’s “prime?” Generally anything that says entertainment and
escape. This conditions us to expect to be bored by heavy water and
serious subjects—the usual fare of business meetings—and to look for
the automatic kick and pace that television has trained us to expect.
Important information—and a major challenge for anyone who has to
present or discuss facts and numbers. . . .
Individual Imagination Is Buried
Visualizing music on MTV gives another message about how we have
learned to process data now. Rather than letting sound into each head
and allowing unique, personal visions to develop (remember radio?), we
now show that consensus, not individual vision, is the goal. The
subconscious message given is that our imaginations can’t, or won’t,
come up with visions on their own and that we need spoon-feeding.
This conditioning can discourage unique opinions and the desire to
discover and explore. It can dampen our natural ability to imagine. Not
good news for those who need to teach, explain, or present another point
of view. Further, it increases our anxiety level about doing anything
different than the norm or being out of step with our neighbors. How
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The Basics of Communicating 39
does that affect management’s goals of motivating individuals to step out
and perform new tasks, to find original solutions, and to be inspired to
press ahead of the crowd?
We Expect Intensity and Shock
The camera zooms in where you and I would fear to tread.
Television, in communicating everything, indiscriminately, in full color
and tight close-up, has broken the accepted norms of what we communicate
about, simply because we can do it technically. Violence, conflict,
and tragedy become abstractions and commonplace. We’re used to the
close-up of the body bag and the private weeping made public.
Effect? Commonplace, cool, didactic, functional business messages
can’t hold a candle to what we’re exposed to on TV. Hard to generate
much interest in just facts without some stimulating visual additives and
general razzle-dazzle.
So, that’s the current scene: Telling, listening, learning, information
giving/getting are permanently changed. Pace matters. People expect an
edited, telescoped version of anything new and unfamiliar, amply laced
with visual reinforcement. We’re a passive audience, needing active
engagement to stay tuned in. The attention span is now shorter, the need
to think and understand is now dampened, and people have been
demoted as central truth tellers.
A Qualifier
Having just made a great case for the doom-and-gloom sayers about
what the failure of our society will be, I need to add another thought,
especially since I spent most of my life working in television as a
communicator, using those self-same techniques I’ve just been decrying
. . .
Let’s not just get mad at television. We can’t un-invent it. Like cars,
it’s here. A mixed blessing, and we have to live with the pollution.
There’s much to learn about our natural tendencies and how
television has built on them. And I still believe in TV’s fabulous
At its best, television is the most effective method yet devised for
giving mass information. It brings every brand of reality into every
household, exposing new ideas, social problems, endless kinds of people,
and issues from every walk of life to us all, across the board, without
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being asked. It can take us where we could never go. It can introduce us
to spiritual experiences and cultural joys.
But—TV communication techniques have been damaging to the
learning systems of our societies, supplanting more substantive personally
involving ones with the quick fix. To communicate these days, you’d
better know what’s happened and what effect it’s had.
Implications for Business Communication
We need to adapt and adopt.
In these pages we’ll learn to offset TV information influences with
inventive communication techniques of our own.
• We’ll use what we know of what people now need to become
much more effective “tellers.”
• We’ll remain aware of continuing basic human needs, fulfilling
the natural as well as the conditioned demands of any audience.
• We’ll adapt the current technologies and other new information
about visual learning to make business communication clear,
convincing, involving, and persuasive.
Now let’s leave the new world of TV and technology, and return to
the original one of our natural functioning to explore another set of basic
principles by which we exchange information and reach each other—
those of verbal and non-verbal communication.
How We Communicate
Picture this scene.
You’re walking down the corridor at work and see your friend Jack
coming toward you:
YOU (walking up to him, smiling): “Hi, Jack—haven’t seen you in a
while. How’s everything going?”
JACK (backs away hastily, avoiding eye contact): “Fine, fine.”
YOU: “What’s up? Are you okay?”
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The Basics of Communicating 41
JACK (dropping his papers, scrambling for them, getting up, and quickly
looking past you as he shifts from one foot to the other): “Yeah, sure, I’m
fine. Everything’s just fine.”
you: “Gee, you seem a little distracted.”
JACK (stepping back, finally looking at you): “No, no—believe me, I’m
okay (heaving a sigh). Everything’s—just—uh—great . . . (looking off).
Yeah, great . . . ”
Do you believe Jack? Would you accept what he says about
everything being fine? What do you think is really going on: Just been
fired? Messed up on the job? How do you know? What clues do you use
to give you the answers?
Go back and read the scene again, but without the directions in
parentheses. The words alone don’t tell you what you need to know, do
they? Actually, the information about how Jack really feels emerges only
from what he does, in contrast to what he says. And if you turned the
sound off and just watched this scene, you’d get a much clearer message
more directly, wouldn’t you?
We all share a primary human need not just to accept what is
communicated to us, but to evaluate it. We automatically filter incoming
messages through such questions as: “What does this really mean?” “Can
I trust him?” “Why is she saying or doing this?”
This need to understand fully and to put things in context requires us
to look for as much information as we can.
Go back to that scene with Jack. Look at all the information you
would automatically notice and gather from his non-verbal language and
consider how quickly you would understand its meaning.
• Body language: Jack shifts his feet (can’t hold his ground). He
twitches, gestures, nervously drops his papers, scrambles hastily for
them (can’t stop moving, seems uncoordinated in a simple task).
• Eye contact: Jack can’t look at you; he looks off, thinking. (Why does
he avoid me? What is he hiding?)
• Space relationship: You get closer; he backs away. (Doesn’t want
contact; avoids my personal outreach.)
• Speech rhythm: Jack speaks hastily (trying to get done with it); long
pauses between his words (reflective, thinking of something else?); sighs
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as he speaks (expression of inner feeling—disappointment? sadness?).
And the words?
He says, “Fine” . . . “great.” “No, no—believe me.”
Words vs. Movement
Words may be the basic currency, but non-verbal communication
(body language) is the other dictionary we use. Each is powerful and
eloquent in different ways, but non-verbals have a much more direct
effect on how we process information and our feelings about the teller.
• Words are cerebral. They’re symbols, requiring us to translate
those symbols mentally into meaning.
• Non-verbal body language is visceral. We absorb its meaning
instinctively, through the gut, not the head. We feel—we don’t think
about what it means.
• Words are self-edited. They’re controlled. Through training we
pick what we say. We filter our choices through the constraints of our
self-protective superego. We verbalize only what seems fitting, nondamaging,
or not too revealing. Your listeners know that because we all
do it.
• Body language is not edited. Posture, gesture, movement are
unconscious. Involuntary. Spontaneous. And we all know that, too.
That’s why we use body language as our best measure—our barometer
and truth teller—about what’s really happening and what any communicated
message really means. Remember the scene with Jack?
• Words are specific. Although they can suggest, as symbols they
mean specific things and call forth the same images for all of us. “Nose”
is nose. “Window” is window. “Three o’clock” says only ( O to
everyone at once. Words explain concrete ideas and facts. ^—’
• Body language needs interpretation. Movement, posture, gesture,
and space relationships are unique and highly individual, demanding
interpretation. They deal with nuance, with feeling, with degree. They
can’t say exactly (Q , but they can say how you feel about the fact
of Qy . Think of—and actually try to do—the gestures that say:
“Oh, I’m late!” or, “What, already?” or, “Finally! ”
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The Basics of Communicating 43
The gestures come to you at once, don’t they? And they’re a little
different for each of us, based on our background and who we watched
growing up, but they would be universally understood.
• Words are extravagant. They can eventually describe and tell, but
you need to use many to get depths of feeling across.
• Body language is succinct. It shows feelings much more economically,
more directly and eloquently. It evokes feeling responses in us
very quickly.
• Words separate. Not only the difference between foreign languages
and our own, but vocabulary and pronunciation define class, level of
accomplishment, education, and social station.
• Body language can unify. Because life is essentially a series of
universal common experiences—birth, death, marriage, children,
happy, sad, hungry, fearful—we can understand each other instantly
through physical expression. Need a drink in a foreign country? No
problem. You’ll show them. And in showing them, you also show our
commonality. The recognition of that unifying concept by others draws
us instantly closer—whether it is tears in Tibet or a welcoming smile at
a business meeting in Boston.
Words and movement together comprise a dual dialogue. If they
match and are consistent with each other, they strengthen and underscore
meaning. If they are inconsistent, incongruously saying two
different things, the viewer disregards the words—the verbal—and
believes the body language—the non-verbal.
If you stand there saying, “The figures for this quarter show great
strength, ” at the same time that you avoid eye contact, clear your throat,
and shuffle your papers, you’ve convinced us only of what you’re trying
to hide!
How People Feel About Learning
New information or information that challenges existing beliefs or
systems presents problems to any communicator. As a species, people
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are grounded in the familiar and in what is proven to work. Exploring is
only for the few, not the many. There’s only one Columbus, one Edison,
one Hillary. Even questioning existing beliefs feels dangerous to most
Therefore, the first reaction to learning is often resistance. In order
to understand what you need to overcome in order to present new
information at work, to bring others to accept it or wish to change
anything, let’s look at some basic obstacles to listening and learning.
The daily ongoing business of keeping up—let alone getting ahead—
at work requires tremendous effort.
Status, Usefulness, Acceptance, Money, and the other factors I
talked about in Chapter 1 push us to try to maintain some sense of
security or stability at work while we gather our forces and plan our
assault on the next rung or pinnacle. We climb only when we feel ready
and strong enough. For someone else to move into our path and say, “It’s
time for a challenge now,” can be threatening. Of course, there are
individual variations based on levels of skill and personal confidence, but
most people think:
“I’ve just about figured this level out. Why do I want to change now?
I can picture the present scene, but not the new one being presented.
Better play it safe till I can figure it out. ‘The devil I know is better than
the devil I don’t know.’
So our tendency is to push against new ideas or systems, not to
welcome them.
Our universal need to save face, to appear confident and competent,
to seem grounded in our lives and unflappable, is intensified at work.
That’s the dangerous, get-ahead place where everyone’s watching,
waiting to pounce and move in or up)—over you. Look at the concern that
can be created when someone else (especially someone in charge) comes
up with a new idea or imperative. We think:
“You dreamed it up, so you understand it and know how to do it and
why. But / am not at all sure that 7 can understand it or be able to do it,
especially do it well.”
We hark back to our early experiences in the learning game. Most
people’s school experience was not stellar. We still remember the
smarting embarrassment of being found wrong or wanting in the early
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The Basics of Communicating 45
vulnerable days. The anxiety about our own competence doesn’t ever
really leave us. Whenever you, the teller, present a challenge to move
into the “Learn this, because there will be a test” mode, you can call up
levels of performance anxiety. Thus the normal human instinct of
self-preservation causes us, the recipients, to put our hands up in front
of our faces and say, “Whoa!”
Your idea, not mine. That fact can create resistance again. Not only
because I didn’t think of it, but because of the implication that you were
smart enough, creative enough, even brave enough, to think of it. For
many competitive people there’s also the feeling that if I accept your
idea, you’re ahead of me and I’m in a weakened position.
Need the Familiar
New ideas are usually presented just that way—as new. Different.
Unlike what’s gone before. Bad news! This doesn’t give the listener/
learner any grounding or context or reason to believe he/she can tune in.
We all need to feel some ownership of turf before we venture forth to the
unknown. “Turf” in this case means knowing that past information and
experience, one’s background, is valuable and useful in a new situation.
New data creates major resistance since one doesn’t know how to listen
to it, to relate to or even imagine it.
The safest way to discuss new information is to begin with what is
known. To start with the familiar and then to add the new as variations
or take-offs from the old. To establish and remind one of what is, then
show how it leads to what could be.
Words mean instant understanding if they are used well and if they
are within the listener’s vocabulary. Since words are exact, stating facts
and concepts precisely—once we know a language, we expect its words
to be accurate and clear to us, making an immediate image which is
shared by everyone. We depend on processing words easily, knowing
that they are the vehicle that will move us along in our comprehension.
We don’t expect to get stuck. We are challenged and concerned when we
do. Therefore, how we use language has a great effect on how people can
take in and understand us.
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Effects of Not Understanding Words
• We stop listening.
The instant halt to comprehension when we hear a word we don’t
understand causes us to lose our concentration and the momentum built
up by the speaker. We ruminate, scanning our storehouse of language,
looking for possible connotations: “Sounds like . . . ” “In that context, it
probably means . . . ”
But while we do that, we have to stop listening and processing your
data. Then, when we tune back in again, we’re out of sync and need to
catch up. Meanwhile, of course, we’ve missed something, perhaps the
essence of what the teller is telling. But that’s only the beginning of the
• We discover our ignorance.
The second and deeper, consequence of using a word not in the
audience’s (one or many) vocabulary is the discovery of what we don’t
know and what you do know.
“And if you know and I don’t, maybe I won’t be able to understand
your message. Maybe there’s too much more I don’t know, that you do
know, to allow me to get the rest of your message.”
Widening the gap between the teller and the receiver is a major
pitfall whenever you use words to inform or persuade.
• We learn how you feel about us.
Even further down in the subconscious is the idea that if you
understand and know these words and I don’t, and if you persist in using
them, then you don’t know much about me—your audience. You don’t
automatically know (if we know each other) or didn’t bother to find out
(if you’re talking to strangers) what I understand of your subject; that I
don’t know the shorthand and acronyms you’re using. And if you’re not
sensitive about that, you don’t much care whether I get your message or
not. If you did, you’d make a greater effort to make yourself instantly
clear. You’d choose words that would be readily grasped. You would do
nothing to get in the way of my continued attention and comprehension.
// you cared about my getting your message. Not only my finding out
how smart you are . . .
• The bottom line: There are many built-in obstacles to people
automatically accepting and absorbing information. This is true in
general, but especially in the specific kind of information you’d like to
impart in the work world. You often deal with new ideas, with changing
how things are done, with trying to persuade others about your point of
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The Basics of Communicating 47
view. Knowing how people react to learning is vital to planning your
communications strategy.
And further: recognizing and accepting the ways in which our media
have affected us and conditioned our systems of communication helps us
to critique and hone our communication techniques.
Finally, absorbing and understanding the basic principles of how we
communicate and why we listen—what works, what doesn’t, and why—
starts you on the road to a realistic appraisal of what you want to tell and
how you plan to tell it.
The next three chapters will tell you how to prepare for and design
what you want to say: How to analyze and develop strategies; how to plan
and schedule business encounters; how and when to use visual reinforcement;
and what other techniques to consider in order to impart your
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Fore-thought for Strategies
Whether you’re going to have a one-on-one meeting with boss,
client, or staff member, give a presentation, or run a meeting, you
obviously take the time to plan it.
For most of us, the planning usually starts with a case of nerves:
What to say? How to begin? What’s the best way to do this? This is
usually followed by a series of notes scribbled, crumpled, and flung into
the wastebasket or crossed out and rewritten. All the while we’re hoping
for an inspiration or the definitive word from above.
I propose a much more direct and organized route—a predictable
series of steps to give you a solid base from which to plan any
communications strategy. It’s a systematic analysis using three basic
questions that always need to be answered in order to set you on the
right path for successful communication.
To demonstrate my system, let’s start by looking at a typical business
encounter. Let’s look at how these usually go and what’s basically wrong
with the improvised, “seat-of-the-pants” method of communicating, the
one most of us usually engage in.
What Goes Wrong and Why
An executive’s office. Staff member is being called on the carpet.
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Getting Ready to Communicate 49
THE EXEC—a competent, ambitious, hard-working boss who wants his
staff and their product to work like clockwork.
MIKE—a staff member who has been getting his reports in late.
EXEC: “Look, Mike, I’ve told you twice now that your reports are late.
I won’t have it happen again!”
MIKE: “But it’s not my fault. It’s . . . ”
EXEC: “Look. No more excuses. Just shape up. Can you do the job or
can’t you? I want those reports on time. That’s all!”
MIKE: “Okay. Sorry. You’ll have them.”
A common encounter. But—read it again. Do you think the Exec has
solved the problem? Does he/she know any more now than before? Did
he/she help to solve the problem? And do you think Mike, who’s still
solely responsible for getting the reports done on time, will, or can, truly
change what’s been happening—permanently?
In order to discover how to effect these outcomes by designing some
different methods of communicating, we need to look a little deeper at
what’s going on:
Exec: Needs something and isn’t getting it. Typically, he/she has
gone about getting it in the shortest route possible—complaining,
demanding (or telling), and expecting compliance.
Mike: Hears displeasure or criticism. Typically, he defends himself
or avoids confrontation by agreeing, though he still hasn’t figured out a
better way to get his reports in on time.
What’s predictable here?
• The Exec will be angry.
• Mike will never say “No.”
• Mike’s anxiety level will be raised.
• Mike’s reports will probably be late again.
In the scenario just described, the Exec must depend on what Mike
says he’ll do, not on the Exec himself, not on what he/she can find out
and add to solve or change things. This is not a strong position, but one
probably headed for more heat and frustration without resolution.
Let’s peel back another layer or two. What else may be going on
underneath the action? What issues are not being addressed?
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Factual issues:
• Late reports make his/her job more difficult.
• His/her superiors can call the Exec on the carpet.
• Late reports set a bad example for the rest of the staff.
• He wants to keep his job.
• He knows he’s supposed to deliver the report.
•To go forward he, like his colleagues, needs the boss’s approval.
• He can’t seem to get the reports in on time.
Emotional issues:
• His authority is being challenged. He delegated those reports
and told Mike when to deliver them, and it didn’t happen. That’s
threatening and infuriating.
• There is concern about having to prove his/her authority
• There is also the hidden fear that he/she may not get total
compliance. What then?
• He feels bad (ashamed, ineffective, guilty) about his reports
being late.
• He worries about the threat of punishment, even job loss.
• He worries about the loss of affection and esteem.
• Since he’s failed so far, he fears he may not be able to comply.
Now what can we do with these deeper levels of information?
First: We can see how much of the behavior in that scene, as played,
is predictable, and why.
Second: We can use this foreknowledge to plan a much more active
and effective problem-solving strategy.
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Getting Ready to Communicate 51
Effective communication begins by deliberately analyzing a situation
before the encounter. Then planning.
Let’s see how it works.
What Makes a Difference
The Exec, if he/she thought about it, would know that a straight
frontal attack will surely produce predictable results: Mike would either
be defensive and give excuses, or agree to anything just to make it end.
Therefore, to be truly effective, the Exec should start the meeting out on
a totally different tack—information gathering.
By turning away from the predictable fury-and-threat reflex, he/she
could start the meeting with a defused, benign (though very active) tone.
The meeting then becomes a quest for clues and problem solving; a
diagnosis rather than an eye-to-eye confrontation.
The new tack could go something like this:
EXEC: “Mike, I know you’ve been having problems getting your reports
in on time. I’m sure you don’t like that any more than I do. Let’s sit
down and figure out what’s going wrong and how to fix it. ”
Now look at what he/she just did. No threat. No anger. (Two modes
guaranteed to turn off Mike’s thinking part.) The Exec shows recognition
of a problem and recognition that Mike is probably upset by it and
seemingly powerless to fix it alone. The Exec shows his/her ability and
willingness to help solve it and to help Mike, not just simply to chastise
Mike’s response? Disarmed and relieved, he’s suddenly able to be
very open in confronting the late-report problem. The Exec has established
a surprisingly different atmosphere than the one Mike expected
after being called on the carpet—one that encourages honesty on both
Creating a safe environment in which to consider the issue and only
the issue, of why the reports are late, the Exec is on the way to fixing
that. And Mike’s basic character, general abilities, or good intentions are
still intact, rather than threatened or called into question as in the first
• Result: Teamwork and constructive solutions. Mike can get some
real help and new information about how to deliver reports on time, and
the Exec’s reports have a realistic chance to come in on time.
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Case closed.
That’s it? That simple?
Well—not quite.
Where We Get Stuck
The problem we have is with that old self-spirit: That powerful
internal motivator sets up a stand-off between “Me first!” and “Who else
gets included?”
Our self-spirit’s hunger is so great that we can’t wait: it’s too scary to
most of us to first pass the plate and say, “After you!” before we get ours.
We have no faith that our turn will ever come.
So—we move too fast. Too often, we push to the front of the line,
blurt out our needs without thinking, and lose the chance to engage an
ally; to piggy-back on the energy of another’s self-spirit and use that drive
as well as our own to make things come out well for both of us. In any
successful encounter it can’t be “I get mine; you lose,” but rather, “I get
(some of) mine; you get (some of) yours.”
This chapter is dedicated to showing you how, in any one-one-one
encounter or larger presentation or group meeting, you can more
quickly achieve your goals with a little forethought about the opposite
number(s)’ needs and concerns. Only then can you formulate a strategy
designed for solutions and success, solidly based on motivation—yours
and theirs.
You’ve just seen that spur-of-the-moment improvisation based on
nothing but sheer gut-level reaction doesn’t work effectively as a system
for successful encounters and outcomes.
Once you’re in an encounter, you need to be flexible, to seize the
moment and go one way or another way. But you need to start with
insight and build a strategy from that insight. You need Fore-Thought:
To analyze a situation before you say or do anything. And to analyze it
from more than a simply factual, practical point of view. Much
more goes into what we do and how we hear and learn than surface
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Getting Ready to Communicate 53
Having discovered the huge motivational force that self-interest
propagates, we need to learn about the self-interest of your audience.
Who Is Your Audience?
Your audience is (are) the recipient(s) of your message. It could be
your opposite number(s) at a meeting you, he (or they) call. It could be
the group assembled for a speech. It could be friend or foe, client or
Audiences all have one thing in common. He/she/they are on the
other end of whatever you’re sending. Your message and its possible
effects are for them.
What Makes a Difference
What motivates your audience before your encounter begins? How
will what you say or do either tap into their motivation or somehow
change or affect them?
This is what you need to know to plan strategy, and this information
and understanding can be gained only through Fore-Thought. Developed
in specific steps, Fore-Thought gives you the insight to see what
your audience’s basic self-interest and motivations are; where yours and
theirs clash or connect; what are the potential stumbling blocks to
achieving your goals.
Fore-Thought means going beyond the more obvious outward goals
and delving into the inner realm as well; learning about deeper
motivations, analyzing needs and feelings on both sides.
What You Know, What You Need
A Familiar Audience
• What’s easy to know
What comes to you at once are the specific characteristics of your
familiar audience of one or several. You could quickly describe their
special foibles:
“Joe? Yeah, he’s great but don’t cross him. He’s got a short
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“Listen, you know how long Susan always takes to get back to you.
Makes me nuts.”
“Sheila takes her coffee black. Ned, you like tea, don’t you? And
Bruce, you’re still on that decaf trip, right?”
Surface behavior insights born of frequent exposure to others are
enormously useful. But they’re not all you need to know. You also need
some deeper insights. They can give you what you’ll need in order to
plan an effective and lasting communications strategy—one that motivates
audiences to listen and act.
• What’s hard to know
If it’s someone—or a group—you know and work with often, it’s
often harder to be able to answer deeper, consequential questions.
Familiarity breeds complacency, not continued curiosity or the
attention given to strangers. So, it’s difficult to force yourself to sit down
and look at this person or persons with a clear, analytical eye and answer
hard, objective questions.
Example: Suppose you called a conference with two other colleagues
about an issue at work. The content could be critical of one of them and
could create new problems for the other. To help you prepare and
predict what else you’d have to solve, could you answer: What are their
goals, not only for this meeting but in relation to their work and their
lives in general? What are their fears, their outlooks, their triumphs and
disappointments on the job?
Could you predict their feelings, like: How do they feel about the
upcoming encounter? What do they need from you? What do they expect
will happen?
These deeper, more thoughtful questions require distancing and
objectivity; a special effort. Hard to do when you’re thinking: “After all,
I know these guys already . . . ”
• The dangers of a familiar audience
When you address an audience of people you know, not only do you
have difficulty knowing the deeper answers; you are also more likely to
fall into sloppy communication habits.
Sometimes you don’t try too hard because you know them and
they know you. The old “We all know why we’re here, let’s get on with
it” syndrome. You don’t feel you have to “sell” your buddies. This
makes it less likely that you’ll plan deliberately, with adequate
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Getting Ready to Communicate 55
Result? If it’s a presentation, you may not notice that others are
bored, unconvinced, or restless with the length, the preachiness, the
predictability, or the sheer “talkiness” of your message. Just as with your
family, you feel you can get away with a lot. After all, you’re a member!
And as they say, “Membership has its privileges” . . .
If it’s a one-on-one meeting or even an informal phoned request,
familiarity can cause you to cut out all the usual niceties (the ones that
really count in communicating) and to get right down to the task at
So you may find that Fore-Thought and planning are often not your
priority with a familiar audience. Too bad. You may be losing them more
often than you think . . .
An Unfamiliar Audience
Here the opposite obtains: They’re strangers; no automatic love and
welcome. You have to be on your best behavior and try very hard. You
know right away why you need to question who your audience is and
what they like and need.
• What’s easy to know
The unfamiliarity of your audience makes it easier for you to answer
the deeper questions about them. Because you start already removed
from them, be it one or many listeners, it’s easier for you to be able to
see the whole picture, to generalize objectively about some basic truths.
You can more readily imagine what they probably care most about, what
their goals and needs are, how they would probably take your message
as you deliver it or as they sit across a table from you.
• What’s hard to know
What you don’t know, and often can’t know, are their individual
traits and unique characteristics. But you don’t need to know those yet
in order to plan.
What You Need to Know
• Larger audiences
For purposes of planning a presentation to a group, you’re looking for
the largest possible common denominators in order to include them all.
Therefore, knowing the general facts about them as a group is exactly
what’s called for.
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• Smaller audiences
One or several people need more personal, individual information as
well as the basic overview. Your perceptual instincts (which we’ll work to
enlarge through these pages) can quickly fill in what personal characteristics
your opposite number(s) seems to display once your meeting gets
going, if you look and listen hard. Then you can adapt and correct your
previous plans, if you need to.
But in either case, you need first to find out about the self-interest or
motivations of that audience in order to plan your communications
strategy effectively.
We established earlier, with Mike and the Exec, that Fore-Thought
is able to save you time and unproductive effort. We also discovered how
predictable many needs and responses can be. Since your audience’s
motivations are the key to persuasion, how do you figure out what kinds
of questions to ask yourself in order to prepare? How should you organize
the answers into a usable strategy?
To codify how to do this efficiently every time, here are some basic
principles and techniques—a system.
The Basic Idea
The best system for Fore-Thought is to make a chart describing the
motivations already in place and being brought to the encounter.
It’s not only your audience you need to know more about as you sit
down to plan your message or meeting; it’s your own motivational
profile, too. There’s some deliberate self-discovery you need to go
through to be sure all your bases are covered and that your goals will be
The chart’s focus:
• What does the other person (or persons) want, need, and
expect—both specifically and generally? What’s important to
• What do you want, need, and expect? What’s important to you?
• Where is the energy and the motivation for action for you as well
as for them?
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Getting Ready to Communicate 57
• What sources on both sides can you tap into to fulfill your
intention for this encounter?
• How do they complement, interact, or collide?
No matter what communications challenge you face, the following
chart will give you a basic framework within which to collect your
thoughts in a disciplined, orderly fashion. It will organize the insights
you need to design how and what you should communicate.
And the chart works whether you are the originator of an encounter
or the responder to an invitation or summons.
Why a Chart?
Making a chart forces you to sit still and purposefully think about
motivation issues; it graphically shows you and makes you consider both
Writing helps to clarify:
• It takes your thoughts to a much more clear-headed level, away
from the instinctive, emotional one of operating by reflex alone.
• It forces you to reduce ideas and feelings to simple, succinct
statements of fact.
• It makes ideas concrete. They stand still so you can reread and
ponder what you’re actually thinking.
The Process
Let’s go back and use our example of Mike and his Exec. How should
the Exec go about figuring out the predictables? How could he/she know
how to make the exchange different and more effective than the initial
unproductive encounter I described? By “coaching” the Exec through
the steps of creating a Fore-Thought Chart and then showing the changes
he/she would therefore make in a communication strategy, I can
demonstrate, concretely, the uses and values of the Fore-Thought
The Format
Three categories—”Objective Goals, Emotional Needs, and Probable
Expectations—will cover the basic kinds of insights you’ll need to
prepare effective communications strategies. It will look like this:
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YOU (Exec)
THEY (Mike)
I’ll fill in a chart, using Mike and the Exec, to demonstrate and
Do It Yourself
To make this information most pertinent to you and most quickly
absorbed into your routine, make your own chart as you read along,
using an example from your own work life. Focus on a recent event,
perhaps one that didn’t go as well as you thought it should. See if you can
gather some new insights about it as you design your own chart based on
that encounter. You can also plan for an upcoming encounter and shed
some new light, as we go through the steps of making a chart.
Normally, to get at the truth about what you really think and feel
without yet being influenced by what you’ll discover on the other side,
you should complete the chart vertically on your side first—Goals,
Needs, and Expectations. Then, when you fill in your opposite number
or opposite group’s side, you can see the contrasts and differing
motivations most keenly.
However, for purposes of explaining and showing you how to
develop alternative strategies as we go along, we’ll take each category
and, completing both sides horizontally, discuss it before we move on to
the next.
Objective Goals
Step one is to determine the bottom-line goals of the encounter.
Let’s begin with the easier part—listing yours (the Exec’s). Try filling this
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Getting Ready to Communicate 59
part out for your encounter and then check below to see what the usual
problems are in this section of the chart.
I’ll use the problem of Mike’s late reports. The Exec has just called
a meeting. What results does he/she want?
YOU (Exec)
1. Get the reports on time.
2. Be sure Mike gets the message.
3. Don’t want to deal with it again.
THEY (Mike)
Reading this half of the chart can make you readily understand why
the original scenario at the beginning of the chapter went as it did. Read
the Exec’s goals above, and then go back and read that opening scene
again on page 49. See? It’s all about “/ want” and ‘7 need.” None of it
even acknowledges that there is another half to the chart, a Mike with his
goals. This is the most common mistake we make.
Now here’s the basic problem: As you just filled out your own chart
with your own goals, can you see how one-sided your goals are? And
looking at the blank space on the other half of the chart, can you now see,
visually, that there is another side?
Let’s spend a minute stating Mike’s objective goals, the things he
wants to accomplish in this meeting.
“Great!” you say. “How about a lesson in clairvoyance?”
Not necessary. You don’t even need lessons. You already know how
to do it! It’s based on two single concepts:
Empathy and Observation. Major gifts of human nature.
To get the basic picture, the general idea of what any “Mike” would
want, empathize and identify with him or her. Just imagine yourself in
any “Mike’s’ shoes. What would you want to happen in a meeting called
by the boss, knowing that your reports are late?
Then, to get the specific goals of not just any Mike but your Mike,
use your perception, your observation skills. What do you know about
Mike, specifically, from having worked with him? What makes him tick?
How needy is he? How good at his job? Ambitious? Openly expressive or
more withdrawn? Think about the opposite number or group in your
own sample chart. Can you picture what his/her/their goals would be and
list them?
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Let’s create Mike’s side of the chart. What are his objective goals,
the things he would want to accomplish in this meeting? What would any
“Mike” want in this situation, based on our knowledge of human nature?
Fill in your own opposite number’s side of your chart now. Then let’s
look at Mike’s.
YOU (Exec) THEY (Mike)
1. Keep my job. Get promoted.
2. Avoid the boss’s wrath.
3. Try to get reports in on time.
Now what could our Exec learn from filling in Mike’s side of the
chart? And studying it as he makes his plans?
The first thing you (the Exec) would see is that wrath, recrimination,
and desk-pounding would feed right into Mike’s biggest anxieties. You’d
realize that such an approach could shut down his thinking system and
turn up the volume on his survival/defense mode. No ability to make
changes then. No chance for honesty or problem solving. Just Mike
protecting himself at all costs.
What else? You’d have the time to realize that Mike, along with
being scared, would like to get the reports in on time and feels
embarrassed about it before his peers. Everyone would rather do a job
well than mess it up. Everyone would rather have praise than disapproval.
This reflection on human nature could lead our Exec to plug into
the energy of Mike’s goals, his powerful motivating self-interest, to help
them both solve the problem.
Look back at the goals on the Exec’s side of the chart. The Exec
wants to “make sure Mike gets the message” and that it “doesn’t happen
again.” How? One way certainly is to open a dialogue: To talk, not just
to tell. The fact that the problem recurs tells you that Mike, on his own,
hasn’t been able to confront or solve it. He needs your (the Exec’s) help.
Now let’s put both sides of the chart together to compare both sets
of goals as Mike and the Exec go into the meeting and see what they tell
us. Then compare your own.
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Getting Ready to Communicate 61
YOU (Exec)
1. Get the reports on time.
2. Be sure Mike gets the message.
3. Don t want to deal with it again.
THEY (Mike)
1. Keep my job. Get promoted.
2. Avoid the boss’s wrath.
3. Try to get reports in on time.
Compare them horizontally, point by point. They hardly intersect at
all! Not till you get down to number 3 on Mike’s goals do you find any
mention of the report. And the Exec’s major goals have nothing to do
with fear or feelings—or Mike, for that matter.
It’s important to know that some of our goals can have nothing to do
with the other person’s, especially in a one-on-one situation. They can
even be in opposition. Knowing another’s goals is therefore vital. It
makes us see many more dimensions to an issue. It tells us about the
potential stumbling blocks and shows the path to effective communication.
So step one in designing a successful communications strategy is to
define not only your goals but also your opposite number’s—the one you
wish to influence.
• It makes you get clear about the results you want and can
reasonably expect to achieve.
• It forces you to focus on the other person’s self-interest and
goals, making it possible to predict their behavior.
• It helps you see how to tap into the energy of their self-interest
and accomplish yours or at least part of yours as well.
All of these insights can determine what you select as the communications
style and content you’ll use; what will be most likely to
influence others’ behavior and bring about a constructive outcome.
Emotional Needs
Step two is to define inner needs—feelings. This part of the chart is
much harder to do.
We’re such a product-oriented society, bent on outward manifestations
of success and external reassurance, that we don’t often consciously
visit inside to find out how we really feel about things and what our
hungers are.
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Getting in touch with and admitting what else we want, what our
hidden fears and desires are, our hidden goals and feelings, requires
great honesty. To surface and write them down, you need to give
yourself permission to have those feelings of doubt, anger, greed,
jealousy, ineptitude, or whatever.
Yet, unless you reflect and examine how you really feel and what’s
at stake for you emotionally, you will be ignoring a powerful set of
propellants, with an energy and will of their own, ready to rear up and
take over at any time. These hidden emotional needs are real and must
be acknowledged and included in your communications strategy, since
they will keep looking for a way to be satisfied—even at the expense of
your logical, well-thought-out plans.
Let’s get into our Exec’s Emotional Needs first, with three scenarios,
based on our three personalities from Chapter 1—the Achiever, the
Affiliator, and the Influencer. These needs can differ sharply, unlike the
more practical and objective goals in the first category which would be
universal in nature, based on their work type.
First, the hard-driving, perfectionist Achiever Exec:
1. Mike should meet the standards
I’ve set for myself.
2. Must know reasons why not. This
affects my performance.
3. I’m frustrated by being stuck.
Should have done it myself.
Because Achievers are task-oriented and accomplishment-driven,
this Exec would have a hard time looking at Mike’s emotional needs or
even understanding why Mike didn’t get the report done. He/she, in
order to improve communications skills, needs to understand that
his/her task-driven viewpoint and highly focused motivation leave out a
great number of other people who are needy in different ways. Seeing
Mike’s half of the chart would be very helpful in formulating a more
effective approach than one based on simply getting tasks done. We’ll
look at Mike’s Emotional Needs in a minute to see how they would
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Getting Ready to Communicate 63
intersect and might actually clash with the Achiever’s typically spartan
Now for the Affiliator Exec, who’s much more people-oriented and
1. Don’t want to hurt Mike’s feelings.
2. If I yell at him he’ll become hostile
and his and my relationship will
3. Maybe I’ll do the report with him.
Here the Fore-Thought Chart serves another purpose. It can put
people in touch with those of their own feelings that can sometimes work
against the original goals.
Affiliators are very sensitive to feelings, so much so that tasks and
strong administration are sometimes compromised. This Affiliator, in an
effort not to make Mike mad or hurt his feelings, may not insist very
effectively that the job get done. With the basic tendency to help out by
joining in and doing, Affiliators can keep people from growing and taking
responsibility seriously. Take a hard look at the Goals section and then at
the way this Affiliator Exec’s Needs may compromise those Goals. An
Affiliator Exec can satisfy both his emotional Needs and objective Goals,
possibly this way:
AFFILIATOR EXEC: “You know, Mike, I surely don’t want to carry on
and make a big scene [taking care of the Affiliator s concern about
hurting feelings]. And I do want to treat you like the responsible,
capable person I know you are. Let’s find out what’s wrong right now
and solve it so you can get the report done by Monday. That s the final
deadline. Fair?”
Now for the Influencer Exec, who manages with high personal
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1. Need my power to be acknowledged
and affirmed.
2. I hate to lose in a confrontation.
3. If I don’t prevail, how will that
affect my authority with others?
How can the Influencer Exec include his Needs in building his
strategy? Number 1 on the list says the Exec needs to be reassured that
he has his power acknowledged and affirmed. What better way than to
continue to assert his power not by simply flaunting it but by truly
demonstrating it:
INFLUENCER EXEC: “Mike, you know I used to have to do those reports,
so I know what it takes. And since I oversee all the processes in this
department, lets see where stuff is breaking down so we can troubleshoot
our way out of this.”
First of all, the Exec says he knows all about it—the difficulties and
the process itself. By asking for information so he can solve the problem,
he shows how much leadership and knowledge (power) he really has. The
knowledge to understand what needs fixing; the power to make it
happen. This cuts the bombast, the threatening postures, and truly states
who’s in charge.
This approach also solves need number 2, yet avoids the win-lose
confrontation. By changing the encounter to a problem-solving quest,
the possible heat and dueling is off. Now this may be at odds with how
much some people need to pound tables or vent spleen. I understand
that, but we’re designing winning communication strategies, and the
temporary silence table-pounding imposes doesn’t result in a lasting
Number 3—the need to prevail yet concern about what will happen
if he doesn’t prevail—is also solved since the Exec will help direct the
report his way and get it . . . his way! Yet notice that he’s also saving
Mike’s pride and encouraging his participation at the same time that he’s
taking care of his power image in the eyes of others.
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Getting Ready to Communicate 65
Now let’s get to what the other person needs—his inner feelings and
hungers. Let’s look at our example—Mike—again. But before we do, to
get a more spontaneous response, fill out your half of the NEEDS chart
and your opposite number’s. Don’t read Mike’s till you do.
YOU (Exec) THEY (Mike)
1. Need to know I can do it.
2. Need reasurance that the Exec
hasn’t lost faith in me.
3. Need to still feel a valued part of
4. Need to be sure peers don’t find
You can see how readily that new approach shown earlier—the
constructive problem-solving approach—would fulfill Mike’s needs.
Creating this side of the chart, the Achiever Exec can tune into
Mike’s emotional undercurrents. Comparing both sets of Goals and
becoming more aware of his/her Emotional Needs as well as Mike’s, that
Exec can now see the challenge: His/her instinctive approach, in this
case based on the task-oriented no-nonsense Achiever personality, needs
to add some sensitivity to Mike’s very different Needs in order to be
successful in accomplishing his/her Goals. He/she could try to add the
following to a typical Achiever directive:
ACHIEVER EXEC: “Listen, Mike. Let me tell you why I need those
reports on time. Actually the whole team does. Your reports are an
integral part of how we get the work out of our department. When
they’re late . . . ”
By telling Mike why he needs the reports on time, what effect their
lateness has, how important Mike’s contribution is to the whole team
effort, he not only bolsters Mike’s self-esteem and team membership
but—more importantly—since he’s working from knowing Mike’s needs
as well as his own, he can provide a major motivation for Mike to shape
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up. Helping Mike understand the responsibility for others and his effect
on the team can make Mike pull his lateness out of the context of a
merely personal foible.
Explaining your needs and the reasons why someone should do
something, rather than a simple “Do it,” always engages the other
person as a partner.
Further, true for any Exec, focusing on how Mike probably feels
makes him/her think about not eroding Mike’s self-confidence and about
what reassurances Mike needs from him.
ANY EXEC: “Look, you’re hitting a snag. I know you can fix it, and if you
see yourself getting behind, come tell me before the reports start being
late again so we can solve it. That’s what I’m here for. By the way, this
is a private matter between us . . .”
Bingo! This Exec did three things at once:
• Reassured Mike that he can do it and the boss still believes in
• Made a fail-safe device for Mike and himself (“hitting a snag,”
“come tell me”) so that he doesn’t get caught with late reports
• Made a safe environment for Mike (“so we can solve it,” “private
matter”) to be sure that Mike will come to see him.
A special word about Number 4—the need for face-saving, especially
in any group work situation. This is actually a built-in fixture on any list
of anybody’s needs on both sides of the chart and must be factored into
every communications endeavor. It’s always there, for all of us. Insensitivity
to anyone’s pride and instinctive self-protection can sink any
Now, let’s look at the total chart so far, using the Influencer Exec.
The Goals would be the same for all three executive types, but let’s use
the Power-Wielder/Influencer Exec’s NEEDS chart:
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Getting Ready to Communicate 67
YOU (Exec)
1. Get the reports on time.
2. Be sure Mike gets the message.
3. Don’t want to deal with it again.
1. Need my power to be unchallenged
or fear I’ll lose it.
2. I hate to lose in a confrontation.
3. If I don’t prevail, how will that
affect my authority with others?
THEY (Mike)
1. Keep my job. Get promoted.
2. Avoid the boss’s wrath.
3. Try to get the reports in on time.
1. Need to know I can do it.
2. Reassurance that the Exec still has
faith in me.
3. Need to still feel a valued part of
4. Be sure peers don’t know.
Notice first how much more emotional and personal the NEEDS
category is than the more cerebral, impersonal GOALS. And how much
less NEEDS has to do with getting ahead than with getting “fed” and
feeling better. GOALS is outwardly directed; NEEDS is directed
I’m sure you also sense how powerful the NEEDS are, and how
nagging and insistent, how pervasive would be the feelings they arouse.
The combination of both categories obviously provides the major motivations
for each party to do anything in this encounter. It also provides
the motives for blocking and resisting anything that wouldn’t fulfill those
outer goals and inner needs.
Now you can see the road signs to failure or success in planning your
communications strategy.
Understanding and taking care of your opposite number’s goals and
needs, and truly, consciously understanding and accepting your own
goals and needs, puts your planning on a solid plane of awareness and
informed choice. The amount of sensitivity and thought you put out to
probe your own goals and feelings and to imagine and understand Mike’s
is in direct proportion to how quickly you’ll get back what you want and
Do it yourself
Compare the two categories you’ve filled in on your chart so far.
Pretty enlightening, isn’t it, to see the directions each side could take
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you, and pretty challenging to find strategies that would include both?
Before we go on, let’s recognize that I’ve focused more on the
personal aspects of the communications problem—how you get someone
to “hear” you—and less on simply solving the task itself. Why? Because
my premise is that the best way to get the practical task done is to go
behind the obvious to start up the real engine that makes us work.
Now let’s turn to the third category on your chart—Expectations.
Probable Expectations
This category deals with the fact that we are all conditioned by past
experience to imagine what will or could or probably would happen at an
upcoming communications encounter.
Given previous knowledge of the players—their roles relative to
each other, what’s going on currently at work, and what reasons there
could be for the meeting—anyone could predict a probable scenario,
complete with content, style, emotional level, even outcome. It’s not
only what we’ve lived that teacheS us how to do this; it’s all the books,
plays, movies, and TV we’ve experienced that show us how people
usually are and what they usually do in any given set of circumstances.
So we all walk around with expectations—stereotypic images of
people’s interactions in a close or a large encounter that we can call on
when faced with an upcoming event. And we all use these to imagine the
event because just walking into the unknown creates anxiety. Trying to
predict it is preferable to just plain worrying over an impending
experience. But curiously enough, we don’t do it productively. Just
vague, random musings, flashes of images, a general sense of the
meeting. Not specific. Not analytical. We don’t get added value from this
kind of predicting and imagining.
That’s too bad. Deliberately discovering what you expect will happen
helps uncover your mental set and how conditioned you already are
toward what you’ll do. It helps you scrutinize whether that’s the best
choice of action, or whether to detour and start on another tack. So much
of our communications are based on sheer habit, not designed from
current information and deliberation. Anticipating by finding out what
you’re assuming, and often being surprised at how pointless or selfdestructive
or negative it is, can be an enlightening and valuable
Even more valuable is trying to predict what your audience expects
will happen.
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Getting Ready to Communicate 69
Step three in creating your Fore-Thought Chart is consciously to
imagine what you expect will happen and what your opposite number
expects; to discover what’s predictable. Let’s see what our Exec might
expect to happen at the meeting, especially if he/she fills out his/her
whole half of the chart first, which, as I told you, is the best way to do
YOU (Exec)
1. I’ll be firm and irritated.
2. Mike will apologize and make
3. He’ll promise to fix it.
4. I’ll give him another chance.
THEY (Mike)
Number 1 on the Exec’s list tells us that he will probably move into
an emotional mode that we’ve now discovered won’t work. Seeing that in
the light of both sides of the chart when he fills it all in can make our Exec
reconsider and decide against it. Especially after the insights he’d gain
from the other two categories.
Numbers 2 and 3 tell us that, no matter what the Exec says, Mike’s
response is a foregone conclusion. This can alert the Exec to try
something quite different, if he really wants to shake Mike up a little and
make him think and change. The previous two categories—GOALS and
NEEDS—on Mike’s side of the ledger will tell the Exec that more
bombast, “firm and irritated,” isn’t going to do it.
Therefore he has a chance now to find his way to the approach I
recommended—naming the problem, without blame, and then asking
questions in order to uncover the underlying flaw, the reason why Mike’s
reports are always late. This can finally lead to the Exec’s helping in the
The “no-blame’ issue deserves an extra moment of thought. The
most destructive thing we do when something goes wrong is to spend
time blaming and being judgmental. The dynamics are so wasteful and
the outcome so predictable. Here’s why:
• It’s done. Berating for past mistakes cannot fix the past. It can
only polarize two people.
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• Everyone, just about, gets defensive when they have goofed. If
a goof takes place, harping on it can only make someone extradefensive
and therefore resentful and even counter-aggressive.
It never “teaches a lesson”! It only evokes anger.
• Emphasizing what went wrong and how wrong it was in a
judgmental way derails constructive outcomes such as fixing the
problem and ensuring that it doesn’t happen again.
Therefore my recommendation is: Follow a no-fault policy. The
guilty party is guilty and generally feels pretty bad about it. Be clear
about what went wrong, but let him/her off the defensive hot-seat by
analyzing the issue objectively and solving the mistakes impersonally.
This saves the apologizing and/or excuses time and eliminates the need
to counterattack.
Number 4 on the list, “I’ll give him another chance,” tells the Exec
that he really wants Mike to succeed. That he’s not ready to make this a
last-ditch stand. That his underlying motive is to give Mike another
If that’s true, then give him the best chance you can. Give Mike new
information and tools to climb out of the morass he seems to be stuck in!
Help him out! He obviously can’t fix it alone or he would have.
Imagining yourself as Mike, in such a situation, can make you stop
your plan simply to be “firm” and “irritated.” Becoming aware and
predicting, as you explore your expectations, that he’ll probably be
defensive or promise you anything just to be done with the meeting,
makes you start thinking of a more productive strategy with a more
lasting outcome.
An even more important reason to move to the other side of the chart
and find out-what Mike expects is the element of surprise.
The quickest way to get anyone’s attention is to do the unexpected—
whether it’s a pie in the face (not often recommended in the office) or
simply behaving very differently from what someone anticipated.
Knowing what Mike thinks will happen, what he expects you’re going
to do and say, gives you the opportunity to come in from another
direction entirely. This has the double benefit of not only making Mike
give total attention to the new set of circumstances, with no previously
conditioned response at the ready, but also making him come up with a
much more genuine and unguarded reaction to what you say and do. To
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Getting Ready to Communicate 71
really hear you. It puts new life and energy into the meeting, into both
the discussion process and the outcome.
Given the history and the issues, here’s what Mike could expect the
Exec would do at the meeting:
YOU (Exec) THEY (Mike)
1. He’ll probably be mad.
2. He’ll demand reports be on time.
3. He wont want any lame excuses.
4. He wants me to promise to get it
Seeing this array, it’s little wonder that Mike would walk in feeling
defensive and insulated from being able to hear and face the truth, and
thus from developing new behavior.
It’s funny. Whenever you assess another’s expectations, the other
person suddenly becomes much more human in your eyes. You can
really see them, sitting around picturing you and what you’re like and
what you’ll do.
You can also quickly sense vulnerabilities, anxieties, and aspects
you’d never think about if you were only thinking outcomes and
conquering opposition. Imagining that other person and his/her expectations
makes you deal with the specifics of that person so much more
individually and creatively.
Look at your own chart again. Did you find yourself falling into
stereotypical behavior patterns? Surprised to find out what you were
probably going to do? How has knowing this, added to the rest of your
chart, changed your strategy?
Now, let’s look at Mike’s side and see what would work:
First, I suggest you use that element of surprise I spoke of. It takes
some self-control but it’s worth it. Surprise him by not acting mad,
although you may be! That’s the first splash of cold (actually warm) water
you can give him to alert him to the fact that this isn’t “business as usual.”
Instead—start by telling him, in factual and benign terms, that you
see a problem:
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EXEC: (calmly, pleasantly, factually): “Mike, I think we’ve hit a snag.”
Then surprise him even further by stating what he (Mike) probably
thought would happen:
EXEC: “Now I suppose you think I’m just going to pound on the table
and say, ‘Dammit, get those reports in on time!’ But that’s not very
constructive, as I see it. Although it would make me feel much better
’cause what you’re doing is giving me a lot of grief and creating a
problem for the whole group.”
Let’s see what this does. You can quickly see that the Exec has
defused the situation without losing sight of what he wants to accomplish.
He has injected some information about his sensitivity to how Mike
probably feels and, very important, how he, the Exec, feels. A human
touch, sorely lacking in most such exchanges . . .
The most important thing he’s done, however, is to use that most
elusive, difficult element guaranteed to startle—the truth! Saying out
loud what both of you are thinking. Being authentic doesn’t happen often
enough in our daily lives.
The truth is guaranteed to startle whenever we hear it. And to make
us feel relieved. It puts us both on solid ground and actually draws us
closer. For the boss to tell Mike the truth of how he feels makes it safe
for Mike to tell the truth and admit to his feelings, too.
The only other ingredient missing in the Exec’s opening is a little
lightness of touch to get the ball rolling. That’s easily inserted. Watch:
EXEC: (smiling): “Now I suppose you think I’m just going to pound on
the table and say (pounding table in an exaggerated way), ‘Dammit, get
those reports in on time!’ But that’s not very constructive, as I see it.
(Pauses, laughing) Although it would make me feel much better, I’ll tell
ya, ’cause what you’re doing is giving me a lot of grief and creating a
problem for the whole group!” (Then get serious).
Adding some animation (see parentheses) and humor to any delivery
energizes both of you and gives some balance to the exchange.
It’s surprising how rarely we allow that extra dimension—lightness
and humor—into our business dealings. Work is serious to most
everyone. Very serious. But too many people lose their sense of humor
and proportion as they concentrate on accomplishing a goal.
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Getting Ready to Communicate 73
They particularly don’t recognize the power of humor. That lightening
the atmosphere can actually strengthen your hand. In any meeting or
event, being able to use humor shows you in such control, and so much
at ease, that you can afford to lighten up a sober or important situation,
and by doing so, lighten the atmosphere for everyone. What control!
Powerful! And so welcomed by everyone you’re dealing with.
Humor has the additional benefit of disarming everyone and cutting
tension. To break that toe-to-toe stance allows everyone to put the fists
or the defensive armor down for a minute and start afresh.
And isn’t that what the Exec wants to do? Doesn’t he want to
make Mike listen and think, without the need to put on a show for the
boss? To effect some real changes in Mike’s seemingly conditioned
The Exec can afford to lighten up, too, because it’s his/her meeting.
Since he’s running it, he can choose to lighten up whenever he/she needs
Let’s see if this approach, the planned surprise based on knowing
what Mike expects, would make all that happen.
How would Mike react?
• Surprised at the calm, open environment created by the boss,
Mike drops some of his defensiveness and thinks: “Hey, this may
not be as bad as I thought!”
• “You thought I’d pound on the table . . . ” says the boss. Mike
thinks: “That’s right! That’s just what I was afraid of. He really
does understand my side, too. I never knew that.”
• “But that’s not very constructive . . . ” says the boss. Mike gets
the word that this will be a constructive meeting, not a recriminatory
• Exec: “Make me feel much better . . . giving me a lot of grief
. . . creating a problem . . . ” Mike: “I never thought of it that
way before-—’grief,’ ‘a problem,’ for him!”
• Exec: “. . . creating a problem for the whole group.” Mike: What
does he mean, the whole group? How? It’s not about them—it’s
about me and my reports, isn’t it?”
See what’s happening? Remember the Exec’s original goals?
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1. To get the reports on time.
2. To fix it permanently.
3. For Mike to get the message.
Can you see that the Exec really is on his/her way? And it’s not just
cosmetics. Mike is in a position now to hear and learn. To be motivated
to change because he’s beginning to learn the full impact of his lateness
with the reports and where it, and he, really fit in the scheme of things.
What effect he has on others is an incontrovertible truth, unlike the
illusions Mike feeds himself whenever he’s late and gives himself solo
permission to do.
So, we’ve solved the boss’s assignment for Fore-Thought. To plan
and think through the situation before you set out, half-cocked, on a
course slated for defeat, not success.
What about your chart? What new plans did you develop based on it?
At this point there’s one more piece to add to this chart process.
A Chart for the Summoned
Can the summoned person use Fore-Thought as well as the summoner?
Is any of this process useful to Mike? Could he make a chart as
he prepares for this meeting with his boss? Would it help him be more
Mike, or anyone summoned to a meeting not of their own making,
urgently needs to anchor himself with some insights. By thinking through
his own Goals, Needs, and Expectations—his own motivation—he gets
clear on how he feels about the meeting and what he anticipates. He gets
ever truer clarity when he does the boss’s half of the equation as well.
It isn’t easy for a person in a lesser, more dependent position to
imagine the realities of the boss’s position. It may even look to you that
all your problems would be solved if only you were the boss—in charge,
on the giving rather than the receiving end.
Mike, therefore, will perhaps have some trouble imagining the boss’s
anxieties, his problems. It’s easier for the Exec to look back on his earlier
days when he wasn’t in charge in order to understand Mike, than for
Mike to imagine the boss’s position.
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Getting Ready to Communicate 75
All the more reason for Mike to try. It will make his response to the
boss so much more knowledgeable and effective, so much more responsive
to the issues at hand rather than only to his own needs. Mike can
then become oriented to my basic premise—give the other person what
they need, first, and you’ll get yours, too. Or at least some of yours.
Discovering, as he focuses on the boss’s Goals, that the boss has
other goals entirely; that they are practical and necessary (“How do I get
Mike to give me those reports on time?”) not just muscle-flexing, makes
Mike think again about his attitude and what’s a more appropriate
approach to the meeting.
As he charts the boss’s inner needs (“I need my people to do what I
ask them to do”), Mike begins to develop sympathy for the boss’s
position, not just for his own.
As for Expectations, he could recognize that the boss would expect
him to promise to do better. What else would the boss think Mike would
do? Say, “Forget it. I’m doing the best I can”? So, if the boss obviously
expects a promise but will probably not believe it, Mike had better do
something else to shore up his credibility.
Recognizing all this, Mike could well begin to rethink his whole
position about being late. Why is he? What can he do to change that?
How can he get some good, hard advice about another way to do the
reports? This thinking could open the way to Mike himself starting the
MIKE: “Before you begin, let me say that I know my reports have been
late. I just haven’t been able to short-cut enough stuff to get them in on
time. Maybe if I talk it through with you, we can find a solution.”
Bingo again! Mike gains points in three different areas:
• He surprises the boss! By not giving an excuse or a promise he
gets the boss’s attention and sets the boss off on another track.
• By taking the initiative, he shows the boss his good intentions
and true desire to fix the problem. And that he has courage.
• Putting himself in the active “mea culpa” role lessens the need
for the boss to make critical comments and shows another side of
himself: Mike as positive problem solver, eager and able to
To sum up: Fore-Thought is crucial to effective communications
strategies. Here’s a summary and checklist from which to work your
Fore-Thought Chart:
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1. Make a chart.
Deliberately writing succinct facts instead of just vaguely thinking
about something makes you become aware of all the forces in an
upcoming encounter, whether you’re the originator of the meeting or the
person summoned.
2. Take the time to discover and state your own goals.
If you dig, you’ll find out all you really want to have happen at the
meeting, and you can use that as an agenda to be sure it happens.
3. Analyze your audience’s goals.
What outcomes would that person or group logically want from the
meeting? See their position clearly. What does he/she or they want from
you? Know that they can’t give you the fulfillment of your goals unless
they get some of theirs, too.
4. Be honest about your emotional needs.
Without judging whether they are worthy and should be there or
not, acknowledge and allow yourself to have emotional needs. Have the
courage to find, recognize, and state them, in writing.
5. Uncover the other s emotional needs.
Through imagination and perception, become aware of what your
opposite number’s or audience’s feelings probably are in relation to the
upcoming meeting. Reverse roles to find out what you, or anyone, would
need in that situation.
Then, given those needs we would all share, go from the general to
the specific. If it’s someone you know, use your perception and
knowledge of this particular person or group to add to your insights about
what this person(s) would need emotionally in this situation.
6. Find out what you expect to have happen.
Derail that knee-jerk reaction. Make yourself recognize and rethink
your conditioned style and response to the upcoming situation. Analyze
whether that’s the best way, given what else you now know.
7. Imagine the other s expectations of the meeting.
What do they probably expect? Build on that stereotype of what is
expected, going for the element of surprise. Open new avenues to a
closer meeting of the minds by using another tack than the one most
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Getting Ready to Communicate 77
8. Disarm
Use that greatest element of surprise and persuasion—the truth! And
don’t do the expected: Try a new approach to get attention. And, most of
all, don’t forget the power of humor.
Fore-Thought for Larger Audiences
All the processes the Exec went through to understand and better
prepare for his one-on-one meeting with Mike work equally well when
planning to speak to small group meetings or larger audiences. Here
you’d look at the broad picture of what the most common sets of Goals,
Needs, and Expectations would be, given the topic and circumstances of
your presentation.
You’ll find more specifics about how to use the Fore-Thought Chart
to plan meetings and design speeches in the upcoming chapters specifically
devoted to those topics. Right now, let’s turn to the next series of
steps in developing successul communications at work: How to organize
and structure any business encounter.
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Have you ever thought about the following factors as you go about
the nuts and bolts of planning and scheduling your business encounters?
• How we all operate physiologically at work: Energy levels,
low/high times of day, the hunger factor, and what effect all these
have on how we communicate.
• How space and environment affect our creativity and responses.
• What is the best time and location to schedule based on the
content of your meeting.
• How communication affects getting your meeting when you want
Let’s examine some rarely thought of, but basic, truths about people
that affect communication in business encounters, and see how to
include these when you plan and schedule such encounters.
To think through what you mean to accomplish before you even
schedule your encounter, and to organize your preparation, you need to
take the following steps. This is true whether you are in power and
calling the meeting or asking for a meeting with the boss.
Choose and Edit Your Goals
What Do You Want to Accomplish?
First, find out what you want the meeting to produce. Make an
objective list. Write it all down, putting everything you’d like to have
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Structuring and Organizing Business Encounters 79
happen on paper in your first pass. There’ll be time to select and destroy
after you’ve thought about all these things you would like to accomplish.
Once you’ve written it all down, the editing and selecting should be
based on three factors: Practicality, Scope, and Timing.
Be realistic. This probably is not the last, or only, meeting you’re
going to have.
Edit your list based on what is actually doable in this upcoming
meeting, given the length of time to prepare and the boss’s, or employee’s,
predisposition toward or previous knowledge about your subject.
Decide whether your goals can be achieved in one meeting or need
to be accomplished in a series of meetings.
Consider who else needs to be involved in your plan. Are they
already on track? Do you need separate meetings with them before the
big one? Should they be included?
Think about whether this is the right time to present this idea or
make this request. Consider:
• What’s going on in your workplace right now? If your agenda
involves a request for money or other resources, is business good? Does
it need more sales or new ideas? Can it afford yours right now?
• Your boss’s situation: How receptive would he/she be to your
subject matter at this moment? Is he perhaps in the throes of some crisis,
personal or business? What does she particularly need and can your
material dovetail with that, or is it irrelevant right now?
• If your material is out of sync but needs to be handled, how can you
make it more timely? Can you find a connection for fitting it in with
existing projects and problems?
• If you’re the boss and your meeting involves an employee or staff
member, how can you time what you need to say for maximum
receptivity? Have you taken account of personal crises as well as the
problems at work? How will they affect the employee’s or staff member’s
capacity to learn, absorb, and act on what you want to make happen?
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• Upcoming holidays or vacations also make a difference. If it’s a
tough or long-term problem or issue, remember that people get into a
disengaged, euphoric mood as holidays or vacations approach. It might
be difficult to make them look hard at ongoing work issues until after they
come back.
Length of Meeting
Next, think about how long the meeting should be. With any
meeting, ask:
• What do you want it to cover?
• What forms of support do you need?
• Can visual materials be used to shorten presentation times?
• Will research or reports be presented?
• How long are they? How much time is needed?
• Is this complex or sticky? How long will the discussion phase
• What’s the usual time length for meetings in your shop?
If it’s a new subject or a long one with many ramifications, you might
want to see the initial meeting as one of a series.
You might start by planning a “pre-meeting,” just setting up or
introducing the topic with some background on why it’s a good idea.
Material could then be left behind to back up ideas or plans, thus
warming up and enlightening the receiver(s) at their own convenience.
This first in a series should not be a very long meeting.
Plan to give intro material time to germinate. Hold the next meeting
for presentations of the major thrust, the nitty-gritty of your agenda. This
meeting will, of course, be longer since you’ll plan a discussion period so
that everyone understands what it’s all about.
If it’s a shorter, one-shot meeting, think of the length in terms of:
• Whether or not the participants already have enough information.
• Whether presentation(s) can be made succinctly enough to get it
all in.
• Whether the multiple things you want the meeting to accomplish
are naturally related to each other or belong at separate meetings.
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Structuring and Organizing Business Encounters 81
After you’ve selected the basic agenda issues, get your meeting
scheduled. But wait. There is more thinking involved before you just
take that walk down the hall or pick up the phone.
Optimally, when you call a meeting with boss, peers, clients, or staff,
you’re looking for people to give their best: undivided attention,
high-energy focus, a receptive and open frame of mind. Many factors
govern our ability to give all this. They can all be affected by scheduling.
Although the reality of the workplace may not always allow you total
discretion about when and where you’ll schedule a meeting, I’ll now give
you the best-of-all-possible-worlds suggestions.
When to Meet
Time of Day
Choosing the best time of day and day of the week is the first step
toward successful business encounters. To customize one-on-one meetings
for optimal conditions, your choice should take into account the
unique work habits of your opposite number and the demands of his/her
work and personal life. For larger groups, some basic truths about all of
us and how we respond at different times of the work-day and days of the
work-week should be considered. Here are several key factors:
Everyone operates with a different metabolic clock. Some people are
“chirpers,” arising with the dawn, able to move mountains before ten
o’clock. Others are “night owls,” whose bio-rhythmic curve rises as the
days goes on. They really hit their stride late in the day and love to work
far into the night, while the “chirpers,” losing their speed by midafternoon,
are happy to put the brain to bed early.
Although we may not all be totally one or the other, the general
categories of “chirper” and “night owl” cover most all our bio-rhythmic
Therefore, for top attention and energy, become aware of your own
and your opposite number(s)’ energy patterns. Try to take these into
account as you schedule your meeting.
If it’s a large organization, try to find out enough about the other
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person(s) from secretary or colleagues to know what time of day to call
the meeting, based on usual work habits, etc. And know yourself well
enough to give yourself a break by selecting your best time, too. But if
these two times are at loggerheads, put your opposite(s)’ preference first.
Your adrenals will pump you up well enough to overcome your lack of
Maximum receptivity also has to do with feeding. In our taskoriented
work world, hunger sounds like something you should be able
to control. But when we near feeding time, two involuntary things
• Our blood sugar gets low. We feel a real drop in energy as well as
a heightened drive to get fed. It’s hard to concentrate on anything except
wanting food! We become cranky and see any obstacle to getting filled up
as a decided irritant, to be gotten rid of as soon as possible. Not a good
frame of mind in which to concentrate.
• Feeling hungry makes us feel depleted and deprived. We become
very needy and self-involved, looking for deposits, not withdrawals. This
hardly puts us in a frame of mind to give away anything—whether it’s
hard cash, acquiescence to a new idea, or even the benefit of the doubt.
Therefore, the hunger factor must always be considered. And not
only in relation to lunch.
• Mid-morning is often pick-me-up time, when you need another
energy charge to feel sated, especially if lunch in your neck of the woods
is usually at one o’clock.
• Late in the day also needs a charge to keep us going at work, from
a mid-afternoon snack if lunch was early to a four o’clock pick-up if the
work day doesn’t end till six or beyond.
If you’re absolutely stuck with the wrong meeting hour, bring a
nibble into the meeting or even just some coffee to take the edge off. No,
this isn’t overdoing it. Feeding people at a low ebb in their energy not
only perks them up; it has the added advantage of putting you psychologically
in the position of gift giver before you ask for something.
One last thought on this: Don’t plan meetings too soon after lunch.
Making your opposite number have to cut lunch short to get back to you
and your meeting is hardly the mental set you want to begin with. Get
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Structuring and Organizing Business Encounters 83
some hard information about when he/she usually returns, when he/she
will be going out to lunch on the day of your meeting, etc. Give an extra
half-hour to allow for lateness and the inevitable messages that are always
waiting to be handled as soon as he/she gets back from lunch.
“Rush Hours”
Traffic going and coming from work causes many people to make
elaborate arrangements, if they possibly can, to beat the crunch.
Find out when your other participant(s) likes to leave or arrive at
work and how successfully he/she/they carry that out. The last thing you
want is to face a fuming, irate survivor of the daily transportation
• Some people love to arrive at 7:00 A.M. to get a head start on their
work. They might be very receptive to a breakfast meeting or at least a
very early one. (More about the pros and cons of eating-meetings in the
next section.)
• People who take trains have very rigid schedules and begin to get
uptight as the witching hour approaches. Asking the boss for a late
afternoon meeting can be deadly unless you know that he/she is very
loose about which train he catches.
• Bosses should be aware that car-pooling has its own set of
disciplines and you may not be dealing with a totally self-determining
employee when you call a meeting at the end of the day or first thing in
the morning. This creates great tension for an underling who has to ask
to terminate a meeting called by a superior, or who comes late through
no fault of his own. Very late or very early meeting planners—beware!
The last aspect of the best meeting time to consider is: When can you
get undivided attention?
• If you’re going to someone else’s office for the meeting, ask or
observe and discover the other person’s work schedule.
• If the meeting is in your office, think about when you are least likely
to have to take calls or make decisions as well as when your opposite
number is least likely to get called away.
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• Knowing how things usually go in your shop (when meetings are
called, what time of day is big crunch or deadline time, etc.) is a start
toward determining the least distracting time of day.
Work Habits
When does the boss like to clear the desk, return calls, read reports,
or think, and when is he/she busiest or most pressured? This requires
some insider information. If your workforce is small and the boss highly
visible, you can probably answer for yourself. If not, ask his/her secretary
when you make your appointment. (More on how to do this later.)
Which Day
The Content
The determination about choosing which day should be made based
on subject matter and the follow-up you want.
• Monday finds people needing to get in gear, to remember what
they left undone from last week, and generally to push themselves up to
work speed after a weekend of winding down. On the other hand, it has
the advantage of still-clear heads, before the week’s demands overtake
the empty spaces. It also means that you have a whole week to work on
something and meet about about it, providing some continuity.
• Friday is indeed the day of surfeit, with people generally hanging
on till the weekend respite comes. It feels more like ending something
than a time to consider beginning something or suddenly having an
added factor to think about. Friday afternoons are the worst time to
challenge people to just think. It’s also difficult for them not to ruminate
about when the meeting will be over!
• A meeting about a big subject should happen Monday, later in the
morning, with a plan to touch base again during the week. (Don’t neglect
the coffee here.)
• One-shot meetings of benign information giving or getting can
happen on any day, but keep the basic time-of-day principals in mind.
• Bad news or criticism meetings should not happen on Fridays.
Friday has an air of finality to it. It gives the recipient a weekend of
ruminating and blowing things out of all proportion, coming to work
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Structuring and Organizing Business Encounters 85
Monday with a heavy heart rather than with renewed determination to
do better.
If you hold critical meetings during the week (just before lunch or
before going home at the end of the day), you give the person a break and
a chance to cool off before needing to go back to work and face you. You
also give him/her a chance to recoup within the work-week setting and to
get feelings back to normal before the weekend. Additionally, this choice
also gives him/her a chance to implement some of what you suggest, even
to discuss it again.
To wrap up: Timing (time of day and which day) and individual
bio-rhythms and work habits are often ignored, but they’re a vital tool.
They can affect you adversely if you are unaware of their effect or don’t
offset them. They can guarantee a longer attention span, a more willing
listener, a more alert participant, or leave you vaguely wondering why
the meeting didn’t go too well.
The next thing to consider in planning meetings is where. Although
this is not always at the planner’s discretion, let’s discover the best
environment for a meeting or encounter.
Where to Meet
Work spaces are meant to be practical and are analyzed first for their
functional aspects, but we also respond emotionally to our work environments.
Our Need for Personal Space
Think about yourself on a long plane ride. Did you ever notice how
quickly you stake out your territory at your seat to make it uniquely,
cozily, familiarly yours? Where and how you stow your gear for best
access; how you arrange your blanket and pillow and how that quickly
becomes a personal comfort zone; how you carve out a little work space
right there; and how suddenly it all loses its meaning when you arrive at
your destination and no longer need your own unique “space’?
We snuggle in and do that same personalizing with our bit of turf at
the beach, in a hotel room—whenever we find ourselves in an alien
environment. Our basic sense of nesting and shelter and our need to
make our dent in an impersonal world prompt us to make any space
we’re in for a while our own.
Therefore we become sensitive to the messages any environment
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gives us and we all respond to the space we’re in. So it’s important to look
at what messages and responses meeting environments generate.
“Turf” and Power
The most important thing to consider about spaces at work is the
relative amount of power that differing work environments connote.
Therefore, depending on what you wish to accomplish, the choice of
meeting location must be carefully considered from the power point of
view and for the messages it sends.
• Who’s calling the meeting and for what reason?
• How do you want your opposite number(s) to feel?
• Do you want him/her/them to be aware of how much power you
• Do you want to downplay the power so your opposite number(s)
feels more secure?
• Are you trying to neutralize the power issue in order to motivate
and build a team spirit?
• Do you perhaps wish to add a personal touch? To relax your
client, employee, or co-worker?
• What effect does eating-and-meeting have?
Let’s look at each of the most common meeting environments for the
statements they make and the effects they create. We’ll focus on the
players, the subject matter, and the desired outcome.
Your Office
The most important effect of “my office” is one of turf. Be aware of
the obvious ownership and power your office connotes. Look at it. It’s
filled with your things: your calendar, your urgent work spread before
you, your trophies and awards displayed, your pictures and mementos
on the wall—in short, your turf.
This fact creates the following response: It makes the other person
feel like a fish out of water—his or her water. Your office obviously sends
“someone else’s seat of power” messages to whoever enters it. It speaks
of someone else exercising sole discretion and judgment about how
things are done in that space. It’s clearly not the space where the visitor
does that, too.
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Structuring and Organizing Business Encounters 87
Your office is therefore:
• Challenging to a person who also feels power, or needs to.
• Threatening to a person who doesn’t feel power.
• Official and serious, even scary, to an employee—kind of like
going to the principal’s office when you were a kid.
• A plus if your employee wants the reassurance of your power,
which may then be used on his/her behalf.
The challenge in your office is to reassure meeting participants that
although you do have the power, you can be flexible and responsive, too.
Their Office
Going to someone else’s office implies respect.
• It gives him/her extra turf, especially if you’re the senior person.
• It puts that person at ease, because we all respond with comfort to
familiar surroundings. Our eyes subliminally send us the message that
“all is well, we’re in our own cave, nothing can get us here.”
• If you’re a peer, going to someone else’s office gives him/her a leg
up, but in certain circumstances you might want to do just that: to flatter
and thus disarm him/her in order to get a more receptive audience.
• If you’re the boss, going to a staff member’s office has the element
of the unusual and the noteworthy. Employees don’t usually get a visit
from the boss.
• If you want to do some motivating and team building, the
informality and gesture of appreciation that going to his/her office implies
is very effective. Again, remember to tell your employee and make a real
appointment. You could still keep it casual and relaxed by saying, “Let
me drop by your office tomorrow at about three to talk over a few
things. ”
• It’s very informative to see where someone else works and to
discover what symbols they use to say “power” and “comfort” and “mine ”
to themselves and to others.
• It tells you something about someone else’s work habits (cluttered
desk or cleared and organized, reference books all over the place, other
interests suggesting a sense of balance and proportion, etc.)
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If you wish going to someone else’s office to have a benign effect,
plan it. Don’t just drop in! That’s a real shocker and brings up panicked
thoughts like “My office is a mess!” “Why didn’t I put my lunch away?”
and so on. (Of course, having the boss see you as such an avid worker that
you don’t even leave for lunch is not all bad!)
Neutral Territory
A conference room or other generic work area that has no unique
personal identity is still another meeting environment with built-in
messages. This kind of territory says:
“Concentrated, Objective WORK Done Here.”
• It implies focusing on a subject, on problem solving, not on each
• It speaks of leaving the daily considerations of the job outside
while you both (or all) direct total effort toward a discreet topic.
• It speaks of the anonymous and transitory nature of the meeting—
that no one makes a real dent or leaves a mark here, and
that the waters close over and erase what you did as soon as you
leave, making ready for the next users.
The down side of conference rooms is that they are very impersonal.
Effort must be made, if the meeting is a lengthy or intense one, to warm
up this environment and make it personal.
• The colors and accouterments in such a room have a great bearing
on how much such an environment invites people to give their all for an
abstract idea and how stimulating it is creatively. Notice that ambiance
and use it as a decision factor, too.
• Conference rooms need to be made more nurturing environments
if you want people to put out and give much of themselves. Meetings in
conference rooms should therefore include feeding, both for its breakin-
the-proceedings value as well as for two sensual messages it sends to
the participants: the feeling of being “stoked up,” which encourages
people to put out more energy, and the feeling of being valued and cared
about because someone is aware of and giving to them.
Consider going to a neutral territory conference room if one of your
goals is to equalize the proceedings and get everyone focused on
business, not on oneupsmanship.
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Structuring and Organizing Business Encounters
To Lunch or Not to Lunch
The Up Side
The greatest single attribute of a lunch meeting is getting to know
each other better and gaining the kinds of information you can tuck away
and work with at your leisure to round out the picture of a person you’re
dealing with.
• Lunch can be a uniquely disarming experience, giving the lunchers
a chance to discover other personal aspects that would never come up at
work. The usual discussion of food, complete with likes and dislikes; the
choices you each make; how fast or slowly each of you eats; your table
manners; what, or if, you drink; how you each handle the waiter—all of
these added dimensions give great meaning and value to lunch as a
meeting-time choice, especially if you notice and absorb the personal
• You break into the middle of the day but solve that hunger problem
I mentioned earlier, the one that causes people to be unreceptive and
ungiving. Actually getting fed as they listen and talk causes people to feel
more generous and less threatened.
• The kind of small talk you can engge in over lunch is unique in
terms of typical work encounters. Sitting around a table automatically
puts people in a much more relaxed and unwary frame of mind than any
office meeting. The informality, the sense of community, of belonging, of
jokes and chatting—the total pleasure state that eating itself brings—all
these conditioned responses subliminally color any lunch experience.
They generate a more outgoing and revealing flow of talk about any
subject than the product-oriented discussions of focused meetings in
offices or conference rooms.
• People have a tendency to tell you more about what they care about
and believe in—much of it unconsciously—over lunch. This provides a
great source of knowing more about what makes the other person tick.
The conversation can flow from what motivates them and what evokes
resistance to what their private lives are like all the way to who are/were
their heroes and what are the meaningful influences in their lives.
• The sense of sharing and closer ties you both walk away with, if you
can relax and thus get to know each other better as people, moves your
relationship to a new level at work and is therefore a valuable investment.
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The Down Side
If you mean your meeting to be very productive and efficient in a
specific way, lunch creates problems.
• There are interruptions for ordering and eating which may disrupt
an important moment.
• The defocused time spent chatting, although beneficial if you know
what to do with what you’re learning, can also cause you not to get to a
tangible result.
• Writing notes or working with documents is very difficult at a table
full of pasta and Perrier.
Lunch is much better for generic kinds of fact finding than the
pointed office meeting huddled over a worktable. It gives you information
of a more informal and personal nature you’d probably never get in
your office. It’s a good place to generate or test ideas and get responses,
but not a good place to try to come away from with an exact written
Breakfast Meetings
The Up Side
The best aspect of breakfast meetings is the untrammeled nature of
everyone’s mind at that hour of the morning. Able to focus tightly before
the daily demands move in and fight for equal time, your meeting mate
or mates will be very receptive to focusing on your wavelength.
The Down Side
Breakfast meetings are a burden and a chore if you’re a “night owl”
and not a “chirper.” “Night owls” think grim thoughts about the
generator of such an ungodly and uncivilized get-together. Know your
To wrap up: The decision of where to meet depends on what your
meeting is about. The working atmosphere you choose or create can help
or hinder your results, as does your timing.
I think I can hear some of you saying, “These ideas are very useful
if you have several choices, but I’m in a small business and have no other
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Structuring and Organizing Business Encounters 91
place to meet than my office.” There are several techniques I will show
you in the “Openers section of Chapter 6 on Close Encounters about how
to neutralize or change your office’s power impact when you have your
The next step, after choosing when and where and how long a
meeting you’d like, is to go about making it happen.
How formal you need to be in setting up the meeting depends on
your work circumstances and relationship(s) with the person(s) you want
to see. The key watchwords are sensitivity and flexibility as you go about
scheduling to get on someone’s calendar.
“How Long?”
Be very clear, before you ask for the appointment, about how much
time you’ll really need.
Don’t get unrealistic and back down about this when faced with
someone’s busy schedule. Stay flexible, but remember to allow enough
time to get the material covered and your message across and to have a
question-and-answer discussion period. Always opt for the longer time
when you’re offered two time slots. You can always end sooner, but it’s
hard to stretch a meeting when the next appointment is waiting.
“What’s It About?”
• If it’s something you both (or all) know about, mention the subject
since that builds in an already existing interest and the reassurance that
there won’t be too much challenge or surprise. Add some new wrinkle to
make the meeting more compelling, like, “There’s something else to
think about in relation to X.” Don’t give away what that something is.
Just gear your opposite number(s) up to thinking a little more about
subject X.
• If it’s a complex or innovative kind of meeting, you may need to be
vague. The big goal here is to create a receptive environment, but not
give an abbreviated version of the topic itself. Just say enough to interest,
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but not enough to challenge too soon. “Some new thoughts on that
project I think will interest you,'” or, “Something to do with making more
money for the company” (that’ll get them every time). What you’re
looking for is enough information to create some positive anticipation and
a “clean-slate” kind of mindset.
• If you’re the senior person and the thrust of your meeting will be
a negative one, the less defensiveness you can create, the better. Don’t
give it away, allowing the other person to build up a head of anxiety. Try
something general like “I haven’t talked with you for a while and there
are some things I’d like to go over . . . ”
“I’ll Get Back to You . . . ”
Be sure you are clear about how you will get confirmation of your
appointment. Either get it right then, through the person involved, or
from the secretary, if she has the authority to do it on her own. Asking
her to confirm with the boss brings up a ticklish subject: The “I’ll get
back to you” syndrome.
Don’t let go of your options at this moment. If you say, “Okay,” when
she/he says that, or volunteer it by saying, “Please get back to me,” you
have no recourse but to passively wait for a call or to call if you don’t hear
and become an unwelcome nag.
On the other hand, if you establish that you’ll be the one to call back
and confirm, you keep the initiative. You then have the right to call, to
press a little and, generally, to keep actively running the show.
Say, “I’m going to be out of my office a lot in the next few days,” or,
“I’ll be at meetings and hard to reach,” or, “I need to confirm this rather
quickly so I can get materials together. Let me call you this afternoon.”
In any case, ask when she/he can make it definite or when she’ll see the
boss to confirm. Then make an appointment with the secretary about the
best time to call back to get the exact meeting time.
Person-to-Person Approach
If the atmosphere at your job is informal, with a small cast of
characters, you can simply suggest a time directly to the boss or person(s)
you wish to see. (This presupposes that you’ve gone through all the
“what, where, when, and if” planning considerations.) Select and ask for
the best time first, but have two more possibilities at the ready to allow
for the other’s schedule needs. Be sure your other choices also have your
timing considerations in mind, so you don’t get caught short.
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Structuring and Organizing Business Encounters 93
Always try to make this approach in a place where the other person
can get to his/her calendar easily. Useless to get verbal agreement and
then lose it to reality. By the way, as you discuss the meeting, notice the
response to your request. Use it as an indictor of how he/she anticipates
the meeting, and use those clues in mapping your Fore-Thought Chart.
Through a Secretary
• Priorities and goals
Think first about the secretary’s priorities and goals. Her/his job is to
keep the boss’s schedule workable and to protect him/her from overload
or uncomfortable situations. This protects the secretary from an irate
boss, so it really matters.
Therefore, secretaries want some information up front; how much
time, what day would you like to start talking about (you rarely get your
first preference), and probably something of what it’s about, since some
bosses like their secretaries to screen such requests and/or consult with
the boss before giving appointments.
These priorities and considerations are at the top of the secretary’s
self-interest column, and you know that her/his self-interest needs to be
satisfied before she/he can be receptive to yours.
• Personal Needs
A secretary also needs the affirmation that her/his job is important
and that you appreciate that fact—-and them. Secretaries need for you to
see and value their individual identities and to treat them as such.
A major turnoff to any secretary is being treated like a cipher.
(Sounds obvious? Ask a secretary how often it happens!) A secretary on
your side as you try to schedule can be enormously helpful; a hostile one
can find many ways to block your entrance.
Through a Familiar Secretary
For those who have difficulty making small talk:
Begin by taking a moment to share pleasantries, asking about a
holiday, etc. Always learn a secretary’s name! Remember what you
learned about her/him on your last encounter (vacation in the Bahamas,
plays Softball on the company team, new baby, etc.) and ask for an
update. Share something of yourself as well (comment on the season, a
news or personal event, etc.) before you state your case. Then:
“I need about thirty minutes with X.” Before you say when, ask
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what the schedule looks like for the next week or so. This is also an
opportunity to get the timing and work-habits information on your
opposite number.
In talking, you might casually ask what time her boss usually likes to
have meetings: morning, afternoon? Does he/she usually work late or
need to make a train? And so on.
Or you can be more direct, depending on your style: “You know, I’d
like to catch him at a good time, maybe before all the pressures of work
get to him. How about early morning meetings? Does he do that?”
Or, “So we don’t rush through, tell me what time does she generally
go off to lunch? When does she usually get back?”
If your questions are put on the basis of finding a mutually agreeable
time that will best take into consideration the well-being of the secretary’s
boss, she/he will probably be very amenable to answering.
Ask about major pressures coming up (such as board meetings that
require preparation, visiting firemen, etc.) or if the schedule is relatively
free. This last can also give you the additional information on your timing
and how receptive his/her frame of mind would be right now to your
meeting topic.
When the secretary asks what the meeting is about, use the answers
about content that I suggested above.
However, it it’s urgent business, you must get that across, too. If you
have a problem to solve, state just that, without telling what it is (“I’d
rather discuss it in person’), unless you need to get specific to increase
the sense of urgency.
A Secretary You Don’t Know
Your powers of persuasion are brought into full play here. Start with
something like “You’re just the person who can help me.” This establishes
both your need and her/his power. Then, “I need to see your boss
for half an hour and I know you’re the keeper of the book.” What follows
is probably “Who are you?” “Does he/she know you?” “What shall I say
it’s about?” Titles are vital here, if you’re a stranger, but the big seller is
to say why the boss should see you.
Remember about motivation; his first! Not, “I want to show him
. . . ” but, “It’s about developing a new market for his product . . .”Be
intriguing about what your thrust will be—always keeping that selfinterest
beacon before you.
If you’re in the organization somewhere, your mutual interest in the
good of the company is your primary link.
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Structuring and Organizing Business Encounters 95
If you’re from outside the company, you’d better come up with a
good reason for that person also to need this meeting . . .
Okay. Now you’re on the calendar. The wheels are in motion. What’s
next? Designing what you have to say: the content, the order, the pacing.
It’s also time to figure out the best way to present: what to show, what
to tell, and what to leave behind.
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What Captures Attention and
There you sit.
You’re scheduled to make a presentation. Now you have to decide
what you’re going to say, and how.
“How should I begin? What’s the most effective/persuasive/
informative thing I can do or say? What’s the best way to explain
this complex (or disconcerting or negative or unexpected or demanding
or costly) message? Should everything be explained only verbally?
When should I stop for questions? What if they disagree or get
You sit there picturing your audience.
“He/she/they could look bored. Perhaps confused. Glancing at their
watches . . . ”
If you don’t imagine at least some of the above, please do.
You are embarking on an extremely difficult task.
You want to move your listener(s) from an inert, self-involved state
to actively participating in your subject. It takes a major effort to capture
and energize them so they rise to your occasion (which you hope to make
their occasion).
You also want them to understand what you will explain: something
you understand and care about but that others don’t, or may not even
care to understand. And you want to persuade them enough to buy your
idea, product, or point of view.
Even to be willing to spend money or effort on it—two things no one
gives away without a struggle.
What you need are some foolproof fundamentals about what best
makes people listen and understand, so you can design a presentation
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Designing Presentations 97
that will work for you and help you reach your goal in all kinds of business
The good news is that there are some proven communication
guidelines to help you make choices for better presentations. There are
known ways in which people learn and absorb information, stay interested,
and get persuaded. There are also some basic principles that
govern what turns people off, what makes them resistant, and what
confuses them.
What kind of presentation are you faced with?
• A speech to a peer group or to a first-time audience?
• A presentation of a report at a meeting?
• A one-on-one or one-on-several explanation of an idea?
• A sales pitch?
• A request made to the boss?
• A reprimand to an employee?
It’s odd, but the same content design process applies to all of these
There is a general structure and pattern people use when we think
and listen. Your progression from topic to topic and how you build
toward your final conclusion requires that you use these already existing,
ingrained thinking and listening systems in order for your listeners to
follow and understand you.
Let’s find out what these learning/listening systems are.
How We Think
The human mind depends on order and logic to absorb data and
formulate answers. It relies on previously programmed material to make
sense of, and process, new information. Your brain cannot accept a
message when it:
• Lacks enough or the right kind of information;
• Has no frame of reference;
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• Is unable to find a familiar hook or frequency on which to tune
• Can’t connect the parts of what it’s hearing.
Our minds prompt us to ask for help when we don’t understand:
“What did you say again?” “What do you mean?” “Wait, I don’t
understand.” In casual conversation that works, as we make the teller
slow down and re-explain or try another tack to help us understand. But
there are two problems:
• In a formal presentation, we CAN’T ask till it’s too late—and by that
time it doesn’t matter because we’ve already long since tuned out.
• Most of the time we WON’T ask. It’s our nature to prefer staying
confused to losing face by admitting that we don’t understand what was
just said. We often see the work arena as too dangerous a place to admit
we don’t understand and to ask for help.
So in the workplace, as elsewhere, we are left to depend on others;
on the skills of “tellers” and explainers to be clear and give us what we
need so we can understand because we won’t, or can’t, ask. Unfortunately,
those “skills of others” are often fumbling or sorely lacking, so we
sit through endless experiences wondering, “What is this about?” “Who
cares?” “How boring”—wasting what could have been a time of real
information gathering and exchange.
Most people, when called upon to “tell,” are still only amateur
talkers, not skilled orators, naturally gifted rational and coherent explainers,
or trained and inspired storytellers. Our instincts don’t automatically
bring us to present information systematically, with logic and order.
This state of affairs conditions us to expect to be bored or confused
whenever we hear the word “speech,” or “report,” or “presentation.”
It’s time to demystify the communication process and set about
purposefully learning what works, what doesn’t, and why. The final
responsibility for your listeners getting your message is yours, the
To help you develop foolproof techniques for organizing and presenting
material so that your audience of one or many will stay tuned in
and get your message, here are some principles about how people absorb
information best. They’ll also help you be aware of pitfalls, of what kinds
of presentation techniques don’t work, and why.
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Designing Presentations 99
What We Need So We Understand and Stay Interested
For maximum efficiency and minimum audience confusion and
resistance, you, as a “teller,” need first to tune into the learning/listening
systems already inherent in our brains.
The Mind Demands Order
To plan any presentation of information, you must create a coherent
system that is readily apparent and recognizable. Not only the information
itself but also how you present it must follow a systematic, orderly
Information Giving Must Follow the Laws of Logic
Chronology and logic are built into the human brain. They are
definite, predictable ways we gather, organize, and interpret information.
To introduce new material to an audience, you must allow their
brains to hook into old, well-known, comfortable information-processing
systems. To absorb new material or make sense of any material, your
audience needs for you to follow a logical progression. In real life “A”
does truly come before “B ‘ and “C.” So it must in your presentation.
Start at the beginning . . .
Television Has Conditioned Us to Logical Progression
Since television news, talk shows, and documentaries are now the
major vehicles by which most people accumulate serious information, it’s
efficient to use the ways TV has conditioned us to process information.
This conditioning has trained your audience to respond to a certain
pattern of information delivery that facilitates and speeds understanding.
As you read the next paragraphs, picture an issue or idea you want to
explain. See how these techniques can apply to your information giving.
On TV, new information is edited to be shown in three stages: the
Long Shot, the Medium Shot, and the Close-Up. (Now you’ll have a
professional reason to watch television, so you can see how it’s done.)
• The Long Shot. This is the orientation shot. It shows us the room,
the street, the whole head of lettuce. It establishes context: Where we
are; who’s there; what they’re doing. It familiarizes us with the general
size, shape, color, concept; the parameters within which sits what we’re
about to learn. Then comes
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• The Medium Shot. This draws us closer. It peels away some of the
outer leaves. By tightening our field of vision, it draws us further into the
idea or event, beginning to eliminate the unimportant features. It makes
us start concentrating on where the teller is going, on what the heart of
the matter might be. By giving us some more detail, the teller intrigues
us to want to know still more as we absorb the more focused data we’ve
just been given. Then we move in for
• The Close-Up. Now we’re at it. This is where the teller was going
all along. This is what he/she wanted us to consider and think about. This
is where we will stay, to learn and discover the message the teller already
The Longshot-Medium-Close-Up sequence of zooming into the
details after you first establish the general context and the basic idea
works best as an information-giving system because it makes instant
sense to us. It establishes chronology and order, making sense out of
context and detail. Using this logical and familiar system of going from
the general to the specific doesn’t get in the way of absorbing the data;
it helps us.
We cannot understand from just a pile of lettuce leaves what the
leaves do and how a whole lettuce looks. We need to either break it down
from the whole or build it up from its parts. But in either case we need
grounding in a basic context.
Order of Presentation Affects How We Absorb Data
• Starting with the whole
Peeling back layers makes us more curious about what it is and how
it works. It’s easier to get us engrossed in gathering more data as each
succeeding layer is revealed when we know what we started with.
Example: Opening a package. As we remove the wrapping, open the
box, unfold the tissue, our interest rises the closer we get and the more
we keep discovering and anticipating. This is one way to explain an idea.
Like giving a gift.
• Starting with the parts
Building up from the parts to form the mysterious, previously
unseen whole is another way. This makes us forcus on the final product.
We’re much more curious about seeing the finished whole than we are
about the properties of the parts themselves.
Example: A jigsaw puzzle. The essentially abstract pieces serve as
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Designing Presentations 101
tools to get us to our goal—constructing the whole. By themselves they
have no particular value. They do intrigue us to want to put them
together and see how they fit and what they make. Explaining an idea
this way is very intriguing but there must be some early indication (like
the picture of the completed puzzle on the box) that the whole will be of
some value and worth the wait. Its best use is to show the importance of
the parts, how they fit, and what their role is.
• Cutting through to the heart of the matter
Getting right to the core issue in one shot is also a familiar system
and possible for us to understand. The “pronouncement” approach. This
can startle us and intrigue us to draw closer, or it cars stand as a statement
by itself, telling us the bottom line.
Example: A newspaper headline. We know that we’re getting just
one statement. We subconsciously recognize that the gradual accumulation
of information as well as the ability to gain more data and detail has
been edited out. Just a shortcut to the end product remains, making only
the end product of primary importance. Its best use? Making a major
definitive statement or a final conclusion right at the beginning to startle
and entice us to learn more.
Opposing Natural Information-Processing Systems
Disturbs Us
Because it’s easy to follow the familiar systems, we sit up sharply and
take notice when something is presented in direct opposition to them,
like unrelated objects, random ideas, haphazard connections, illogical
reasoning, or unfinished phrases. Use such techniques, like presenting
something out of order—i.e., medium shot, close-up, long shot—
consciously and deliberately. Be aware of their effect. Use them only
because they engender special attention. If you are simply negligent or
disorderly, you’ll lose your point and your audience.
Do Not Frustrate the Listener
If you choose to go out of sequence and confuse or at the least
intrigue the listener, know that you also startle, surprise, or unnerve the
listener. Fix it fast. Get your effect, then explain, to keep your audience
with you.
Starting in the middle of something, a speaker needs to stop and say
something like: “What’s going on?” “Why am I saying (doing) this?” and
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tell them why. Audiences get frustrated quickly when they don’t get
what’s going on and feel left out. Needing to stay oriented as we follow
demands that the teller not let us down, that you keep us on your track
at all times.
Unclear Language and Unfamiliar Words Lose and Anger
When you say something I don’t understand and leave it, you are
making me notice how dumb I am and how smart (knowledgeable,
sophisticated, competent, different from me) you are! Is that ever useful?
It creates these effects:
• You lose me
I have to stop listening in order to start thinking about what that
word or phrase means. While I do that, since I come equipped with only
one brain, I have to stop paying attention to you. You rattle on, oblivious
to the fact that you just lost your audience. This is particularly so if I’m
struggling to understand complex, unfamiliar, or technical material, not
well explained.
• You make me angry
No one welcomes the messenger who shows us our own incompetence,
ignorance, or unpreparedness. Beware of this response universally,
but especially when you are presenting to a superior who may need
to know something of your specialty but not the in-depth knowledge you
have. Making him/her ask for clarification about technical, unfamiliar
words and concepts instead of your simply providing it is an obnoxius, if
not downright threatening posture to take. Studiously avoid exposing
your audience or competing with the boss about smarts. Be clear,
self-edited, and helpful.
Oral Presentation Is Difficult to Follow
You not only know where you’re going and what your subject matter
is but have created notes and documents to help you. Your hapless
first-time and once-only listener is more than ever in the dark next to
Since your information is new, the only anchor you can offer is order;
the basic skeleton of how you will present your material.
For your listeners to follow you, the structure and organization of
your presentation must be very clear. So clear that your listeners could
almost visualize and write your outline as you go along. Knowing what to
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Designing Presentations 103
expect next and where and how the pieces fit into your whole scheme is
a vital requirement for anyone trying to understand you. Since they don’t
know your material, at least they feel grounded in the logical order in
which you give it.
Knowing Your Order Increases Attention
If the structure of your oral presentation is clearly explained and
easily followed, then the listener can use all his/her time and energy just
absorbing and understanding your message. Otherwise, much of the
listener’s attention will be spent on just figuring out where you are and
where you’re going and how the different pieces fit together.
People Have a VERY Short Attention Span
Here’s some bad news for all “tellers,” you who need to keep your
audiences listening:
Language is so exact that the human brain requires only 15 percent
of its power to understand language, if we’re both using the same one.
Eighty-five percent of the brain is actually not needed for your listener
to grasp what you mean.
Implication? Eighty-five percent of your listener’s brainpower is left,
like a loose cannon, to do whatever it wishes! That doesn’t necessarily
include listening to you . . .
Think about what you do: When you’re not really absorbed by what’s
happening, your brain goes on vacation. It’s free to (and does) daydream,
worry about other things, make lists of various duties, wonder about
dinner, the weekend, who’s winning the ball game—in short, anything
but the business at hand, being earnestly presented by a . . . a . . . (dare
I say it?) a bore!
Therefore, never take your audience for granted. It’s a continual
uphill struggle to keep them with you, to fight for more than the 15
percent you automatically get when you begin. You must build in new
devices to keep 100 percent of the listener’s brain occupied.
Clear Introductions and Transitions Are a Must
Unless you let your audience know when you begin a new topic or
end it, your whole presentation can sound like one endless paragraph. In
order to help your audience follow, you must make verbal indents,
endings, chapter headings, paragraphs, and transitions.
Remembering how vital a clearly self-evident structure is in helping
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the audience follow and stay tuned in, you must let them know where
you both are, when to stop thinking about this and start noticing that.
Transitions help them change gears, to actually “turn a page” in their
minds and start off afresh with you down a new path.
Now that you understand how the brain basically absorbs data and
what information techniques work and why, let’s put them into practice.
We turn first to planning your message: What’s the most effective agenda
order and layout in which to subdivide it?
Outline Form
The most universally recognized system—and the simplest one—for
organizing and compartmentalizing unfamiliar or complex information is
the outline. Luckily, if we learned anything at school, we learned to
outline and we remember that system. Therefore we easily recognize it
when it is described and referred to verbally.
So the basic presentation format should be an outline. But within
that framework there are many other issues to consider as you plan.
Order of Presentation
Presenting or explaining, teaching or selling something is like taking
people on a journey, with you as the leader and the guide. You’re telling
people where you’ve been that they haven’t and what you know that they
don’t. Having just learned how people absorb information best, we need
to use those guidelines to create some order in your presentation so that
your audience can follow your material and stay with you on the journey.
Here is the most effective format:
• Introduction
• Motivati/Opening
• Outline of Agenda
• Content—section by section
• Recap each section
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Designing Presentations 105
• Transition to next section
• Wrap-Up
• Conclusion
To help you use this format to design your presentation, let’s take
apart the various steps to see what’s in them and why they’re necessary
in this order. (The actual techniques of presentation and examples of
what to say and how to say it are the heart of Chapter 7.)
You’re opening to a clean slate, to a fairly open mind (excluding
previous prejudices), a mind at least a little curious about what you want
to present. Your introduction should set the tone and the theme for your
presentation. It should instantly focus one or many on what the
presentation is about and what you hope to get across.
To begin planning your presentation (formal or informal), establish
what you think is the essence, the theme, and the one or two major
points you’re going to cover. No details yet, just the overall basic
one-line theme. That’s the heart of your introduction: “I’m going to talk
about X today, how it affects Y and Z, and why we need to change it.”
That’s your Introduction. Next: Motivation
• Tell them why to listen
You know why you asked for the meeting or are making the
presentation. Tell them how your topic affects them, what good will come
of their listening, how important they are in the equation, and how your
two interests intersect. That’s the Motivation aspect of step 2.
• “Lift your visor”
Another aspect of your Opening is to let them know who’s telling: to
help the audience get to know you, the speaker, better. To recognize
your style, your persona—to get the first impression.
Give Them the Outline
Tell them what’s to come:
To help them follow, give them the structure of your presentation.
“I’ll show and tell you about X. To do that, I’ll start with A. Then B,
with an explanation of 1, 2, and 3. Then we’ll discuss C, which is also a
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part of the issue. I’ll wrap it up and conclude with some ideas I have
about what this means to us and what we should do. Then we’ll open to
questions and answers. I’ve brought some exhibits to demonstrate B and
C and will leave copies of them with you.”
People need to know what to expect in order to get interested. To
follow you, they need to understand and picture the organization of your
material. Telling them your outline helps them do that. It grounds them
by telling what will be predictable, giving them landmarks to look for. It
also builds up some anticipation about what they’ll learn, and gives them
an incentive to pace themselves to stay with you till the end.
Content: Present Your Basic Idea
Now it’s time to get right to the heart of the matter: Tell them what
your message is about. Here is your “Long Shot,” creating the context
your audience needs in order to listen to your presentation. Tell the
whole idea first so whatever further explanation comes next can be hung
from the framework you create right at the beginning. This is the time to
give only the general picture; no details yet.
Example: Suppose you need or want to introduce a new way of doing
something. Knowing your audience of one or many and anticipating their
possibly negative response, you could start by capturing the essence of
the problem and why you suggest change:
“Today we’ll deal with a difficult subject—something that makes
people anxious, even angry sometimes. We’ll talk about change. Many
people see change as a threat. I see it as a challenge; an opportunity to
make things better, to grow, to open new possibilities.” Or:
“Our X system isn’t keeping up with the times. So we need to take
a hard look at it. I plan to show you why it’s becoming obsolete and what
we can do about it.”
Begin to Break It into Segments
Next, break the idea into its component parts and generally describe
what they are. Now you’re moving down into smaller segments of the
whole idea. This is your “Medium Shot”: the capital A, B, C topic
headings. This makes for an easier explanation from you and easier
digestion for your audience as the logical progression and order of your
presentation emerges in bite-sized pieces.
“Let’s start with A. Here’s the basic problem. There are three
reasons why it fails us.”
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Designing Presentations 107
Present Each Segment with Its Details
Now you can tighten the iris for a still closer look. This is the “Close-
Up.” Each segment with its topic sentence and the “bullets” under it
gives us information in still greater detail: “Let’s start with A. The basic
problem is . . . There are three reasons . . . ” The bullets serve as
illustrative examples, adding dimension and support and providing a
more intense, searching look at the heart of what you’re talking about.
Details work now and not before because your group understands the
whole idea and is drawn into learning more.
Recap Each Segment
Build in a recap at the end of each segment before you finish and go
on, for reinforcement and for additional clarification about how you’re
building your case.
“Now what have we just discovered? That A has actually been out of
sync for quite a while. That it’s an outmoded system because of 1, 2, and
3, and that it’s keeping us from moving forward.”
This catches up the slower listener as well as the inattentive one and
makes sure that everyone is ready to move on to the next portion
together with you.
Make Transitions
Remembering that your audience cannot see your notes or know
your next step until you take it, you need to build in a purposeful
transition to each new topic so you let everyone know you’re all about to
go there. This helps make your outline structure continually clear as you
move from A, through your small-number “bullets” listed below it to the
recap, and with a transition sentence or two, on to B. Be sure that as part
of your transition you introduce and set up your next subject as you move
into it.
Example: “So there’s the problem. Now let’s turn to B—why we
didn’t know and how we found out.”
At the end of all the components, wrap up by restating the whole
idea, hitting the major points, and referring back to only a few of the
most memorable and telling details you’ve explained for fuller illustration.
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Example: “Let’s look back at all of what we just discovered. We’ve
been living with an outmoded system. It’s caused us to lose business;
remember the three cases I told you about? And we weren’t asleep! We
didn’t get the message because of. . . , something we surely shouldn’t
do again! And now it’s time for a change. Time to develop a new system
like the one I just described that can . . . , and move us onto a new and
much more productive track. ”
Now, logic says you should go to your conclusion, and many times
you would. But if yours is a subject with built-in controversy or that
could draw major objections, you might sometimes want to try this,
depending on the circumstances, on your audience, subject, and goals.
Also, on what your Fore-Thought Chart has told you to expect. Some
research has shown that sometimes the one-sided approach is more
persuasive, but often this approach can be very useful.
Pose and Answer Possible Problems
List and discuss as-yet-unresolved problems. “Okay. Now that I’ve
got you convinced we should do this, let me take a realistic look at what
still stands in the way . . . ” Show not only the good but the difficult side,
making the listener aware of your responsible, realistic, clear-headed
thinking and planning. Give your answers and the possible solutions
you’re working on. Then go on to the next step.
Raise and Answer Anticipated Resistance
If you say what you think the opposite number’s reservations or
resistance may be before you give the other person(s) a chance to, you
can turn the ensuing discussion toward ways of resolving whatever the
concerns are, since you’ve already stated them. If not, you’ll have to wait
and hear them, and then possibly find yourself in a much more defensive
and less constructive position.
Example: “One more thing. I’ve been watching some faces in the
group who look decidedly skeptical, even negative! They’re probably
thinking, ‘Sure sounds great, but can we handle the cost?’ Others might
be thinking, ‘What happens to my department if we do this?’ Well, let’s
talk about these two issues . . . ”
Now it’s time to finish. With a flourish.
Grand Wrap-Up and Conclusion
Finish memorably with a grand finale—bringing together all the
elements of your presentation by succinctly telling the highlights and
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Designing Presentations 109
restating your major argument, now backed not only by all your data but
also by your answers to the negatives.
Pick out your best, most telling points. Illustrate with your most
graphic, dramatic, or innovative examples. End by saying why your idea
should happen.
Open for Questions and Discussion
Now it’s time to give your opposite numbers the floor, too. Open it
up for further clarification, explanation, discussion, and for countering
opposition. Focus on getting responses to your idea and finding ways to
solve the problems (perhaps together) or to discover what you need to do
Here’s a chronological checklist for you to use as an organizing tool
when preparing any kind of presentation or report:
• Opening: State theme and general message
• Motivate and identify with audience: Tell why they should listen
• Give agenda: Describe content and structure of presentation
• Content: Present basic idea
• Break each into segments: Logical chronology of A, B, C
• Break into subsegments: 1, 2, 3 of details and examples
• Recap each segment
• Make transition to and introduce next segment
• Wrap-up: Recap highlights of whole presentation
• Pose and answer problems (optional)
• Objections: Raise and answer anticipated objections or resistance
• Grand wrap-up: List persuasive points
• Conclusion and recommendations
• Questions and discussion.
Creating the order of any presentation or explanation makes you
narrow your sights on what you mean to cover, what you’ll say, and how
you’ll say it. Which brings us to the next step. Should you only say it? Or
should you show some of it?
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“Seeing is believing,” “A picture is worth a thousand words.” These
concepts are not just old-fashioned homilies. Research has shown that we
remember 85 to 90 percent of what we see and 15 or so percent of what
we hear. A sobering thought for all you talkers . . .
Why Use Visual Reinforcement
Whenever you present new material to people, you should be aware
that it’s clear to you but not yet even imagined by them. They cannot yet
visualize it as you already do. Therefore, you must do some very effective
things to bring them on board.
Visualization is a prime source of information giving, of explanation,
and of reinforcement with any subject. Visual demonstrations are very
helpful in presenting facts clearly, especially in the new areas of technical
mastery, as well as advanced financial concepts, where there is great
disparity in what is common knowledge. Visual support can often make
the difference between the audience staying with you or shrugging their
shoulders and tuning out, bored and disappointed. This is particularly
true when explaining complex material or advanced financial concepts to
a client or to a lay or less knowledgeable audience. In case of wandering
attention, the fastest way to catch your listener up is to show them what
you’re talking about.
Perhaps the most important reason is: We are now a visual society,
courtesy of TV. You can’t just talk; you must also show. Making ideas or
facts visual creates Information Plus Impact.
What to Show; What to Tell
Now that you’re a firm convert to what visuals can do for you, how
do you decide what kinds of information to show and tell and what works
with telling alone? The difference between using visual aids and just
using language alone is subject matter. It’s what effect you want your
message to have and which aspect of the brain you’re appealing to.
Which Subjects Need Visuals
The organizing, data-collecting, cognitive, fact-oriented, list-making
side of the brain gets the full message most clearly and convincingly with
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Designing Presentations 111
visual documentation and explanation. It responds best to concrete
images and incontrovertible, collectible, hard-nosed data.
Presenting a business plan, asking for more budget, introducing a
new system, or needing a hard-nosed decision? Consider adding visuals
for greater persuasion.
Here are some categories that can use visual support and the impact
it creates:
• New data, known only to you.
• Data known to all, but never presented in this context or with this
interpretation before.
• A message which needs documentation or support from objective
data in order for people to believe it.
• Numbers, facts, quotes, lists, trends; information that people do
not and cannot collect and remember only by hearing it.
• Chronological data that needs to be repeated and remembered
from one segment to another.
• Comparisons.
When you need a factual, analytical approach, backed by data—
explicit, logical, clear—visual support is most often the answer.
Which Only Need Verbalizing
In general, the material that lends itself best to just telling is material
that is narrative and dramatic in nature. To spin a web, to weave a yarn,
to marshal the troops, to inspire, you often can rely on the charisma and
energy of the teller alone.
The creative, imaginative, fantasy-making, instinctive, emotiondriven
side of the brain responds best to the imaginative, colorful
messages of feelings. These messages leave room for individual interpretation,
not uniform acceptance of the facts. Each listener’s unique
personal imagination can get engaged and respond. There is no right or
wrong sum here. Just feelings. Unique. Individual. Intimate.
Being able to talk visually, to elicit pictures through words and excite
the imagination of your listeners means relying only on language and
style, on analogy and metaphor. These, if you will think about it, are all
actually visual, too! But delivered personally . . .
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When the task is building morale, gaining loyalty, running for office,
anything that needs feelings attached to agreement, you need a more
emotional, less documentary approach. You don’t need charts and
graphs. You need a quiver in the voice, a higher or lower decibel,
personal eye contact, and emotional commitment.
Visual and Verbal
Sometimes you need to mix both. You need to be logical and factual
to set the stage and show the new system you propose.
But then, to get real gut agreement—for example, to get the
commitment to try hard or harder—you must change gears to appeal to
the more emotional level.
That’s the time to set the charts aside. To slowly close the Magic
Marker. To walk forward a step or two, or sit on the side of the table. And
just talk. Person to person. Intently. Intensely. With genuine feeling.
Before I show you how to go about planning and designing your
visual aids, let me suggest one more area to think about as you plan your
presentation: What materials to leave behind for further thought and
later discussion.
Unless your request or discussion is a quick and simple one, most
everyone likes time to think things over before they commit themselves
to anything.
Therefore, built into your total presentation should be a packet of
materials you prepare to leave behind for further study. During your
presentation you can focus only on the main issues and what you can
show and explain succinctly there, knowing that you’ll be giving them
back-up material for later perusal and thought.
Don’t Let them “Read Along”
If you give your listeners material to read along with you while you
talk, you lose your audience!
• They can read much faster than you can talk and will be ahead of
you and all over the place while you’re dutifully still on page 1.
• Reading while you’re talking, they draw their own conclusions from
the printed word—which seems like “harder” information—rather than
from your verbal (and self-serving) explanation.
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Designing Presentations 113
• You lose contact with your audience. Having spent some time
developing rapport with your audience of one, several, or many, why
would you want to release center stage and abdicate in favor of the
anarchy of everyone reading for themselves? You want them to look at
your graphics with you! While you’re making eye contact and continuing
to persuade, you’re the answer giver. Handouts are for after you’ve
explained and finished. When they go home and want to remember your
But, because they would like to see what you’re reading from, or
review again the data you’ve introduced, you can promise them that,
after you do all the explaining, you will provide each of them with this
data for their personal use.
What to Leave Behind
• Copies of what they saw. Very reinforcing and already familiar. Best
of all, they have the benefit of remembering your explanation when they
reread it.
• Extra documentation. Documentary evidence that you will not
introduce during your presentation. Background material: articles, previous
reports, excerpts of speeches given by others (in your company or
not), reprints of speeches or memos by the leader, research data, and so
on. Items that back up what you said.
• Your background. What additional information do they need to
know about you, if you’re speaking to a new group? Here is your chance
to put together your subtle “I’m terrific” packet: resume, client list, past
accomplishments, etc.
Your package of leave-behinds may include any or all of the
• A summary of your ideas.
• Reproductions of the most important, comprehensive visual aids
you used in your presentation.
• Documentation of why what you say is so, is so.
• Examples (if possible) of what you (or others) have already done.
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• A resume and other personal reference data if they don’t know
you too well.
• Groupings of related background materials (like research, articles,
reports, etc.).
I don’t mean to leave them a 5-pound package. Be selective and edit
well, but just remember what your stickiest points are and what data you
have (and they need) that supports your position best.
Now, to create visual aids for what you tell, you need some
guidelines about what makes graphic sense to us and what’s most
Here are some of the most important techniques for making visual
materials extend and clarify your message. This is information you need
whether you will design simple visuals and execute them yourself, or
want to be more knowledgeable (and critical) if you get the art
department or someone to do them for you. They will help your own
creativity understand what you can make visual and how to do that best,
avoiding pitfalls.
Basic Guidelines
Visuals Dominate Talking
Whenever you introduce a visual demonstration, your audience will
stop looking at you and instantly become absorbed in looking at, and
trying to understand, the visual.
We are always drawn to action over just listening. (Notice the next
time a door opens and someone enters a meeting room.) Since a visual
aid engages the audience and gives them independent work to do, they
are immediately drawn to the more active role. Knowing this, you need
to choose your visual aids with care, to be sure they support you and
don’t just compete with you.
Which Medium and Why
Form follows function. First decide what you want to say. Then think
about which form says it best; chart, slide, diagram on the board, list on
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Designing Presentations 115
a flip chart, video piece? Different media forms create their own
conditioned responses from earlier association. Decide what effect you
want: informal and improvisational, or professional, top-of-the-line, well
Exhibits Can Be Simple
Don’t think that bigger is better and expensive is more. There are
many times when the best visual medium would be an informal,
interactive one like a blackboard or flip chart. Direct and personal.
Good Design Makes a Difference
Be aware of color, shape, size, layout. Look for advice on eloquent
design. There are good and bad ways to make charts, graphs, and so on,
that can enhance or detract from your message. Quality counts.
Use Color
Color is loaded with information, creating dramatic, emotional
responses. An invaluable source of visual communication, it affects how
we see and respond to hard information. It creates warmth, drama,
contrast, variety, credibility, and interest in your otherwise cold, factual
information. There is a “corporate conspiracy” about using black slides
with white letters. Born out of sheer habit and the mistaken emphasis on
“what shows up best,” this technique has been putting hapless audiences
and board rooms to sleep for years! Why not use the extraordinary power
and emotional dimension of color—of many colors, of contrasts, of variety
and of sheer pleasure—in your attempt to persuade?
Is every slide you show equally important, or unimportant? Surely
not! Do they all deal with the same subject? In the same way? Are
numbers, graphs, lists and phrases designed to do the same thing—to get
the same response?
Add to these challenges the fact that black and white is also the
driest, dullest, most unaffecting combination there is. No juice! No
feelings! No persuasion or motivation on its own.
It only requires a little nudge and the willingness of executives and
graphics departments to re-think an old haibit for the business world to
get on the color standard and make slide presentations as persuasive and
effective as they really can be!
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Research Placement and Scale
Go to the room you will use to give your presentation. Examine how
far away everyone will be and where they will sit. In order to make
something big enough but not too big and to find the optimum size for your
letters (be they pre-printed or written by you at the moment), you need
to get a clear picture of the requirements that room dictates. Practice by
writing on chart or blackboard in that room and seeing the size from the
audience’s viewpoint. Notice the lighting for best placement.
Control the Information
The single biggest mistake I see in my work is the tendency to
overload visual aids with too much information at once.
Result? You lose control. While you’re explaining the upper lefthand
corner or column one, they’ve gotten to all the bottom lines and are
roaming all over the place making judgments, and incidentally totally
missing your explanation of the upper left-hand corner or column one.
Therefore—you must control your visual information.
Only give one piece at a time—just show as much as you can explain,
in small, self-contained pieces. Then add the next point and talk about it,
then the next, and so on. Whenever you add a point, you challenge your
audience to keep thinking, to stay active and involved.
Adding Information
In order to control each piece of information you give, add additional
pieces visually. And only when you are ready to talk about them. To help
your audience stay with and absorb only your explanation, when you give
it, not their guesses as to what you mean, try these:
• If you’re using a blackboard or a flip chart, draw or write while you
explain and stop till you’re ready for the next point. Don’t reveal great
gobs of information and then talk. Introduce, then draw and explain as
you do. Your material will then unfold naturally, and only when you’re
ready to add it.
• With prepared charts use transparent overlays, if possible. Separate
your data into individual points, time lapses, chronology, or new
information, each of which modifies previous data. Add them one at a
time or draw on a slick transparency to make each new point.
• When creating slides or overhead transparencies, use the “build”
system. Slide one has only the basics or the outline. Add a piece of data
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Designing Presentations 117
with slide two. Add more with the next. Keep the style and layout
consistent so the audience can focus only on the addition of new material,
not a new layout each time. Use colors to designate newly added material.
Accumulate the Data
Accumulating data gives much greater impact and makes logical progressive
sense as you go along. By building on, point by point, and leaving
the original data still visible, you keep making your first point stronger.
The audience can see how the evidence mounts. The sheer weight of
visibly accumulated data gives additional clout to any argument.
Make Material Consistent
Use the same symbols throughout. When using a blackboard or flip
chart: if you start printing, don’t start writing after a while. Don’t put
6/22, then July 5th. Lists should also stay in a line under each other for
easy comprehension.
Make Visuals Self-Explanatory
Label all unfamiliar items with a line connected to them and a label
out to the side so your audience can readily identify them whenever they
Create a Glossary
If you’re going to use technical or unfamiliar terms, create a glossary,
adding to it as you go along. Put it on an easel or on the side of the board
for ready reference by your audience as you continue explaining. It will
cut down on redundancy and will ensure that everyone knows what
you’re talking about, as they keep checking it while you speak.
Techniques for Using Visual Aids
Let Them Look
If one reason for using visuals is to engage your audience—let them
look! Hold still, be quiet, and let the visual impact itself take over.
Visuals are eloquent. They do captivate. They are more exciting than just
talking. Learn to wait. Work with visuals and let them help you.
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Build Anticipation
To increase their appetite, tell your audience what you’re going to
show before you present it: “Let me show you a chart that demonstrates
this trend.” Then, present it and wait a moment. Let the eyes roam, get
adjusted, and absorb. Then you can become more specific and focused.
You’ll get maximum attention when you prepare your listeners in
advance and then let them discover on their own a little. This gives
audiences that sense of power and independence, therefore the desire to
learn more and stay tuned in.
Keep Materials Organized and Neat
Nothing looks worse than messy, disorganized materials. Keep
transparencies neatly stacked in boxes, charts in portfolios. You’d be
surprised at how carefully your audience notices small details and gives
bad marks. It not only looks unprepared but shows less respect for them,
as though you approached this encounter very casually.
Stay Active with Your Exhibits
Use them as an extension of yourself, to underscore your points.
Learn to handle them comfortably, to master whatever medium you will
be using. Write and underline often, to show your control of the subject
and help your audience get your point.
A final note: Lots of people feel uncomfortable about using visual
aids. They think that visuals look too pedantic, sterile, stuffy, deliberate,
I suggest that you try a few—in the interests of your audience. Not
only do they really work and vastly improve your listener’s comprehension;
we are now such a visual society that you can buy a much longer
attention span by making ideas visual.
Try it . . .
The bottom line on designing presentations: Unfold your material
with full awareness of what learning/listening systems we, as your
audience, use to understand you. Choose different styles for further
impact but always keep the basic progression logical and orderly, letting
your audience “see ” your outline and your material.
Now—on to Close Encounters.
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The difference between one-on-one encounters and the group
interactions we’ve been talking about is the level of intensity: it’s
personal visibility without dilution. You can’t get away with as much in
a one-on-one situation: the margin for error is very small.
This makes the give and take a little harder than in a group, where
you get some relief because of the numbers participating and the time
that gives you to think.
Now, close encounters can be benign, like mild get-acquainted or
informational sessions; they’re not all acute, emotional, or confrontive.
But the process of two people interacting in a business setting is up three
or four stress notches from anything else you do at work.
So our work in this chapter will be to analyze each segment of a close
encounter; to understand and find good communications solutions to the
various aspects; to give you options as initiator or participant. Let’s begin
with the underlying structure.
A one-on-one encounter has four segments—Openers, Substance,
Special Issues, Closure. The function and quality of each segment
determines what kind of communication is needed and how to deliver it
As we’ve already discovered by the pains I took to “open” this book
well and invitingly for you, those first few opening moments really count
in any human encounter, but especially in a one-on-one.
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First impressions etch deeply because they’re written on a clean
slate, when nothing else is going on except curiosity and the alert
collection of data on both sides. They not only establish you to each
other; they create the environment in which your meeting will continue.
Before You Begin
What’s your goal? To be cool? Secure? Efficient? Open? To create an
environment of support, reasonable discussion, or whatever? Decide on
your persona and what quality would suit this occasion before you begin.
Base it on all that pre-planning we talked about in Chapter 3 and the
strategies you developed because of it. Then use it, especially at the
Change Gears
Until your meeting begins, your “other” was all involved in something
else. It requires an active stepping on the brakes, stopping, then
putting the work engine into another gear to make him/her go from that
focus to the new tack you wish to take.
Therefore, making a personal dent and helping the other person
change gears to focus on you is the first order of business in the
“Openers” segment of your one-on-one encounter. In order to do that,
you need to take a little time to help the other person slow down, stop,
and restart with you.
The next group of suggestions will do that, and more. I’ll focus on
both visitor and meeting-caller, to show you how to create the most
productive and appropriate environment, at the beginning of your
How You Greet
• To shake or not to shake
Women, particularly, ask me about this. They’re concerned since
many men don’t offer a hand and it looks like such a male gesture if they
do it. Since it’s such an expected gesture when business people meet
each other, my advice is to shake hands and to offer yours if it’s not
offered first. That initial physical gesture can help establish a businesswww.
Close Encounters 121
like, professional atmosphere. By the way, for anyone, if your hands
are very cold (or damp) because this is a high-stress meeting, rub them
together hard before you go in. No sense betraying that calm exterior
. . .
• Smile
Animals do it to signal friendly and non-threatening demeanor! We
need it, too. Sometimes in your rapt concentration you forget to smile.
A concentrated face can often look forbidding or even angry. Be aware.
• “Jack” or “Mr. Hill”
American informality in the workplace generally dictates first names.
However, the content, the relative age and positions, and the intended
outcome of the encounter make all the difference in how you make this
choice. The culture in your place of business and the particular style of
the individual you’re meeting with also count. Using someone’s first
name is taking a liberty. Be careful about sounding intrusive and
presumptuous. The saftest route with someone you don’t know well is to
start with “Mr. Hill” till he says “Jack—please.”
Small Talk
Hardly “small”! The next few moments that you spend (or should
spend) chatting are an untapped gold mine—if you know what they’re for
and how to use them. (They’re not only for helping to change gears.)
One important use: Small talk helps you each get accustomed to the
other’s style, voice, and speech patterns, if you don’t know each other.
Another: Small talk covers the slightly awkward moments of settling
down and settling in, whether you know each other or not.
Perhaps the most valuable by-products of small talk are:
• To connect and get to know each other (or start the ball rolling,
if you already do) in a most relaxed, non-product-oriented,
personal kind of contact.
• To develop a source of personal information you can use within
the meeting.
• To let the other person begin to relate to you.
Here are some small talk suggestions and why to use them.
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You’re now in someone’s personal space. See what you can learn.
People are extremely revealing in what and how they choose to create a
personal environment. First—notice. Then—comment.
Everyone loves their precious or meaningful objects to be valued and
admired by others (especially if they display them on the walls and
shelves of their offices). Look and you can discover personal passions
(fishing; photography); other human dimensions (family, kinds of books,
antique furniture); awards, diplomas (is that where she’s from!);
controversial subjects (he’s a member of the National Rifle Association
and you’re against handguns!).
These personal observations can have several beneficial results:
• Bonding: “I see you’re a skier, too. Where do you usually ski? We
have a house (or do day trips, etc.) at . . .”
Contact! You’ve opened a conversation vein, discovered something
in common, and gotten the opportunity to tell him/her something about
yourself, too.
• Personal (to someone you know): “Gee, the family’s really growing
up! (Most everyone has family pictures around.) Doesn’t that give you a
turn, when your boy starts borrowing your ties?”
Contact again! You can spend a few moments listening to his attitude
toward the passage of time (comfortable or not) and something more
about his family (everyone has something to say about that). It also lets
you share something about yours, and you . . .
Or: “You know, we’re expecting a child next month. Think I’ll pop in
for some advice!’ Again, opening a third dimension before you zero in on
just business.
These kinds of personal asides are a much smoother transition into
your subject than just an abrupt “getting down to business.”
• Informational. You can also ask questions: “What’s the story behind
that picture (fire helmet, autographed baseball, Kermit the Frog puppet,
etc.)?” or just appreciate and admire: “What a view,” “What a great
desk,” etc. All of these will generate “small” but useful talk.
Note: Always be sensitive to how small talk is being received and
when it’s time to move on to the next step. Pick up signals about
impatience, time pressures, and so on.
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Close Encounters 123
As host, making small talk with a visitor is equally important. Of
course it depends on your goals and how you want the meeting to go.
Generally speaking, taking the initiative in establishing some mutual
conversation puts everyone at ease.
Generic talk about the latest news or weather all the way to more
personal “How was your vacation?” or, “You’re looking very fit and trim”
(to someone you know), or, “That’s a wonderful color you’re wearing.
Makes me feel like spring is really in the air” (to someone you don’t
know) are all good beginnings. What you say should help the visitor add
to the conversation and help to get the ball rolling. Lots of folks need a
little help to get started.
If it’s someone you don’t know well, the welcome you put out can
establish the tone of the meeting, helping the other to settle into the
business at hand in a shorter time span, with less need to oversell,
over-impress, or stay very intense.
Where to Sit
The issue of where to sit is a ticklish one. Since there are places in
the room where the power gets equalized and places where it tilts very
much in one direction, this is an issue to think about.
Don’t sit right down. “Case the joint,” as they say. What are the
options? Is there more than one area in which to sit? Stand and/or walk
around (ostensibly admiring the view, etc.) until you decide where you’d
like to sit. Now you can’t just wander. But you can redirect and not accept
what is offered immediately. Find an alternative (which I’ll explain) and
give a good reason for sitting there. Here are the usual options:
• Sitting across the desk
A weak position: The office owner has all the marbles on his/her side
with memorabilia that says, “This is mine and you’re an intruder or a
petitioner.” Avoid this at all costs, if possible.
• Sitting to the side of the desk
Next best: Pull a chair up to the side of the desk. This lets you both
share in looking at documents from the same angle. It also allows you to
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move to the corner of the desk so that there is no physical barrier
between you.
• A neutral corner
Optimum: If the office has a couch-or-two-chairs/coffee-table arrangement,
that’s where to go. A round table in another part of the room
is also great. In either case, you start out much more visually equal, and
that affects how you present and how you’re perceived.
• How to get there
Have a reason for wanting to go to the neutral corner or moving your
chair to the side of the desk, if there is no neutral corner: “Since I have
some figures (materials, product) to show you, perhaps we could sit
where we can both look at them together, like here . . . ” or, “Maybe
there’s more room over here for my portfolio (report, etc.) . . .”
Office Owner
Knowing the above, you can select where you want the visitor to sit,
based on your strategy for the meeting. The more power you have, the
greater the need to think about this particular non-verbal aspect of
communicating. People are usually at least a little uncomfortable in your
(someone else’s) office. See how you can put them at ease.
Now let’s turn to another role; you as host.
The gift giving implicit in the simple gesture of offering a cup of
coffee has many more ramifications than just being polite.
• Sensual: What! At a business meeting? Yes, the person you’re
dealing with has brought all his human responses into your office.
Feeding is sensual. It makes us feel good, warm, cared for. Therefore,
ofFering and sharing this experience is a great welcoming gesture.
• Physical activity: The coffee ritual affords one something to do on
both sides. It can get some of that runaway adrenal energy under control
(probably better use decaffeinated coffee . . .).
• Feeding before taking: Especially if you’re about to give criticism,
bad news, or ask for a big commitment, the idea of giving before getting
sets the visitor up in a more sated, open frame of mind.
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Close Encounters 125
• Informal talk time: Just attending to the business of “cream and
sugar, etc.” can be another level of small talk.
For all these reasons, the “hosting” posture you can attain by offering
something to drink or personally arranging for coats, gear, and so on to
be cared for is a valuable adjunct to the ice-breaker aspect of the Opening
What if your host doesn’t offer and you’re nervous and need a little
more time to get into your subject? It’s really quite all right to say
something like “You know, this is the first moment I’ve had all day. I’d
just love to get myself a cup of coffee before we begin. Okay?” But pick
your host. If he/she is formal and snappish, swallow and go on!
Body Language
For both sides, this is a great clue giver as to the general attitude
toward the encounter and what else you might want to do to counteract
what you see. These are the areas to look at:
How They Sit
• Forward on the edge of the seat = tension, anxiety.
• Lounging back = not necessarily relaxed. Sometimes this is an
attempt to look relaxed. Need other clues to verify this.
• Changing positions = too much movement means they literally
can’t find a comfortable place; it’s hard to settle down. Sometimes
the result of the adrenals overflowing at the beginning of a
Or—it could mean they’re getting impatient . . .
• Clasped = perhaps tense, but notice how tightly they’re clasped.
Do they open and close their fingers? Another sign of tension and
nervousness. For some people, clasped hands are a sign of orderliness
and doing things correctly, like in school, remember?
• Open and relaxed = a good indicator that this person is feeling in
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• Fiddling with objects = unsure; needs tangible touching to feel
comforted. Also signifies highly charged overflow of physical energy.
• Clutching chair arms = holding onto reality. Needs an anchor.
Another sign of tension.
Eye Contact
• How and/or if we make eye contact is a most eloquent source of
• Steady gaze = calm interior; sense of security and strength about
• Shifting glances = obviously unable to hold his/her ground; to
confront you.
• Looking over your head or down = solo monologue; not taking the
listener into account.
Look for Anger, Impatience, Hostility
Throughout the encounter, stay tuned into the other’s body language.
Notice what else is being transmitted non-verbally if you want to
know more about how your opposite number is accepting you and your
So—Openers are for getting you started, warming up the
environment and helping the opposite number to feel comfortable and
more in touch with you. But they’re also to help make the first quick
evaluation we’re all so good at, and to use that information in the
encounter itself.
Now, to what the meeting’s about.
Up Front: Agenda, Goals, Time
If you called the meeting—introduce your subject by starting at the
beginning, as we discussed in Chapter 5.
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Close Encounters 127
• Agenda
When you begin the Substance section of your encounter, tell your
opposite number what you have planned. Describe your agenda in
simple, bullet-like terms. Hit only the highlights. This is to explain the
organization of your information, not to give it, just yet.
• Goals
Everyone who’s busy at work wants some bottom-line orientation. So
the next thing you share are your goals for this meeting; why you’re
having it, what you hope to accomplish; perhaps something about how
your opposite number relates to this material.
• Time
Unless you negotiated the time when you scheduled your appointment
(as I suggested), you must now ask how much time you have and
do your editing right there. Even if you have already negotiated it,
remind your counterpart how long you’ll take and ask if there are any
problems with that time.
Sharing the Power
Decide on how much power you need in this encounter. Depending
on who called the meeting and what the subject matter is about, one
important aspect of a one-on-one is finding ways to balance the power
between two people.
My work has taught me that people communicate best when they
feel on solid ground. Not only the solid ground of knowing their subject
and being committed to an idea but also the solid ground of being able
to share in how things will be done and that he/she can make things
happen at the meeting, too.
How Much Can You Share
It requires inner security to know that you do have power and that
you therefore can share as much as you like because you’re not losing it;
you’re only lending some . . .
You surely know that subordinates worry about your power. Calling
a meeting puts you in a powerful position indeed.
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To make maximum listening room in a subordinates mind or to
ensure an honest exchange if you wish to get something clear or find
something out, you need to let your subordinate know that he/she has
power, too:
“Susan, we’ll talk about some issues that may have controversy
attached to them. It would be most constructive if we got those out as we
talk, so let’s agree that you not only may, but I urge you to interrupt with
questions and take an opposing stand, if you feel that way.”
Be sure that you mean it. Don’t patronize or make statements of
form, not substance! This must be genuine, or else the first time Susan
speaks up and you get vague or fight back or don’t listen, she’ll know not
to do that again!
Subordinate or Peer
How much power you can hope to exercise in this encounter
depends not only on the subject matter and circumstances of the meeting
but mainly on your opposite number. Some people need to feel in total
control, for many different reasons, of course. Think: What are your
opposite number’s major motivations and style of working?
As long as you feed his/her primary need, you, too, can share in the
power by questioning within that framework, suggesting but not threatening
or becoming too stubborn or resistant. Examples:
• To an Achiever Boss (who responds to tasks): “I understand that’s
how to do that project. One more addition, maybe, that would get it
done even faster—how about X . . .” or, “The task must definitely be
done. But I have a problem with Y. Help me try to deal with it so we can
get right to completing the project.”
In either case, you’ve given him/her the power by agreeing to do the
task and put your suggestion or objection in his/her terms—how to get
the task done best. This then allows you to negotiate from your needs
and get some power of your own.
• To an Affiliator Boss (who feels powerful through a sense of being
needed): “That project is a really great idea! I’m flattered that you asked
me. I’ll need your help in sorting out the opening steps, but I’m sure we
can do it.”
Again, by playing into the Affiliator’s greatest need, to feel connected,
you can also rearrange the project to suit your needs as well.
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Close Encounters 129
• To an Influencer Boss (who needs affirmation of team leadership):
“You know, our team can put that project together with some real
substance, because of the expertise we’ve got. By the way, could you get
me involved in the Z part of it? I think I can make a major contribution.”
Knowing that the Influencer is very invested in organizing and
leading a successful group, you could then ask for your preferred
assignment acknowledging his power to delegate it.
When you present an idea or discuss an issue, identify what aspect
of it would best fit into the other person’s motivation. What would be
his/her prime concern? Saving money? Gaining new influence in the
workforce or marketplace? Developing a new product or system? Would
it make the other person look good? Use this appeal to core motivation
as the opening wedge to get your listener’s attention and to persuade
Telling and Explaining
This is such a vast subject that I’ve handled it in three different
chapters! Organizing, structure, and visualization in Chapter 5; presentation
techniques in Chapter 7; and explaining and answering questions
in Chapter 8.
Therefore, let me focus here only on some specific ideas about how
to enhance your explanation or statement in an impromptu fashion,
without pre-planned material, as you talk and things come up.
Making Ideas Instantly Visual
Explaining, as we have discovered, is very hard to do only verbally.
Also, people often need to keep seeing the “before” so they can evaluate
the “after”—what effect it has or how the whole process gets connected.
Example: Suppose you’re planning what happens if you route a
product through the usual system (as your opposite number is now
suggesting) vs. rerouting and including a new loop in the system (which
you think will work best). You see that the other person isn’t getting it.
To be convincing, this explanation needs visualizing. But how, on the
spur of the moment? You could:
• Draw it on a yellow pad as a diagram. The plus side is that it’s very
simple to do.
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The minus side is that it is a flat, two-dimensional portrayal,
inanimate and uninteresting. It can only give the bare-bones information,
and you need to draw several diagrams to show the extra possibilities or
do a lot of crossing out and mish-mash. I find the next way better, more
succinct and more persuasive (also more fun).
• Use a few tangible objects on the desk or coffee table, or on your
person, as symbols of the various parts of your idea. Cups, paperweights,
ashtrays, paper clips, pens, etc., work very well. Designate each one as
a part of the routing system: “The cup is a . . . and the two ashtrays are
the . . . ” Pens and pencils make excellent “arrows,” showing directions
and connections.
Then set up the current route (your opposite’s preference). You can
talk about each step as you build it (what it’s for, how it moves to the next
place) and actually move the objects around. You can get your opposite
number involved, too.
This provides three-dimensional plus tactile visualization (much
more interesting). It’s more colorful and more active. It can show
movement and retrace steps to show variations with the same basic
objects. You can set up two systems, side by side, for instant visual
comparison. It’s a novel and original way to tell, bound to capture
interest and attention as well as better comprehension.
Ask Before You Tell
To get someone involved right at the top of your presenting an idea,
start by asking them an interesting question. A few startling bits of trivia
relating to your subject: “What do you think is the biggest. . . ?” or,
“How much money do you think is spent each year on. . . ?” This
approach engages your opposite number in trying to answer and being
properly surprised by the right answer. It also establishes your expertise
very quickly and it’s a different way to start, not openly aggressive or
Create a Positive Environment
Primary in any discussion is the environment in which it happens. If
it’s a challenge session in which the goal is to put you on the defensive
and make you answer negative comments, it’s not a discussion.
Host and visitor should both be aware of the optimal circumstances
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for discussion and work hard to keep the exchange factual, easy, and
friendly. One big advantage of a one-on-one discussion is the fact that
there are only two people, so, unlike a group meeting, you can each have
lots of turns and be heard, and can also focus more directly on each one’s
ideas and subtext.
We usually start out trying to listen. The problem arises when the
sides differ and the discussion deteriorates into a series of interruptions
and counterarguments.
How to fix that?
What do you think of: “Gee, Dan, I keep trying to make my point
and you cut me off”?
Well, it’s truthful. But is it persuasive? Not really. It’s very
judgmental and accusative of Dan. How about:
“Gee, Dan, we’re both so hot to get our point across that I don’t
think either of us is listening! Let’s each take five minutes apiece and
present our point of view, uninterrupted”?
The advantage of the latter idea is that the speaker said both were not
listening (which has to be true because the person who is interrupted
spends some time seething, not listening!). This allows both to save face
and begin again.
Consider the Idea
Stay open! Give credibility to each idea. We do have a tendency to
close down just because it isn’t our idea.
Before you go off half-cocked, ask questions! Be sure you understand
the whole idea before you answer, defend, or counter-punch.
Be Clear
In order to be convincing in a discussion, listen to yourself!
Sometimes when you talk of something very familiar to you, you use
shorthand and your opposite number may not get it.
Notice and Comment On What’s Being Discussed
“I see you want to know more about X. Is that an important issue?”
Become very conscious within a discussion about the underlying
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trends of the subject matter. Not only should you notice in order to pick
up clues on what to answer; you also can find out about the hidden
concerns of the person you’re talking with. Good to know for further
motivation and persuasion.
When you mention what else is taking place, “I see you want to
know . . .”, it’s generally very disarming and also focuses the discussion.
How they deal with the answer is also important to notice.
Know When to Get Out
You need to develop a sense about when you’ve been around the
track enough times and learn to end it and get out.
“Well, I guess we could keep pulling this apart but perhaps
we’ve explored it enough for now. Let me suggest that I leave (or send
you) some materials for you to think about.” Or, “I hear what you’re
saying. Let me think about it for a while and then we can talk about it
These approaches work whether you are the originator of the
meeting or the one being questioned or perhaps disagreed with.
To sum up segment two of Close Encounters—Substance: The
techniques for presenting an idea or explaining yourself are as important
here as in a large speech. You need to capture and hold your audience of
one, too! Don’t forget about motivation when you want to persuade. Be
sure to bring substantive visual materials to bolster your point and to
leave materials behind for further consideration.
So far, the steps within each segment have followed a chronological
order. But there are also particularly ticklish communications issues that
often crop up in a close encounter and they need special attention.
Creative Criticism
We often forget that the main purpose of criticizing is not to be
negative but to be constructive! To fix something! One of the most
difficult things to do when you need to criticize someone for a job not
well done, or for a major goof, is to reassure and encourage at the same
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time that you’re criticizing. Unless you can give them the reinforcement
that they’re capable of fixing it, most people won’t be able to get past the
negative “you screwed up” message to listen to you and try to do better.
Accentuate the Positive
“Harry, that writing job you did was short and to the point, just as I
requested. It made good sense and was well written. Thanks. Now—let’s
look at something that needs fixing . . . ”
Before you tell him/her what was wrong, spend a little time on what
went right! It sounds so self-evident but it’s a common human failing: We
get so focused on exploring the mistake that we don’t hear how negative
it all sounds, or that something went correctly.
If you praise before you criticize, people are more likely to listen to
the criticism with both ears, knowing that you’re not totally displeased
and they’re not totally deficient.
Be Specific
“Ruth, I didn’t like the way you did the report, at all! It was generally
dull and not too convincing. Do it over and make it shorter, and more
interesting. ”
What does Ruth do with this kind of criticism? What’s “interesting”?
And “shorter”? It all seems important; what should she leave out? (Also,
notice that put-down of an opening line!)
General criticism is destructive. It doesn’t lead anyone to know how
to fix things; it just makes people feel bad. We all have different verbal
and visual styles and conceive different ways to say the same thing. But,
unless you can explain specifically, you haven’t started fixing anything.
To help the criticized person know how to fix what you object to,
define exactly what went wrong and why it is unsatisfactory. Most people
are generally so sensitive to criticism that they’ll say, “Yes, I understand,”
when they actually don’t, just to get the criticism to end. Specific
examples for improvement as well as specific descriptions of exactly what
you mean are a must.
“Ruth, it’s too long. To fix it, why not take out the detailed
background sections? That will leave you with only the current status,
which is fine. Then, you could include some examples and those
customer letters as well as some visuals, perhaps. That should make it
more interesting, which it needs, to be more effective.”
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Stay with the Facts, Not the Person
“Look, this job wasn’t done correctly and only a very sloppy person
who doesn’t pay attention would have let that go through!”
It’s often a temptation to pull in the whole kitchen sink when all you
need to criticize is the faucet. We sometimes get carried away and attack
the person—their ability, intentions, smarts, etc.—-when all that needs
to be discussed is what thing or process went wrong.
“Well, this job went wrong. Somehow it was allowed to go through.
It would help to figure out why so we can fix it.”
Getting at the Truth
Behavior is predictable, given certain kinds of circumstances. What
do you think people normally do when they’re accused of something,
criticized, or asked to discuss something incriminating? Wouldn’t they
naturally be self-protective and careful of what they’d say? Wouldn’t
In one-on-one encounters where the subject is incriminating—like
finding out why or how someone goofed or uncovering a weak link in the
system—you as truth seeker need to counter the usual self-protective
responses with some strategic moves to get to what you want.
Describe the Expected Response
Before you start, clear the air and surprise him/her.
“I was thinking before you came in about how / would feel if
someone asked me to talk about. . . and asked me about X and Y. I guess
I’d be pretty careful with my answers. Is that how you feel?
This opens the conversation on a healthier note of allowing for
people’s natural tendencies. It sounds understanding. It helps the other
person feel safer and encourages them to tell you how they feel before
you go for the hard information. Then you can deal with fears, anxiety,
reluctance to “tattle,” and so on.
Tell What You Want to Know and Why
Your intention has very much to do with how, and if, someone will
answer you openly. If the reason sounds useful and valuable to the
ongoing good of the business or the group, you have begun to provide
motivation. The other person can then select from what you want to
know about and feel in some control at the same time that they answer
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Close Encounters 135
Tell What You’ll Do With It
The next worry people generally have is:
“If I discuss this openly, what will be the result? What will he/she do
with it? Why should I be a party to that?”
If your issue deals with fellow workers there is the loyalty issue to
contend with, and the feeling that the troops bond together, not
necessarily with the leader. There’s also the consequence of lapsed
privacy and secrecy. So tell them what you’ll do with the information and
how, in as much as you can.
Help by Leading
“There are probably two things you can tell me about that. You
worked with the . . . so you could start there.”
Leading people toward some organized direction instead of saying,
“What can you tell me?” is very reassuring. Since the concerns are
generally as we have described them, it helps to have you edit and
eliminate, rather than leaving them to flounder in a sea of choices, most
of which look dangerous. Starting them talking helps you to ask follow-up
questions to pinpoint more specifically or to move off to another
If You’re Not Getting What You Need
Say it. Tell the person being questioned what the problem seems to
be and what’s missing. I don’t suggest too many manipulative crossexaminer
tactics, especially if you have no training in this. If someone
feels backed into a corner, they will become even more defensive and
Handling Anger—Yours and His/Hers
The major clue to handling anger successfully is: First, agree it’s
there! Generally, we try to deny it or pretend it’s not happening, on both
In a business setting, the person with more power allows him/herself
to express anger much more commonly than the subordinate. Yet there
are many levels of seething or hostility, and you need to learn to
recognize the many faces before you can deal successfully with anger—
yours and his/hers.
Perhaps the best way to tell you how to do this is to tell you a story.
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I was the host of my own TV talk show in Boston for many years.
Nothing makes you learn about human communication and what doesn’t
work faster than trying to interview, talk with, or handle people on live
TV before almost a million viewers and hitting a wall! Talk of damp
Here’s how I learned about handling anger: I was slated to interview
a famous movie star who was making a film on location near Boston. We
had promoted it very heavily on air. Yet, although he had initially
agreed, he had put us off several times, and we were now at the last
possible day for shooting the interview. Armed with a definite appointment,
we packed a full TV crew and went trekking off (in mid-December)
to a cold, bleak forest glade where they were shooting the film.
Our movie hero again stalled us, with a rather acid greeting:
“Oh, of course. We’ll just stop shooting this silly little movie and do
your little old interview. ” Here’s where the lesson begins.
My approach was to smile sweetly, turn the other cheek, and placate
by saying:
“No. no, please. We’ll just wait until you’re done.”
A clear case of denying the anger—to myself and to him!
Result? We waited all that freezing afternoon (overtime clock ticking
for the crew) until our hero was ready for us—at 5:00 P.M. Five P.M. in
Boston in December means DARK!
Again, ignoring the seething messages we were getting, we scrambled
around, rigged up lights in a by-now/reezmg setting, and sat down
to begin our—uh—talking/sharing/listening/experience. Right.
The next experience provided Lesson Two—one I have never
forgotten and that I teach as a major strategy all the time.
Still denying the truth of what was really going on, I started what I
hoped would be a pleasant interview with a . . . snarling tiger. The more
questions I asked, the testier he got. I continued on my Goody
Two-Shoes path of pretending all was well, convinced that it was my
fault. I kept looking for a great question and he kept being more openly
abusive and ridiculing. All of this was, of course, being captured in living
color by our TV cameras, to be edited and shown the next morning, as
advertised. Finally, my producer signaled the cameras and me to wrap it
up and, undaunted, still smiling sweetly, I said, “Thank you,” and called
it a night.
And ran to the truck and broke into tears. Do you know what? I
didn’t blame our movie star. I blamed myself for being so inept! I felt that
if my questions were better, maybe I could have gotten him to turn
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Close Encounters 137
I learned then how unrealistic, harmful, and useless it is not to deal
with anger as soon as it happens and you see it.
But don’t let me leave you here. Of course there’s a happy ending
and a moral to my story.
Now, what could I do with this disaster of an interview—to be seen
by my audience in a very few hours? I decided that because it was such
a great lesson for everyone, we should show it, with an introduction from
me telling about my terrible failure and wanting to share it with them so
we could all learn something from it.
Learn what? What should I have said? I should have said gently,
non-judgmentally, simply as an observation:
“You know, Mr. Movie Star, you seem to be very angry, ‘ and let him
respond. Putting the ball in his court, we could both have dealt with his
anger and been on very solid ground. Then I could have dealt with what
really was happening instead of what I thought and hoped should have
been happening.
Telling this all to my audience and showing parts of the interview, I
then filled in with many common experiences we all have like that; not
dealing with what’s really going on and hoping it’ll go away, or get better
on its own, or blaming ourselves for not being able to fix it “somehow.”
Not yet a happy ending, you say? Wait.
Time marched on. A whole year of time. I had really learned my
lesson. I handled many hot topics and hot-under-the-collar people
according to my new technique of simply, benignly, saying what I saw
happening, right away, and then being able to defuse and deal with it
effectively. And it worked!
And then, my turn came around again—with our self-same movie
hero! Back in town to promote the now-completed movie, his people
asked to book him on my show.
What happened? It was wonderful. I did everything I taught my
audience and myself to do, based on my bitter lesson. He and I talked of
the last time we’d seen each other. He vaguely remembered the
occasion: “Something about you all weren’t prepared and ready for me,”
he said. I said, “No, that wasn’t how it was at all,” and proceeded to tell
him what actually happened.
Again, he became angry, saying that TV interviewers ask too many
intrusive questions, etc. I said, “Hey, we’re doing it again. I see you’re
getting angry again.” And do you know what he did? He laughed!
“Yup, ya got me.” he said. And then we had an absolutely splendid
interview . . .
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Enough said.
If you’re angry, say so. “This really does upset me (make me mad,
etc.) because . . . ” This allows others to deal with your anger and help
move the conversation to a more productive place.
If someone can’t say it and you see it, then you say:
“I see you’re very angry (or upset or whatever). What aspect upsets
you about this?” Then leave it, giving him/her a chance to vent it and
calm down. Then deal with that.
(There’s a whole section on handling hostility with many more tactics
in Chapter 8: The Art of Being Questioned. Read it for more ideas.)
Now on to Closure, the last segment of a Close Encounter.
This seemingly simple segment is very often mishandled or quite
forgotten. Here is where the nitty-gritty takes place. Unless you both
know exactly what happened and exactly what you both expect from each
other next, your whole encounter was for naught.
Recap and Clarify
“Now, let’s go over what we talked about, just to be sure we’re both
on the same wavelength.”
Sounds simple, yet it’s funny how often people forget to do that.
Each person thinks the other got what he got, and that’s rarely the case.
We all use selective listening: Tuned into our major themes, wanting
to be sure we got our particular goal achieved, we don’t notice too much
about what else took place. Therefore, recap is important.
If it’s your meeting, do it very methodically. Start from the
beginning of your agenda and go down the list. Check off each item with
notes about what you both decided: send those notes to the other for
mutual sign-off.
Take the opportunity to re-discuss any issues that still seem unresolved.
This is your last chance.
If you’re the other participant, be sure you speak up during this part
of the meeting. Don’t just agree. Sometimes this is a better place to
make, even win, a final point. When other parts have been resolved and
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Close Encounters 139
there’s only one sticky place left, a little distance from the initial
discussion can bring cooler heads to bear.
Just a simple “You know, that still makes me uncomfortable,” or,
“I’m still not altogether clear about our intention from now on” will open
it again. Then resolve it into its final form.
List Next Steps
Again—methodically. Make a real list. Write dates for upcoming
moves; who else will be involved; what else you need, to continue; and
so on. Again, it’s important that all this be memorialized in a memo that
states it in writing for mutual sign-off.
If you’re with a client, not a peer or staff member, this is still a
necessary step. Writing down what you decided and sending a follow-up
letter makes your mutual decision that much more binding. This is the
time for clarifying what you really plan to do.
Who, How, and When often involves checking with others and
getting back to your original meeting partner with additional data. Make
that clear as well. The immediate vs. the long-range plans need to be
defined, and the process for checking back and checking up on progress
made also needs to be discussed and decided on.
End on a High Note
Whichever role you played, the final exit lines and the mood created
at the end are very important.
You should leave, if it’s not your office or your meeting, with some
vigor and some “onward and upward” quality. If the meeting was dour
and even critical of you, you need to impart a sense of energy about
tomorrow and optimism that you/he/we can and will fix it:
“Okay, Sam. I heard it all. I feel there are many things we (or I) can
do to change the situation. Let’s get started!”
If the meeting is process-oriented, or relating to a new idea, try
something like:
“I must say how enthusiastic I am about the new plan and how eager
I am to see how it works out. I’ll give it my best. ‘
If you’re the meeting convener, and it was a tough one, this is the
time to heal and soothe. Walk with your opposite number to the door. If
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you’re comfortable with physical contact, this may be the time for the
proverbial (and literal) pat on the back.
“I think we got a lot done. I feel you heard me and I know I heard
you. Let’s make this the basis for our next talk together. I know we can
work things out.”
If you’ve just given a tough assignment, give a great Knute Rockne
“Karen, if anyone can do this job and do it well, it’s you. I look
forward to our next check-in meeting to see how it’s going. Meanwhile,
since it’s pretty complex, if you need me, I’m here.”
In general, “high-note” send-offs by a convener at the end of a
meeting should reverberate in the hall as your participant leaves, making
him/her feel good, purposeful, re-energized, and capable.
“High notes” from the departing visitor should leave the meeting
convener with some positive thoughts about you as you close the door
and disappear. They should provide a moment of reflection about how
you handled yourself and the material and about how fired up you seem
about going forward.
Don’t forget or short-change closure. It’s very valuable; saves phone
calls and extra meetings, and has a great by-product: The last word . . .
Here’s the short form, to help you remember and plan:
• Change gears; make a personal dent
• Warm-up; small talk
• Office as turf; where to sit
• Amenities; the “gift” of coffee, etc.
• Body language; the key weathervane
• Up front; the agenda, goals, and time
• Share the power
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Close Encounters 141
• Make an open-exchange environment
• Consider motivation
• Tell and explain
• Discussion
Special Issues
• Offer creative criticism
• Get at the truth
• Handle anger—yours and his/hers
• Recap and clarify
• List next steps
• Follow-up; Who, How, and When
• End on a high note!
Now, let’s turn to Presentations: Understanding Audiences and
giving them what they need; positioning your presentation; techniques
for writing and delivering them.
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How to Make Memorable Speeches
This is such an easy subject to get into. We’ve all been in audiences;
suffered in them; gone to sleep in them; been inspired and moved in
them; been hopelessly confused in them. In short, we know a lot about
what we don’t like, something about what we do like, and not much
about exactly why.
Is it also fair to say that we generally don’t know exactly how to make
audiences work for us and respond to us? Especially on a regular basis?
Well, the quest for answers stops here.
In this chapter we’ll uncover the secrets of audiences—small or
large. We’ll find out how to make speeches and presentations that will
make an audience listen, understand, and respond on your side.
How Audiences Feel
We know how we feel when a speech is not working or we become
disinterested. But it’s not only the fault of the speech.
There are actually a natural set of givens, responses created by
simply being in an audience and listening to a speaker, that affect us and
make our basic mental set quite predictable. Through they’ve subliminal,
they’re basically how we respond to being members of an audience.
Knowing what these givens are will help us to understand what we
have to do to prepare the presentation and deliver it effectively. Here are
some of the problems that attend us as audience members. We feel:
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Unable to get information unless the speaker gives it and powerless
to change the way things are going, audiences feel basically inactive and
uninvolved. The by-products are: Lowered physical energy level and a
lessened ability or motivation to stay with you and your topic.
Audience membership puts us in a receiving mode when we have
been quite accustomed to running our lives and being the teller or
activator. This makes us feel that we’ve lost our turf. It’s hard to sit back
and just let someone else take over.
You, as the speaker, are instantly visible. You are listed in the
program or, at the least, are introduced. We the audience may also feel
distinguished or at least competent but know that to you, the speaker,
we’re only a sea of faces. Anonymous listeners. One amorphous bunch,
rather than the individuals we pride ourselves on being.
“Let’s see your stuff!” It’s typical of us, when we feel even some of
the above, that we would also feel competitive with the person that put
us in those states. “Who are you to tell me? What do you know that I
don’t already know?” We become not only an audience but a jury.
Put Upon
Often, presentations are either gratuitous, useful for the teller, or
foisted upon an audience because “this is good for you.” Audiences are
not in charge of either the subject or the length and manner of
presentation. This can create resentment, especially if the speaker isn’t
Since most presentations, large or small, cast the speaker as the
champion of a cause, the vendor of an idea, or someone who wants the
audience to do, think, or agree with something, audiences have a natural
tendency to see themselves as being manipulated. They see the speaker
as “doing something to them.” Not a wholesome, open-minded state.
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The common outgrowth of feeling manipulated is to draw the line.
“Don’t tell me what to do” is as old a response as the first time we
disobeyed a parent. There is not only a natural tendency to resist any
salesperson for the sheer feeling of strength, smarts, or personal integrity
it gives us; we are also, due to our ad-happy culture, very sales-shrewd
and vendor-suspicious these days.
Whenever a new idea is presented—or an in-depth, detailed, or
alternative version of an old idea—we as an audience are challenged to
rise to the occasion and understand it. Especially since you—the
speaker—already, and obviously, do. But people learn at different rates
and come to such a table with different skills and differing levels of
comprehension. Therefore, the very act of being in an audience, trying
to understand, can be threatening. Especially since, very often, it’s
material we need and want to understand.
Because we’re all in it together, in that time and place, sharing that
special experience and those possible discomforts, audience members do
feel connected to each other. Singling any one of us out makes the whole
audience feel affiliated with and protective of that person. (Just watch the
TV game shows if you doubt this.)
Now, let’s add the physical realities of sitting in an audience to the
emotional responses and consider the effects they could have:
• How hard are the chairs?
• How long have they already been there?
• What else has gone before?
• Is it hot? Cold?
• Can they see? Hear?
• Are they hungry?
All of the above affect the receptivity of your audience. Using them
as guidelines, let’s move on to Phase One of making a speech.
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Profile Your Audience
What do you especially need to learn about your specific audience to
be sure that your message goes right to the heart of what they care about
and want or need to know?
You need to create a group portrait to be able to predict what their
goals, needs, and expectations are; what style and at what level your
presentation should be delivered.
An Unfamiliar Audience
Demographics sound so market-research-oriented, but in truth—
isn’t that what we want? With a disparate group of strangers, you need
to start narrowing your sights about who’s coming to hear you in order to
be effective with them. You need to learn about:
• Age and sex
The age (under X, X to Y, over Y) and sex (all male, mixed, all female)
of your audience matter because they will affect the choices you make:
choices in language, allusion, metaphor, allegory, reference points, and
so on. Not useful to talk of the current heavy-metal rage to a group of
over-forties. Not effective to bring up the old Hollywood morality plays
to a group of thirty-year-olds. Sports analogies, family issues, historical
references, old-boy networks, disenfranchisement: all these have more
or less interest, aptness, and symbolic meaning for one age or sex than
another, based on where people are in their lives. Therefore, knowing
about these two general categories begins to help you winnow the range
of choices you make in preparing your speech.
Please understand that this is only a start in generalizing about who’s
in your audience and what they probably care about and respond to. (No
letters about women football fans and male needlepointers, please. I
know they’re there!)
• Professional level
• Are you sharing new data?
• Introducing them to your methods?
• Altering an existing belief?
• Solving a common problem?
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What you’re trying to say and how to put it must be based on
whether these are hands-on people, management, staff, customers, or
laymen. Therefore find out what they already know about and how
deeply they know it. How much experience have they actually had in
dealing with your subject? Most of all, from what point of view do you
wish to talk to them?
• Educational level
The choice of language and metaphor as well as how deep you go is
also determined by where your audience stands educationally. Talking
over people’s heads is the most patronizing and self-destructive thing you
can do as a speaker. It’s guaranteed to turn people off and make them
For less well-educated audiences, never make the mistake of
becoming simplistic. Learning what people don’t know should challenge
you to simplify, to edit and make clear, but not to talk down.
Another aspect of knowing about the educational level of your
audience is how long you can speak and how detailed you can get. For
highly trained audiences, accustomed to research and lectures, your
horizons are opened for a lengthier form of explanation (although
everyone has a cut-off point). For less informed listeners a more practical,
less theoretical approach should probably be taken with more time spent
on why they should listen at all and where this subject fits in their lives.
• Socioeconomic level
Granted, we’re working from stereotypes when we presume to know
an audience merely by knowing their salary level, probable bank
balance, or status of bills payable. Yet, suburban homeowner, inner-city
solo loft dweller, or apartment renter with roommate all are conditioned
by their social and economic experiences and can respond from very
different mental sets.
• Ethnic differences
It’s also important to be aware of the different kinds of belief systems
and morality issues that are shared by ethnic groups in various parts of
the country and how that might affect how you structure your message.
Coming in with a very avant-garde plan, for example, blissfully
unaware of the conservative family and business traditions in a certain
section, is a one-way street to being turned down. So learn something
about the unique make-up of your audience and how their backgrounds
or belief systems could affect how they hear you.
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A Familiar Audience
If yours is an audience you already know, you may already have the
answers to many of these questions. Going through them, though, and
creating a quick profile helps you focus.
There are a few questions uniquely relevant to an audience that
knows you that can help you pinpoint their key elements and some
predictable responses.
• How do they feel about you? Do they know you well personally? Is
your relationship casual and friendly or more distant and formal? This
could help you decide how relaxed and informal you want to be.
• What is their perception of you and your work? Do they know your
responsibilities, expertise, power, status? What do they think about
that? Are you on the same level, below, or above your audience in terms
of job status and knowledge?
• How does your work or position affect them? Is there a little awe
and wonder, if you’re a very senior person? Maybe some resentment and
stereotyping? Can you be seen as dangerous to them? Threatening? Or
inconsequential, perhaps, which would make you sharpen your focus on
being extremely relevant, with crisp, enlightening information?
Answering these questions is obviously vital to your preparation—
both for style and for content.
Why Are They Coming
Find out why your audience is coming. Knowing that will tell you
what their mood will be when you begin and what you might want to
change or upend right at the start.
Take the time to ask this question of the people who arranged the
talk, if it’s an unfamiliar audience. If it’s a familiar audience within your
own workplace, ask a few of your fellow employees or whoever organized
the meeting. Spend a moment putting yourself in their place, thinking
about why they will be at the meeting and how that affects them.
Are they being told to go? Although this won’t make you happy,
you’d better know it up front. Knowing this would affect how quickly and
thoroughly you must intrigue them with your topic and how relevant to
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them you must make it right at the beginning. And how hard you’d
better work!
Personal Interest
Are they coming to hear you? Perhaps it’s because of your reputation
in the field or because of recent publicity. Maybe your job and resultant
experience makes you the person they want to hear from, either from
genuine curiosity or because it relates to their work in some way. In this
case your presentation should be quite personal and sharing in nature.
Subject-Matter Interest
Are they coming because they want to know more about the subject
and you’re the conduit? Then you need to know more about what aspect
of your subject they want to hear about and how it relates to what they’re
already doing. This would mean a more in-depth look, if they’re in your
field, or a well-presented, comprehensive overview if they’re newcomers.
Maybe they’re coming because it’s the “right” thing to do—either
within their own firm or because it’s an industry get-together and they
need to be seen. This challenges you to make them be glad they came.
And to do it early. Give them a new message or a twist on something you
all know about that they may never have thought about before, blowing
the irrelevance with which they view your speech, and to do it early.
Your audience could also be made up of people who disagree with
you; representatives of another point of view; people who are being
negatively affected by what you do or propose to do, or by whom you
represent. Major challenge! Knowing this prior cast to the audience
helps you prepare a presentation that could begin by listing all their
grievances and dealing with them up front before you even try to turn
them around to your way of thinking!
You may be the strong proponent for (or opponent of) a particular
issue. Your audience may not care much and be on a totally different
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emotional wavelength than you. They could even be attending because
of something else on the program. Knowing the space between your
commitment level and theirs can help you start at a much lower speed
and decibel and build slowly, as you feel the audience come with you. If
you come in at a hot level of intensity and they’re still at the starting gate,
you’ve lost them from the opening gun.
Regular Attendance
Your audience can be a weekly staff meeting group. People who
know you, who expect a certain number of reports per meeting and
perhaps have a jaded view of how exciting the proceedings are going to
be. The great challenge here is to up-end the usual snail’s pace or
perfunctory level of presentations. Make ’em sit up and take notice!
Make this the memorable meeting “when Jack (or Jill) gave that really
great report . . . ”
Whatever the reason, understanding why your audience is your
audience is a vital aspect of helping you design your presentation.
Physical Realities
What else has been affecting them is a major factor in how well they
can listen to you: time of day; when you appear on the program; what else
they heard; how long they’ve been there. These will obviously affect your
audience’s receptivity and you need to think of them to adapt your
speech’s pace, approach, and style to these burdensome factors in order
to counteract their effect.
Remember the section in Chapter 4 about Timing? About hunger
and energy level and when to call a meeting? Well, take it seriously when
it comes to looking for a receptive audience for your speech as well.
• Lunch
Before lunch = cranky and impatient; Right after lunch = logy and
sleepy; During lunch = noisy and possible talking at tables. Get
prepared for what energy level and special effects you’ll need to fight
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• Coffee breaks
Find out about when there’ll be a coffee break and how near to that
you’ll speak. Remember to give coffee breaks if yours is a lengthy
presentation. Everyone needs a stretch and a bathroom visit, no matter
how good you are . . .
Where is your presentation to be held? Hotel room? Large? Long?
A raised dais? Air-conditioned or not? Lighting? Acoustics and amplifiers?
How hard are the chairs? Being prepared for the physical realities
of your presentation site and knowing in advance what problems of sight
and sound your audience (and therefore you) will have to deal with is also
important and helpful.
What Has Gone Before
Find out what kinds of programs they have already lived through to
understand what effect that would have and how your presentation will
be greeted. Long program? Many speeches? Intense subject? This
consideration is true whether you’re addressing a large, unknown crowd
at a convention or just the folks from the office at a weekly meeting.
People have only so much attention span and so much tolerance for
getting talked at. You need to build in a change of pace and new life to
keep them.
So—here’s your group portrait; your audience profile. Knowing this
helps you customize your speech for them, specifically. Now, what will
you say?
Positioning the Speech
What level will you talk at? What approach will you take? It’s time for
the old Fore-Thought Chart. (Just for review, check the steps in Chapter
3.) Since you know your audience well enough now to make generalizations
about them, begin to strategize, making sure that your half of the
chart is filled in, too.
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Seeing what the answers are to your Goals, Needs, and Expectations
as well as those of your audience is step two in preparing your speech.
Now what next?
Challenge yourself: Why should your audience listen to what you
have to say?
Why They Need Your Information
Ask yourself:
• Why, in the pursuit of their daily lives, is your subject relevant?
• Is it within the scope of their work?
• Is it not yet in their orbit but should be?
• Can it make their work better? More rewarding? Easier? More
• Would it affect their life outside of their work and be relevant to
them on that level?
• Do they have misconceptions that need to be corrected?
• Do they need to be inspired to do more with what they already
Making yourself answer these questions about a subject you care and
know a lot about is a real eye-opener. Nothing is more important in terms
of getting you in touch with your audience than recognizing the space
that exists between them and you about your topic.
What Do They Care About
Before you can design your presentation, you need to take a look at
where your audience is in relation to your material and why they should
listen. This can tell you how to pitch your subject and, most importantly,
in what capacity you come before them as speaker.
How Much Do They Already Know
To pitch your presentation at the right level, find out how sophisticated
your audience is about your topic. (Even if you can’t find out in
advance, ask them as you begin your speech: “How many of you know
much about XYZ?” to get yourself on target.) It saves much time and
boring overkill if you come in on their informational frequency. Knowing
in advance will also help you prepare your visual materials more
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effectively, since you’ll know how simplistic and diagrammatic or
detailed and complex you need to make these.
What Role Should You Play?
Expert? Teacher? Prophet? Critic? Representative from another
As you continue to develop your presentation, keep posing the
question to yourself about what you are for your audience. Here are a few
alternative roles:
• Sharer/Guide
Suppose this is a situation in which you have to give information or
expertise that the group doesn’t have. Your role here has to be
non-threatening—not a “Here I am, folks, world expert” posture. You
need to be non-judgmental, sharing your knowledge with enthusiasm,
obviously dedicated to being sure they can get it, too. It’s to be their
guide through a rather forbidding jungle that you’ve traversed often
and know well—so well that you won’t let them get lost. You need to
assure them that you know the pitfalls and will stop so they can
catch up. This protective sharer/guide quality you need to project
softens the distance between what you know and they don’t know
and makes them able to hear you. This encourages them to listen and
• Inspirer
Suppose you have to ask for more commitment and an extra measure
of work from staff, colleagues, or even the lay public. Your audience is
either reluctant, resistant, or without motivation. What role should you
You can’t start telling people what they “should” do for the good of
the company, etc. That breeds resentment. Instead, you have to lead, by
example: To lay out the need or the issues, and to show the solution.
Before they see the need, they can’t move toward action. Then—to
answer why they should do anything, you need to move into engaging
your audience to buy into your message or solution.
Here’s where you need to show yourself, your zeal and dedication.
You need to use your energy and commitment and your persuasive
powers to make them follow your lead. Your “troops” need to find
someone to follow with enough reasons and passion to overcome their
natural inertia or resistance. You need to be inspirational.
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• Hard-Nosed (though optimistic) Realist
Suppose your job is to tell your audience negative information.
Times are tough or problems have developed or what they expected is
not going to happen. Just flat-out “bad news giver” is not a constructive
mode in which to cast yourself.
Here your role must be to tell the bad news and some of what went
wrong in objective, impersonal terms—factually and quickly. Having
gotten rid of that, the very next gear for you to move into is a constructive
one. Now you need to present clear steps toward fixing the negative turn
of events and telling everyone specifically what needs to be done and
how. And—most of all—you need to let them know you believe they can
do it and that it can be fixed.
These few examples can show you that your audience needs more
from you than just your message. The effect of your message on them and
the result you want from them both demand that you fill a unique role
for them. Therefore, know—before you take center stage—what role you
need to play for your audience and what relationship they need from you,
so they can really hear you.
Basic Organization of a Speech
The checklist in Chapter 5 (p. 00) sets forth the underlying structure
of any speech to make the most logical and easily followed design for any
audience. Although unique occasions and subjects may call for abbreviated
versions or a very different approach, this is the simplest, most
orderly format to follow, with the most flexible sections within which to
design your message.
Selecting the Content
“But you can’t leave that out! This is so important! How can they
learn this without first hearing about those?”
Strength and courage, folks. Editing is a fact, unless you want to
hand out pillows as you begin your speech. You must find a method of
selection that will counter your tendency to tell too much.
Start out knowing that what makes a speech great is the feeling of
giving “just enough” to your audience.
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• Just enough background material to be oriented to your point of
• Just enough information to understand what you mean and
stimulate them to think about it.
• Just enough examples and explicit visualization (graphic or oral)
so they can make up their own minds.
To help you select your content, I have created a little motto:
Give them the kinds of basics to bring them into your orbit and, at
each step, give them enough to be able to move on to the next. To
paraphrase an old Fats Waller song: “Find out what they need to know
and how they need to know it, And give it to them just that way!”
What to Make Visual
Chapter 5 describes when you should make your material visual and
the best ways to do that.
Written vs. Oral Speeches
Now I enter stormy waters. Most people’s tendency is to “write it all
out so I get it straight” (or “right” or ‘”well said”) because they’re afraid
to try for the words at the actual moment, in case they get stuck.
But, reading a speech is not the optimum technique for oral
communication to an audience. I know that some speeches must be read
for legal or policy reasons, but barring that, the method of delivery
should be extemporaneous, from notes.
Oral communication at its best should feel like a live dialogue
between the teller and the audience.
It’s personal. You talk, and they feel that you’re talking just for them,
to them, about them.
It’s immediate. Of the moment. Live. Unique. Unduplicatable.
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The Written Word
This is designed for delay: Delay between when the message is
created and when it is received. Delay in how the message itself is taken
When words are read, the eye has the leisure to go back over the
things it didn’t understand, to reread and re-assimilate. Reading a
written message, we take in information at our pace, not the writer’s.
Words alone create the sound of the author’s voice.
You, as speech writer, rely on that process, too. You design your
words to say it all. Then, you critique by reading and rereading them,
testing to see if the words—as read—give the message.
But that’s not how your audience will receive it. So you’re analyzing
a very different version of your speech than your audience will get.
The Spoken Word
Oral communication is instantaneous and doesn’t rely on words
alone. It depends on and is heightened by your delivery. Pace, rhythm,
inflection, phrasing, pitch, facial expression all shape the message and
define the author’s “voice.” The words serve only as part of what is
Oral communication cannot exist without the speaker.
Reading a written speech leaves little room for performance since the
speaker must continually return to the printed page. This gives your
message the quality of being extremely controlled and withheld.
Extemporaneous speaking from notes leaves the speaker free to
move; to use different parts of the stage, to gesture spontaneously—all
adding to the image of a live, fully committed performance given as a gift
to the audience.
Extemporaneous speech is interactive, not one-way. This means you
can see and “feel” your audience at the moment and know just how it’s
going—”too slow,” “too big a bite,” “need to go back again.” Since you’re
creating at the moment, you’re flexible. You can add, subtract, and
explain again based on what’s happening to that audience, right then. No
guessing in advance about how much is enough.
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In a written speech, you’re stuck. There is no flexibility. You can’t
stop and fix anything if you feel you’re losing your audience. God forbid
that you stray away from the text and try to improvise! Finding your way
back in as you fumble through the paragraphs is a disaster, and when you
do get back in, you’ll usually find that you’ve already just said some of the
text, and differently. You’re thrown off your pace, have blown your cool,
and feel like an exposed clod.
The Use of Language Is Different
The spoken word uses much shorter sentences. Because you see
your audience as you speak, the tendency is to be much more informal
and conversational, using simpler words more commonly used. You also
know, subconsciously, that you can rely on the vocal, physical and
performance aspects of communicating to help deliver and explain your
Writing is a much more formal means of communicating. What’s
called to mind when you write a speech is explicit textbook language (a
little dry and long-winded) and formal phrases (a little stiff), as well as the
professional shorthand language used most often in written memos from
above. When you write, rather than thinking of the most direct, simple
way to say something, the tendency is to fall into pattern and cliche based
on what you think sounds professional and smart as you read it.
The Effect of Written Speeches on the Audience
Marching up, speech in hand, and plunking it down on the lectern
to read brings forth to audiences mainly negative images. The usual
effects of reading a speech are that:
• It creates a conditioned reflex born of all the boring, professorial,
or sermonizing orations your audience has ever heard.
• The authorship can be suspect; who actually wrote it? Since most
written speeches are devoid of personal touches, nothing feels
like your particular hallmark.
• Your natural conversational style is altered into a more formal,
removed, and stilted one. This presents you as formal, removed,
and stilted, too.
• Seamless delivery without faltering or looking for a word, neither
backtracking nor trying another explanation, is not how you, or
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most people, normally talk. So the audience sees and hears
someone unfamiliar and very unlike them.
• If it’s an audience you know, they will contrast how you usually
talk and behave with this very different image.
• You can’t make continual eye contact with your audience; you
cannot be as genuine or personal as you would be without your
head the pages. Nor can you judge if they’re getting it
or getting bored.
The Effects on You, the Speaker
Written Speeches
• Energy level
It comes from your paper, not from your audience. The best of your
energy was really left in your office or your den, spent there as you wrote
for an audience you conjured then. Reading and rereading your speech
as you imagined how they would respond to each point or turn of phrase
was when you were involved in the real process of communicating.
To stand before your audience and re-say it for the tenth time
(because of course you practiced your head off!) is but a pale copy. It’s an
exercise, not a vigorous, creative effort.
• Security
“But I like writing it out. I feel more secure that way. ” The fact is,
reading creates a bigger worry—losing your place. Since your active,
creative mind is turned off when you’re reading, “ad-libbing” and trying
to flow back into your pre-canned message makes a real problem. Also,
you give your audience a chance to glimpse the “real” you—genuine,
animated, a trifle hesitant, and human . . .
Oral Speeches from Notes
• Energy level
By keeping eye contact with your audience, you allow them to
become your catalyst, your energizer. They become a continual reminder
of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
Working from the audience, rather than from the printed word,
gives you a tremendous push forward. You present your material at a
much better level and it puts you at a more intense and committed
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• Security
When you improvise from an outline that just tells you where you’re
going, you actually make your job easier. It’s much more secure to work
from notes because your brain is alive right then, thinking of what you’re
saying and where you’re going next. Therefore, backtracking, rerouting,
changing your mind, explaining in a new way are easy.
Most lay people are simply not good enough actors to make a written
speech sound fresh and new. Your audience is in a much more passive
Effective speeches, providing good contact with your audience and
making your personal presence felt, should be extemporaneous—from
an outline and notes. Then your speech is really you. It sounds, looks,
and feels more natural to you and your audience.
For Addicted Speech Writers
I know, I know. I hear you saying, “Yeah, natural. . . and rambling,
and fumbling, and not very articulate!”
But that’s about concentration and ways to organize thinking: things
you can learn to do with much greater rewards than the security blanket
a written speech offers you.
So, to all of you addicted speech writers: Try it. Begin to experiment
with freeing yourself by delivering a message from notes in a small
presentation. Let the same head that puts all those words on paper,
privately, manufacture them right there before your audience’s eyes and
ears. Those words are yours! You do know your subject matter! The
words will be there when you need them, stimulated by the actual
performance setting. // you have good, usable notes . . .
For Extemporizers
To those of you who do speak from notes, hooray! You’re on your
way. Let me help you with some more effective systems for writing your
So let’s find out how to write usable notes that will give you a base
from which to improvise—notes so eloquent they virtually compel you to
move to the next step and show you how to deliver your next thought.
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For you to stay free, to be able to think and talk, your notes must:
• Be immediately understandable.
• Be written in such a way that the order of where you’re going is
made visually simple and clear to you, instantly.
• Feed you information in short, catalytic bursts that make their
translation into speech self-evident.
• Signal their various levels of importance in advance.
• Tell you in what quality, form, and style they should be
delivered as you see them.
Now, here’s the problem: The notes and outlines we’re accustomed
to writing were for studying later. But when you’re speaking, you don’t
have the time to read and decipher what you meant and decide on their
relative importance and values in order to deliver them well, at that
Notes must speak to you so succinctly that you can see and process
them on the spot and use them as a springboard to launch the next idea
toward your audience. Here’s how.
The Basic Process
The biggest mistake people make when writing notes from which
to speak is that they write out too much. The secret is to write your
notes as catalysts—one or two word “bullets” or phrases—action
words designed just to remind you about the next point and push
you into it with momentum. They should give you a clue about where
this fits in the whole picture and an indication of what delivery style to
Just seeing key words like “basic plan,” “budget,” “stumbling
blocks” can trigger a response in you. You know what they stand for and
why you want to talk about that point. The rest of the words will come
through as you begin to speak.
Use Whole Pages
I do not recommend using little index cards. You can only write a few
lines on an index card and everybody watches you shuffling the cards. It
doesn’t make any sense since you can’t hide them in your hand and that
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surreptitious little peek looks so phony, as though you think we don’t see
that you really have notes. We see you and we know it!
We, as audience, give any speaker permission to bring and use
notes. We want you to be prepared! But full-length pages are the way to
go because they can give you both an instant overview and a sense of
continuity. You can write much more on a page and it can tell you not
only where you are but what’s coming up next.
Short Words
The hardest thing to do is to reduce the phrases and ideas to a form
short enough to be useful as speech notes. The essential problem with
writing actual sentences that use pronouns, prepositions, and adjectives
is that the mind is automatically put in a reading mode—moving the eyes
to the right horizontally to get the whole idea. That stops you and
interrupts the desired springboard effect notes should have—the vertical
process of “Look down; get the idea; bounce your eyes up; make
audience contact; talk.”
Don’t Lose Eye Contact
Since the human eye can grab three long or four short words at a
time without needing to move to the right to read them, use only
essential, descriptive words with one, two, no more than three words on
a line. Seeing more than that throws you into a horizontal reading mode,
stopping your “see-think-talk” process.
New Symbols
When you use an abbreviated outline form as a springboard for oral
presentations, you need a series of symbols or signals to tell you in
advance what’s coming and how to deliver it. You need to know that the
next thought is important, that the list of words you see will culminate in
a major statement, or that in the upcoming section you must shift gears
and change the mood from a cool, logical one to a softer, more intimate
and personal one. You need to give yourself a hint about what each
section is about.
Example: Here’s a visual outline of the above paragraph, designed for
talking notes. See how I’ve adapted the material into symbols and a kind
of shorthand.
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1. Abbrev. outline
2. Springboard
3. Advance signals
a. what’s coming
b. how deliver
c. quality next thought
d. what list means
e. statement
f. mood shift coming
Design your own set of visual symbols to alert you to deliver the next
words or thoughts in a different way. We all respond to different visual
stimuli—layout, spaces, accents, indents, contrasting colors, underlines,
capital letters.
Discover what you respond to most, what colors and symbols are
most eloquent to you. Then develop your own system of visual shorthand
to signal the other dimensions of your outline words—to remind you of
your basic themes, of relative importance, intrinsic drama, or building to
a climax.
The above two paragraphs could look like the following:
PARAGRAPH ONE (starts “Design your own set . . .”)
1. Indiv. responses
a. page layout
b. spaces {color underline)
c. accents
Possible d. indents
Designs e contrasting colors
f. underlines
g. capital letters
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PARAGRAPH TWO (starts “Discover what you respond to . . .”)
Before I began it, I would signal myself by writing, in color, deeply
indented, so I would notice it:
MOOD SHIFT: More personal
continue with outline:
(use different color
C. FIND YOUR SYMBOLS for mood change)
1. Discover own respns.
2. Make personal shorthand
• remind basic themes
• relative importance
• drama/climax
These are the symbols that work best for me. Notice the techniques
I used:
• spaces and layout for idea separation
• the layout and the margin notes explaining each section. You
want to be able to quickly shuffle or rearrange the order.
• what’s underlined and capitalized and how that helps distinguish
whole new ideas
• how bullets and lowercase letters are used to explain that this list
is made up of examples of one idea, not separate ideas.
• the mood shift instruction, placed where and how it is, in a color
that describes the mood (mauve for personal; could be red for
important or green for positive). It alerts you by its indentation
and total separation from the text. It gives you advance warning
and tells of the quality coming up as well, so you can change your
delivery before you say the next sentence.
About Underlining
Underlining works, but not as universally as you think. It speaks of
only one gear. How “loud” should the underlined word be? How
different is it from the next underlined word? Does it mean loud or does
it mean important, heavy, thought-provoking?
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Therefore you may want to make different underline symbols like:
====versus versus I
Decide how to differentiate your “underlinings,” and by all means, use
color! This really makes instant response and a major difference between
Underlining or writing out certain kinds of thoughts with colored
pens is extremely useful. If you decide that blue means basic principles,
red means key points, green means details and examples, orange or
purple mean emotional or personal concepts, you can give yourself a
visual cue for presenting many kinds of ideas with the proper, weight,
mood, and style. Choose your colors based on your emotional response
to them. They will impact on your consciousness and therefore affect how
you give your presentation.
A vertical list is an automatic organizer. As soon as your eye sees one,
you know that these are several connected points that explain what has
just gone before. Use numbers or filled-in bullet dots • before your words
to make them even more visually organized-looking. Keep the list
consistent—all ideas should have only one line apiece, to make them look
like they have the same general importance and character. Don’t
interrupt the rhythm you see unless it serves a purpose.
Spaces and Indents
Words are written just as you see these words you’re reading now.
W h a t h a p p e n s to you as
y o u r e a d t h e s e words?
Did you read them more slowly? Did you read them putting more
weight on each word? How would you say them aloud?
This device is excellent when you come to your key, big sentence,
your smashing put-’em-away thought. It alerts you, slows you down, and
tells you right away to deliver it differently.
Another really effective device using space in your layout is to insert
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more than the usual amount of space between ideas and to indent even
further, like this:
A major thought is really seen
when placed this way on your page.
To identify the key sentence even further, box it in. Use color to
underline or box it. You can also make the letters larger.
Typed vs. Handwritten
How do you learn best? By writing something yourself or by reading
something typed and memorizing it? Decide which visual form suits you
best; what helps you remember, what triggers you. Then decide whether
to write your outlines yourself or have them typed. You might like the
combination of having your basic outline typed, and then going over it
making extra notes in text or margin, using colors, underlining—in other
words, personalizing.
To sum up: You need visual catalysts, not just words, to help you add
emphasis, feeling, and verbal order to your thoughts as you extemporize
from notes. To present your ideas well and persuasively to your
audience, you must be able to see and absorb your notes with logic,
order, and an inkling of the quality needed before you deliver them.
Now let’s get to the behavioral stuff: How to make it (and you)
believable, persuasive, interesting, and memorable. How do you build
in the fireworks? Where are the dynamics? What about style and ways to
handle content? Language? Audience involvement?
Everyone has heard speeches. Everyone is conditioned to assume
they’re mostly boring. How to make yours different? How to make
audiences sit up and take notice and follow every word of that dynamic
speaker (you) who has them in thrall?
Attention-Getting Openings
“That reminds me of a story . . . ” Did you ever stop to think about
why every speech seems to start that way? Actually the goal the speaker
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is trying to achieve is the right one: To warm up the audience, get their
attention, and start on a friendly, pleasant, informal note.
What’s wrong with the “story” technique is that not only does the
story commonly not apply to the rest of the speech, but ninety-nine
times out of a hundred, that’s the last bit of laughter, warmth, or
informality you’ll get for the duration of the speech! Funny-story
openings promise something they never deliver. They create a visible
space between “that’s the fun part” and “this is the real speech.”
What Openings Should Do
Your opening must establish your theme and why it is valuable for
the audience to listen. But the first thing your audience wants to know
is who you are and how they will relate to you, even before they want to
know the essence of what you’re going to talk about. Remember—we’re
still basically as suspicious of strangers as we ever were. Therefore, your
opening needs to let your audience in on a quick personal portrait of
who’s telling—without ever telling them that’s what you’re doing.
Sounds difficult? Actually, it’s instinctive. Watch what you do when
you just get introduced to someone at a party:
• You smile (“See—I’m a friend”).
• Shake hands (a short-cut physical contact to experience each
other more closely).
• You circle, subject-wise, looking for a common interest, or
• Make a joke to show your personality and charm, or
• Comment on the party, weather, etc.
Why? Just to get the ball, and the get-acquainted process rolling.
In every instance you’re looking for a common meeting ground, a
way of identifying with that other person to show who you are and to get
a little closer. What you’re really saying is:
“This is me. Different from you, but not really. Let’s draw a little
closer. Look what we have in common. See how much I know about you,
us, work, life, etc., and how I’ll use that in the rest of my speech.” Now
you’ve satisfied the “Who’s Telling?” question and can go on.
The best approach is an informal, personal one, bridging the space that
separates you from the audience, not only physically but symbolically.
Example: “You know, preparing for this speech, I sat and imagined
all of you. You’d be sitting there thinking, ‘Now, what’s this gonna be
about? How long will it take and when’s lunch. . . ?’ ”
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What does this kind of opening accomplish?
• It sets you among them, not apart. By predicting what they’re
thinking, you tell them that you’ve been there, too. Like them, you’ve
also anticipated boredom and wished you were somewhere else. “Hmm,
sounds like a pretty regular sort,” thinks your audience.
• It has warmth and humor. Demonstrating that you not only have
that but are very willing to show it before a large group is another
surprise and brings you closer to your audience. The wry touch of
humor, the relaxed manner says to them: “This speech is going to be a
little different; not stuffy or formal. It’ll deal with the truth and it’ll be on
my wavelength. Probably enjoyable, too. ”
• It shows that you care about them enough to even spend time
imagining them as you prepared your speech. This bodes well for the
substance of your speech. “It’ll probably be about something / care
about, not only what the speaker cares about. ”
• It suggests you’re a pretty secure person. To dare to say at the
outset that they probably think you might be boring is to get a laugh and
a doff of the cap. People don’t often make fun of themselves, especially
in public.
Telling a surprising, human kind of truth as an opener is one of the
strongest beginnings. But, it’s not for everyone! Some of us feel very
comfortable being personally revealing like that. Others, because of
background and conditioning, may feel very uncomfortable talking like
that. If your father was very formal and never loosened his tie at the
dinner table, it may be kind of hard for you to present an informal image
that will also make you feel professional.
Other Possible Openings
Be true to yourself. Find an opening that feels comfortable, now that
you know what it needs to do.
• Shared experiences
You can begin by telling them about an experience you both share:
“Like you, I work in steel. I’ve been at this plant as long as some of
you, maybe longer than most, but not as long as Joe Brown over there.”
This kind of “leveling” approach moves you in among them and also
gives you the opportunity to toss a personal, friendly greeting to one of
their own. Audiences always feel they share in kudos for one of their own
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and love to participate with applause, a few cheers, etc. A little
involvement right at the start is great.
• Shared background or interest
“I come from Wabash, too, originally, and remember when the old
lumber yard was down on . . .”; or reveal a hobby you share with some
of the audience, like:
“On a clear crisp day like this what are we all doing in here? I know
we’d all like to be out cross-country skiing over to the Falls instead of
listening to speeches!”
• Shared goals
Another approach is to use the subject matter as a joint jumping-off
“Well, it looks like the company is in the best of hands. We need
commitment and we’ve got it. Here you are, interrupting your day to
hear about how to make better widgets, and you must surely know how
/ feel about that.”
• Shared values
Still another area to work from is to let them in on some aspect of
what else you care about besides business, and then let that lead you into
your subject.
“Yesterday my daughter graduated from high school. The first kid. A
big milestone for us. Maybe some of you just shared that. Gives you kind
of a twinge, doesn’t it? To see how fast the time passes and how much
things change. I don’t feel too removed from high school myself and here
she is talking computer lingo that makes me feel really over the hill!
“There’s a lesson there. We sure can’t sit back and feel satisfied with
what we know. It’s outdated before you know it! Kinda scary, y’know?
So—come with me while I take you on a trip to Tomorrow-Land. To see
what’s new in the marketplace and how we need to gear up to absorb and
use it.”
See what this does as an opening?
You touch a feeling part, not a thinking part, first. Get em where the
feelings are! Much stronger than the head alone . . .
You told them something personal about you that they can surely
identify with. Kids, graduation, “where is the little girl I carried?” kind
of nostalgia.
You identified a common fear—becoming outdated—and let them
know you know it’s scary, and that’s okay.
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You told them that you’re there to help by bringing them the new
news and showing them how to use it.
One more approach:
• Tie in to an important current event or local occasion
Anything that makes them see you as aware and aware of them is a
helpful opening message. It helps you lead into your subject more
gracefully than simply starting with paragraph one of your speech.
Clearly, there is no one perfect opening, good for all occasions. Just
be continually aware, as you plan yours, of the purpose of an opening:
• To find a common meeting ground;
• To identify yourself with your audience;
• To let them know something of who you are by your style, choice
of language, and approach;
• To connect into the body of the speech in a seamless way so the
opening obviously belongs to this speech and this unique
audience, right now.
One last thought: Your audience’s highest point of concentration and
pure attention is within the first one and a half to two minutes of your
speech . . .
After using your opening, establishing your theme, and showing why
your audience should listen, you move into the body of your speech.
What techniques can you use to continue to hold onto your audience’s
Audience Involvement
Why Audience Involvement?
Look again at the first few pages of this chapter to remember the
basic emotional responses people have toward being an audience. Now
let’s add some of the physical problems they can face as part of a captive
sitting audience. Many forces are fighting your intention to deliver a
memorable speech to an audience of rapt listeners. Don’t ever take your
audience for granted . . .
You can’t design and plan your speech without taking into account
the need to continually stimulate and bring them along with you. So let’s
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look at the ways you can involve your audience by making them an active
part of your speech.
Ask Questions
Asking your audience questions and inviting them to respond is one
of the best ways to:
• Personalize and customize your speech;
• Find out how they feel and what they know about your subject;
• Show them that they matter to you;
• Accelerate the pace and energy of your presentation.
You know how we all like to take those mini pop-quizzes in the
magazines to find out how we rate? Your audience loves the sense of
activity and is curious about its shared concerns and common attitudes,
even divergences of opinion.
One more note: You actually get some useful information from your
audience that you can use as catalysts or reference points in your speech!
Group questioning
Design your questions to be as inclusive as possible at the beginning.
“Who in this room has ever. . . ?” can cause only some people to raise
their hands if the question is too narrow and limited.
Start with a big win by asking a question sure to get a big yes or no
or laugh of recognition. After you ask it, tell them to raise their hands,
showing what you mean by raising yours. Keep the ball rolling by asking
two more. Once they get the feeling, they like doing it, and you’ve
opened a sense of dialogue and shared power as you cede them a piece
of your one-way platform.
Pursue it further by getting into the answers a little deeper. Point to
one or another of the answerers and ask, “Why do you think that is?” or,
“When did that start?” By making personal contact with some surrogate
members, you make deeper contact with your whole audience. Caution:
Choose well by looking for an obviously responsive type. Otherwise it
could be threatening, especially to a shy person.
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Rhetorical questions
“What would you think the real number is?” “Did you ever think
about how. . . ?” “So what does that mean?”
You needn’t actually get an answer. Whenever you ask a rhetorical
question, people will feel that you’re talking directly to them, wanting to
know. They feel stimulated and will automatically think an answer. They
love to do that because they’re not exposed, no one hears what they
think, and they also know they’re about to get the right answer—from
Make them move
If possible, get your audience to stand and stretch as a break in the
proceedings after a particularly heavy segment or even as you begin, if
they’ve been sitting there for a while.
Simply say: “Okay, everybody, stretching time. Everyone stand up
and put your arms up like this and S T R E T C H ! ”
You become an instant friend. It’s attention-getting, since people
rarely help an audience that way, and you’ll get back a much more alert
and willing audience.
If you’re the type and feel comfortable with it, you can lead them in
a few stretches and bends, even some jumps in place, and listen to them
laugh and get charged up. It encourages the shy ones and makes for good
rapport with your audience.
“Turn to Your Neighbor”
Whenever I teach something like the effects of eye contact in my
seminars, I always ask people to turn to each other and try it out. Giving
your audience something to do that bears out a point you’re making is
another great device for keeping audiences involved, interested, and
paying attention.
Demos at Their Seats
Try to build in demonstrations they can do at their seats, to do
something with their hands like drawing or writing. Or get them to stand
up and try something as a group to experience it firsthand.
Volunteers from Audience
People love to watch someone else do something as they sit back and
giggle, secretly thrilled that it isn’t them but extremely intrigued to see
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an audience member or buddy, one of their own, up there doing
You can do benign things like simply asking one or two people to
help you move something or hold something (they always get a hand,
don’t they?). You can build in a demonstration of what you’re talking
about and ask someone to participate in it with you, if you can’t make it
a group exercise.
Sum Up: Your audience’s inattention and disengagement due to
their physical and psychological passivity should be handled by including
them in the action of your speech. Surprise them by involving them. It’s
energizing, effective, and memorable.
Now to the content of your speech.
Presenting Subject Matter
From the Familiar to the New
The best way to start explaining a new subject is by describing
something familiar and then working up to what’s different. The old, not
the new, gives an audience the sense of security that they will understand
your material.
If you start with “. . . something like opening a screw-top jar,” they
can instantly picture it because they’ve done that a thousand times. On
safe ground conceptually from the start, they’ll stay with you as you add
the differences one at a time.
“Picture a boat. Now if I add X, it begins to be able to . . .” makes
something become interesting as you unfold or add on layers to the rest
of your story because they have begun with confidence, able to imagine
and identify with it.
Process First—Not Detail
Everyone can grasp a process when it’s pared down to the bare bone.
You lose them when you add too many details at the outset.
They’re just trying to get the general idea: What it looks like, what
it does, and something about how it works. Analyze and give only the
essentials they need to know; no fancy technical terms or deadly details
yet. Otherwise you invite them to shut off the master switch.
Explain and Intrigue
Here’s a progression of how to edit and unfold information:
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• Start slowly with the whole idea.
• Tell them something of what the new idea is about.
• Tell them why they need it.
• Remind them how the old system works and what its failings
• Begin to tell about the major differences between the old and the
new. (Here’s the place to add your visuals.)
• Add just enough to clarify the process further. (Show some
• You might like to open for a few questions here and let the
questions become the catalysts for your bringing in more details.
This gives people a chance to absorb at their own pace and let
you know when they’re ready for more.
Visualize and Demonstrate
The best clarification in the world is some form of visual reinforcement.
Why, how, when, and which ones to use is described in
Chapter 5.
Give Examples of Facts
If you need to describe exact measurements like square feet, yards,
inches, or pounds, you should know that everyone has a very inexact
vision of them. Most of us don’t have an accurate picture of distance and
size. To make such references instantly clear and precise to all, measure
such distances in advance in the place where you will speak. Then it’s
quite simple to say, “That means it’s twice as high as this room,” or, “It’s
from here to the back wall.” You can also bring objects along to show
relative size: “It was only six inches long, like this pencil.”
Topics and Transitions
Have you noticed the layout of this book? Each chapter and idea is
completely broken down into outline form. From major headings to topic
and subheadings to lists, it’s designed to show the content’s order, to
help you see where it fits. You’ve been able to compartmentalize the
material and to figure out where you are.
Imagine how hard it would be to visualize this breakdown and
organization if you only heard it. Your audience can’t see your notes!
That’s why you need to outline for them orally and explicitly so they can
“see” your logic and order.
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Also, remember to recap and make transitions to each new subject
rather than leaving your audience trying to figure out where they are, on
their own.
Humanize and Personalize
This seems hard to imagine as you confront the fiscal statement, the
sales report, or the new plan for retooling. But—be creative. People
identify most with something that smacks of themselves and of life.
• When you talk of big gains in relation to the financial statement or
sales report, add the people who made it happen. Speak of and verbally
applaud the divisions, individuals, the spirit of the company that was an
integral part of that success. Personal appreciation is more motivation to
lots of folks than sheer numbers alone.
• Talk of feelings of disappointment or anxiety you all share if you
have to confront the drop in performance. Ruminate with them about
why it happened, on a personal as well as a professional basis. Allow that
they are a part of, actually the key to what’s happening and, “since we’re
all human, we need to see how our personal fallibility (disinterest,
complacency) can affect the company; what we need to do personally to
turn it around.”
• Focus on a local sports or other hero or some tough human
endeavor and what it takes as one confronts a tough situation. This can
take you away from the theoretical, amorphous “so we must do better,”
or, “these figures are very disappointing, ” and into the next step)—
personal motivation and the team approach.
• The topic is retooling or other technical data? Again, find the people
behind the diagrams. Discuss the creative process we all go through as
we sit before a blank piece of paper trying to come up with something
new; how tough and frustrating it is to imagine something that doesn’t
yet exist and how remarkable it is that we can do that. Discuss the
changes in their daily lives such new ideas can bring.
• Add yourself to the message when you speak. Use personal
examples as a surrogate for them:
“You know, I—like you—-sometimes fail at what I’m trying to do
and have to confront how to handle that . . . ”
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If you’re the person in power, that dimension is exactly the one that
can draw you closer to your troops. Tell them what you do.
If you’re a stranger, the personal dimension makes a great common
denominator with which to identify with your audience. Of course,
choose a common feeling or experience to personalize, not the one about
diving with Cousteau or falconry . . .
The best way to help people remember a concept is dramatization—
accent, color, suspense, pulse-quickening techniques that bring your
message alive. This moves an alien idea into a place where people will
want to follow and remember it. Now this sounds difficult to do with
factual business issues. Just think of how you can present your concept as
more of a story than a list.
Endings should be inevitable and satisfying, because they follow the
basic structure of life and nature. Not always happy, they are nevertheless
in order. A natural culmination. They should give the feeling that
this is what we set out for and now it’s over.
The ending of your speech should feel like deliberate completion—
not just stopping because you ran out of things to say. Unlike lots of
current rock songs that don’t deliberately end but just seem to dwindle
away, your ending should be purposeful and memorable. End actively,
with a flourish, or thoughtfully, with a whisper, but always with a flair.
Announce the Ending
Tell them that you’re coming to the end. “In conclusion,” “To wind
up,” “So where have we been,” “Well, we’ve come to the end . . . ” They
will listen harder, not in relief (I hope) but because you’re now going to
wrap up and put in order all they’ve heard and give them the bottom
lines of your message. That’s very reassuring.
Last Lines
Try to make your last line or two truly eloquent. Meaningful,
touching, accurate, and wise. Move it one step beyond your practical
message to a deeper understanding of why you’re saying this. Reach for
an ultimate concept, a basic need, a universal truth.
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Always memorize your last few lines so you don’t have to look down
at your notes. This is the time to deliver straight to them: eye to eye,
person to person.
Use a parable, a fable, a quote, a saying, or something from
everyone’s experience. Quotes from “my father”, “grandmother”, “favorite
teacher’ are especially effective, adding basic folk wisdom to a
personal note and giving an image of you as a family member or a kid—
basically one of them. Try to leave them with a thought that will continue
to provide an echo after you stop.
Pace Your Leaving
Don’t leave too hastily, bolting off the stage or looking around for the
exit. Standing still, with eye contact, lets the audience think about your
speech or last lines for a moment. It should feel like you’re both thinking
it over, reluctant to part and break the mood. Then, fold your notes,
calmly, and walk away.
Now let’s turn the spotlight on you, the speaker. The star of the
moment. What can you, personally, do to make yourself a more
interesting and memorable speaker? I can see the beads of perspiration
break out as I write, “The spotlight’s on you.” I hear that inner voice
within you say, “Now that’s the real key! That’s where we lose ’em!”
Guess we got to this topic just in time . . .
Being Yourself
I started working with the CEO of a major corporation whose staff
called me in because of his poor communications skills.
Met in person he was charming—bright, warm, with an easy,
bantering manner. I couldn’t see what the staff was talking about. Then
I asked him to re-deliver a speech to me that he’d given the previous
week. From Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde!
What I saw was an empty suit of clothes: a dry, serious, monotonevoiced
puppet going through the motions of making a speech. When I
replayed the videotape we made, his response was, “Look at him. He’s
so boring and stiff! I can’t stand him.” What was going on? How did such
a “split personality” develop?
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My CEO was trying to act “chairman-like.” Subconsciously trying to
behave as his predecessors had, as corporate chiefs are “supposed” to
look and act. He had no faith that just being himself-—warm, pleasant,
witty—would generate the awe and respect a chairman should get.
I needed to give him permission to relax into himself; to explain what
audiences look for and that his innate personal style was not only enough
but actually the best and most impressive he could be, believable and
Losing the pressure to “act like” a powerful executive, he emerged
as a genuinely delightful, charismatic speaker—accessible, knowledgeable,
decisive, and uniquely himself.
Natural Is Eloquent
Most people stand before others to make a speech thinking that now
they have to become something else. “Just me, just talking, as I usually
do” hardly seems the right mode for this occasion. After all, don’t you get
all dressed up for your performance? Don’t you spend lots of hours
planning, designing, rehashing, and practicing? How can you just come
in with your old-slippers type of homey daily communications skills and
think that’s enough? Actually the secret is—it is!
Nothing works better than being yourself. You are at your most
comfortable because you’re on your own solid, natural ground. You
sound totally genuine—not put on, phony, removed, formal, like you’re
hiding yourself.
The real you is enough. What you need is to develop more skills to
enhance the real you, and to make you more comfortable, available, and
understandable to the public.
How You Feel Toward Your Audience
Most people see a great gulf between themselves and their audience
when they imagine them, plan for them, and finally stand and present
before them. Don’t you think “They . . . Them” when you picture your
audience? This creates a problem. You’re actually adding separation
between yourself and your audience beyond what the circumstances
naturally create.
They Are Individual Listeners
The truth is that when you speak, each person hears you separately.
So your style must be attuned to a much more intimate, less bombastic
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“reaching for the bleachers” approach. Since microphones, you don’t
need to shout and make grand gestures any more. Smaller, more
confidential, and much more informal is the way to go, especially with
business speeches which can be so technical and detailed or hard-line
Think of yourself as having a conversation with only one or two
members, representatives of the audience, not the whole mass. It’s much
more persuasive, believable, and easier to listen to. It puts you into a
much more relaxed frame of mind and therefore relaxes your audience
and your delivery. It wears better for a longer speech.
They’re Only People, Like You
Seeing your audience in this light can help encourage you to be more
yourself and not quest for some acting image you think will make you
more acceptable. They want to be reassured that you’re like them, and
that you understand them! Knowing this can get you over the hurdle of
fear and strangeness that any speech usually engenders. But talking
about fear, let’s get right into the biggie—stage fright.
Stage Fright
What Is It
Stage fright is based on a myth. It’s you measuring yourself against
some image of a perfect performance—a “10”—and developing levels of
anxiety based on how far short of that perfect “10” you can, and think you
will fall. You focus only on what others will think of your performance,
and as you do that, you lose sight of what you’re actually there to do. Fear
takes over and you’re into high- (or low-) level paralysis. You begin
worrying about what could happen: “I’ll lose my place,” “I won’t find the
right words,” “I’ll be boring,” “The boss (colleagues, clients) will think
it’s dumb (incompetent, ill-conceived, dry, confusing) and that I am,
Add, “I never could speak in public, ” “My mother (father, teacher)
always said I mumbled,” “I hate making a show of myself,” and you’ve
got a full-fledged case of stage fright!
It’s too bad, but early imprinting has a lot to do with who feels
comfortable on stage and who’d rather die than . . . Those experiences—
and your never-to-be-forgotten adolescence.
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Ah yes! Who ever gets over the “nose—too long; hair—too stringy;
behind—too big; arms—too thin” litany that sang to us every time we
studied that mirror, mirror on the wall? How unacceptable we felt then
haunts us forever, at least in echo, and standing up to expose that
creature to public scrutiny still fills us with dread and anxiety.
It particularly wins the battle for your attention and your response as
you prepare to speak in public.
What to do?
The Cure
• Accept it
The best antidote is first to admit your stage fright and stop blaming
yourself for “being such an idiot.” It’s such a universal malady, you can
take comfort in the fact that most everyone’s got it. So—accept it, for
now. “It’s there. I feel terrible and scared. Right. That’s okay.”
• No “10”
Next, start to recognize and then continually remind yourself that
there is no perfect “10”! There can’t be! In order for there to be one
perfect way to do this, it would have to be duplicatable the same way
every time. But you, or anyone, would still do it differently the next and
every other time.
You’d have to. The day, weather, time, news would be different;
what you ate would be different; the audience and their needs would be
different; what conflict you just had at home or at work would make you
be different; etc., etc. Also—you could give a “10” performance and
someone else could also give another, very different type of “10”
performance, and both would be very good and very effective. Who’s to
say which is the “perfect” one?
So—you can’t fail. You can only be more or less effective; more or
less comfortable with your material; more or less able to achieve your
• Focus on your job
Think about your audience and what you’re trying to do for them!
What you want them to know and why. You don’t matter as much as your
message. Get off the self and into the story!
Be open, honest, enthusiastic, committed to your task—and let them
see that. That’s all your audience wants from you in terms of style. When
they see you comfortable, they get comfortable. Your tension broadcasts
itself to them and gets in the way of their hearing your message. Let go
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and go to work! And remember, like anything else, the more you do it,
the less uncomfortable it gets.
Getting Started
What’s Involved
• Your adrenals
Those marvelous little glands that rise to any stress occasion are your
key friends here. They’ll charge up, don’t you worry! They do that
involuntarily, built to save your life when you need it. They’ll send you
the extra physical energy you need—no problem.
• Your mind
That part of you needs to gear up for heavy-duty thinking. It has to
reach for the organization and sense of your message; to manufacture
words as you go; to listen and critique as you speak, choosing what to say
and what to delay or delete. It feels like it’s blank at that moment because
of the stress, but reassure yourself, you did bring it along and it’s stuffed
full of goodies, ready to produce.
• Your audience
Their energy and attention also has to get up to speed and you’re the
one who has to do it. You need to get them past the “stranger in our
midst” moment, get them used to your speech tone, and rhythm, and
start tuning into your message. Of course your great opening will take
care of that. But they need one special thing from you to get started.
• Your self-confidence
Here’s the key. You need to sit in your chair as a one-man cheering
squad. You need to program your inner voice to say, before you get up,
“You can do it. You’re terrific. You really know your stuff and are fully
prepared. Your material is good. Your message is important. Go get ’em,
Sounds artificial? Hokey?
I’ve already told you that the mind is like a computer. You program
it with negative messages—”I can’t do this. I’m awful at this. The speech
is no good “—and it’ll do your bidding. It’s obedient, like any computer,
and has no other choices than what you put into it. Your command is its
only working system.
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Want to succeed? Program that computer that you can and will
succeed. That when you stand up, you expect to be good, effective,
competent, if not downright fantastic! That you are! That’s what you’ll
get back in terms of performance. Want to fail? Feed yourself negative
images, self-doubts, assumptions of disaster or failure.
It’s a belief system, this business of self-confidence. Eliminate the
negative voices. Believe you’re good and that you will be good. Then tell
your mind that—and only that—message and you will be terrific!
Energize Yourself
Some people find it helpful to take a number of deep breaths or
squeeze their clasped hands or the arms of their chair very tightly before
they get up to get themselves physically charged up. This thrusts them
into a higher energy level very quickly, and no one can see or notice it.
Take your choice. If you’re a very physical person, used to heavy
exertion, you might like it.
Take Your Space
• Walk with assurance
Gather your papers, get up, and get moving briskly, with minimum
wasted motion, looking purposeful and energetic. The first step or two
may feel robot-like, but never mind. The idea is to tell your audience you
know what you’re doing and can’t wait to get there and do it (no matter
what the truth is).
If you want to change the mood from the previous speaker or what
has been happening, change your pace, quickening or slowing down
• Own your turf
How you “take the stage,” how you carve out your turf and take
command of it, is very visible and very affecting to your audience.
Go to your spot on the stage or at the front of the room. Put your
notes down. Deliberately. Then take a beat to settle down. Like the
great pitchers on the mound before they deliver the ball, take a breath.
Not a big heaving sigh. Just an inaudible but galvanizing breath to focus
all your energy on one place. Then, pick up your head and look at them.
Your audience. Make eye contact with them. Wait a second to get their
total attention and silence. Think to yourself: “Listen, everybody. Settle
down. Got something interesting to tell you. Can’t wait to do it. ” Then,
and only then, begin . . .
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The Lectern or Podium
Close your eyes and imagine yourself sitting in any audience. On
stage there is a lectern and a speaker walking in with a sheaf of papers (a
large sheaf of papers). He clears his/her throat and begins. Groan—
you’re bored already!
The stereotypical image of that device—the lectern—is so branded
in our minds as a symbol of lengthy, tedious droners that we have to deal
with it. Not only does it carry the negative images of preachers, teachers,
and righteous folk who have talked at us, it carries another image as well.
Standing behind a lectern visibly separates you from your audience.
It makes you look like you’re hiding behind a shield, protecting yourself
from them, not as open and vulnerable to them as they are to you.
It makes you look different, chosen, unique—if you’re attempting to
bond with your audience, that’s not the right message. It also makes you
look rigid, formal, unfeeling—a difficult place from which to become
their leader, helpful teacher and guide.
If you’re short, your audience may get an excellent view of your chin
or your bald spot as you peer over the top, but not of you.
One more issue: Standing behind a lectern makes you stand still.
This is not only a boring, immobile image, but it also paralyzes you and
lowers your own energy level.
By now you’ve probably guessed that I think standing behind a
lectern isn’t such a great idea. Why does everyone do it?
1. It’s a place to put your notes.
2. It’s where the microphone is permanently installed.
3. Everybody does it.
For #1: Put your notes there but come out from behind and stand to
the side of the podium. You can look over at your notes and still be free
and available.
For #2: Request, in advance, that they arrange a lavaliere or lapel
mike for you with a long cord, so you can move away from that arbitrary
prison and, most of all, be free to move your head in any direction.
For #3: Don’t be a sheep and follow the flock. Think through what
effect that lectern has on your audience and what effect you want to
have, and then decide for yourself based strictly on the merits, not habit.
But know that I’ll haunt you if you just automatically slide behind the
lectern and thereby bring upon you all the negative images I’ve just
described . . .
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Given all the other aspects of how you will communicate to your
audience, verbal presentation is still the major form by which you will
reach them and deliver your message. Which makes us turn now to your
choice of language: how you say what you say and what the right words
can do for you.
Making Language Clear
Language builds instant understanding if it is used well and if it uses
terms that are acceptable and comfortable for everyone. Once we know
a language, we expect its words to be clear. We depend on easy,
automatic processing and expect to understand. We don’t expect to get
stuck. We get concerned, even angry, when we do.
If you have developed expertise in a given field, you must be very
careful about falling into a private shorthand form of talking, where only
peers understand you. The serious consequence of this is that you don t
have a portable language system any more and cannot use it for all
occasions, with all kinds of audiences.
It means clients will be left behind as you go on and on about your
Lay audiences will become alienated and stare off into space.
It even means that among your co-workers you can unwittingly (or
maybe even wittingly) develop a kind of oneupsmanship that says, “I m
part of the club. Are you?”
Therefore, step one in making yourself understood is listen to
yourself! Question whether your words are supportive for this audience
and watch which ones you use. If you slip, always explain instantly, with
a little laugh about “Hanging around those computers too much, I’m
forgetting how to talk like a person.”
Think about the words you choose. Use familiar synonyms to explain.
Become sensitive to your own speech patterns. Edit your word choices.
Challenge yourself to find ways to explain what you know very well, even
instinctively, so others can get it. And be careful not to patronize as you
do it. We sometimes feel superior when we know something not
everyone knows. When you’re out there trying to get others on your
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wavelength, that’s the last thing you want to transmit. Stay humble and
enthusiastic about sharing what you know.
These are one of the best devices for clarifying a complex or abstract
concept. Since they’re usually a story or an example drawn from life, they
have instant appeal for any audience.
By turning away from a hard-nosed pragmatic approach to your
message and finding a basic story, fable, folk legend, quote from classical
literature, or example from current events that suits the basic principle
involved, you cause people to be persuaded on much more familiar
territory. It’s reinforcing as well as amusing to listen to. Your audience
doesn’t have to work too hard to tune right into your wavelength, unlike
the unfamiliar material you’re asking them to stretch and reach for.
Analogies provide a change of pace and build in a sense of suspense.
The audience looks forward to the end when the point of your story
comes clear and they can see the connection with what you’ve been
saying. Analogies can underline a basic truth with a seemingly lighthearted
Using an example from daily life puts every member of the audience
directly into the story, as well humanizing you, the teller.
A word of caution: Think through your analogy to see how apt it is for
making an instant connection between your point and the point of the
story. Will everyone get the punch line? Does it really fit?
Use Words Visually
Use words that make images; that have feelings and shape and color
and description in them; that can provide sensory experiences. “The
bright shiny red exterior of the new unit, complete with chrome
trimmings and a very quiet purr, instead of the beat-up old clanking one
we’ve now got in the back corner of the office . . . ” makes the unit come
alive visually and be real to everyone who’s listening.
Learn to use graphically descriptive phrases to make your speech
more interesting and compelling. People love to relate to threedimensional
images rather than equations. Your challenge is to see your
work product and your subject that way, rather than only as a chart or a
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The most common ways are:
• Repetition of a word or phrase.
• Pacing—slow down or speed up to make people notice.
• Modulate your voice—hard, soft, more thoughtful or weighty.
• Create a catch phrase or a metaphor that you can use again and
again to refer to an act, a fact, or an object.
• Recap—summarize key points you’ve made in a quick review,
thus repeating them and singling them out for special notice.
• Alert your audience by saying, “This next part is especially
important,” or, “That was especially . . . ,” and repeat it.
The Use of Silence
The opposite of talking is knowing when to stop. Speakers often have
a problem with that. They’re afraid that stopping might look like they
forgot or lost what to say next.
It’s difficult to realize that as eloquent as well-chosen words are,
silence is equally, and often more, eloquent. Eloquent not because it
gives the audience a chance to stop and think but because it compels
them to do so.
When you’re hot on the trail of delivering a message, the audience
is busy absorbing it, and you’re both moving at quite a pace. It is
therefore invaluable for them to be given a pause in which to consider
what you have just said. Not only for relief from the one-way assault but
to be able to think on their own instead of running with you.
I’m not recommending that you sit down and wait. The silences are
momentary; that’s all the brain needs to reflect and to catch up. But
they’re very affecting.
When? Whenever you deliver an eloquent or important statement,
a challenging statement, a shocking statement. It’s a signal that what you
just said was meaningful and noteworthy. Your silence says, “Think
about that for a moment, folks. That matters.” It also creates a space
between what you just said and what comes next.
Whenever you put a rhetorical question, stop. Give them a moment
to answer in their minds. It gets their interest in the answer up.
Don’t be afraid to use silence. Welcome it. It’s a superb contrast tool.
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Well—that’s it: Ideas to help you begin to develop personal style and
use words well. The rest will come with practice, some of which you
might do with a videotape recorder to see yourself as others see you.
After you get up off the floor, vowing to lose twenty pounds and have
your nose fixed at once, you can develop some good insights about how
you come across, what works and what doesn’t, and what you’d like to
concentrate on.
The Never-Make-a-Speech-Without-It Checklist
Now that you’re the ultimate perfect speaker with the ultimate
perfect speech, there’s only one set of obstacles. Here’s what to do, in
advance, to be sure that you stay in control of the details as well as the
content of your speech giving:
Visit the room yourself, with this list in hand. If you can’t, at least use
these guidelines in your discussion with the hosts to be sure you don’t
leave anything to chance, and do write a follow-up note.
1. Microphone and acoustics
Request a lavaliere (around the neck) or lapel (clip-on) mike. Do not
get stuck with a standing or permanently fixed mike which makes your
head movements rigid as you strain to talk into one spot.
2. Stage
If you must be on a stage, choose where you’ll stand. One side or the
other is more informal. Be sure you are on a raised platform in a large
room or the audience will have trouble focusing and concentrating on
3. Lectern
Once you get free of its tyranny by requesting a movable mike,
attached to you, not to it, you can use it to rest your notes. I prefer to ask
for a 4-foot table (readily available in all hotels) to be placed on the stage.
I put my notes on it, lean against it, sometimes even sit on a corner of it.
It’s a much more flexible, informal piece of furniture, allowing you more
leeway in moving around and relating to it and to your audience. A
corner of a desk or table in an office meeting room does the same thing.
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You can also put a small, portable lectern on it, to get your notes closer
to you.
4. Lights
It’s very important that where you stand be very well lit. More lit
than the surroundings. This helps focus audience attention on you.
People hear by watching your mouth and face. Be sure they can do that.
Be sure, if you’re at a lectern, that there is a light there to help you
Don’t put the house lights out! Lights out, to our biological clock,
says, “Sleepy-Bye Time”! And—you can’t see your audience, your
greatest energizer . . .
5. Shape of room layout
The most important thing to try for is that your audience doesn’t get
too far away from you. Not in terms of space between you and the first
row, but between you and the last row. Therefore, request, in advance,
that your room be set up the wide way. The dais or platform should be
put on the long wall. Then the chairs set to face it aren’t as deep and far
away from the stage.
Don’t waste your best eye-contact space, the center, with an empty
aisle. Request two side aisles and a solid middle. Set chairs in a curved
shape, curving in to the platform at both sides. Better than straight across
lines—they’re rigid and the ends have a hard time seeing. You can also
angle from the center to the sides, especially if you’re setting up in
schoolroom style with tables to write on.
6. Visual aids requirements
The drawback of using slides or overhead projectors is how the
screen usurps center stage and becomes so dominant, even without
pictures. Therefore, carve out a side of the stage, very well lit, as home
base for you. Begin your speech there, then move to the screen or the
overhead projection table to continue. Remember: Don’t turn out the
lights. Use rear-screen projection. You need your audience contact much
more than the ultimate perfect hard-edged picture.
7. Take back-ups
If a light bulb could ever burn out, it’ll probably choose your
presentation to do it. If a take-up reel needs to be a certain size, that
projector probably won’t have it. So—-bring your own: Your own
extension cord and remote-control button to be able to control your own
slides; your own extra bulbs for slide or overhead projector; your own
pointer; an extra copy of video or audio cassette: back-ups of your
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Presentations 187
transparencies in case someone spills the coffee; and so on. Check
carefully on their easels. Those little flimsy ones and your big charts or
flip charts may not make a good marriage.
Ask for electronic equipment by name, model number, size, and
style to be sure you get exactly what you need.
8. Send a diagram
Send diagrams for the stage and room arrangement as well as your
visual aid requirements. Know what? Your hosts will be relieved and will
welcome that.
9. Be sure about time length
Find out what the considerations of time for your speech really are.
Speeches notoriously start late, and if yours is crammed full, you may
end up having to edit as you speak. Instead, find out what comes after
you and what the real restraints are. Build in an envelope or two of
possible drop-out sections in your speech just to protect yourself; it’s best
to feel comfortable about when you actually have to stop.
10. Try it all out
Arrive early and test the equipment, including sound balance, lights,
electronic equipment, who’ll help you carry out the charts, run the
projector, etc. Notice the heat or cooling system and if there’s taped
music playing in the hall outside your door that you can ask to be turned
All these details, well handled, make for a smooth, finished performance.
Breakdowns in, or inattention to, any of these areas greatly
diminishes all your hard work in preparation.
Okay. No more endings. This is the end of this chapter. On to the art
of answering questions effectively and persuasively.
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The Audience or the Boss Vs. You
Picture yourself responding in the following scenes:
You’re at home (aged 10). Your father walks in: “Why didn’t you take
out the trash like I told you?”
You’re in school (aged 8). Your teacher asks: “What is the answer to
that question?”
You’re at your first job interview. The personnel director puts down
your resume : “Why should you get this job?”
A highway patrolman looks you in the eye: “How fast do you think
you were going?”
Your boss leans across the desk: “What do you think about this?”
A man-on-the-street reporter shoves a mike in your face: “Are you in
favor of. . . ?”
How did you feel as you read each one? Could you feel your tension
as you confronted having to answer well, correctly, right then and there?
Would the answers come easily—or would you fumble? Would you ever
consider not answering?
The Questioning Process
Of all the acts we perpetrate on each other, the most aggressive,
short of touching someone, is questioning them. The process exists in
every culture and it’s always the same:
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The Art of Being Questioned 189
Questioner: Asks his questions, his way, at the pace he wishes, in the
order he wishes, on the subjects he wishes, where and when he wishes.
Total power.
You: Submit and answer. No power.
We’re trained to accept this process from our earliest days. People in
power have the right to ask and we meekly answer. People become
powerful by asking, and we powerless by answering.
In order to understand how to handle being questioned, we need to
learn about our conditioned responses when we are questioned.
I’ve done many demonstrations in the seminars I teach about how we
handle questioning. I walk into the audience, filled with high-level
executives, canny lawyers, whomever. Selecting one of these sharp,
sophisticated people, I stand over him/her and begin a barrage of
questions: “Who are you? What do you do? Do you like it? Are you good
at it? Are you married? Are you glad?” or, “You’re not married? Why
not?’ I continue with “Do you have children? Plan to have any more?
When?” or, “Why not?”
Sounds rude, aggressive, intrusive? Right. But you know what? They
all answer! Always! Every question! Every personal, impertinent question—
right there in front of their peers! They never ask why, or what do
I need to know for, or ever even say, “Get lost!”
We’re conditioned to reply as soon as anyone asks, without even
thinking. Searching for the answer, we never think to question the
process or the questioner. If a person asks, we automatically endow him
with authority and answer. Our anxiety is heightened tenfold if the
question is asked publicly, but we do it anyway. How does this whole
phenomenon affect the way we answer questions?
How We Answer Questions
Remember the spotlight on you in a classroom while the teacher
waited for an answer? Everyone cringing in his/her seat thinking, “Thank
God it isn’t me!” The biggest challenge facing you was—what? Will your
answer be right or wrong? And that’s still the number-one issue that
shapes how we answer.
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What else were you thinking about back then? Didn’t you worry
about someone topping you with the right answer if yours was wrong?
Didn’t you think about what everyone thought of you? How they judged
you? Where you fit in the group?
Those early school years, that public test, are the source of what we
still worry about most as were questioned, privately or publicly.
Although they were years in which we felt most powerless and inadequate
in our lives, the concerns of group evaluation and someone’s
scrutiny remain in our grown-up lives.
What Concerns Us
Here’s what we still worry about as grownups whenever we answer
questions. You’ll find aspects of yourselves and of Achievers, Affiliators,
and Influencers in these responses:
• Right vs. wrong and the possible humiliation and defeat we’ll feel.
Our culture likes winners.
• Group competition: “I hope no one else knows it either, or better
than I do.” Whether before a group or one-on-one, that sense of
competing for status, admiration, approval against our peers remains.
• Wanting acceptance: We try to anticipate what kind of answer will
be most acceptable to the questioner and the group.
• What do you really want to know? We try to read the questioner to
discover what kind of answer is expected or wanted, and only give that,
rather than what we really think.
• Privacy: The caution this concern brings makes us edit and censor
automatically as we worry about what you can find out about me if I’m
not careful.
• Consequences: “What could the fallout from my answer be?”
“What could you, would you, do with my answer?” Therefore, how much
or how little or exactly what should I tell you?
• Visibility: Any spotlight shining on us makes most people feel
basically uncomfortable and unnerved, especially since questioning is a
test, not just a chat.
• Comparison: Fitting in with the group, wanting to say something
like what others would say, not falling short of the norm—these are
deeply rooted needs in us and will alter what we say and how.
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The Art of Being Questioned 191
• Performance: For many of us, our anxiety about our own eloquence,
fluency, ability to formulate and articulate what we mean on the spot
chokes us up.
Hardly the picture of comfort and confidence, is it? And it’s true for
us whether it’s a public questioning situation or we’re being privately
questioned by anyone in authority.
So now we have the foundation for this chapter—our intrinsic,
conditioned response to questioning and how it affects what we do and
say in such situations.
Our work will be to understand ourselves and the forces that push us
well enough to be able to counter that negativity. To figure out how to
handle being questioned, a seemingly powerless and anxiety-producing
aspect of our working lives. Then, to find out how to feel free enough to
let the mind work on what needs to be said, selecting what you want to
say, and giving yourself time enough to choose how to say it. We’ll also
learn how to handle various types of questioners.
Why Answer Questions?
Why indeed? Why set yourself up for a public grilling? Is it really
useful? For whom?
For you! Inviting questions actually solves many problems of omission
and commission in your presentations. Answering questions well
helps you stay in control of what people think you mean or have said.
Here are some benefits you gain from the question/answer period:
If your basic intention in making a presentation to a group is to
explain something you know a lot about, to inform and enlighten,
shouldn’t you find out whether they got it?
Although you may think you put everything in clearly and thoroughly
when you prepared your speech, letting people ask you questions at the
end shows you what they didn’t get. It lets you fill in the gaps of what’s
still confusing or unfinished in their minds. Wouldn’t you rather have a
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chance to explain again and actually accomplish your goal than let them
leave unconvinced and misunderstanding you?
A Chance to Add
You can only talk for so long before you begin to lose your audience.
Questions become a great springboard for you to continue to give your
speech in a more interesting and dynamic way. Asking questions and
your answering them makes the audience feel more connected and
involved in what you say. Rhythmically and dynamically a Ping-Pong
match served by various players is more interesting than a one-way
Ensures Relevance
You may have talked in abstract or general terms in order to set the
scene or give the big picture. Questions from this specific audience tune
you into their specific concerns. This makes your subject directly
relevant to them. No guessing—they’ll ask you what they need to know.
Empowers the Audience
By giving the audience permission to question you, you tell them it’s
their turn to hold the stage now. To take back some of the power they
gave you when you received their attention.
Shows Your Power
Only a very secure person, in total control of the facts and the larger
ramifications of his/her topic, would subject himself to being questioned
indiscriminately, not knowing what the audience will ask. Your obvious
comfort and “Go ahead, ask me anything” attitude are powerful messages.
Uncovers Disagreement
True, some of you may not want to do this, especially not publicly.
However, not hearing disagreement doesn’t mean it isn’t there or that it
will go away. It’s better to unearth the pockets of discontent and find
truly constructive, non-damaging ways to handle them rather than to
adopt the ostrich approach. The positive end results are that you can
usually dispel problems; you can find out what they are so you can work
on them. Last but not least, you’ll come away with a medal for bravery
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The Art of Being Questioned 193
and strength as well as much more credibility than you went in with.
So step one on the road to feeling comfortable and becoming
competent answering audience questions is to get convinced; to know
what’s good about answering them.
Step two is learning how to prepare for it.
Preparation for Q & A
Going into a Q&A session without a background of what they’ll
probably ask about, why people ask, and how we usually feel about this
exchange is like walking into the lion’s den without a chair. Here’s how
to prepare:
Understand Your Audience
• Who are they?
The same research you did in preparing for your speech needs to be
reviewed as you prepare for the question-and-answer period: Who’s
there; why they’re there; what they expect to hear; what they already
know; how your topic fits in their lives; as well as something of the basic
demographics. This tells you about your audience’s basic needs, interests,
and concerns, and becomes the bedrock of predicting what they’ll
ask about.
• What to expect
What additional issues and anxieties does your speech bring up for
them? Is your presentation threatening to the status quo? Does what you
said make them rethink a common belief?
Analyze where the hostility or rejection could come from: Are there
pockets of resistance represented in your audience?
What about your peers? Who’s competitive with you and needs to
show off before the group by sticking you with a tough question?
Is this a disparate group who could be asking you questions on
different levels about different aspects?
Still another issue is will they ask questions? Anticipating that you
might have to live through that agonizing silence after the “Any
questions” invitation will help you either plant a couple to get the ball
rolling or prepare a humorous comment that breaks the ice and gets it
started (something I’ll illustrate in a moment).
The important message here is to anticipate: to imagine and think
through your question-and-answer period in advance so there are few
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Understand Who Asks Questions
• Some people really are confused and want to know.
• Some people will feel competitive with anyone in the spotlight;
they’re interested in the by-product, not the product.
• Some people are classic opposers, needing to find fault with
anything new, or not their idea.
• Some people have a tenacious, thorough way of thinking and will
pursue a point relentlessly.
• Some people came to disagree and make a public statement of
their own.
Identifying why they’re asking as you hear their questions helps you
fit your answer to what the byplay is really about.
Understand Your Adversaries
Next—you need to prepare for disagreement. Know that as impassioned
as you are about your topic, there are others who feel just as
keenly that you’re dead wrong and that their way is the way. The key
here is to expect this and to see those people not as thorns in your side
but from their point of view. Spend a moment thinking why they would
feel as they do. Imagine believing in something that strongly. Don’t you?
You need to understand what your adversary’s goals and inner needs
are (the ole Fore-Thought Chart again) in order to defuse him/her.
(There’ll be more on this in Handling Hostility in the next section.)
Understand Your Feelings
To develop good skills for fielding questions extemporaneously, you
need to first find out how you truly feel about doing it. Let’s look at the
most common feelings I’ve discovered in my private consulting work:
• Loss of control
Having just been in total control of your subject, the subject will now
be determined by the questioner. The style of presentation will be sent
by him/her; the spotlight now shines on the questioner, who can then
shine a possibly harsh and unflattering light on you. You will be forced
to cede your sense of power. Or so it seems . . .
A major problem in answering questions is feeling put upon and
powerless. This erodes your ability to think (how can you if you think you
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The Art of Being Questioned 195
have no power?). It puts you in the position of looking for approval
instead of giving it.
Response: The fact is you have enormous power. It’s your material.
You own it. You are still totally in charge of what you’ll tell, how much
you’ll tell, how you’ll tell it. Even more than that, you have the power to
ask questions back—not just to receive them! You can deflect, reroute,
add on, analyze, and challenge.
So, recognize that the first obstacle to answering questions well is
your feeling that you lost your power and that you think your audience
now has it. And that’s not true!
• Nervous
You feel anxious about whether or not you can do it well, and most
of all, whether you’ll get trapped into saying something you don’t mean
or would rather not say. We all worry about public extemporizing and its
consequences (shades of those early school years again). We all worry
about performance and have great expectations of ourselves—wanting
Perhaps most of all your nervousness deals with not having time
enough to think up a good answer, and a carefully edited one, without
looking like you’re stalling or can’t think of anything to say, and still
sounding articulate.
Response: Remember there is no perfect way to do this. This
question/answer period never existed before. You, your speech, your
audience, the time and place it’s happening, all never came together
before. Therefore you’re writing on a clean slate.
Think to yourself: “I will do this my way and that’s the right, best,
and only way to answer these questions this time. I’m talking about my
material. I’m prepared. They’ll ask me about what they’ve just heard,
which I told them. I can handle whatever comes.”
• Exploited
Since you have declared open season on yourself, you can begin to
feel put upon. You’re up there as a target and they can shoot at you. This
is a dangerous feeling because you then begin to see the questioners as
taking something from you rather than asking benignly for positive
reasons. This can make you testy and hostile.
Response: Although they ask, they do so at your invitation. You’re
giving a gift. See yourself as Santa Claus—sharing yourself with this one,
giving an extra tidbit of information to that one. See each momentary
relationship as personal and intimate. The action is from you to them.
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They are only petitioners, asking for your gift. You’ll decide what and
how much to give.
• Exhilarated
Not all your feelings are negative. If you’re a fighter, a competitor,
or a performer who likes public performance, answering questions
extemporaneously feels exciting, like a contest. That’s great, in a way,
because it will provide you with the adrenal surge to rise to the occasion
and do a good job. The danger here is seeing it as a personal win/lose
contest. This makes it very difficult to listen and think. It shuts down
your ability to make choices since you’ve drawn battle lines—and about
something other than enlightenment or resolving disputes.
Response: See the process as benign, not competitive. They’re not
your adversaries. They don’t know as much about your subject, and want
more, or they know your subject but not from your unique point of view,
and need to know more. So you don’t need to compete or fight with
them. You’ve already won, by owning the material. Now you’re in the
position of helping them climb aboard.
Getting Started
Create an Environment
If you truly mean to invite your audience to ask questions, you have
to let them know you really mean for them to do it. A perfunctory “Any
questions?” doesn’t inspire your audience to make the effort. People are
generally shy and need encouragement in order to expose themselves or
even to move. Try this:
“Although I think I told you everything I could within the time
allowed, there are probably some things I left out. Maybe something I
described was not clear. I really want you to understand my subject, so
please ask me whatever else you need or want to know.”
This gets people moving because you gave them a reason to ask and
showed them that you genuinely want a chance to clarify. Here’s another
“Much of what I said is very complex, technical, and new. Having
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The Art of Being Questioned 197
just given you one glancing blow, I’m sure there are many things still not
clear. I welcome your asking me anything.”
This says, “I won’t be insulted that you didn’t get it or think you’re
dumb for not getting it. ” Another one:
“Well, you’ve been such an attentive audience and I’ve talked
non-stop for quite a while. I should calm down now, change the pace,
and let it be your turn to ask me questions.”
There’s a nice, warm, human touch in this one that says you know
how they feel and that you empower them by inviting them to join you
in a group endeavor.
Do It Yourself
I don’t think it’s very encouraging or stimulating to an audience to
have the moderator or chairperson suddenly appear and ask for questions.
It’s intrusive and looks like an audience test. Tell him/her you’re
much more comfortable doing it yourself. He/she can stand there to help
pick out who’s got questions or to call them by name, if you wish, but you
do the introduction to the Q&A period yourself. It’s an important
moment for establishing rapport and developing an encouraging environment
for questioning.
What If No One Asks?
Gulp! That dreadful moment while you stand there with an expectant
smile and no one raises a hand. Makes you feel like your speech was a
dud, that they’re too bored or confused to ask. How to handle it? Humor!
From my own experience, having used it many times myself, I ask
my clients to say:
“You know what’s happening now? A classic thing all audiences do.
It takes about forty-five seconds to a minute” (this makes them feel good;
it says they’re not unusually dumb or slow). “You’ve probably got a
question in mind and you’re testing it, thinking, ‘I don’t know if that’s
such a terrific question. Not sure it sounds very smart. Maybe I’ll wait till
someone else asks one first to see what that’s like.’ So you’re all sitting
there, waiting for someone else to start, right? Then you’ll chime right
Result? Big laugh and four hands are raised.
You can also try:
“Okay. I see everyone’s gotten the old Army word about never
The key is to confront what’s happening, not just stand there smiling
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blankly or asking again or just waiting. Don’t badger or cajole. Laughing
with it shows your strength.
Why People Don’t Ask
Understanding how people feel and why they’re reluctant to ask will
help you know what to say to them:
• “Mine may not be a good question.”
• “Why stick my neck out in a crowd—especially this crowd with
many of my peers and bosses in it?”
• “I may not be able to articulate my question well.”
• “I’d like to ask but I feel a little shy about confronting someone,
especially an expert.”
• “My question may not interest too many other people. Better
not ask it in public.”
It’s also useful to tell them at the beginning to think of questions or
write them down as you go along so you can respond at the end. Giving
an assignment in advance gives them time to think about a good question
and to formulate it well in their own minds.
How to Get Off If No One Asks
If no one asks, even after all my suggestions, save face and bow out
gracefully. Don’t let the momentum of your good speech die:
“Well, I guess I’m a much better speaker than I thought! I must have
explained my subject so well that you got it all! Thank you so much for
letting me tell you about it”—and get off, with a smile and a flourish.
(Crying and throwing up later.)
Handling Questions
Easy to say, hard to do. Because of the melange of all those
apprehensive feelings (described earlier) that you probably have, it’s
very difficult to squash your anxious inner voices and listen to someone
else’s. To truly listen, not just imagine where they’re going and sail off on
an answer, you need to:
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The Art of Being Questioned 199
• Discipline yourself to listen till the end; to take in all of what the
question’s about.
• Ask yourself where the question is leading so you’ll follow it
• Analyze what he/she really wants to know.
• Notice how the question is asked: Hostile? Insecure?
This will help you formulate an appropriate answer. (For more on
listening skills, see that section in Chapter 9 on Meetings.)
Clarify Questions
People often ask questions poorly: two or three points at once or a
rambling statement that never becomes a question. Don’t just try to
answer part of a question, the part you understand or heard last. Make
the questioner clarify it. To make your answer truly responsive, ask!
Maybe something like:
“Boy, there’s a lot to your question! Let me be sure I got it all. Did
you mean. . . ?” or, “I want to respond to what you’re asking, so let me
be sure I’m on the right track . . . ”
Be careful not to sound critical when you clarify, as though it was a
lousy question, poorly asked, like: “Well, exactly what is your question?”
Instead, take the blame on yourself:
“I was thinking about an answer so hard that I think I missed some
of your question. Let me just recap to be sure . . . ” Then rephrase it and
ask if that’s it.
Compliment the Asker
Nothing feels better than that old saw—”That’s a really good
question”—when it’s said by the august speaker to little old me in front
of the team. No, it’s not corny. It’s nice to be acknowledged and affirmed
for having stuck one’s neck out. It also shows others that you, the
answerer, are really relishing this whole experience. Furthermore, it
encourages others to get in the game, too.
Treat Everyone Respectfully
Remember: Audience members have much more in common with
each other than they do with you. They subconsciously bond with each
other. They notice how you treat each member, feeling him/her a
surrogate for the group.
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Relax Your Style
Be warm, curious, direct, open, informal. Remember, answering
questions is chatty and conversational. It’s not lecture time. Your guard
should be down, at least externally, and you should sound like you’re
sitting down having a cup of coffee with the people you’re talking to. It’s
really a rather intimate exchange. Your mental set should be that, for the
moment, you’re one of them.
Avoid Debates
How often have you seen it or gotten sucked into it yourself: the
derailment of the question-and-answer period into a one-on-one exchange
about an ever-narrowing subject? This bores your audience in
about two minutes and stops the good flow between you and everyone
else. The problem is how to cut a debate off without sounding like you’re
running away or being rude. Try this:
“You know, this is a great subject, and I know we both have more to
say on it. Let’s meet after the program to continue it,” or:
“Listen, you’ve got me on the horns of a dilemma. I’d like to keep
talking about this but there are lots of other eager questioners who want
to get the floor. Please see me after the program.” Still another way:
“That’s a really complex technical point. Let me send you X’s article
(or whatever) on that. Please give me your address after the program.”
Speak personally and informally, being sure to save face for the nerd
who keeps badgering you. This makes you come off as a thoughtful
person, sensitive as well as knowledgeable. They know he’s a nerd . . .
What If You Don’t Know
Say it! Tell the truth. Nothing else ever really washes. You’re a much
bigger hero for admitting fallibility than bluffing and transparently
letting us know (and we will know) that you’re too shaky or embarrassed
to tell the truth; that you’d rather lie and fool us than give us the straight
dope. What this does is to make us suspect everything else you’ve told
us to date. So—how to say it?
“I wish I could rattle off that answer for you, but I can’t. I’d need to
go back and look at some data” (or, “I don’t really know that but I could
probably find out”). “If you want to know, call me at my office (or, “I’ll
send you a note on it”), etc. ”
Sound bad? Dumb? Unprepared? Surely not. It sounds honest and
sensible about how much detail anyone carries around with them. It
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The Art of Being Questioned 201
shows you don’t know the answer but know how to get it, and that you’re
willing to give it to him/her in a more appropriate manner. It shows you
care about being accurate, not glib.
Now let’s turn to the bumpy part—when things aren’t going well,
when you hit snags and difficult people and tough questions, getting that
ambushed or “I’m not in control” feeling.
Handling Difficult Questions and Questioners
Taking Back the Power
Because of our conditioned “I am powerless; ask away” mental set,
we allow too much during question-and-answer sessions. Just keep
reminding yourself that you have total power over your answers. Not
over the questions, but over the answers.
• The information is yours
Before you speak, think: “The information is mine. Only I know it this
way. No one can forcibly extract it from me. It’s my gift to give, and I alone
will decide what to give, how much of it to give, and also how to give it.”
This will make you know what a powerful position you’re really in.
• You don’t have to tell all
You may choose what you say and delete and edit as you go. Since no
one can read your mind (not yet, anyway), you can choose what to tell.
• Respond only to what’s asked
Stay on target. Make your answers short, succinct, and most of all, to
the point! Don’t tell them all you know, just tell them what they asked
for. It’s not only safer; it’s less boring. If they want more, they’ll ask a
follow-up question, which is a good idea because it makes for a dialogue,
not a monologue—the proper format for the question-and-answer period.
It also gives you more time to think.
Buying Time
Probably the most difficult aspect of answering questions is that at
the end of the question everyone expects an instant answer. Some of us
have great extemporizing abilities and the mind-to-mouth route works
really well. Lots of people don’t, and further, don’t want to blurt out any
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old answer without a chance to think. This is especially true when the
question is a tough one, possibly damaging or difficult to answer.
To solve this, let’s first discover a hidden ability most of us don’t use
very much.
Trust Your Instincts
Your brain works at lightning speed. We just don’t recognize that
because we interfere with its natural processes all the time. We rethink
and second-guess and don’t dare trust our instincts or first impressions.
The fact is, you’re quite capable of coming up with an immediate answer.
The difficulty arises with your expectations. You think that you need to
be able to formulate and know your total answer in advance! Wrong.
The first way to buy time is to trust your instincts. Learn to start
answering the question. Don’t look for your ending yet. You’ll hear
yourself as you go and can decide along the way. Your mind doesn’t only
work in advance. It works while you’re talking.
Pick the Question Apart
Asking more about what the questioner really means not only gives
you time to think of an answer, it actually highlights what to answer.
“Did you mean X or Y?” “There are two parts to your question.
Which shall I answer first?” Even, “Would you repeat the question”
gives you time to think and figure out what they’re asking.
Comment on the Question
Commenting before you answer is another way to delay, buy some
time, and think:
• You can make a comment about the question itself: “Good,”
“Tough,” “Interesting,” “Never thought of that before.”
• You can comment on the process: “I guess I hit a nerve. You sure
have a barrage of questions!”
• You can comment on how it’s asked: “You were surely listening!”
or, “You’re very concerned about this, aren’t you?”
All of these little prologues buy you time, giving you a moment to
collect yourself. Further, they give you back your sense of power and
balance if the question is a tough one. And they all sound very
responsive, not like you’re stalling.
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The Art of Being Questioned 203
Change the Rhythm
Don’t automatically respond. Stop the action if it’s going too fast. It’s
in your power to handle not only how but when to respond. Slow down.
“Let me take a moment to think about that.”
Avoiding the Question
The tactic suggested for “What if you don’t know?”, above, works
equally well here. Any of those responses about answering later will give
you time to go back and check; to formulate a carefully worded and
thought-out answer, or to check with the powers that be about what the
company policy is. Humor works very well here, too:
“I knew someone would ask the one thing I don’t know the answer
to offhand!” It’s also very acceptable to say:
“I’m not at liberty to discuss that right now. We’re working on it,” or,
“No public comments on that. We sure don’t want our competitors to
know the answer!”
Turning Questions Around
Sometimes a question has something in it you’d rather avoid. You
need to make a stab at answering it, but then you should take the
question off to another realm.
Make It Bigger
“Actually, this affects the whole industry, not just our shop . . . ”
works well. Enlarging the perspective lets you share knowledge about
how others are also struggling with the problem. It dilutes problems by
making them not so unique or awesome.
Focus It Much Tighter
Similarly, go down to a much smaller example and get specific
instead of trying to stay with an abstract, all-encompassing view.
“Look, I can’t speak for all of it and where it’s going, yet. I can only
speak about the work we’ve done and what we’ve found so far.”
Seize the Opportunity
“I’m glad you asked that. It gives me an opportunity to straighten
that o u t . . . ” or, “I have heard that,” or, “You may have read about that.
Here’s the way it really is.”
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Then go into your explanation instead of staying on someone else’s
track. Speak only of the points you want to mention, actively taking the
conversation to another plane without sounding defensive.
Give the Context
Often questions are asked based on a false premise or insufficient
“In order to answer that, I need to give you some background (or
additional information) so we’re all on the same wavelength.”
Then fill in the gaps, setting the proper context, etc., and turning the
question into a platform. You will sound responsive and informative, yet
you’ll go where you wanted to go.
Cutting People Off
Always tricky, the obvious caution is not to look rude or like you’re
trying to escape. Be very careful to apologize as you interrupt: “I’m really
sorry but,” “This is very difficult,” “Forgive me for interrupting . . . ”
Time or Group Constraints
“I’m sorry, but others are champing at the bit. I’m going to have to
ask you to tighten your question.” Blaming it on an objective outside
source saves face for everyone, something you must be keenly aware of.
Ask for Their Help
“Look, I need your help. I have a real problem. I need to be fair and
democratic and not look like a bad guy, but I also have to move on to
someone else. Please forgive me.” After such an exchange, ask everyone:
“Listen, folks, I know it’s hard when you get wound up” (saving face for
all), “but could you all try to focus your questions tightly and be really
succinct so I’ll have time to answer everyone?”
Getting the Audience on Your Side
A tricky play, but necessary when things aren’t going well and
someone has just attacked or asked a stickler of a question. The idea is to
come through as human, vulnerable, trying to do a good job.
Be Real
After a tough exchange, the best thing to do is to comment on what
just happened. Humor is the very best antidote: “Well, you didn’t know
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The Art of Being Questioned 205
that you came to a boxing match, did you?” or, “Is there a doctor in the
Don’t Pretend It Didn’t Happen
The worst and weakest way to handle such an exposure is to avoid it.
Even looking at the audience with a wry smile and saying “No comment”
is a powerful move.
Have the Last Word
That’s the goodie you get for doing a Q&A session! You alone can say
one last thing before you move on. Again, the light touch is the way to
go. It shows you’re unscathed and strong enough to have a broad
perspective (unlike your questioner). Something like, “Well, let’s just
remember my original point so we can go on . . . ” and then tell it again.
Of all the aspects of Q&A sessions, this is the most scary and
Let’s begin by understanding the dynamics of why people get
hostile, lose tempers, lash out, and attack in a group situation. This is one
of the best ways to reduce your reaction and sets the stage for handling
hostility constructively.
Why People Get Hostile
We can and do get worked up over issues and some people have less
self-control than others. Those who are guided by gut reactions more
than logic, whose families were given to more volatile responses, are
most prone to this.
Fear and Threat
Your subject may raise specters in others of being asked to do or
accept more than someone can deliver or understand. Thinking, “My life
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or work will change because of this message. Maybe I can’t handle it,”
causes some real agitation and attendant loss of control.
Attacking the messenger is an ancient problem. In an effort to focus
on “Whose idea is this, anyway?” and “Why should I change?” belligerence
and a need to blame someone follow fear and threat.
People sometimes start out calmly enough to discuss something they
disagree with, but then lose their cool when they feel outclassed by logic
and hard facts, and become defensive, then aggressive. Hostility covers
Lack of Information
Sometimes people build entrenched positions based on bias or one
point of view. They can cleave most passionately to this, especially as
part of a group. Not having information about the other point of view or
the people who have it causes hostility when they’re confronted with it.
You also draw hostility by simply representing the hated other side.
Sense of Impotence
Feeling unable to halt or change something with its resultant sense
of loss of control can have the effect of despair for some and real rage in
Resentment of Opposition Figures
Images of someone with more power, influence, money, status, or
information can cause resentment and jealousy to the point of hostility
and anger.
Feeling like a non-believer, alone in a group, can cause some people
to strike out against that condition, although they sound like they’re
railing about an issue. We all need a sense of constituency or identification
in a group. Being the only one who feels differently sometimes
causes overreaction and anger.
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The Art of Being Questioned 207
Techniques for Handling Hostility
It’s hard to fight our natures and stay calm and rational when
someone is insulting or baiting or attacking us in public. Yet, in order to
turn such an exchange around to our advantage and come out a clear
winner, that process—remaining calm and rational—is the main exercise.
The big goals in confronting hostility and resolving it are, first, to find
ways to hear what the hostility is about, and second, to add new light,
new information, or an alternative point of view to show how both sides
can resolve the disagreement.
But perhaps the biggest goal is to save face in front of your audience;
to show them that you can stay in control of your feelings and your facts,
and to continue to convince them, even if you’re verbally assaulted.
Take a Breath
When tempers flare or icy comments slice through the air, our
typical next step is to put up our dukes and fight back. This is not useful
and surely not recommended as your best response in public. And—you
actually have the time and room to decide on a course of action . . .
Your opponent is already hostile; you’re not. So you’re at a much
lower level of emotion than he/she is. Therefore the first step in handling
hostility is to buy some time so you can calm down and think. I suggest
you literally “take a breath.” Not one of those giant heaving sighs, visible
in the back row, but a slow internal breath that gives you a sense of
slowing down, not speeding up, the blood pressure.
Identify the Hostility
Suppose your pants dropped around your ankles while delivering a
speech. What would you do? Try shuffling off the stage with a smile,
pretending they’re not down around your ankles? Or would you bend
down, pick them up, and comment on how the audience is “getting to
know more about you than just your subject matter”?
Choice 1 means you think they’re sightless, totally without feelings,
or quite accustomed to people losing their pants. Choice 2 says, “You and
I both know what happened and how it feels. Instead of trying to hide,
what can I do now to put us both at ease?”
The biggest mistake people make when trying to handle a hostile
questioner is to pretend it’s not happening. This makes the audience
more uncomfortable! They can see what just happened. We’re all quick
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to identify conflict. They’re concerned about what you’ll do next. Going
blithely on makes you seem either too weak to handle it or too dumb to
have noticed it. Or that you think the audience is too dumb to see it.
When someone is hostile or angry, you have to deal with it publicly.
Allow the Anger
• The anatomy of anger
We all handle anger in two basic ways: We either fly off the handle
and vent spleen, shouting, etc., way out of control. (Let’s call him Type
A.) Or we become extremely cool and deliberate, obnoxiously slow,
lethally rational, and insufferably superior. (Let’s call her Type B.) Taken
from anybody’s home notebook, this difference results in the following
typical exchange and response:
Type A (flailing arms wildly, screaming): “*X#!X*! You always do
that and I hate it and . . . ”
Type B (slowly, deliberately, in an icy, low voice): “Look at you! How
can I possibly discuss this with you when you’re so irrational and out of
control? Now, when you can calm down, I’ll be glad to talk about it. . .”
Result? Aaagh! The argument escalates as Type A reaches new
heights of fury and rage! Why? Because Type A is out of control and
knows it! If he could calm down and choose another means of behavior,
don’t you think he would? Irrational rage is an involuntary response and
secretly embarrassing to the rager. But for Type B to point it out, at the
same time rubbing it in by becoming even more superiorly calm, is
enough to make Type A blow a gasket!
• What to do
Allow the Type As to be angry, their way! No judgment on anyone’s
part. One way isn’t better than the other; it just is! It’s how people are
put together.
To allow the Type A in your audience to be angry and to still turn this
around rationally, name the anger or hostility. Describe it, in a flat,
factual, but sympathetic (not patronizing) way:
“I see you’re very concerned (passionate, upset, feel very deeply)
about this issue,” or, “I see you’re very committed to a point of view
about this.”
This provides an instant antidote. The person railing has been given
a way out. “Yes, I am, ” is his response. You’ve actually implied, “It’s
okay. I understand that you’re mad,” by your behavior. You’ve taken him
out of the realm of feeling defensive about the fact of his anger or hostility
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The Art of Being Questioned 209
and into the beginnings of talking about what he’s angry about. And
you’ve saved face for both of you.
So, in order to move out of the smoke and fire, don’t put someone’s
anger down or ask for more self-control. Just say that you see it, you’re
sympathetic to it then let them talk it out—their way.
Understand the Anger
By absorbing the reasons why people get angry and hostile that I
mentioned earlier, you can handle them better. When you identify the
real source of someone’s hostility, you can find a way to connect their
anger to a point of view you can talk about.
“I understand how you must feel. My point of view sounds like it will
change something you’re very committed to. But let me show you how
that’s not quite true.”
Pinpointing the discussion to the underlying issue helps cut the
anger out of the conversation.
Get Out of the Personal Realm
Since hostility often turns to personal attack, don’t start out defending
yourself. The goal is to get to a factual level, not remain on the
personal one.
“I know that your main goal is to get to the bottom of the issue, not
necessarily to have a personal grudge match with me. Actually, we don’t
even know each other! So, as I hear it, you’re concerned about . . . ”
Another way:
“This sounds like one of those ‘Kill the messenger’ moments. I
understand that your anger (disagreement) about the subject has included
me. Let me rather be the method for clearing up a disagreement.”
Find Something in Common
“You know, although we seem to be disagreeing, we actually have
something in common. We both care very much about this issue. I see
why you’re so worked up. So am I!”
This surprising approach works well not just to dilute your opponent
and get you both talking. It plays very well for the audience. They see
that you’re not patronizing your opponent or looking for the upper hand.
You seem to actually have room to hear and absorb dissident viewpoints
and still hold your ground.
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Ask for Further Clarification
Often, when someone is hostile, they will vent spleen but not be
very coherent about just what’s troubling them. Try to get your opponent
to focus on the exact objection he/she has. Ask for it. “To help us come
to some understanding,” or, “To help me respond to exactly what your
anger is about, please tell me the essence (or the basic source) of your
Taking the question or issue apart is by itself a cooling-off process,
pushing everyone toward logic and reason.
Have Faith in the Facts
Use demonstrable evidence, practical explanations, and specific
examples as your argument. Stay out of global statements and large
abstract concepts. The latter sound like you’re being unresponsive and
will weaken your position in the eyes of the audience.
Settle for Disagreement
Be willing, when all avenues are exhausted, to end up still on
opposite sides. The key here is to end on a positive note, no matter what.
Show your logic; recap your position with some salient argument about
why. Then show compassion and understanding for someone else’s point
of view.
“Well, I think we need to come to some conclusion here. I hear you
and what you believe in. I hope you can hear me and my points too; the
point that . . . etc. Let’s just agree to disagree for now and know that
eventually the facts (or history) will bear out the correct position.”
If it suits your personality, you might end it with a bit of humor:
“Well, you think that you’re right and I know that I’m r i g h t . . . ” or,
“The audience has heard us both. I think we’ve exhausted the
subject for now. Before we exhaust, and lose, them, let’s call a
moratorium. And when you change your mind, which I hope I’ve helped
you do, please call me.”
To conclude: Handling yourself during an audience question-andanswer
period is complex because of all our years of conditioning and
automatic question answering. It requires handling not only the question
but also the audience. Yet it’s a valuable process and should be done.
It requires some understanding of what audiences want from you,
hearing clearly what is being asked, and finding ways and time to think
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The Art of Being Questioned 211
in order to answer. This satisfies the audience and shows your strength
and character.
Now let’s move to another instance in which you need to find ways
to answer questions.
The Dynamics of Power
In a Q&A session with your boss, your major problem is to find ways
to feel that power is shared, to feel that you have some real choices about
how you’ll behave and what you’ll say and do.
When you’re called in to a questioning session, the fact that he/she
can ask you to come, that you will come, and that you must answer
questions makes the balance of power a little different than in the usual
Q&A sessions after a presentation, where you have just demonstrated
your power and continue it by inviting them to ask you for more.
How Much Room at the Top
First—know your audience. There are certain predictables about any
They’re all different. The key is to know and study yours well enough
to discover how your boss deals with his/her power. What does he/she
usually do when confronted with an issue: Lose temper; ask questions;
decide alone; give orders; blame others; none of the above? Knowing the
unique qualities of your boss helps you predict and plan.
Know also that the very nature of their position causes them to have
certain traits in common. Being a boss generally brings with it certain
predictable and understandable needs for and attitudes about power and
authority. Knowing these overall basic needs and attributes will also help
you understand and prepare for a boss’s probable approach to the
upcoming session:
• Leadership. In order to establish and maintain effective leadership,
a boss needs others to know that he/she is in charge. This means showing
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that he/she has legitimate authority and is exercising it to get the job
done; making and implementing decisions and seeing to it that these
decisions are carried out. No matter how flexible, this “last word”
leadership must finally be unchallenged.
• High Profile. Leaders and bosses need to be visible to the troops.
Since they can’t ride the white horse at the head of the pack and yell
“Charge!” any more, they must rely in part on visible trappings of power.
• Comparison. Since power is relative in any organization, your boss
may feel powerless before his/her boss. This can cause extra pressure and
power-wielding on the staff whenever your boss is in the presence of
someone else who wields power over him/her. Also the desire to show
his boss he isn’t too soft on the troops.
• Pleasure. Power feel delicious to many of us, particularly to those
types who love and want it enough to emerge from the pack and run
things. This can sometimes cause muscle-flexing and an abuse of power
for its own sake.
• Respect. Power brings with it automatic respect. Not always
heartfelt and sometimes for the office rather than the person, nevertheless
the person in charge does get deference from his/her staff and a
certain sense of the effect his/her power has over them.
• Fear. People wield power unduly when they’re afraid they don’t
have it or are losing it. “Get it done because I say so” is a typical “retreat
to power” whenever a boss feels unable to deal with a situation or senses
the power slipping away.
Most of all, recognize that bosses have egos, vulnerabilities, and
needs, just like you. They’re just not allowed to show them as much.
Understanding these basic components of what power means to
bosses can show you what territory you must cede in order to fulfill their
general needs before you can begin to think of how to fulfill your own
needs and what power you can get a piece of in a one-on-one session.
Now we’ve set the background against which you will appear. Bosses’
predictable needs and behavior patterns won’t change. What can be
adaptable is your behavior. Based on what you understand, in advance,
so that you aren’t surprised or thrown at the meeting, you can develop
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many options about how you answer questions and how you feel at such
a session.
Why Were You Called
When you’re asked to this questioning session by the boss be sure to
pinpoint specifically what is being asked about and why you are chosen
to be the spokesperson for this (if it isn’t personal).
Bosses can call one-on-one questioning meetings to:
• solve a problem before it goes further
• analyze an issue
• discuss or touch base on an ongoing project
• get debriefed on a current “disaster”
• get to know you better/give kudos.
What Do They Really Want
Unless you get exact information about what they specifically
want, you may prepare too much or too little or not in the right format
or focus.
This may require a little research and thought. Try to analyze why
he/she wants this information from you, especially at this time. Is
anything going on at the shop right now? New plans? Problems? If it’s
you personally the boss wants to see, think through what the recent
deadlines have been; how’s your work been going, what was the last
encounter you had and about what.
What Documents and Materials To Bring
Not only should you prepare notes for what you’ll say about A, B, or
C if it’s a formal session, but you need to bring leave-behinds to bolster
your points. Depending on what you need to explain, you should also
think through visual exhibits you might want to create and bring so that
you can share the information clearly and succinctly.
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Okay, so you’re ready. Now comes the good part. Actually going in
there and doing it.
First, you need to look like you’re ready, willing, and able to answer
all questions.
Second, you need to answer what he/she asks and to be clearly
responsive, not evasive.
Third, you want to be helpful and look for solutions, not defensive,
hidden, or obstructive.
Within those parameters there’s a lot of leeway. You do have many
choices. Read again in the previous section how to clarify questions
before you answer; how to turn questions around so you get in what you
want to say; how to answer only what’s asked, sparely and succinctly, and
wait for follow-up questions instead of pouring out all you know with the
first question.
The power issue is again at the heart of how you answer. Feeling
strong and able to withstand what is thrown at you will help you dilute
the anxiety over the boss’s power. Remember, it’s still your information,
to be delivered your way, as much or as little as you decide.
Answerers often feel fear, and always feel concern for consequence:
Fear of what the boss can do and think, and concern for the consequences
of how you answer.
Establish Rapport
Don’t walk in with a hang-dog, “let’s get it over with” look. And don’t
wait for the boss to start. Greet him/her first. You need to establish
contact and show that you aren’t thrown by this session, but see it as an
encounter with the outcome still to be discovered, by mutual participation.
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The Art of Being Questioned 215
To show you some specific ways to handle two kinds of one-on-one
questioning sessions, let’s create a scenario or two and play it out.
Answering Informational Questions
Scene: The boss calls you in for a performance appraisal. This is a
kind of questioning encounter in which the atmosphere is basically
evaluating and the exchange of information is a key focus.
BOSS: “Well, Janet. It’s that time again. Tell me, how do you think you
did at your job during this period?”
A common ploy: it may throw you off-guard. It can also smoke out
some problems the boss may not know about, and give the boss a chance
to hear your opinion of your own work.
If you answer:
“(Defensively) Why, I thought I did very well, don’t you?”
you haven’t told him/her anything except that you’re not sure you did
and you seem to have nothing but the boss’s affirmation to back you up.
If you use the same words but answer belligerently, you’re on the
attack, expecting the worst, and nothing has really happened yet! That
can make the boss suspicious about why you’re so belligerent.
Let me give you a series of suggestions about how to handle the
information-getting kind of questioning encounter.
Assume the BEST, Not the Worst
The old conditioning about how we answer any question makes us
walk into most such sessions nervous and defensive. Start out feeling
good, not bad, about the session. This will be an exchange. You’ll talk
and ask and clarify on both sides. It’s a chance for you to get things
straight—directly, not third hand.
Learn What the Meeting’s About
Be sure you always find out what the subject of the meeting will be.
You can always ask “in the interest of being prepared for whatever you’ll
need to know.”
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Have Back-Up Material
Don’t ask the boss to take your word for anything unless you have
data and can back it up. In the case of a performance review, come armed
with hard data: comparative figures; completed projects; original selfstarter
work; letters from satisfied customers; and the like.
Make Sure You Understand the Question
Don’t presume too much too soon, a major failing whenever we
answer. Both the form and the content of the question are important.
• The form of the question
This tells you the underlying motivation for the question and helps
you know what needs dealing with first. Notice the differing mental sets
and how the form of the question can give you the clue:
Curious; “I don’t understand exactly what these figures mean . . . ”
This needs a straightforward informational answer.
Suspicious: “Well, exactly what do these figures mean. . . ?” This
needs some background to clarify the whole issue before you answer the
question. There’s obviously some feeling, perhaps negative, already
present. Give context, then details.
Prejudiced: “These figures aren’t very helpful…” Here you need to
ask why he/she thinks not, before you start defending. First find out
more about why the mind is already closed.
• The content of the question
This tells you exactly what’s being asked for. Here’s where your
listening skill is primary, as stated earlier. Listen till the end of the
question. Make sure you clarify by asking before you answer, so you stay
on target and don’t volunteer too much.
Build a Broader Answer
Take some initiative. Use the question to build your case into the
answer. Don’t only answer what is asked. Add background, comparisons,
implications that embellish the answer (keeping connected to the
original question, of course). This can shore up your position, giving it
more depth and dimension.
Tell the Truth
If you don’t know, say so! You get extra points for honesty and
demerits for lying or faking.
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The Art of Being Questioned 217
“I’m sorry, I don’t know enough about that, but I can get it for you
later today” shows that you know when you don’t know and that you
know how to find out. This breeds confidence!
After a Statement, Ask!
In a performance review, the boss will usually tell you what he/she
thinks after that opening question. Stay interested and calm. Listen very
hard for the areas of difference between what you think and what the
boss thinks. Respond with equanimity (sometimes tough but work on
this!) and a constructive outlook:
“I’m listening hard because I like my job and want to know whether
or not I’m doing it well and if you’re getting what you need from me. Let
me ask you to focus further on X. I want very much to know more about
how you think I can improve that.” Don’t grovel, but show your interest
in fixing it with the boss’s suggestions.
Answering Critical Questions
The other general category of questions come from an incident in
which you messed up, or at least something went wrong. The biggest
problem you have is being able to still the several voices inside that affect
how you hear and how you answer.
Let’s turn to our three work types and some typical responses they
might have to this kind of exchange:
An Affiliator subordinate takes it all very personally. Usually fearful
of hostility, whatever the issue, Affiliators want the boss finally to forgive
An Achiever boss can’t understand the Affiliators response. He/she
wants to take a rational, task-oriented view:
“I thought we had a clear set of standards. How did this happen?” He
may actually get angry at himself Tor imperfectly organizing the task, but
he can’t begin to hear the self-absorbed approach of the AfBliator.
An Influencer boss demands: “Why didn’t you do this?” He/she
wants to know that the foul-up didn’t come from your deliberately
defying him and his authority. He/she wants to see your willingness to
make it right. He wonders about his delegation of authority; aware of the
empowering relationship between authority and responsibility, he’ll
worry about whether he gave you too much or too little.
When answering criticism:
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Don’t Be Defensive
The one thing people expect when you’re called in for criticism is
that you’ll look and feel guilty. Beware! That invites them to attack.
Continue to explain what you did, why you did it, etc., factually, leaving
the door open to admit mistakes or handle further discussion. But don’t
let the session deteriorate into a personal attack on you and who you are;
just on what you did or didn’t do.
Don’t Counter-Punch
With your “dukes” either clenched or up in front of your face, don t
respond by fighting back. Though you’re tempted, do none of these:
“It’s not a good system, anyway.”
“Your objection isn’t valid . . . ”
“It’s such a useless task . . . ”
“What about when Jack did that?”
Stay with the listening. No comment, yet.
Get Specific
Take it in steps. First, be sure what the exact nature of the critique
“Could you please explain what you mean by ‘unfinished’?”
“How, exactly, had you hoped it would look?”
This shows willingness to listen and gives you time to find out what
the critique is about, precisely.
Ask for Suggestions
It’s crucial that you impart that you want to improve, NOT only
defending that you did nothing wrong. People often have very different
views of “well done.” Your boss’s view must prevail. Ask:
“How would you handle it?”
“What format would be better?”
“Could you show me something that would demonstrate more of
what you mean?”
Understand the Directions
Words like “maybe more of” or “not effective enough” or “too
vague” don’t help you do a better job next time. Find out exactly what
is meant, with demonstration. Sometimes the boss is dissatisfied but
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The Art of Being Questioned 219
can’t describe exactly what he/she wants. Help him/her formulate a real
position, thus helping to solve the problem together.
Add To or Change Answer
Sometimes you answer hastily. If you think better of it, it’s a sign of
accuracy and responsiveness to fix it. “I’m sorry. In thinking about that
last answer I gave you, I forgot X.” Listening to another question can also
cause you to add to a previous one. Do it. Again, a strong move to
forthrightness and alertness.
Disagree When Appropriate
Don’t just roll over and play dead. That shows no spirit or conviction
about your work. After you get all the information about what the boss
perceives as wrong, you can come back with hard data to show that your
point of view also had validity. Be sure you can show credible evidence,
and show how your approach was a viable alternative.
Don’t Go for a “Win”
In such a confrontation, don’t think of it as win-lose. Rather, see it as
finding room to accommodate to another point of view, the one held by
the person in charge!
If You’re Wrong
Say it! Don’t grovel, but say what you’ve learned. Show that you now
see what the mistake was. But do it constructively.
“In retrospect I can see that was a bad decision. That concerns me
very deeply, since I don’t like making mistakes—ever. I would surely
like not to repeat the process that led me to it. What would you suggest
about how to avoid that in the future?’
This will assure the boss that you’re open to criticism and willing to
learn and fix mistakes, not to deny them and therefore continue to make
If It Gets Personal
Pleasantly, try this:
“Can I ask for a moment here? It feels like we’re talking more about
my character and less about what I did on such-and-such an occasion.
You know, I’ve worked here for a while and proven myself a loyal and
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conscientious employee. I think you know that. If something went
wrong, I’d like to fix it. A mistake in judgment means I have something
to learn. But I’m still the same loyal, conscientious person I always was.”
End Constructively
The best outcome from such a confrontation is for the boss to know
you’re adult enough to hear the issues and not also fold personally. Show
how well you take direction and how willing you are to try again, his/her
way. Make it a team effort. Ask to come in and check as you re-do to be
sure you’re on the right wavelength. If you can, try:
“I want to tell you that I appreciate your being so straight with me.
No one likes to mess up, but I’m glad you showed me you have faith in
my ability to do this better by calling me in this way. I won’t let you
down. ”
Role Play and Practice
In closing this chapter, let me again suggest that you practice. Do
some role playing by improvising a questioning session, especially about
audience questions. Peers can really help you hear because they know
the right questions to ask.
Give your friends/family the outline of what the meeting’s about,
who’s coming, what they want, and what they’ll probably ask you. This
is true whether it’s for an audience after a speech or the boss. If you
prepare a list of what you think will be asked, you help yourself focus and
give your group of “Not for Prime Time” players something to work
The idea is to find out what it feels like before the big day. To
discover some of your weak points both personally and content-wise.
If you have a video camera, you might even want to tape it. You can
then judge for yourself how you came across, what you said, and if that’s
how you want to do it.
If you have no camera, you can still audio-tape it. Then listen and
And, of course, you’ll want to ask your friends to give you live
feedback so you can discuss how it went with them right after you do it.
Everything feels better after you’ve experienced it. Practice not only
helps you get used to the upcoming experience; it can stop you from
making some errors in attitude and in how you’re coming across. It can
show you if your presentation and method of explanation work. And it
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The Art of Being Questioned 221
gives you a chance to try out some of these answers and phrases and
begin to adapt them to your style.
The bottom line? Remember that giving answers is giving a gift. You
own your information and can choose what you’ll give and how.
Understand your questioners: what they really want, how you affect
them. Understand the questioning process and how it has conditioned us
to feel powerless and answer without discretion and with fear.
Learn even to enjoy the give-and-take!
Now let’s turn to another area of give-and-take: Meetings. How to
lead and participate in them effectively.
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Leading and Participating Effectively
Meetings were obviously intended to serve some important function
in the workplace because there are so many of them! But why do so many
people walk away from them mumbling, “Endless,” “Boring,” “Waste of
time,” “Didn’t get anywhere,” “What are we supposed to do now?” and
other such critical comments?
In this chapter we’ll find out first what meetings are really for; then
discover what internal dynamics one can expect in any group interaction
and what goes wrong with meetings most often. Then, communications
skills for leaders and participants, and how to design agendas and
meetings and run them successfully.
In order to change the perception and the techniques with which
meetings are run, let’s first look at what goes wrong. You’ve been to
meetings. I’m sure you’ll find your overt complaints and hidden concerns
in what follows:
Factual Issues
“I feel like I’m just supposed to show up there . . . ”
The meeting is the leader’s idea and doesn’t always feel truly participatory.
You arrive to a fixed agenda that you’re supposed to tune into and
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Meetings 223
become involved in, yet the agenda items don’t always concern you.
Meeting goers generally don’t have any input into the agenda and the
proceedings till the end, when they’re tired and dying to get out. That’s
when the leader says, “Any new items you’d like to bring up?” Groan!
“They’re usually endless and dull, with people talking in circles. ”
Because meetings are so product-oriented—”Let’s get down to work
and get this over with. X number of items on the agenda. Let’s start with
#1″—people just don’t take the time to build in persuasive or involving
techniques the way they would when delivering a speech. Sitting through
a list of disconnected issues, hearing report after report and perfunctory
discussions, group members are rarely stimulated except when they may
get to the one or two items that might directly affect them.
People Don’t Listen
“I don’t think they ever heard what my report was really about.”
Although meetings are meant to be a clearinghouse for ideas, what’s
brought up at meetings often falls on deaf ears. You often find several
people talking at once or interrupting each other. Comments rarely flow
in response to what was just said, but more from “Now it’s my turn.
Listen to my idea.”
Many of us aren’t good at listening in the best of times, suffering from
both the perfectly human tendency toward self-involvement and the
conditioned response to the usual level of speakers. But given all the
facets of what’s at stake personally at a meeting, it’s little wonder that
we’re really bad at listening there.
“Two or three people always seem to dominate or try to get control.
Feels like you can’t get a word in.”
The more powerful or outspoken members may try to take over
meetings—talking too long or too often, pre-empting the “last word”
position, and generally putting a damper on effective participation by
less aggressive attendees.
The Power of the Leader
“How much can you disagree? After all, he’s the boss.”
The fact of a person in power, usually your boss, leading the meeting
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creates still another area of tension. He/she is the person to please; the
one you have to keep working for; the one who called the meeting with
certain expectations and goals. This creates an “acting” challenge—to
“act like” you’re there and “with it” wholeheartedly—when you may not
feel that way and are actually being very careful about what you do. Even
if the meeting caller is not your ultimate boss, for the length of that
meeting he/she has the power to direct, to cut you short, and most of all,
to remember . . .
Foregone Conclusions
“Group discussion is a waste of time since the boss will already know
what he wants to do.”
The leader who called the meeting often has already reached a
conclusion and knows how he/she wants the decision to come out.
Therefore, if the group begins to move in another direction, there is a tug
of war or manipulation by the leader. This makes the group feel that it
doesn’t matter whether there is consensus or not, the end product is a
foregone conclusion.
Not Useful
“You often walk out not sure exactly what was decided and what to
do next.”
One of the greatest problems with meetings is the need for good,
definitive closure. Unfortunately, coming to some conclusions about an
issue seems to feel like enough to many people. Participants often walk
out without a clear action or follow-up plan or a sense of how the new
decisions will fit into the total scheme, what the consequences will be,
“Feeling” Issues
Fear of exposure
“I’m visible to my peers and the people in my group, as well as to
the people in power. What I say (or don’t say) is registered for all to
see. I could even be in for some public criticism in relation to a
This is one of the subconscious responses, not brought to the surface
or admitted, but fear of being exposed is an active part of people’s
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feelings about meetings. Therefore, meeting goers feel wary and
guarded, attending much more to their safety then to the business at
Potential Conflict
“Will I take a chance and publicly disagree and get into an argument?
Will I, should I, stick my neck out?”
Most people are not accustomed to living life by walking uphill,
against the prevailing wind. It requires much inner strength and
motivation to fight for a cause against the popular consensus or to argue
for an unpopular thought, if yours is not a basic “oppositional” mentality.
By nature, we like to avoid conflict. It’s personally costly and can expose
you to attack by the majority.
Dissenters can also feel isolated or unpopular—not just at a meeting
but in the workplace itself. A distaste for the dangers of conflict causes
many people to bite their tongues and not speak out at meetings.
Anticipating that, for safety’s sake, you may have to throttle your
desire to speak out and that you’ll make yourself play dead at the
meeting, makes you enter with anxiety and with another kind of hostility
toward the meeting process.
Prior Relationships Brought to Meeting
“I know who’ll side with whose position before I even go in. It
doesn’t matter what the facts are.”
There are often factions or pre-aligned groups in the workplace who
pull against each other, acting out a power struggle over issues and turf.
Also, feelings of personal animosity or competition with people in your
shop get heightened as you sit around a table watching each other. Public
visibility, vying for position, and the intensity these cause can make
meetings unsuccessful and unwelcome.
Concern About Consequences
“What will be required of me?” “If we decide X, how will it affect my
job?” “Can I do what the new plan will ask of me?” “What can I do to stop
something I see being planned that can affect me adversely?”
Meetings often mean change. You can see how these concerns would
make going to a meeting an uneasy and unwelcome experience as you
think, “Okay, what are we going to change now?”
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So—here’s the background for changing how meetings are run.
Sounds like a lot of obstacles, doesn’t it? Are meetings such a good idea?
Worth trying to fix? Who needs them, anyway?
Why Meetings?
Here are some reasons why meetings, with their pitfalls, can be the
best and often the only way to work well together.
• Getting a sense of the whole
So much work is done privately and so many components are
delegated in the workplace that it’s vital to hear the overview and see
how the pieces, including the ones you’re working on, fit together.
• Comparing notes
Knowing that the same knotty problem has also stumped others, or
discovering similarities between the workers and the work done elsewhere
and in your outfit, is most reassuring.
• Sharing information
Learning from what others have learned; hearing ways to solve
problems; being able to give something you’ve learned to the group;
picking up data you need—all reasons for, and positive outcomes of,
group meetings.
• Being visible to each other
Much of what we do at work, we do alone. We need a place to feel
in unison. It’s important to get the sense of a team pulling together in any
group endeavor. Seeing and hearing from each other, experiencing the
unity of energies being expended in the same effort, is a powerful team
builder. It can also be the place for the leader to inspire the troops . . .
• Comfort of hearing others’ opinions openly
There is great anxiety around being asked your opinions and ideas
privately, one-on-one, by the boss, knowing that he/she will also be
asking others. This makes you much less forthcoming as you hedge your
answers in fear of being too exposed or too far off base in comparison to
your co-workers. Airing ideas in a group gives everyone some orientation
to the norm and helps people decide how far they want to go.
• Looking for solutions jointly
“Two heads are better than one” is true for many reasons. You get so
committed to the sound of your own inner voice and its ideas that it’s
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Meetings 227
shocking to hear how many other ways something can be done. The
stimulation your thinking gets when it can play off or incorporate another
point of view or even need to justify itself to dissenters is invaluable. The
variety and quality of solutions a group can come up with is still another
reason for meetings.
• Group self-critique
In a group, it’s safe to join in on the complaining and nitpicking and
even laugh about how something’s getting fouled up, when everyone
else is doing it. The leader can also authorize and direct self-criticism
about a project at a meeting to make everyone contribute, become aware
of the difficulties, and start solving the problems that are brought up.
• Developing consensus
The efficiency of unified agreement vs. individual commitments is
clear. When you agree as a group and set yourselves a course of action,
everyone in the group becomes everyone else’s conscience as well as
spur. Conflicts can be resolved in the open and the final product feels
“right” to the group as a whole.
• Stimulating ideas
The atmosphere of many people focusing on one idea brings the
creative level up for all. Hearing possible solutions stimulates meeting
participants to add on or take someone else’s thought and run with it.
So—meetings are an extremely useful, actually invaluable, tool and
absolutely vital in the workplace.
Comparison of What Should Be and What Is
Knowing what business meetings should be and what they could
accomplish, as well as how far short they usually fall, can help us design
new ways to run and participate in effective meetings.
Read down the list of what meetings should be; then read how they
actually work. Compare your most recent meeting experience with each
Get a sense of the whole Passive experience
Compare notes Boring
Share information People don’t listen
Be visible to each other Not useful
Hear others’ opinions Fear of exposure
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Look for solutions jointly Danger of potential conflict
Group self-critique Act out prior relationships
Develop consensus Grandstanding
Stimulate ideas Leader overwhelms
Foregone conclusions
Concern about consequences
How do your experiences come out? Have your meetings added
value and quality to your work process? Have you perhaps fallen into
some of the stereotypical pitfalls? Have you truly maximized the group
process? Are you, as leader or as group member, well served?
To avoid the typical pitfalls and ensure effective meetings and
results, let’s begin by finding out about how people behave in groups.
Too many meetings don’t work because there’s not enough, or
inappropriate, participation: poor listening; ineffective exchanges of
information; polarization; hostility; overbearing leadership; and so on.
Therefore I will focus on ways to improve interpersonal skills and
develop better communications skills as a meeting leader or participant.
I will not deal with the whole gamut of group management techniques or
with group process, nor will I take an in-depth look at the variations and
layers of group dynamics.
You know how when you sit around the table at a meeting, the same
people generally speak up, disagree, criticize, or never say a word? Have
you ever stopped to think that they actually fall into types; that their
behavior is definable and predictable? That it comes from a whole set of
intrinsic behavior patterns?
Wouldn’t it help if you knew the behavior categories so that you
could more readily recognize and understand how people act at a
meeting and could handle them better and more productively?
Just like “You can’t know the players without a score card” at a ball
game, there is a kind of “score card ” we can develop to define the basic
behavior types at any meeting. Whenever you can categorize behavior in
recognizable patterns, it helps not only to understand it, but to recognize
the hallmarks so that you can move past “How obnoxious he is,” or,
“Why does she always have to find some negative response?” into a
knowledgeable countermove.
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There are many studies out about how to categorize people in group
interactions. The four categories I will describe come from the work of
Dr. David Kantor of the Kantor Family Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts,
author of Inside the Family. * These categories work in any
group situation. They define how we interrelate with each other not only
at meetings but also within the family. As you read them, I’m sure you’ll
recognize every character type and match it to folks who know. See if you
can also find and define yourself as I suggest some skills for handling
Players in a Group Interaction
This is the one in the group who usually initiates action. He/she
defines where you’re heading and suggests and develops ideas for how to
get there. Movers are usually called “natural leaders.” They’re seen as
strong, sure-footed, self-confident. They are very creative, but are often
intolerant of alternative ideas, seeing their own ideas as the only way.
They enjoy power and being in charge but also need and want approval
and agreement.
Their value at a meeting is obvious. Giving ideas and the energy to
back them up is a most useful and constructive trait. Notice their needs,
though, for approval and agreement.
Suggestions: The challenge to the group leader is to harness the
mover to pull ahead and be creative, affirming his/her contribution, but
to also leave room for others in the group to catch up or to vary the plan
he/she initiates. The meeting leader must anticipate the mover and what
he/she usually does and set a course within which the mover can function
but not dominate the meeting. Be aware that meeting leaders can
themselves often be movers and must be aware of their own tendency to
pre-empt others’ participation . . .
This person is a reactor and countermover, in response to the
mover’s action. Not visible in the initiator role, the opposer moves into
gear to push against whatever has been put on the table. He/she creates
a challenge to the mover by blocking the mover’s direction or intended
destination. Opposers want others to declare themselves on their side.
* Inside the Family (Jossey Bass, 1975).
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Then the opposer can become the mover. Like movers, opposers are
powerful, too. They can redefine the action established by the mover; to
halt or redirect what the mover begins.
Opposers get their attention and consequent sense of importance by
the very act of taking a contra stance. They say they don’t care about
overt approval; they care about the “facts” and the “truth.” In this
process they can also hurt feelings and make enemies, not only of the
people they thwart but of the group itself. Because they are perceived as
interrupters not only of one person but of forward progress, groups can
often resent opposers.
Suggestions: Although this type sounds like a negative contributor,
and the tendency can develop to want to ignore them or put their
objections down, opposers actually serve some very useful functions. As
those who test ideas and scrutinize data to find flaws, meeting leaders
and others can and should use them as a stimulus for further thought and
analysis of a mover’s idea. By taking the useful critique from their
seemingly negative message, opposers can also, if well directed by the
leader of the group, redirect and even stimulate more ideas or improvements
on the original mover’s suggestion.
Ideally, opposers should be motivated to dissent and critique
constructively, thus entering into a dialogue with the mover to develop
better strategies jointly, rather than simply to oppose.
Meeting leaders should also check up on their own tendency to be
opposers. Playing the devil’s advocate, finding fault, and critiquing the
suggestions of others too often, the leader can lose his/her role as a
facilitator who moves the action along.
This person is a familiar in any group: he/she is the one who “goes
along.” The follower’s role is to support someone; in a group meeting, it’s
the mover or the opposer. Followers “sign on” to someone else’s idea,
and as long as they stay in this position, they seldom initiate any ideas of
their own. Followers are not necessarily uncreative people. They may
simply have greater needs to play it safe, to keep a lower profile, or to
wait until they see the general tenor of the group as a whole before they
take an overt stand.
They do have interesting kinds of power, though. They can empower
others by granting them support and creating a constituency. Everyone
wants the follower on his side because we all need supporters and troops
to back us when we go out on a limb. Followers can retain their power
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Meetings 231
and independence by shifting sides, or lose their autonomy and weaken
their position by prematurely committing support to one side. Sometimes
they can maintain joint allegiance by privately professing allegiance
to each or by following mover and opposer for separate reasons,
double-speaking in an attempt to stay close to all.
Suggestions: For the leader of the group, the message would be to
allow the follower to find his own level and not put him on the spot too
early with a “What do you think, Sam?” Followers are very good
implementors once they commit to someone or to an idea. Use that.
You’d choke with a room full of only movers and opposers!
This is a really interesting character who needs special attention.
True, he stays quiet, but he’s really quite different from the follower.
Whereas the follower can be heard agreeing and “Me, too”ing, the
bystander stays out of direct action altogether. He/she makes no
alliances with any of the other three categories. He watches, witnesses,
and keeps opinions to himself. This makes for uneasiness on the part of
everyone else because no one knows what he’s thinking. Bystanders
don’t express a clear position. Rather, they go for abstractions and
cerebral descriptions about something rather than emotional commitments
to something.
Bystanders are most comfortable standing apart, making comments
like “Hmmm,” or, “I have to think about that. ” In this commentator-like
role, they take on an air of objectivity and wisdom (often unwarranted).
They therefore have the power to comfort those they watch by making
them feel known and valued with a few murmurings or asides. They can
also hurt others they ignore by continuing simply to observe silently, in
a noncommittal way.
The bystander’s position is a very seductive one. Both sides try to get
him to declare for them, and since no one knows what he’s thinking,
there’s much attention and energy spent in this pursuit. Unlike the
follower, who can be had and does commit, the bystander wishes to
remain apart—enigmatic, there to be wooed.
Suggestions: For the meeting leader, know that bystanders don’t all
do so voluntarily. Some people become bystanders because they’re
overshadowed or given neither encouragement, confidence, nor training
to try any other role. In order to puncture the vacuum they surround
themselves with, try giving them a specific role or job, not waiting for
them to volunteer or asking them for overt commitment.
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To understand how these four meeting-behavior types would interact,
let’s see how they would deal with a simple social issue: What to do
on a Saturday:
MOVER (AL): “Hey, let’s go to the ball game.”
OPPOSER (HARRY): “The ball game? Hah! Everyone knows it’s gonna rain
Saturday, and besides the parking is impossible. ‘
FOLLOWER (PHIL): “Gee, I don’t know . . . the ball game . . . Hey,
that’s a good idea!”
BYSTANDER (JOE): “Yeah. Baseball. The ail-American game.”
What could you as a leader or fellow meeting goer—objectively able
to see and hear all four approaches—do to find a solution?
First—you could build on the mover’s idea and incorporate the
opposer’s negative concerns by saying:
“The ball game is a great idea, Al” (giving the mover credit for his
idea), “but let’s just be sure about the weather” (drawing in opposer
Harry’s idea, too). “Joe, why don’t you find out about it right now?”
(assigning a task to the noncommittal bystander without putting him on
the spot about his choice).
“You know, Harry mentioned the parking. Probably will be tough.
How can we solve that?” (taking another negative and turning it into a
constructive point).
You could then wait for suggestions from the group, like going early,
parking, and having lunch, or turn it back to Al, the mover, to come up
with another solution.
What about Phil the follower? How can you involve him? Maybe,
after the affirmative vote, by saying, “Phil, you’re a good organizer. Why
don’t you pull this whole thing together and coordinate? ”
The bottom line: Since people follow these basic propensities
whenever they interact in a group, recognize and help deflect the
head-on collisions. That makes meetings and participants productive.
Now let’s turn to three basic communication skills we all need at
meetings, and then focus on individual personal skills for leaders and for
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Meetings 233
Meetings are a tough challenge because it’s normally very hard for
people to get together, work constructively, and agree on anything,
especially in the workplace. We’re all such individuals and bring so many
agendas to a gathering.
People play many roles at meetings: actual vs. formal leaders,
mediators, focused task drivers, idea generators, information testers,
etc. For us, in order to get down to basics and give suggestions useful for
the widest range, let’s just divide meeting behavior into two general
roles, convener/leader and participant.
• The leader needs to recognize the dynamics of the group and
guide everyone toward each goal with awareness of the disparate
elements at play. He/she needs to know how to go about getting
group decisions while also participating him/herself, developing
the focus of the meeting, watching the time, and coming up with
the results.
• Participants also need to be aware of the dynamics of the group,
but can sometimes have a more objective view since they’re not
involved in the overall conduct of the meeting. They can add a
calming influence and some perspective, and can often see how
two points can fit together. Although their role is to participate,
they can often shape the direction of the meeting as much as, if
not more than, the leader.
Why do we need lessons in listening? Because in our zeal to tell our
ideas, to make ourselves known and make a dent in the world, we
sometimes fail to consider that someone else has ideas, needs, feelings,
too, and that we need to take the time to hear them.
This is especially true in a group situation where we are visible to
each other and to the boss. Our competitive spirit may urge us to dismiss
others’ contributions or see them as a threat.
The Process of Non-Listening
It works something like this:
You start to talk. I listen to the beginning of what you’re saying. Then
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my mind goes to work to imagine where you’re going with this and what
you probably mean. I can’t wait till you’re done to hear all of what you
mean because then there’ll be no time to think up my countermove. So,
in the interests of no “dead air” time, I start thinking—not listening—
while you’re still talking. Then, as soon as you finish, I’m ready. Funny
thing is, I often don’t even wait till you’re finished.
The hallmarks of non-listening are interrupting and cutting off the
end of someone’s sentence; jumping from one subject to another with
no connection to what’s just been said; or several people talking at
Result? No flow in the discussion. No building up of ideas vertically.
Just random blips on a flat horizontal line that don’t accrue to each other
or grow from each other to make a productive whole. Vital information
and good ideas get lost. We don’t explore issues thoroughly. We don’t
really know what we agreed to. We expect not to be listened to and
understood so we repeat ourselves as we speak.
Not very useful in a meeting process that looks for solutions by a
How to fix it? It’s not simple because physiologically we’re built to
think much faster than we can talk. That gives us all that leftover time I
told you about in Chapter 2 (only 15 percent of the brain is needed for
understanding words and 85 percent is left doing nothing), for thinking
our own thoughts, criticizing yours, or just going off and thinking about
other things entirely.
Techniques to Improve Listening
Try these, deliberately and actively, and see how much more you
will hear and notice.
• Put yourself aside
Wipe your slate clean while I talk. I promise your word-well won’t go
dry, and when it’s your turn to talk, you’ll manufacture words again
without having rehearsed them while I’m talking.
• Get curious
“What’s his idea?” Since you already know what you think, make
yourself find out and discover a new idea. It’s interesting just to hear how
differently we all think and how many solutions there can be to one
• Listen openly
Suspend your judgment. We’re so good at criticizing and finding
reasons why not to do anything. Wait till you’ve heard the whole idea
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Meetings 235
without judgment. Listen wholeheartedly, from the speaker’s point of
view, not yours.
• Listen actively
Anticipate where the speaker is going.
Weigh what he/she is saying against what you know.
Listen to the supporting evidence.
Keep reviewing and summarizing what is being said.
Sort out evidence and fact from statements unsupported by evidence.
Categorize: “This relates to that.”
• Listen to all of it
Wait till the very end. As you listen, try to figure out where he/she
is going and what the conclusion will be. But wait for it before you speak.
• Look at the speaker
The non-verbal signals we all give off as we speak are often even
more truth-telling than our self-edited words. Notice what else is going
on. Not only is it revealing, it peaks your interest, because we are drawn
to the visual and the active, not just to abstract listening.
• Build on
When it’s your turn, hook into what was just said as a point of
departure for your statement:
“Joe just brought up X. Why don’t we . . .”or pick out a few words
you just heard and incorporate them as your opening:
” ‘A total overview . . . ” You’re right, Lynn. As you said, a total
overview is what we need right now.”
This not only tells everyone you were listening, but is a sign of
respect to the previous speaker, making you a friend and enlisting
him/her as a supporter of yours. It also enhances the cumulative
idea-building process.
• Take notes
If you have lots of trouble listening and doing these steps, you might
try taking notes as other people speak. This forces you to focus and make
a precis of what is being said, keeping you up with the speaker and taking
in the idea.
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Helping the Group Listen
The leader of a meeting who is alert to the signals of non-listening
that I mentioned earlier and wants to fix it can actively intercede with a
“Hey, this sounds like no one is listening to each other. Let’s
everyone make a special effort to listen till the end of a statement before
jumping in.” This alerts everyone to what’s been happening since we’re
generally quite unaware that we’re not listening.
Another technique could be for the leader to summarize what each
person said before moving on to the next to keep the group’s attention:
“So, you want us to rethink that plan because XXX, Linda. Okay.
Now, Hugh, what did you want to say?”
Still another way is to point out when people are obviously not
listening because they’re being unresponsive:
“Wait a minute, Andrea. Jerry was just talking about a problem.
Let’s stay with that before we go on to the next issue.”
Teaching your group better listening skills is important for their daily
work with clients, peers, etc., not just at a meeting.
A: “Hey, here’s a good idea.”
B: “Nah, we did that already.”
C: “What about trying this?”
D: “It’ll never work.”
E: “How about doing it this way?”
F: “I’ll tell you what’s wrong with that . . . ”
Some of us have trouble finding a positive, supportive thing to say
when we hear another’s idea. Yet this is one of the best ways to keep the
energies flowing and to use the contributions in a group to best
advantage. There are several reasons why we don’t do this well:
• Because many of us are competitive at work, it’s often very
difficult for us to be generous to each other.
• It may feel threatening to compliment and support someone
else’s idea lest it make ours seem the less.
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Meetings 237
• By nature, most of us tend to be threatened by change, so our
first response to anything new is generally negative.
• When we criticize, we actually become an active part of someone
else’s effort rather than just being a listener.
• Cynicism often is misperceived as an achievement in itself,
showing our superior knowledge and experience.
Results? We not only put a damper on new ideas and creativity but
if the group norm is to be critical and negative, people become afraid to
go out on a limb and even look for new solutions. They develop a “what’s
the use?” attitude and become more interested in being self-protective
than innovative. If this atmosphere prevails, calling meetings to find
solutions becomes a waste of time as people expect to be turned down
So—another interactive skill we need to learn in order to make group
endeavors fruitful and stimulating is to support each other’s new ideas.
This means singling out something good, useful, innovative in someone’s
suggestion and then using it or incorporating it. It doesn’t mean
indiscriminate acceptance or a “That’s nice” pat on the head. It means to
listen hard, then to select what is useful and mention it.
Techniques for Supporting
• Understand your basic approach
Achievers may find supporting others difficult since they are so
single-minded and tuned into their own goals and standards. Differing
approaches and ideas may seem off-target or irrelevant to them.
Influencers may have a hard time supporting, since their object is to
make a strong personal impact, not necessarily to move over and let
someone else share the limelight.
Affiliators, by their nature, may have a better chance to support,
since they want to be liked and accepted, to join in. People are important
to them as opposed to the Achiever’s interest in standards and the
Influencer’s interest in impact. Affiliators’ problems are concern over
what the group will think, fear that taking up for someone’s ideas will
bring group disapproval. There’s also a tendency to support only those
people they “like,” while opposing those they don’t like or feel don’t like
them. (We can probably all find aspects of Achiever, Affiliator, and
Influencer inside ourselves.)
Here are some examples of support techniques that will help you
stimulate the group process and become a more constructive participant.
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• Assume value
In order to support, we must begin by assuming that there can be
something of value in any idea—even if just to stimulate us to think
again, or to point up some basic flaw in what we’ve all been thinking.
So, to support others, allow their ideas to emerge as important and
valuable, too—not easy in the light of our often competitive spirit.
Assume everyone has some useful ideas, some information you don’t
have, a point of view you can’t know, something that could contribute to
the group’s thinking, and look for it.
• Listen carefully
Now that you’ve learned how to listen, do it with a specific purpose:
To hear what is useful, innovative, the beginning of a good idea, some
new information, another point of view or analysis, etc.
Notice that I say “some,” “the beginning of,” “another.” That means
the whole idea doesn’t have to be fully developed or totally correct. It
means to look for a small piece. An addition. A departure. Look for a
catalyst to stimulate further thinking, not a finished product. Catalysts
are very valuable to a group, worthy of merit and notice.
• Say it
Having found it, say it.
“Listen, what you just said about X is really good,” or, “I liked the
part about . . . Let’s talk about that some more.”
This gives validity to anyone trying to come up with a new idea. It
encourages others to try, too. It keeps the creative atmosphere alive. It
doesn’t waste kernels of good ideas by dumping the whole. It’s personal
effect is to flatter and affirm, making a friend and an eager participant.
• Build on
“You know, building on Jack’s idea, we could . . . ”
The next step in affirming and supporting is to continue the forward
momentum. Add your own ideas. Supporting is only part of the process.
Keep the energy moving by connecting that idea with your own. Find
ways for synergy. Hooking into what’s being said keeps positive juices
flowing and people more willing to accept than reject ideas, yours
The results of learning and using good supporting skills are that you
add to the team spirit and develop better interpersonal relations as
people remember and feel grateful. You also build support for yourself
and your ideas.
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Meetings 239
Now, lest I create a Pollyanna world which finds you all supporting
each other to death in meetings with never a contrary word or critical
thought, I hasten to teach you how to disagree as well.
Some of us have trouble disagreeing because we’re afraid to hurt
feelings or get into an argument. It’s vital to the group process, though,
because it makes the final solution stronger if it survives some criticism.
Being able to differ with each other makes the group stronger because
they will become conditioned to rethinking or scrapping an idea. They
will also learn to work together with respect for each other’s differences
and abilities. Being disagreed with constructively makes the individual
members stronger because they learn to survive critical comments and
still keep working together.
Techniques for Disagreeing
• Respect others’ ideas
The big trick in disagreeing with someone is to do it in a manner that
encourages receptivity rather than defensiveness and resentfulness—a
manner that differs with an idea, not a person. Be respectful of someone’s
idea while you disagree with it.
• Listen and support first
Using the previous two skills—really hearing the whole idea and
choosing the best parts for positive commendation—makes it easier for
the speaker to accept the places where you differ. Always give a gift
before you take something away. It doesn’t leave the other person with
such a loss if you listen and support before you confront.
• Ask questions
“I like X but tell me more about Y.”
In order to get all the information out that you might disagree with,
start by asking some questions in that area before you criticize or
disagree. Get more facts to support your disagreement. You may be able
to clear up some misunderstanding you had and resolve it for yourself
and others before you need to disagree.
• Be specific and constructive
Sometimes you and another person disagree but are talking about
two different things. Be sure you specify what the issues are that you
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disagree with before you get into a random negative discussion. Select
and focus on specifics.
• Disagree non-judgmentally
Beware of the adjectives you use. Try:
“Something’s troubling me about this,” not, “That’s a pretty useless
idea.” Be careful what you criticize. Just the parts you disagree with, not
the total concept or, most of all, the person who generated it. “How
could you even think that . . . ?” is not the way. Remember you’re
talking about a thing, not a person. Keep all the heat out. And watch the
tendency toward arrogance. You are not the final arbiter nor the only one
privy to the truth.
• Offer another solution
Don’t just carp. Be ready to add what you think is best. “How about
changing that last part to include . . . ?” Tell why you disagree, and then
fix it by showing another way or asking the speaker to address that
problem and come up with another solution himself. Leaders can
suggest: “I think you’ve taken it too far but let’s stay with the first
thought. Everyone think of how we could use it.”
Personal Skills for Leaders
Leading a Meeting
Be clear about your role. You are a traffic manager, a referee, the
producer of an event, and most of all, a host. Remember they’re there
because you invited them. Take care of them—their egos, their physical
needs, their attention span, their ability to understand. Facilitate their
desire to do a good job. Be a watchdog about the quality of any
presentations—their clarity, their interest. Be honest and forthcoming
about why you want this meeting. Start discussing an agenda item by
asking for their help. Make them know that they’re vital to the process
and that you can’t do it alone.
Staying Focused
Keep the group pointing toward solutions or the end product you
want from a discussion on an issue. It’s easy for a group discussion to
deteriorate into nitpicking or a negative push-pull, or to generate other
issues that only minimally connect with the one at hand.
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Cutting People Off
Be strong, because this isn’t simple. Consider things like not cutting
people off before the idea comes out, helping make people’s comments
succinct and pointed, and above all hewing to the original time slot
agreed on.
One more very important point: Cutting people off requires that you
always save face for them before the members of your group. Graceful
outs, with some humor, like:
“You’re really wound up in this, aren’t you, Susan?” before you say
you have to move on takes care of Susan’s zeal and commitment and lets
her off with an excuse. Always give a preface before you peremptorily
end someone talking.
Use a flip chart with your agenda and time allotments on it. Blaming
your cut-off on that inanimate, objective page made by group decision
will usually get you right off the hook.
If the subject brought up is irrelevant, say:
“Sounds like another agenda item to me. Will you please save it and
bring it up for the next meeting? Please send me a memo on it.”
This is better than saying something harsh or denigrating about
irrelevance and makes the gaffe a plus instead.
Increasing Participation
“Sorry, folks, but we have only two more minutes on this. Let’s hear
from . . .”is not a good idea.
Putting someone on the spot who hasn’t spoken can be dangerous.
He/she may have nothing to say or be so intimidated by what has gone
before that he can’t speak. It’s best to ask if anyone else has something
to say. You know your movers and opposers. Lead them to start, but be
careful how you spotlight the non-participants.
For reluctant participants
For followers or bystanders, ask them to comment by saying, “Let’s
hear from X, Y, and then Z (the follower) on this,” giving Z plenty of
warning to come up with something, yet not asking him/her to be first.
Another way to activate those silent types is to focus people on a
specific aspect you want them to talk about:
“Nina, costs are your department. Why don’t you help us out with
Try talking to them during a break to get a fix on what they’re
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thinking. Then you could say how valuable an idea that is (strengthening
them) and that you’d like them to share it with the group when you
Controversial or dangerous subjects
For ticklish subjects where there may be general reluctance to speak
out, it helps to break into small groups of three even if your group isn’t
that big. This is a safer environment for truth telling since the smaller
groups come back with a consensus report, avoiding individual exposure.
Just remember that not everyone is equally creative or comfortable.
Know your troops. At the meeting itself, ask of them only what you know
they can give. Delegate specific assignments for reports, in advance, to
those reluctant dragons who can’t improvise in order to get total
Getting Agreement
Voting publicly can be tricky; it broadcasts opinions that people may
not want public. They may equivocate or change their vote. There’s also
the age-old phenomenon of wanting to be part of the group. Watching
how many and whose hands go up affects what you say and vote for
If you want a real reflection of how people feel about an issue, use a
secret paper-ballot form of voting. If you’ve discussed a subject to death
and everyone has pretty well made their views clear, the consensus is
usually obvious and doesn’t need a formal vote; controversial or potentially
damaging issues do. Sometimes it helps to start the discussion with
a secret ballot to find out the group’s mental set. We’re funny about
telling the truth—many forces change what and how much we’ll tell out
Getting Group Attention
Meetings can become unruly, especially when they get overheated
and several people talk at once. It requires a louder voice than theirs to
be heard and get people calmed down. Use it. “Okay,” “Hey, people, ”
“Hold it”—informal, relaxed, but firm. Don’t get heavy-handed and
“bossy.” That’s a sign of weakness and feeling out of control. Just set up
the rules at the beginning and remind them by saying again why it can’t
work this way and what your goals are.
To introduce each new item and get attention for it, remember to
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Meetings 243
present it first in terms of the effect on and use to the group. The old
self-interest theme . . . But let me say that in the evolution of a group
there comes a time where self-interest becomes equated with group
interest. It can still break down by section or division, though. There’s
always a hook that differentiates your and my self-interest.
To start a new subject and get everyone involved, you might poll the
group verbally at the beginning of a discussion, going around the table to
hear everyone’s thoughts on that specific issue (sometimes referred to as
the Delphi technique). This can focus the ensuing discussion: find out
what the group really thinks so far; surface the main objections or
misconceptions. It’s a good ice-breaker, forcibly making everyone a
participant, even for a little while.
Handling Egos and Conflict
Self-control is the key here. Don’t blow up at anyone at a meeting.
Rather, use your energies to recognize why something negative is
happening. Ask yourself: “What is he really saying?” “What does she
really want or need right now?” If you focus on the inner agenda, too, in
order to understand the outward manifestation, you can usually handle
any situation. People universally need recognition and stroking of one
sort or another, especially before their peers and by their boss. Before or
while you deliver any bitter pill, give an antidote.
In one-on-one confrontations between two members, use:
“You know, I don’t think this discussion is helpful (constructive,
relevant) in getting us to our goal, which you’ll remember was to decide
X. Let’s focus a little more tightly here.”
Personal Skills for Meeting Participants
You want to make useful, commendable contributions and to gain the
respect and esteem of your fellow workers by what they see and hear you
do at a meeting. But you also very much want to be noticed by the boss
and key others.
You aren’t normally visible in your work. This is your chance.
Be Prepared
Know who’ll be at the meeting, if at all possible. Try to anticipate
their point of view and what they’ll probably say. Do all the research
suggested in the boss’s memo about the meeting, plus anything else you
can glean from others. Try to understand the ramifications to your
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department or the firm of what’s being proposed. Find out about what’s
happening in the field. Read professional journals, newspaper and
magazine articles so you always have a rare bit of extra information to
contribute. Getting ahead means getting ahead of the pack in how you
work and what you know.
Look Confident and Interested
No one knows how nervous you are or how out of a discussion you
may feel. You can look as though you’re listening and concentrating even
though your heart’s beating fast. Be careful about fidgeting with your
things or in your seat. Doodling isn’t helpful. Taking notes is better. If
you find yourself getting bored or dozing ofF, get up and get a cup of
coffee or go out of the room for a few minutes. Movement and a change
help get you back in gear.
Speak Up
If you have trouble getting the courage to speak up, go back to
Chapter 7, How to Make Memorable Speeches. On page 00 I spoke
about stage fright. Read it again. It’ll help you speak up at a meeting,
something you must do if anyone’s ever going to get to know you and
your capabilities.
Since you know what the agenda’s going to be, get an idea or two
formed in your mind. Do a little research. Some people like to discuss
things with a friend or two to get a reaction. Don’t come in prepared to
make a major speech the first time! But do take a small step till you feel
comfortable enough to begin to improvise and think at your seat. The
more attentively you listen to others at the meeting, the more you’ll find
things to add that are uniquely your own.
Footnote: Be careful not to talk if you have nothing to say or add! It’s
not how often you talk as much as what you say that matters and
Ask Questions
Another way to be heard is to ask questions. Not off-the-wall but
questions for further clarification or information. This makes you sound
interested and smart (if you ask good questions) and allows you still to
participate when you don’t have a lot to contribute.
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Be a Team Player
Be careful not to see a meeting as a solo performance. Everyone’s
trying to be heard. Don’t monopolize the conversation. If you have
disagreed with a solution that finally gets group endorsement, be
graceful and forthright, saying:
“Well, you know I wasn’t for this, but I will surely support it now
that everyone wants it. Since it was your idea, I’ll want to come to you,
Sue, to be sure I understand it well and can help.”
Sit in a Powerful Place
Sounds a bit predatory, but you should know that placement around
the table does affect people’s response to you and also your incentive to
Sit with the powerful movers. If not, sit opposite them. Always try to
sit in the middle, where the general sense of action and involvement rubs
off and affects you. Sitting at the end or in the back has a look of being
outside the action. It can affect you that way, too.
// You’re Criticized
Don’t get defensive! This is a sign of weakness if not downright guilt!
Don’t do it, especially with your boss. If you’re attacked or criticized, the
big thing is to get it out of the public arena. Go for further information—
both giving and getting.
Try lines like:
“I see what you’re saying. There are some other issues you should
know about. I don’t want to waste the group’s time with them. After the
meeting, let me share them with you.”
You maintain your dignity and promise a rethink, with an open
mind, while giving the boss or co-worker more data to change his/her
mind—in private.
Ask questions to make your critic be more specific:
“I appreciate your critique. It would really help me if you explained
just what aspect didn’t work. I’d like to come and see you after the
This shows you as reasonable, willing to learn, and eager to do a good
job, as well as strong and unintimidated by criticism.
Now let’s consider some functional issues—techniques for developing
and managing meetings well.
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Define Objectives
Give or get information Resolve conflict
Problem solve Team building
Brainstorm Task force
Improve work processes Create
Take action Motivate
Explain policy change Inspire
These are some of the main reasons that meetings are called. It’s very
helpful to get the objectives down to a minimal two- or three-word
essence. This makes you clarify the bottom line of what you really mean
to accomplish and helps sort out what process you need to apply to make
that happen.
Challenge Your Meeting
Question, before you plan your meeting, whether it’s truly necessary.
Meetings get to be a habit and are called whenever an issue comes
up. Don’t wear out their welcome from over-use. Always ask yourself, “Is
this the best way to accomplish my objective? Is there any other way?”
Creating the Agenda
The unique aspects of preparing an agenda for a meeting deal with
three issues—the number and positioning of items, time allotted, and
input from others.
First—establish your priorities by deciding what the meeting is
basically for. Priorities should be based not only on importance but also
on urgency. Then decide the other items you wish to cover and list them.
Two issues affect what you do next:
• How many items you can realistically cover well, keeping the group
involved and the juices flowing. How many levels of intensity can you
put your group through—from the major to the peripheral details? Look
hard at what has to be done and what can wait.
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Meetings 247
• How each issue affects the group you’re inviting to the meeting.
This will give you the additional perspective you need in order to: see
what will get the group’s attention; what has greatest relevance in their
eyes; to what will they respond, and how.
In order to motivate them to stay with the subjects and give their
best thinking to each, you need to think about what effect an issue will
have on your group)—negative, dangerous, challenging, helpful—and
balance your agenda.
Placement on Agenda
To create the order of your agenda items, think about whether you
start by getting the small items out of the way and then concentrate on
the biggies, or get to the most important issue right at the top, when
everyone is fresh, and deal with the less important issues afterwards, or
maybe not at this meeting.
• Small items
We need to understand the concept of building to a climax. // the
other items on the agenda are truly small and unimportant, and if you’re
well disciplined about organizing what the essentials are, and if you can
move them out of the way efficiently, hewing to the time allotted like a
tenacious bulldog, then—and only then—is it okay to put them first so
you can spend the rest of the meeting dealing with the major problem.
However, the tendency is to get into the second layer on each of the
smaller issues and thus use too much time, wearing out the interest span
and creative energies of the participants.
It’s useful when you have an important brainstorming session to be
economical about how you use the time. Look at those little items and
see if they need to be brought up to the whole group, or whether you can
dispose of them by memos or phone calls.
• Important issues
Consider the idea of starting with the main agenda item and putting
the little detail items last, if you must put them in at all. This is
particularly important if it’s a meeting called on short notice where
everyone hasn’t blocked out enough time and may have to leave
Another thought is to call a meeting to discuss one item only. This
emphasizes its importance and the amount of time you wish everyone to
concentrate on it. We often clutter meetings with such disparate
material—some vital, some unimportant, some not relevant to the whole
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group—that the very mix of the agenda invites frustration and inattention.
Time Allotment
• Reality
This is tough. The sense of time we all have is related to what the
number—5 minutes, 2 minutes—looks like it allows rather than a true
sense of the amount of time that number actually is worth.
One way to get better at this is to time discussions at meetings,
presentations, TV news pieces, commercials, etc., with a stopwatch to
discover exactly how much can be said in a very short space of time. You
can also discover it by reading aloud from this page to see how far you get
in ten seconds, thirty seconds, two minutes (it will surprise you). This
will give you a better sense of how much time is needed to make X
number of points. It will help you set realistic (and shorter) time
allotments for the items on your agenda. Try timing actual meeting
segments as well.
• Total time
Aside from the considerations of how much time you need to cover
the material, think of how people will respond to the total time for the
meeting. We get bored faster than fast these days, plus: You’ve taken
people from their daily tasks. They begin to watch the time disappear
and think about their tasks piling up. One and a half, maybe two hours
maximum is my suggestion unless the meeting is designed as a total
immersion brainstorming session, in which case breaks of fifteen to
twenty minutes several times a day become necessary.
Input from Others
To make people feel represented as you create your agenda, send a
memo around, when possible and appropriate, announcing the meeting
(start and probable finish time, place, date), telling what your main items
will be, and what they need to prepare. Then ask if they have any other
items they want to have considered. The benefits are:
• You start making your meeting truly participatory.
• You get others interested in the meeting before it happens and
they are better contributors when they get there.
• You have told them what you want to talk about and what to
prepare for, so they feel more comfortable, with less surprises.
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Meetings 249
• You discover other issues or problems in your workplace that you
hadn’t thought of, when they respond. You can then choose to
put such issues on this or succeeding agendas or smoke out more
of what they’re all about before you decide what to do about
• Getting agenda suggestions before the meeting rather than at it
let’s you see where they would fit and how much time to allow.
It lets you consider if you want to deal with them privately,
rather than needing to turn people down publicly at the
meeting, if you ask for agenda suggestions there.
Designing and Implementing the Meeting
Physical Arrangements
Read the section in Chapter 4 on meeting arrangements again, using
the checklist on timing, time of day, the effects of where you meet, and
other physical and psychological needs to be considered (like feeding,
etc.). Don’t ignore the obstacles these issues can create. They can
present major stumbling blocks if you don’t handle them well, or they
can ensure the success of your meeting.
Be aware of the effect of the meeting and the demands it will make.
Answer the following questions:
• Size of meeting?
• Who should come and why; what organizational levels? what
technical and functional expertise?
• The effect on the staff of whom you invite or don’t?
• How should they prepare; what to bring? what to read?
• How much advance notice do they need?
• What should you provide for them in advance? At the meeting?
• How much input should you give them in shaping the agenda?
Consider the effects of the following suggestions on your staff or
other invitees and the benefits that can be gained from some or all of
these procedures:
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• Give adequate notice, in writing, of date, time, and place.
• Clarify what is expected; list objectives and agenda so they can
begin to think about the issues.
• Describe agenda; items, time allotted, purpose of item (discussion,
informational, decision making, progress report).
• Name who will make which presentation.
• List group preparation needs. Tell what to bring to meeting.
• Provide materials for preparation, if the information is new, or
• List meeting convener (for contact) and members invited.
• Ask for suggestions for additional items, in writing.
Leadership Techniques
Meetings may have a wide variety of objectives, such as surfacing
differences, parceling out work, sharing experiences, or brainstorming.
Here are a group of effective proven techniques for leading any kind of
• Start on time!
If you don’t, you send a sloppy signal with an element in it of
forgiveness for irresponsible behavior. Teaching your group that
your meetings start exactly when you say they will, no matter who
is or isn’t there, makes the group expect that you mean everything you
say and that you follow through that way. This sharpens others’ work
• Establish group spirit
For group input and interaction, you need to create the right mental
set and environment in which to make things happen.
A few minutes of idle chatter turn out not to be idle at all. “How was
the vacation, Jack? I haven’t seen you since you got back, ” and similar
phrases, can result in some effusive, relaxed exchange. This can establish
a ripple effect of general kidding around, personal comments, friendly
interaction that reminds your group of their connection to each other and
how much of their lives they actually share daily.
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• Get everyone to talk
It’s a good idea to get everyone involved at the beginning, making
them all get used to participating.
For general connectedness (after vacation; with a disparate group;
moving into a new position) you might go around the room and ask each
person to give a minute or a minute and a half about what’s the most
important, interesting, or challenging thing happening in their job right
now. No great strain since it’s short and impromptu, this opens people
up to each other for a moment and offers each one a chance to be
important and informative, giving them equal validity and a sense of
equal responsibility in sharing and participating. It also orients the group
a little to what’s going on and to each other’s work, extending those
informal opening charts.
For specific input you might structure this around a task at hand and
ask for a similar round-the-table report on where everyone is at the
Explain Goals and Agenda
The next step is to develop further group connectedness by focusing
on the meeting at hand. Using the original objectives you wrote,
describe what the meeting is about in general terms before you discuss
the detailed agenda. List your goals for the meeting and what results you
want to achieve by writing on the board or a flip chart. Then—go to the
Make Agenda Visible
If you have already sent them the agenda and asked for their
additional input, your final agenda may be changed. Even if it’s the
same, it should be made visible to all for discussion. Rather than handing
out private printed agendas, prepare one on a board or flip chart
complete with your time allotments. This focuses everyone on one
common piece of information. It underscores the order and process and
keeps the agenda visible to all throughout the meeting. It avoids having
people diverted by checking out their own printed agendas, and also
makes last-minute changes available and visible to all at once.
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Discuss Issues, Order, and Time Allotments
Discuss each agenda item. Document the reason it’s there and the
results desired, for example, Solution, Information, Action Plan, etc.
This helps focus everyone, getting further suggestions from the group
and motivating people toward greater efficiency. It can also smoke out
some extra dimensions or details to add to a topic. If yours is a one-task
meeting, show an outline of the parameters of your discussion plan. Ask
for input about other dimensions.
Ask if they feel the time allotted is adequate. Letting them participate
in setting time limits for each discussion fosters self-discipline as each
item comes up. Ask for input about the scope of your items. Discuss
validity and priority. If you discover the suggestions are sizable, talk of
a second meeting to cover them and set the time right then if possible.
If you haven’t asked for their suggestions in advance, you can do it
Develop a little flexibility. Ask if anyone has to leave early. Negotiate
the order or time allotments to accommodate everyone, if possible.
Negotiating the items and the time they’ll take starts to give people
the sense of participating. It shows that you, the meeting convener, are
responsive to their input and aware of their needs. Helping design what
the work of the meeting will be, they develop a vested interest in seeing
that it gets done. This process also gives you an opportunity for a few
public strokes, like:
“Glad you brought that up. That’s an important aspect to think
about,” or,
“That’s your specialty, Doris. Need some input from you, especially,
on that. ”
The Body of the Meeting
Now that the “housekeeping” is done and the meeting launched, the
discussion and interplay begins. How to keep the ball rolling to avoid
getting bogged down and to be sure everyone ends up on the same
Who Takes Notes and How
I suggest that all your meeting notes (minutes) use these four
organizational headings for each subject discussed:
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Meetings 253
• What. A description of the item under discussion; the problem, the
ramifications, the goals, suggestions given.
• How. The action decided on. What steps will be taken, what they
will accomplish.
• Who. Who’s responsible for what steps. Who reports to whom,
what is expected.
• When. Due dates, check-up dates, work-in-progress deadlines.
Taking meeting notes organized this way rather than randomly
ensures that the substance of the notes will be predictable and well
organized. It will also make for a consistent continuum from meeting to
Assign Visual Charting
In addition, you should assign one person to take notes on a flip chart
in front of the room so they are clearly visible to all and completely
documented. These chart notes can then also be converted into notes for
People agree to lots of things at a meeting, since the due date seems
so far away, etc. Watching the record being made causes people to
become much more realistic about promises and to consider more
carefully what they agree to do. This makes the final consensus much
more dependable as people troubleshoot the problems right at the
meeting before they agree to go on publicly recorded record.
Circulate the Notes
Ask the note taker to send the notes around to everyone for approval
and/or corrections, giving everyone the same complete record of what
Make Discussions Visual
Suggest to your presenters (if any) that they explain their subjects
with visuals or at the board or flip chart. Handouts should be a back-up,
to be given at the end of the meeting for personal study later. At the
meeting, keep the format public. (For more about visual aids, see
Chapter 5.)
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Taking a Break
If it’s a long meeting, find a logical place to take a break. Not the
lengthy fifteen-minute coffee break where everyone leaves the room
(unless it’s a three-hour session), but an informal break in the proceedings
that feeds everyone and gives a bit of respite.
Let me illustrate this with a story:
When I began as a daily talk show host in Boston, guests arrived at
about 7:45 in the morning. No one had ever thought to feed them
beyond the proverbial cup of coffee. Yet we were asking a great deal of
them: early rising, giving out to me and an audience in a pressured
environment, and affording them very limited time to talk about their
favorite subject. Instituting a little tray of goodies made a tremendous
difference. It served to loosen people up, to become much more
comfortable and available and much less defensive and nervous. It
Recap Each Segment
Don’t leave any topic till you’ve gone over your What, How, Who,
When—the notes you’ve been writing on the board. This makes for a
true consensus, allowing for final discussion to clarify any points or argue
out the last problems that possibly remain.
Keep to the Time Allotments
Have a clock visible in your meeting area. Ask everyone to monitor
the clock as you remind them (and point out on your agenda on the flip
chart) of the time allotment for that item. Give two or three warnings
during a discussion, not just one. This gives people a chance to adjust
their presentation. Make the group a party to your need to end items and
move on.
Though others in the group may do it for you, generally the leader
is called upon to handle long-winded people. Try a gentle “I don’t think
that’s really relevant to this discussion, so in the interest of time, let’s
table that for another meeting,” or, “You know, that aspect isn’t really
helpful to solving the problem at hand. Let’s hold that. If it’s an item you
want us to consider, bring it up for the next agenda.” Always save face for
your people publicly.
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Clean-Up Time
Finish by a total recap with a special focus: “Are we all clear about
what we agreed to?” This is not the time for any more discussion, just
factual statements or questions.
Design Follow-Up Procedures
If more action is needed, make a clear, written plan on the board or
flip chart about who checks with whom and how that all gets filtered back
to you (or someone else)—a refinement of the action plan you decided on
in the body of the meeting. Get it written or you write it out to be sure
it’s part of everyone’s notes.
Create a Positive Environment for Troubleshooting
Making people feel that “I have spoken and therefore it shall be
done” precludes their ever wanting to open your door and say, “Hey,
this isn’t working out.”
Talk to the group about fallibility and about realistic expectations and
understanding. Tell them you want to know if things aren’t working.
Discuss Process for Next Agenda Development
Take items not discussed or completed at this meeting and make
them the basis for starting the next agenda. Ask for add-ons from the
group while everyone’s together thinking of group projects and problems.
This is also a great time to set up the next meeting.
Let Group Critique Meeting
Ask the whole group to critique the meeting. In any group, this
kind of rethinking and constructive criticism, a constructive, practical
look at the process, timing, techniques, subjects, and results, opens the
atmosphere and can make the group process more efficient. Group
self-criticism makes for a feeling of true participation in the meeting
To close: Group interaction is hard and requires effort if it is to work
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• Everyone needs to learn how to listen, support, and disagree
constructively, and how to identify and account for predictable
behavior styles, to make meetings be the place where productive
discussions, solutions, and consensus happen and team members
maximize themselves.
• Having everyone participate when possible in some phase of the
planning, the subject matter, the time allowed, helps make the
group work together as a unit.
• Presentations should be made interesting, visual, creative, and
highly organized, with back-up materials given for further
thought after the meeting.
Leaders should lead, not overwhelm.
Participants should bring their best and share it.
Have we come to the very end? Not quite. I still have “the last
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How to close? What lasting words can I leave with you that might
convey the essence of what it takes to communicate well in your work?
Perhaps this story:
A friend and television colleague of mine was flying across the
country and found himself seated next to that most distinguished
architect, I. M. Pei. My friend is from Boston where Mr. Pei’s famous
John Hancock Building dominates the skyline, growing out of a corner of
venerable Copley Square. The square is also the home of two landmark
nineteenth-century architectural marvels: Trinity Church, a medievalstyled
wonder of multicolored granite, turrets, and spires, and the Italian
Renaissance-styled Boston Public Library, all Romanesque arches, gray
stone, and dignity. The John Hancock Building, the newcomer on this
scene, is a rhomboid-shaped soaring tower, completely sheathed in
reflective glass.
My friend loves architecture, so he seized the opportunity to discuss
something with Mr. Pei.
“You know,” he said, “I always wondered why, flanked by those two
buildings of magnificent stone and granite, you sheathed the John
Hancock Building in glass?”
“Yes. Well, when you look into that glass, what do you see?”
“Why, I—I—see the two magnificent buildings!”
Recognizing the value of those landmark buildings, Mr. Pei’s intent
was to honor them by reflecting them first, making his architectural
statement connect with and include them.
Unless we can “see ourselves” in your communication, we will have
difficulty assimilating it.
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To motivate us, your listeners at work, you need to know enough
about us to help us “see ourselves” in what you’re talking about.
To capture and hold us, your communication must deal at our level,
reflecting our concerns. We absorb your ideas by how well you present
them and how hard you try to help us understand them.
Answering questions? We must see ourselves and the essence of our
question reflected in your answers.
Leading a meeting? Selling a product? Disagreeing with a client?
Reporting to the boss?
In every case, unless we “see ourselves” reflected in what you’re
saying and doing, your communication is “for your eyes only.”
All the techniques I have suggested to you in this book are variations
on this theme. They work because they start by including us. That’s how
to talk so people listen.
A Personal Note
As I sat long hours writing this book, you were very much with me.
I saw you responding to what I was saying, I imagined when you’d be
startled, when you might disagree and need to be further convinced,
when you’d laugh or maybe look off and reflect on a thought. It’s what
moved me to write more about something, to cut portions out, to stop
and try again.
So—I end reluctantly. There are so many more things I wanted to
tell you. So many times I wanted to show you, not just tell. But if in our
time together I stimulated you to rethink the processes by which you
communicate at work and to start trying some new ways, my work will
have reached its mark and I will rest easy.
Thanks for listening. Now it’s your turn.
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Acceptance, 7, 9-10, 44, 190
Achievers, 4, 11, 14-15, 17-20, 128, 217,
Emotional Needs and, 62-63, 65-66
Acoustics, 185
Adrenal glands, 179
Affection, 7, 9-10
Affiliators, 4, 11, 15-19, 63-64, 128, 217,
Affirmation, 7, 9-10
Agenda, 127, 241, 244
creation of, 246-49
explanation of, 251
input from others and, 248—49
for next meeting, 255
placement on, 247-48
positioning on, 246-47
time allotment and, 248
visibility of, 251
Agreement, in meetings, 242
Amenities, 124-25
Analogies, 183
Anger, 102, 121, 126, 135-38, 208-9. See
also Hostility
Anonymous audience, 143
Anticipation, building of, 118
Anxiety, 173, 189, 191, 195
Attention, getting a group’s, 242-43
Attention span, 35, 37, 103
Audience, 21-34. See also Listening
active, 21-22
anger of, 102
anticipation of, 118
attention span of, 35, 37, 103
Audience (cont.)
boredom of, 223
common experiences shared by, 24—25
discomfort of, 28-29
expectations of, 68, 70-71
familiar. See Familiar audience
feelings of, 142-44
Fore-Thought and, 53-56
forgotten, 21
frustration of, 101-2
getting started and, 179
goals of, 60-61
handouts for, 112-14
ignorance of, 46, 102
information needs of, 151
involvement of, 168-71
knowledge of, 151-52
needs of, 22-23, 65-67
passivity of, 222-23
power of, 192, 194-95
profile of, 145-47
question-and-answer period and, 191-211
self-interest of, 53
speaker’s feelings toward, 176-77
unfamiliar. See Unfamiliar audience
visual materials techniques and, 117-18
written speeches and, 156-57
Authenticity of speakers, 27
Awareness, 13
Back-up equipment, 186-87
Bio-rhythms, 81-82
Blackboards, 116, 117
Body language, 40-43, 125-26, 235
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Body of meetings, 252-53
Bonded audience, 144
Bonding, 122
Boredom, 38, 98, 223
Bosses, 79, 83, 87
power sharing and, 127-29
question-and-answer period with, 211-21
Brain, human, 97-99, 202
Brainstorming, 247
Breakfast, 83, 90-91
Breathing, 207
Building on ideas, 235, 238
Building to a climax, 247
“Build” system, 116-17
Bystanders, 231, 232
Car-pooling, 83
Challenged audience, 144
Charismatic leaders, 17
Charts, 116
Chronology, 99, 111, 116
Clarification, 138-39, 191, 199, 210
Clarity, 131, 182-83
Clean-up time, 255
Close-Up, 100
Closure of meetings, 255-56
Coercion, audience and, 147—48
Coffee breaks, 150, 254
Coffee drinking, in one-on-one encounters,
Color(s), 115, 117, 163
Commercials, rhythm of, 38
Communication. See also specific topics
basics of, 21-22, 34-36, 40-47. See also
Listening; Telling
changes in, 31—34
reasons for problems in, 4-8
requirements for, 8
Communication strategies, 48-52. See also
Communication style, 2, 13, 18, 31, 36
Comparison, 190, 212, 226
Competition, 45, 190
Competitive audience, 143
Complex speakers, 28
Compliments, 199
Conclusion of presentations, 108-9
Conditioning, answering questions and, 189,
Conference rooms, meetings in, 88
Confidence, 27, 244
Conflict, 225, 243. See also Anger;
Disagreement; Hostility
Consensus, developing, 227
Consequences, 190
Constructive criticism, 255
Contact, 122
controversial or dangerous, 242
of one-on-one encounters, 119, 126-32
of presentations, 106-7
of questions, 216
scheduling and, 84, 91-92
of speeches, 153-54, 171-74
Continuity, lack of, 37
Control, 194-95, 208
Controversial subjects, 242
Counter-punch, 218
Co-workers, 13, 24-25. See also Audience
Creative speakers, 27
Critical questions, 217-20
Criticism, 132-34, 245, 255
Critiques, group, 255
Curiosity, 234
Current events, 168
Cutting people off, 241
Dangerous subjects, 242
Data. See Information
Debates, avoiding, 200
Defensiveness, 206, 218
Denial, 5-7, 10-11
Details, in speeches, 171
Diagrams, 187
Dialogues, 22, 24, 201
Disagreement, 192-94, 210, 219, 239-40
Disappointment, 173
Discovery, 13
Discussion, in one-on-one encounters, 130-
Disenfranchised audience, 143
Distractions, meeting time and, 83-84
Dramatization, in speeches, 174
Education level, of audience, 146
Egos, 243
Eloquence, 176, 191
Emotional Needs, 57-58, 61-68, 75
Empathy, 59
Emphasis, 184
Endings of speeches, 174-75
Energy level, 157, 180
Energy patterns, 81-82
Entrepreneurs, 15
Environments for meetings, 85-88, 116,
186, 196-97
next page
Index 261
Ethnic differences, in audience, 146
Exciting speakers, 27
Exhilaration, 196
Expectations, 57-58, 68-74, 193
Experiences, shared, 24-25, 166—67
Exploitation, 195-96
Exposure, fear of, 224—25
Extemporizers, 158. See also Notes
Eye contact, 40, 41, 112, 126, 160, 170, 186
Factual examples, in speeches, 172
Familiar audiences, 54-55, 147
Familiarity, need for, 45
Fear(s), 205-6, 212, 214, 224-25
Feelings, 30
about learning, 43-45
answering questions and, 194-96
of audience, 142-44
detachment from, 5—7
Fore-Thought and, 57-58, 61-68
meeting problems and, 224-26
socialization process and, 5—6
of speakers, 176—77
Flexibility, speeches and, 155-56
Flip charts, 116, 117
Focus, of meetings, 240
Followers, 230-32
Follow-up, 139, 169, 255
Foregone conclusions, 224
Fore-Thought, 52-77, 108, 194
Formal speakers, 28
Friendliness of speakers, 27
Frustration of audience, 101-2
Glossaries, 117
of meetings, 78-80, 91-92, 246, 251
of one-on-one encounters, 127
of secretaries, 93
shared, as openings for speeches, 167
Grandstanding, 223
Greetings, 120-21
Group critiques, 255
Group questioning, 169, 204
Group self-critique, 227
Handouts, 112-14, 213, 216
Hands, body language and, 125-26
Handshakes, 120-21
Hard-nosed realist role, 153
Holidays, 80
Honesty of speakers, 27
Hostility, 126, 148, 194, 205-11
Hosts, suggestions for, 123-25, 130-31
Humanizing speeches, 173-74
Humor, 72-73, 203-5
Hunger, 82-83
Hyper-intense speakers, 29
Identity, 8-9, 15
Ignorance of audience, 46, 102
Images, 12-13, 183
Imagination, individual, 32, 38-39, 111
Impatience, 126
Implementation of meetings, 249-50
Important issues on agenda, 247—48
Impotence, sense of, 206
Improvisation, 48-50, 52
Inattention, 37
Indents, in notes and outlines, 163—64
Indifference of audience, 148-49
Influences, 4, 11, 16-19, 63-64, 66-67,
129, 217, 237
absorption of, 100-1
adding, 192, 204
audience’s need for, 151
boredom and, 38
lack of, 200-1, 206
logical progression of, 99-100
in visual materials, 116-17
power and, 201
reinforcement of, 35
sharing at meetings, 226
small talk and, 122
viewer vetoing of, 38
in visual materials, 116
Informational questions, 215-17
Information-processing systems opposing,
Inspiration of speakers, 27
Inspirer role, 152
Instincts, 30, 202
Integration, meetings and, 226
Intensity, 39
Interest, 148, 167, 244. See also Selfinterest
Interesting speakers, 27
Interpretation of body language, 42-43
Interpretations, 6
Intimidation, learning and, 44-45
Introductions, 103-4
Irrelevant messages, 29
Isolation, hostility and, 206
Judgment, suspending, 19, 234-35
next page
Kantor, David, 229
Kennedy, John F., 18
Labels, 117
Language. See also Words
body. See Body language
clarity of, 182-83
simplification of, 182-83
speeches and, 182-85
unclear, 102
verbal vs. nonverbal, 40-43, 45-47
written, 32, 156
Larger audience, 55, 77
Last lines, 174-75
group listening aided by, 236
meeting behavior of, 233
meeting personalities and, 229-32
natural, 229
personal skills for, 240-43
power of, 223-24
techniques for, 250-56
Leadership of bosses, 211-12
Leading, 135
Learning, peoples feelings about, 43—45
Leave-behinds, 112-14, 213, 216
Lecterns, 181, 185-86
Lighting, 116, 186
Listening, 1, 21-34, 46, 131, 223, 233-36,
238, 239. See also Audience
motivation for, 23-34
in question-and-answer period, 198-99
Lists, in notes and outlines, 163
Local occasions, as openings for speeches,
Logic of presentations, 97, 99-100, 103, 108
Long Shot, 99, 100
Love, 15
Lunch meetings, 89-90, 149
Manipulated audience, 143
Manipulation, 16, 19-20
Medium Shot, 100
Meetings, 78-95, 222-56. See also Oneon-
one encounters; Presentations
appointment-making for, 91-95
basic communication skills for, 233-45
content of, 84-85, 91-92, 94
effective, creating and leading, 246—56
goals of, 78-80
leaders of. See Leaders
length of, 80, 91
participants in. See Participants
Meetings (cont.)
personalities at, 228-32
preparation for, 78-80
presentations at. See Presentations
reasons for, 226-27
scheduling of, 81-91
what goes wrong and why at, 222—28
Microphones, 185
Mistakes, admitting, 219
Money, 10-11, 15, 44
Monologues, 21
Monotonous speakers, 28
Motivation, 7-11
for listening, 23-34
one-on-one encounters and, 129
presentations and, 105
for questions, 216
for telling, 22-23
for work, 8-11, 13-20
Movers, 229, 232
Multi-messages, 41-42
Names, first, 121
Neatness of visual materials, 118
of audience, 22-23
emotional, Fore-Thought and, 57-58, 61-
of secretaries, 93
Negotiation, 252
Nervousness, 29, 195, 244
Neutral territory, 88, 124
News stories, 34-35
“No-blame” issue, 51, 69-70
Non-judgmental disagreement, 240
Non-listening, process of, 233-34
Non-verbal communication, 40-43. See also
Body language
Notes, 157-64, 252-53
circulation of, 253
colors in, 163
eye contact and, 160
listening and, 235
lists in, 163
for question-and-answer period with
bosses, 213
short words in, 160
spaces and indents in, 163-64
symbols in, 160-62
typed vs. handwritten, 164
whole pages for, 159-60
Objective Goals, 57-61, 67
next page
Index 263
Observation(s), 59, 131-32, 235
Offices, meetings in, 86-88
One-on-one encounters, 119-41. See also
Bosses, question-and-answer period
with; Hosts; Visitors
checklist for, 140-41
closure of, 119, 138-41
communications strategy for, 49—52
Openers for, 119-26
special issues in, 119, 132-38
substance of, 119, 126-32
Openings of meetings, 246, 251
Openings of speeches, 164-68
Openness of speakers, 27
Opposers, 229-30, 232
Opposition figures, 206
Oral presentations, 102-3
Oral speeches, 154-58
Order of presentation, 97, 99-100, 103-9
Outlines, 159-64
Pace, 31-33, 175, 184
Parents, 5-6
Participants. See also Audience meeting behavior
of, 233
personal skills for, 243-45
reluctant, 241-42
Participation, increasing, 241, 251
Passion, hostility and, 205
Passivity, 32, 36, 143, 222-23
Patronizing speakers, 29
Peers. See also Co-workers power sharing
and, 128-29
Pei, I. M., 257
Performance, 155, 191
Performance reviews, 215, 217
Personal attacks, 209, 219-20
Personal interest of audience, 148
Personalities. See also Work personalities
at meetings, 228-32
Personalized power, 16, 17
Personalizing speeches, 173-74
Personal skills, 240-45
Personal space, 85-86
Personal style, 2
going against, 19-20
of speaker, 26-27
of speeches, 175-81
Personnel for meetings, 249
Person-to-person approach. Sec also Oneon-
one encounters
to appointment making, 92-93
Physical arrangements, 249
Pleasure, power and, 212
Podiums, 181
Politics, audience and, 148
Pompous speakers, 28
of followers, 230-31
of leaders, 223-24
meeting location and, 86-88
as motive, 16—17
of other people, 9
of participants, 245
question-and-answer period and, 189,
192, 194-95, 201
sharing of, 127-29
sitting and, 123-24
of speakers, 192, 194-95, 205
Practicality, of meeting goals, 79
“Pre-meetings,” 80
for meetings, 78-80
of participants, 243—44
for question-and-answer period, 193-96
for question-and-answer period with
bosses, 213-14
Presentations, 102-3, 142-87. See also
audience feelings and, 142-44
checklist for, 109
designing of, 96-118, 150-54
leave-behinds and, 112-14
logic of, 97, 99-100, 103, 108
order of, 104-9
planning of, 145-50
Priorities of secretaries, 93
Prior relationships, meetings and, 225
Privacy, answering questions and, 190
Probable Expectations, Fore-Thought and,
57-58, 68-75
Problem-solving strategy, 50-52, 65
Process, speech content and, 171
Professional level of audience, 145-46
Profiles, audience, 145-47
Public image, 12-13
Put Upon audience, 143
Questions (questioning: question-and-answer
period), 91, 109, 188-221
answering, basic principles of, 188-96.
See also Techniques, for answering
audience and, 169, 170, 191-211
with bosses, 211-21
disagreement and, 239
next page
Questions (cont.)
group, 169
hostility in, 205-11
of participants, 244
rhetorical, 170
Rapport, establishing, 214
Reading, 32
by audience, during presentations, 112-
Reagan, Ronald, 18
Recaps, 107, 138-39, 184, 254
Recognition, 7, 18-19
Regular attendance, of audience, 149
Relationships, 6—7
Relaxation, 200
Repetition, 184
Respect, 199, 212, 239
Rhetorical questions, 170
Role play, 220-21
Room layout, 186
Rush hours, 83
Scope of meeting goals, 79
“Seat-of-the-pants” method, 48-50
Secretaries, 92-95
Security, 10-11, 157, 158
Self-confidence, 17, 179-80
Self-destructive behavior, 12
Self-help books, 17
Self-interest, 23-25, 29, 31, 53
Self-protection, 206
Self-spirit, 5, 23, 52
Setting of presentations, 150
Sex of audience, 145
Share/guide role, 152
Shock, 39
Silence, use of, 184
Sitting, 123-25
Slides, 116-17
Smaller audience, 56
Smaller items on agenda, 247
Small talk, 121-23, 125
Smiling, 121
Socialization, 5-6
Socialized power, 16, 17
Socioeconomic level of audience, 146
Space, 41, 85-86, 180
Spaces, in notes and outlines, 163—64
Specificity, 133, 218, 239-40
Speeches, 150-87
checklist for, 185-86
language of, 182-85
Speeches (cont.)
organization, 153-54
of participants, 244
personal style of, 175-81
positioning of, 150—53
techniques for, 164-75
time requirements of, 187
written, 154-58
Speech rhythm, 41-42
Sports, 17-18
Stage fright, 177-79, 244
Stages, 185
Status, 8-9, 44
Stress, 179
Stuffy speakers, 28
Subject matter. See Content
Subjects. See Content
Suggestions, asking for, 218
Summoned person, Fore-Thought and, 74-
Supporting, 236-39
Surprise, 71-72
Survival methods, 5-7, 30
Symbols, in notes and outlines, 160-62
Synthetic speakers, 28
“Talking head” taboo, 35-36
Team players, participants as, 245
for answering questions, 196—205
for appointment making, 91-95
for disagreeing, 239-40
for handling hostility, 207-11
to improve listening, 234-35
leadership, 250-56
for speeches, 164—75
for supporting, 237-39
of telling, 34-40
visual materials, 117-18
Technology, 32-33
Television, 31, 33-40
TelePrompTer, 36
Television, 34-40, 99-100
Telling (teller)
credentials of, 29-30
motivation for, 22-23
motivation for listening and, 25-34
in one-on-one encounters, 129-30
one-sided nature of, 21-22
oral speeches and, 157—58
presentations and, 98, 99
roles of, 152-53
showing vs., 110-12, 114
next page
Index 265
Telling (cont.)
subjects which need, 111-12
techniques for, 34-40
written speeches and, 157
Thinking, 30, 97-98, 179
allotment of, 248, 252, 254
buying, in question-and-answer period,
communication changes and, 31-32
for meetings, 89-91
of meetings, 149-50
for meetings, 79-85, 89-91, 127, 149
for question-and-answer period, 204
for speeches, 187
starting on, 250
television and, 35
Timing, meeting goals and, 79-80
Topics, in speeches, 172-73
Transitions, 103-4, 107, 172-73
Transparent overlays, 116—17
Troubleshooting, 255
Trust, 25-26, 30, 202
Truth, 35, 134-35, 200-1, 216-17, 230
Turf considerations, 86-88, 108
Underlining, 162-63
Unenergized speakers, 28
Unsure speakers, 29
Usefulness, 9, 15, 44, 224
Vacations, 80
Vague speakers, 28
Value(s), 167-68, 238
Verbal vs. non-verbal communication, 40-43
Visibility, answering questions and, 190
Visitors, 122-25, 130-31
Visual materials, 2, 31-34, 110-18, 154,
172, 253-54
agenda and, 251
color of, 115, 117
Visual materials (cont.)
consistency of, 117
form follows function with, 114-15
guidelines for, 114-17
handouts, 112-14
in one-on-one encounters, 129-30
organized and neat, 118
placement and scale considerations for,
for question-and-answer period with
bosses, 213
reasons for use of, 110
requirements for, 186
self-explanatory, 117
simplicity of, 115
subjects which need, 110-11
techniques for, 117-18
television and, 35
telling vs., 110-12, 114
words as, 183
Volunteers from audience, 170—71
Voting, 242
Warmth of speakers, 27
Warm-ups, for meetings, 250-51
Women, 11, 120-21
Words, 45-47
effects of not understanding, 46-47
short, in notes and outlines, 160
unfamiliar, 102
visual use of, 183
vs. movement, 42-43
listening as, 22
motivation for, 8-11, 13-20
Work habits, 84, 85, 87, 94
Work personalities, 4, 13-20. See also
Achievers; Affiliators; Influencers
motivating forces and, 11
use of, 18-19
Written speeches, 154-58

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