Monday, November 24, 2008

How Well Do You Listen?

By Gilda Bonanno,

Last week, I popped the left arrow key off my laptop keyboard. When I broke another key a few months ago, I called tech support and they sent me a replacement keyboard which a friend then installed.

So when it happened again last week, I knew what to do – I called tech support and asked for a new keyboard. The tech who answered the phone told me to turn the laptop over, remove the battery and remove the two screws that held the keyboard in place. The exchange went something like this:

Me - “Why I am unscrewing the keyboard? Just send me a new one and I’ll have a friend install it.”

Tech – “No, just go ahead and unscrew the keyboard. Then pop out the hinge, remove the other two screws and pull out the keyboard.”

Me – “Why? I know it’s broken. I just need a new keyboard.”

Tech – “No, a keyboard is an item that you can replace yourself. So I want to make sure you know how to change it before I send you a new one. And I need the number that’s under the keyboard.”

Me – “For this, I paid $400 in a warranty and customer service plan? Just send me the keyboard – I’m not going to install it – a friend who knows what he’s doing will install it.”

Somehow along the way, I was persuaded and recklessly thought, “Why not? I know how to use a screwdriver – and I’ve always wanted to see the inside of my computer. What could go wrong?”

I will spare you the details of the next two hours – for example, how in attempting to pull out the keyboard, I snapped another small piece off which didn’t seem to fit anywhere. And how, after emailing the tech so many digital photos and videos of that piece that my email program froze, he also could not identify it. And how, after I insisted repeatedly and had a conversation with his manager, he finally agreed to send me the keyboard, which I had asked for two hours earlier.

The bottom line is – if the tech had listened to me in the beginning, everything would have been easier. Instead, we went around in circles and I finally had to make him listen.

How well do you listen? Do you have a script in your head that you will follow, no matter what the other person says? Do you stop listening because you think you know what the other person is going to say?

The story did finally end on a happy note. The keyboard arrived and my friend, Joe, installed it in five minutes. And the mystery piece? Turns out it was a non-essential tab that had snapped off from the old keyboard. Thanks, Joe the computer guy!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Sometimes Small Talk is Anything But Small

by Gilda Bonanno

I was in the elevator of an office building recently with someone I didn't know. It was lunchtime and we both had food trays. I tried to make small talk and said, "The elevator always seems slower when you're hungry." He nodded. Encouraged, I continued the small talk, "If the elevator gets stuck, that's okay, because at least we've got food and water." He laughed.

When the elevator stopped, he got off and started to walk away. Then he turned and said, "Thanks for being cheerful. I needed that." And he smiled.

I felt great - in just a few seconds, I had made a connection with another human being. My conversation had not been hysterically funny or deeply insightful. In face, it had been almost trite... but I had chosen to speak to him rather than ignore him as I might have done with a stranger on an elevator. And as a result, he had been able to laugh.

Sometimes human communication can be so simple and yet, so meaningful. It can happen in the checkout line at the grocery store when we make eye contact with the cashier or if we take a moment after we ask someone the obligatory question "how are you?" to actually listen for an answer. It doesn't take much effort for us to connect with someone else for a moment by smiling, making eye contact or listening.

Sometimes small talk is anything but small.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

When Presenting, Give Signs Like Nature

by Gilda Bonanno,

Here in the New England region of the United States, autumn has arrived and winter is not too far behind. How do I know? The leaves have turned from green to gold and red, there is frost on the grass in the morning and the days are getting shorter. Nature gives clues that signal the end of one season and the coming of the next. These signs tell me what to expect and they help me get ready to rake the leaves, pull out my winter coat and set the clocks back.

When you present, you can be like Nature – and give your audience signs as to what's coming next. When you set your audience's expectations, it allows them to follow your message more easily.

• In your introduction, share your message – what is the point of what you're going to say and why is it important to them? If you're clear about you want them to get out of your presentation, it's easier for them to focus on hearing that message.
• It may help to remind the audience how long you will speak. For example, you can say, "in the next 10 minutes, I will share…" or " as we work together over the next hour…" That clue helps them to calibrate their time, especially if there is a full schedule of presenters.
• Be clear in your organization. Try to group your material into a few sections to make it easier to follow. For example, tell the audience if you're going to cover three case studies or four reasons or five steps.

• Make it clear how one section of your presentation is related to the next. Give the audience clues: are you continuing in the same theme, presenting the opposite point of view, focusing on a different company or talking about a different time period?

The End is Near
• Give the audience a sign that you're nearing your conclusion. For example, "the third and final reason you should consider Jimmy's Jammies for all your pajama needs is… " or "the last story that I'd like to share with you about the bride and groom is…"

Don't Tease
• If you give a sign that you're almost done, for example, by saying "in conclusion…," don't go on for another 20 minutes. The audience will get restless and may stop listening.

If you act like Nature and give your audience signs and clues when you speak, it will be easier for them to follow your presentation and make sense of it. Setting their expectations will help them understand and retain your message.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Entrepreneurial Women in Afghanistan

This week, I attended a wonderful event at the Connecticut Women's Business Development Center. The WBDC hosted a woman from Afghanistan who was visiting the US to learn about the resources available for women entrepreneurs. She calmly told us how she fled Afghanistan in the early '90s and later returned to help empower women to start their own businesses. With quiet pride, she described some of the women in her group who had successfully started their own businesses - one opened a printing shop and another started a carpentry business, the only women running such businesses in the city.

Despite threats to her and her family, she is forging ahead to help women get the skills, resources and confidence they need to start businesses, help support their families and build a brighter, peaceful future.

I attended the event with other WBDC volunteers and clients, and we shared our own stories and the kind of support that we had received from the WBDC. She could not share her last name, for security reasons, but she assured us that she would take our ideas back home and share them with her group of women, who were eager to learn from their sisters in other parts of the world.

Her visit was sponsored by Business Council for Peace, which is a partner of UNIFEM, the United Nations Development Fund for Women.

What an inspiration she is - and a reminder of how difficult and dangerous life still is for so many women and men around the world....

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Free Teleseminar Oct 23: "Seven Things to Know to Present Like a Pro"

October 23, 2008, 2-3 PM EST US

You asked for it - you got it!

Get presentation skills coaching from the comfort of your office or home. During this telephone seminar, I will cover the seven essential things that you must know about presentation preparation and delivery, in order to communicate like a pro. Then I will answer your questions, which you may ask live on the call or submit via email ahead of time.

Perfect for business people, IT professionals, HR staff, project managers, consultants, students, business owners and anyone who wants to develop more effective presentation skills.

You only pay for the cost of your phone call. To register or find out more, email information will be provided once you register.

October 23, 2008, 2-3 PM EST US

Monday, October 20, 2008

Think of Yourself as a Speaker

by Gilda Bonanno
Often, people tell me, "I'm not a speaker so I don't have to think about presentation skills." I disagree. I think we are all speakers – yes, even you.

Whether you talk to a small or large audience or in a corporate, academic or community setting, you are a speaker. If you give an update to a project team, speak up at a neighborhood meeting or organize a fundraiser, you are a speaker. If you give a toast at a wedding, conduct orientation for new employees or train someone on a new process, you are a speaker. If you teach a class, lead a conference call or accept a community award, you are a speaker. If you answer a question at a meeting, attend a networking event or interact with potential clients, you are a speaker.

The point of thinking of yourself as a speaker is not to make you crazy. The point is for you to become conscious of your power to communicate. Public speaking is a skill – it's not magic or a special gene. And as a skill, it can be learned and improved. You already have knowledge and expertise; public speaking gives you the ability to communicate that knowledge and expertise effectively to others. And in so doing, you can have a positive impact on your career, your self-confidence and your community.

One of the first people that I coached was a man who had to give the toast at his brother's wedding. One of my most recent coaching clients was a woman who had to lead a teleseminar with a global audience for a major client. Both of these people are speakers, even though that is not their primary job description. They had something to share with other people and communicating effectively made a difference in their personal and business relationships.

Just by thinking of yourself as a speaker, you benefit from what I call the Focus Effect. Earlier in my career, I worked in process improvement and was often called in to analyze a business process that was inefficient, costly or time-consuming. I found that just by asking people who were involved in the process to focus on what they were doing and how, the process often improved because they were more conscious of their actions.

Likewise, when you think of yourself as a speaker, you begin to focus on what and how you communicate. And as you pay more attention to your communications, you become more conscious of what works well and more able to improve what doesn't.

The next time you have the opportunity to speak or present, think of yourself as a speaker. Doing so will help you eliminate the barriers to letting your voice be heard and make a positive contribution to your professional and personal success.
copyright 2008 Gilda Bonanno LLC