How to Use Diction to Make Yourself Understood

Posted by Bill Rosenthal on Tue, Dec 22, 2015 @ 09:00 AM


I had lunch recently with an old friend, who happens to be approaching 90. We were discussing the changes in our lives, and she told me she has largely given up watching television. It's not because she isn’t interested, she said, but because she has a hearing condition (which unfortunately cannot be corrected with a hearing aid) that makes it difficult for her to understand the speech of anyone who appears on the screen. The one exception, she said, is CBS News anchor Scott Pelley.

“Scott Pelley has flawless diction,” she said. “The rest of them just sound like static.”

Later, I did a little searching on the web and discovered in the U.S., about 37.5 million people over the age of 18 report some difficulty in hearing. That is about 15 percent of the adult population. But hearing problems increase with age, and among those who are 65 to 74, one quarter (25%) report, not just hearing loss, but disabling hearing loss. Among those 75 or older, the rate of disabling hearing loss is 50 percent — one in two. 

When you consider how rapidly the population is aging (according to the Census Bureau, by 2029 more than 20 percent of the population will be over the age of 65), it is clear that in the foreseeable future, any random audience is likely to include from one person to a handful with serious hearing problems. This has implications for those of us who engage in public speaking.

My friend mentioned diction, and “diction” has two meanings in English. The first meaning refers to word choice and the second refers to elocution. I think my friend was emphasizing the second meaning. In the nineteenth century, elocution was a very popular part of education. Judging by the number of adults who now say nook-u-lar for “nuclear,” infa-structure for “infrastructure,” or lyberry for “library,” (not to mention hundreds of other mispronunciations) I suspect it’s not taught at all any more.

Traditionally, elocution comprises articulation, inflection, accent, voice, and gesture. In our Executive Presentation Skills® program, we spend quite a bit of time helping students master voice and gesture. But I can see that in the future, we are going to need to get into articulation, inflection, and accent. Correcting these areas in the past has often come dangerously close to ethnic prejudice, so taking them on will require a great deal of care.

In the meantime, however, can see to the other definition of diction: word choice. In the modern era of texting smart phones and on-the-fly spelling correction, most of us are familiar with the ability of our technology to anticipate what we are trying to say. Human beings have a similar capability. People in the audience anticipate what you’re going to say from context and fill it in while they are listening to you. When you choose inappropriate words, it defeats the anticipation and interferes with an audience’s ability to draw meaning from what you are saying. To people with hearing loss, inappropriate word choice can be interpreted, in my friend’s characterization, as “static.”

As our audiences age, we are all going to need to exercise great care in pronouncing our words and in choosing the appropriate words to pronounce. In other words, we’re all going to have to be more like Scott Pelley.

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Tags: Public Speaking, Presentation Skills, Communication Skills

If Your Audience is Hostile, Start With an Agreement

Posted by Bill Rosenthal on Wed, Dec 16, 2015 @ 08:00 AM


"If men would consider not so much wherein they differ, as wherein they agree, there would be far less of uncharitableness and angry feeling."

Joseph Addison,
English essayist, poet, & politician

(1672- 1719)

Not only is this great advice on how to get along, it helps us present to audiences we suspect are hostile to our suggestions.

By starting in agreement ("There is no argument we have to increase our sales...") you create an environment in which mutual goals are established. This will earn you a more respectful hearing than if you start with "You're wrong, and here's why..."

Let's face it, there's enough "uncharitableness" in business as it is.

Interested in learning more about enhancing your presentation skills? Communispond offers two programs that can help: Executive Presentation Skills and EPS Anywhere.

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Can't attend in person? Attend virtually.

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Tags: Echo, Presentation Tips, Public Speaking, Presentation Skills

7 Tips for Speaking to a Grief Stricken Audience

Posted by Bill Rosenthal on Mon, Dec 14, 2015 @ 10:24 AM


The San Bernardino massacre has inspired a welter of speeches and commentary. This is not a political blog, and I don't want to go into the content of the speeches, other than to say some of them demonstrate the difference between public speaking and public yammering. I don't know about you, but I find public yammering unpersuasive. 

Even in a nonpolitical blog, however, the San Bernardino massacre is relevant, if for no other reason than it shows more and more of us will be faced with the task of speaking to grief stricken audiences. Here are 7 tips I have come up with for giving a speech to the grieving.

1. Be natural and authentic. This tip applies to any public speaking, but it is especially important here. In fact, when the occasion is grief, you should not worry as much about losing a little bit of control. If you find yourself choking back a sob or having to pause and compose yourself, it may comfort the audience to know you are grieving with them. 

2. Avoid platitudes. “She’s in a better place now.” “God must really love him to have taken him so young.” “I know what you’re going through.” At best, remarks like these come across as empty formulas. At worst, they seem like attempts to manipulate another’s grief process. Your primary role in addressing a grief stricken audience should be to offer comfort, and platitudes offer no comfort, so avoid them. 

3. Memorialize the lost. The greatest fear of the grief stricken is that their loved one will be lost to memory as well as life. You may be in a position to mitigate this fear by telling them why the community will remember. Do your homework, find out what made the victim(s) special, and offer it as a reason for people to remember them. In other words, offer sincere and specific praise for the victims.

4. Unless the audience is denominational, be nondenominational. Nothing is more intrusive to the grieving than force-fitting their grief to fit some unshared belief. It may comfort you to offer a prayer for a dead child, but if the victim’s parents are, say atheists, you may be offering more offense than comfort. Unless you are certain that you and the audience share a belief system, leave your beliefs at home and focus on the audience’s grief. 

5. Provide hope. Grief is often accompanied by the most soul-crushing of human emotions: hopelessness. Take the opportunity to try to get the audience past it. Without using platitudes, remind them there is cause for hope, if only because the memory of those lost provides an example for the rest of us. 

6. Allow a change of mood. You don’t need to be unremittingly somber. It can be a comfort to an audience to be reminded of a funny or happy moment with the person they lost. Again, do your homework, find an authentic anecdote that represents what made this person fun to be with, and lighten the mood with it.

7. Don’t expect results. You’re not going to overcome an audience’s grief with a single speech. The best you can do is give them reason to hope and to know they are not alone in their grief. But if you can accomplish both of those things, you will be successful.

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Tags: Presentation Tips, communication, Presentation Skills

2 Steps to Spontaneous Persuasion

Posted by Bill Rosenthal on Fri, Dec 11, 2015 @ 09:17 AM


Sometimes, you find yourself in situations with an unexpected opportunity for persuasion. These are informal occasions. They won’t be meetings, because you always go to a meeting with a prepared presentation, right? These occasions will usually be one-to-one conversations. You will be talking with someone and see an opening to nudge the conversation toward your recommendation. How do you handle this opportunity to gain another supporter?

Try these two steps.

  1. Listen Actively. First of all, in order to package your recommendation as a benefit you must listen actively to what a person says. Active listening helps you gather important information, but it does much more than that. It increases the other person’s trust in you. The simple fact is, you cannot listen actively without being interested in what the person is saying. The more actively you listen, the more interested you are. People always have more trust in others who are interested in them. It’s human nature. 
  1. Raise the Comfort Level. By listening actively to the other person, you have gathered information you may need to present your recommendation as a benefit to that person. And you have begun the process of gaining that person’s trust. Now you should increase their comfort level.

To the extent you can control the location, try to arrange for the conversations to occur in the other person’s office rather than yours, since your goal is to make the other person comfortable. Match your posture to that of the other person. Don’t mimic the other person’s gestures, but give yours similar scope and intensity. Match the tone and volume of your speech to their conversation. Watch their breathing and match the speed of your speech to it. 

Now introduce this variation: watch what the other person does and suggest that they do it. If they look away and stare into space or at the wall, say, “Let’s think about this for a minute.” If they write something, say, “Let’s make a note of this.”

What you are doing is a technique called pacing and leading, which was developed by hypnotherapist Milton Erickson. Erickson studied the importance of gaining rapport in both therapy and hypnotism. He found that by increasing rapport, a therapist could raise a client’s receptiveness to suggestion. You aren’t hypnotizing people, of course, but this technique can help you put another person at ease and free them from distractions that might prevent their deciding to embrace your proposal.

But don’t stop listening. Listen actively. Find the other person’s concerns, goals, needs, and aspirations and align your recommendation with them. Then gradually bring the conversation in that direction. 

Pacing and leading is a technique often used by sales professionals, particularly for big-ticket products like cars and time-sharing condos. Some people view it, then, as a coercive or manipulative tactic. In reality, however, effective pacing requires such concentration on the subject that it is extremely difficult to do without sincerity. And in fact, Milton Erickson developed his techniques specifically as a way to respect his patients and give them a choice about accepting help.

Want to learn more about spontaneous persuasion with Executive Presentation Skills®?

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Tags: Presentation Tips, Sales Presentation, Presentation Skills

How to Clarify Vague Benefits

Posted by Bill Rosenthal on Thu, Dec 10, 2015 @ 09:48 AM


Sales professionals love to use brochures and handouts to help position the benefits of their products. Fair enough - but what if your customers don't understand why those benefits are of value?

It may seem obvious to us how those benefits will work for your customer, but you can make them clear and show you're listening at the same time.

How can you improve some common vague benefit statements?

  • Thousands of satisfied customers - "...and we aim to make sure you're on that list."
  • Easy to install - " you won't need expensive consultants" (if their technical literacy is the issue) or "It will only take a few minutes." (if they've expressed concerns about downtime)
  • Comfortable - "...specifically, you mentioned your back. Let me show you our lower lumbar support."
Use that generic benefit statement and tie it directly to a concern or objection the customer has raised. Don't leave it to them to connect the dots.

Interested in learning more ways to enhance your selling skills? Communispond offers many programs to help with this, but to name a few: Socratic Selling Skills® and Momentum Selling for®.

Learn more about Socratic Selling Skills® >

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Tags: Sales Tips, Listening Skills, Sales Presentation

The Power of Gesturing

Posted by Bill Rosenthal on Wed, Dec 09, 2015 @ 10:06 AM


A study by the University of Chicago shows that children (and probably your audiences) learn when gestures and speech are both used in teaching.

In the study, "Children Learn when Their Teacher's Gestures and Speech Differ" (Singer and Goldwin-Meadow), 160 third and fourth graders were taught math skills in different ways. One group of teachers used gestures to help explain concepts like grouping numbers, and one group did not. The group that used gestures got better results.

This may seem obvious, but it makes an important point: the gestures used were not simply the normal gestures used when speaking. They were conscious, descriptive gestures that sometimes contained different (but not contradictory) information than what the teacher was saying orally.

Careful attention to the gestures used gave the students both oral and visual cues, increasing the amount of information stored and retained.

How well are you conveying your message in more than one way?

Interested in learning more about enhancing your presentation skills? Communispond offers two programs that can help: Executive Presentation Skills and EPS Anywhere.

Learn more about Executive Presentation Skills® >

Can't attend in person? Attend virtually.

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Tags: Echo, Presentation Tips, Public Speaking, Presentation Skills

CRM Stress

Posted by Bill Rosenthal on Thu, Dec 03, 2015 @ 11:14 AM


The world of sales is a lot more technology-dependent than ever before. Most of us now use some kind of CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tool, such as Salesforce, ACT, Leadmaster, or something else that is supposed to make our world easier. So why doesn't it seem to work that way?

The tools do what they're supposed to do - capture information and get it to us when we need it. The problem is that they're dependent on humans, specifically sales people, to do two things: put the information into the system, and then act on it in a timely manner.

The first is a time management problem; the second is based on our motivation. How well are you using the tools you're given? Working with your systems will lower your stress level in the long run, or at least get your sales manager off your back for awhile.

Interested in learning more ways to enhance your selling skills? Communispond offers many programs to help with this, but to name a few: Socratic Selling Skills® and Momentum Selling for®.

Learn more about Socratic Selling Skills® >

Learn more about Momentum Selling for® Users >

Tags: Sales Tips, Listening Skills, Sales Presentation

3 Ways to Persuade an Audience

Posted by Bill Rosenthal on Wed, Dec 02, 2015 @ 11:33 AM



What's the best way to persuade an audience? There are 3 basic approaches that have been used since the times of Greek orators:

  • Logos: the appeal to reason and facts
  • Pathos: the appeal to emotion
  • Ethos: the appeal to one's character, or sense of right and wrong

Which will appeal most to your target audiences?

Imagine building an argument that contains all three. Your chances for success increase exponentially.

Our thanks to the website "Forest of Rhetoric" and Gideo Burton for this clear explanation.

Interested in learning more about enhancing your presentation skills? Communispond offers two programs that can help: Executive Presentation Skills and EPS Anywhere.

Learn more about Executive Presentation Skills® >

Can't attend in person? Attend virtually.

Learn more about EPS Anywhere™ >

Tags: Echo, Presentation Tips, Public Speaking, Presentation Skills

5 Types of Deadlines and How to Use Them in Selling

Posted by Bill Rosenthal on Tue, Dec 01, 2015 @ 09:33 AM


Some deadlines are obvious. Sometimes the customer will come right out and tell you about them. Whenever a customer mentions a deadline, take note and focus your efforts on helping the customer to meet it. But some deadlines are subtle, and some are even subconscious. So you must use your Socratic Selling Skills® to probe for them, bring them to the surface, and help the customer deal with them.

The customer may face any of five types of deadlines.

  1. Calendar. Study the calendar of your customer’s industry and be alert to any hint of seasonal implications in the customer’s conversation. As you learn more about your customer’s needs, think about the changing seasons and how they might affect your customer’s goals. Sometimes, customers are not even fully aware of seasonal opportunities and will be grateful to you for introducing a new level of urgency: How does your plan relate to Daylight Saving Time?”
  1. Project Phase. Chances are the customer is preoccupied with the current phase of whatever project they’re working on. It’s up to you to foresee the end of this phase and the start of the next. You can be a help and a support to the customer by bringing the next phase into focus. And the next phase may well have opportunities for you – if not with this customer, then with another customer in the same company. Probe the customer’s story for information about project plans and phases: How does your goal relate to the current initiative?”
  1. Startup. If the project is a startup, you may be in a position to help the customer demonstrate initial results and relieve some pressure. Probe to learn about startup circumstances: “Why were you the one selected to head this project and how long has it been going on?”
  1. Unspent Budget. All organizations – government, profit-making, and nonprofit – feel pressure to zero out the budget year. In many organizations finishing the year with money left over means you didn’t effectively project what you would need. Or it can mean that you managed to do your job with less money than was estimated, so your budget for next year will be reduced accordingly. Probe to find out how the organization regards unspent budget: How helpful would it be for your department to return unspent budget at the end of the year?”
  1. New Leadership. Conventional wisdom has it that a new executive should avoid being disruptive and spend the first several months of their tenure studying the organization. But conventional wisdom does not always apply. When the new executive has been hired to turn an organization around, when an organization is in real crisis, when the new leader has already been de facto leader, when the new leader has a disruptive personal style. Even when the new leader is trying to follow conventional wisdom, the pressure to show results is enormous. Probe for the plans of new leaders: “What goals has she promised to achieve in the coming year?”

Deadlines are useful to you, as a sales professional, in at least two ways: 1) they can give the customer a sense of urgency to close the deal; and 2) they can help make you a personal resource and source of support to the customer who is under pressure to meet them. 

Want to learn more about using Socratic Selling Skills® to learn about customer deadlines?

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Tags: Sales Tips, Sales, Socratic Selling Skills

Giving Thanks

Posted by Bill Rosenthal on Wed, Nov 25, 2015 @ 08:30 AM


“Gratitude can transform common days into Thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.”

– William Arthur Ward

People with a positive mental attitude often cite gratitude as one of their core values. These people regularly make time to reflect upon, journal, or express their gratitude to those who have positively impacted them in some way. They believe this regular expression of gratitude attracts more abundance into their lives.

In the USA, our nation’s distinct Thanksgiving celebration is once again upon us and many countries around the world have similar holidays, recently or in the future, which similarly celebrate the harvest season and an opportunity to give thanks for the bounties of work and life.

I hope you are able to find time to reflect with gratitude on all the blessings that are a part of your life. As time marches on, the memory of these blessings become more meaningful. At the same time, I hope you are able to take the opportunity to relax and enjoy the comfort of family and friends.

In the spirit of William Arthur Ward’s quote, I would like to express my gratitude to each of you for allowing Communispond into your lives. Every day, we do what we do, because of you.

On behalf of the Communispond team, we wish you and yours a warm, safe, and happy Thanksgiving.

Tags: Echo