Monday, November 30, 2009

Seven Strategies for Conversation/Small Talk Success

The Thanksgiving holiday is over – but now we have Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s on the horizon.

Typically, that means parties (professional and personal) – which, in turn, means more opportunities for creating conversations.

For some of us, it is an easy task -- we like small talk, meeting new people and socializing in general. But, for others it is a chore.

It doesn’t have to be …

What are some techniques to make mingling and conversation easy and enjoyable for all parties concerned?

Here’s my list of seven strategies:

1. Whenever possible, do your “homework.” Know who is coming, and a little bit about the people. What are their interests? Where do they work? What do they do in their free time?

2. Ask questions – not to be intrusive, but to find areas of mutual interest. Be interested in what they have to say.

3.Share something about yourself – not to brag, but again, something that the others may find interesting.

4. Be comfortable with silence. You don’t need to rush the conversation.

5. Be up to date with current events and best-selling books – they make great conversation starters.

6. Look for ways to help others. That may mean introducing them to other people at the event.

7. Know when to exit the conversation. Avoid monopolizing one person for the whole event.

If you follow these seven guidelines, you not only will have great conversations and build relationships, but, perhaps more importantly, a great time!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sharing Information On Business Resources

As we approach Thanksgiving and reflect on our business resources, I wanted to share two that I recently found and am thankful for …

Do you ever need to get some quick information, without searching thousands of sites on Google?

A quick way to do this is to hire a kgb agent.

For full disclosure, I am NOT on their payroll, nor do I get a “finder’s fee.” I just happen to be LinkedIn with Brett Saks -- VP, HR & Organizational Effectiveness for kgb USA -- and started exploring their website and services.

Check out their site -- it’s full of funny commercials, and cool ideas.

Moving on to another great resource …

If you’re a professional speaker who wants to hang with other professional speakers, the National Speakers Association (NSA) is the place for you!

The value of NSA membership relates to the education and member community. For full disclosure, I am on the Board of National Directors, but get no “kickback” for new recruits!

I just got back last night from NSA’s fall conference in Phoenix. My head is spinning with new ideas and people to use as resources. If you want to know more about NSA, check out

If you have any other business resources that you think I should know about, and would like to share with others, please drop me a message.

I am currently talking to two organizations now about entering into affinity relationships for their equipment and other resources that will help presenters.

Will keep you posted …

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Presentation Skills Primer: Slide Decks Support a Message, Not the Other Way Around

We can “Deck the Halls,” “Swab the deck,” and even “Deck someone” …. (though I wouldn’t endorse trying the last one!).

Obviously, the word “deck” can mean a lot of things.

But, nowhere does a deck equate to a presentation!

When I coach executives for presentation skills, typically they say, “The deck is being prepared.” I then ask, “What about the presentation?”

From my perspective as an executive speech coach and professional speaker for more years than I like to admit, an effective presentation needs to be crafted first BEFORE slides are created.

Then, and only then, if the visuals will support the message, should a slide “deck” be crafted, too.

Preparing slides has become so easy that it’s now commonplace for presenters to simply read their slides – which is never a formula for speaking success.

Show me one example of a presentation where the audience wanted more slides.

The speaker needs to be the most important visual element.


Through effective use of eye contact, facial expression, gestures and movements to captivate an audience -- plus having a good, descriptive story to tell. Then, you can add a visual to help paint a picture or make a point.

So, in the future, prepare your presentation -- then get all decked out!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

It Doesn’t Matter What You’re “Selling” … Prep Before You Present Your Pitch

Professor Dan Brody (yes, he is a relative!) is teaching an entrepreneurial course at the University of Virginia’s School of Engineering.

He had a few entrepreneurs speak as guest lecturers, and he asked me to do the same. My topic was “10 Reasons Presentations Fail & How to Avoid Them.”

You might wonder – why is information regarding presentation skills critical in a class of would be engineering entrepreneurs?

In fact, in my first career, as a college professor of presentation skills and interpersonal communication skills, students often told me, “I don’t need to speak – I am going to be an engineer, accountant, researcher, architect …” – you name it, they said it.


These students entered the job market, and soon realized that no matter how good their ideas were, they needed to be able to sell themselves along with these bright ideas.

This recent group of talented students at UVA are giving group presentations as part of a contest. The winner will get some seed money to actually start building the business that they propose.

In case you are wondering what my top 10 list is, go to my website to read more about “Why Every Professional Needs to Master Presentation Skills” -- to learn why presentations fail and more, and also take the free quiz there to test your presentation skills knowledge.

On the surface, when it comes to presentation skills, things seem to be very basic. However, it is the little things that make the biggest difference.

Here’s a recent example that proves how true this is …

I was flying home last week from Tampa. My seat partner was the ex-superintendant of the Philadelphia School District. She has since spent time teaching and leading at Harvard and now at the University of Pennsylvania: She is on the board of the Philadelphia Art Museum. She told me about the wonderful presentation delivered by the architects who won the Barnes Museum contract.

What made this presentation so good?

The architects told a good story, enjoyed working together, used simple visuals and believed in the project.

How simple is that!?!

Of course, simple isn’t always easy to implement. That is where coaching/training can help.

Do you, or members of your team, need help in preparing your pitch?

If so, you know where to get help!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Don’t Let the Digital World Divide: Face-to-Face Communication Still Critical

I just got back from a meeting in Tampa. Following the meeting, a group of us went to the hotel bar to continue the conversation.

Guess what happened instead?

Everyone sat “playing with” their iPhones and BlackBerrys! What little conversation there was revolved around the latest apps.

Somehow, with the need to communicate quicker, and more easily, we seem to have lost the art of the conversation.

You know … actually talking to people.

When I think of the time it takes to post a tweet on Twitter, send an e-mail, or to update a Facebook page, I also think about how many people we could have actually spoken to, if we just picked up the phone.

What’s happening in our workplace when colleagues who work next to each other end up texting instead of getting up to chat face to face?

What does that say about interpersonal communications? Is this really a way to build a relationship?

Believe me, I am a proponent of using the latest social networks -- check me out on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Naymz – but NEVER in lieu of meeting people for coffee, or phoning someone and having a real conversation.

Business particularly is all about the connections you make – and these are much more effective when done face to face.

Reading words on a screen, even with a video and/or audio element added, is and never will be the same as having a real dialogue in person.

Many times there are subtle nuances to communication and body language that “speak” far greater than actual words. How does this non-spoken “conversation” get conveyed online?

In the search to expand our networks, I truly believe that something is being lost.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this.