Are We Afraid of Language

I just have to ask a question. When did we become afraid to speak? I've noticed it lately - we tiptoe around things that are controversial, even if that's not the speakers intent. I feel like a lot of people who have made headlines for something they have said probably didn't mean it the way it sounded. Everyone is guilty of making a mistake in the way they use language and usually it's not that big of a deal. Even the people surrounded by talking heads that are coaching the speaker on what and how to say something make mistakes. I feel like we've gotten to a point where we fear language. We fear discussing ideas or sharing different opinions. We are terrified of offending someone - and because of it, we keep our mouths shut.

The Problem

When we become afraid to speak out and declare that there is something that could be changed we kill the free exchange of ideas. Yes, there are some subjects and words that over time and historical changes have fallen out of our lexicon. There are some words that, like many of diseases, have been eradicated from our daily life. These words (which I won't list) are the kinds of words that only people who are ignorant or just downright hateful still use in their everyday language.

Who's At Fault?

Everyone. That's the truth. History is littered with people who have opened their mouths and caused the world to be completely flipped on its head. These are people who have flipped the world in both good and bad directions. Intent with language is just as important as the words that are said. Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and Martin Luther King, Jr. are just a few examples of people who have flipped the world. So are Hitler, Stalin, and Castro.

The difference? Intent. The people who speak with hate are doing so because that is exactly what they want to do. For them, it's not about creating healthy debate and exchanging ideas.

 

When it comes to debate, we apply it on an emotional level. This is a part of human nature but when we become afraid of expressing opinions and our thoughts, we stop progress. We stop understanding. We stop the idea that you can walk a mile in someone’s shoes . Having a debate is not the same as standing on a street corner with signs and screaming obscenities.

 

Debate is the exchanging of ideas - an understanding of two people who come from different backgrounds, were raised under different circumstances, and have different values.

 

Debate is not about changing someone's mind, proving yourself right , or hurting someone’s feelings.

You want to have an effective debate?

  • Listen & Learn - Do not discount someone else’s opinion simply because you disagree. There's a lot you can learn from another person.
  • (Try to)Keep Your Emotions Out of It - Easier said than done, I know, as heated debates are often based on things that get people pretty fired up, like politics and religion. In friendly company, these are subjects that people are comfortable enough to bring up and discuss. Try to think of things in a logical manner rather than a personal one.
  • Avoid The Okay, Whatever factor. - When someone says something you disagree with there is no need to snort laugh and say okay buddy, whatever . If you do this, you are only proving that you're closed minded and not open to another person's perspective.

Debate is a touchy thing but it is where some of the greatest ideas are born. I'm concerned about the state of communication to see that more and more people are growing afraid of language and how it can be used to discuss the things that are happening around them. Don't be afraid to speak and to voice your opinions. The problem with language is that it can be twisted to serve someone's needs. Stop twisting the ideas - stop twisting the language. Listen to someone else and open your mind to the fact that there could be other opinions besides your own out there.

Are you afraid of language? Why? Do you feel it stops you from gaining a different perspective because you're afraid to ask a question?

 

 

Toddler Speaking Tips

I am going to ask very nicely that no one judge me. I have expressed my love of really horrible reality television a number of times, but today I’d like to share a secret shame with you. Toddlers & Tiaras is my favorite show to watch with my husband. Not because we’re taking notes on how to win against all these other glitzy pageant queens but because we like to play the “Is it appropriate” game. While we both have encountered outfits or parental decision making that makes us cringe on that show, there’s also something to be learned.

I know, I know – I sound like one of those clichéd mothers that puts their daughter in pageants to relive their own glory days, but tell the TLC crew it is so she can learn communication skills (these are often the women with the cringe-worthy parental decision making skills). Here’s the part where I need you not to judge me. These mothers who spend way too much money on bedazzled skirts and spray tans are gasp right. Being in front of judges is one of the greatest tests of your communication skills. Suddenly, all of your abilities are on display – can you walk without tripping? Can you smile? Can you make eye contact? Do you look like you know what you’re doing? Your audience, board members, presentation panel, or team is a lot like a panel of judges. So do what the toddlers do and remember “pretty feet” and these five tips.

  1. Eye Contact. Holding the audiences eye is important, but you don’t want to keep your focus only on the people who are front and center. Spread the love and constantly scan and make eye contact with as many people as you can, even the people in the back.
  2. Speaking Clearly. If I say “it’s because some people don’t have maps, everyone, like, such as” don’t deny that you don’t know what I’m talking about. Speaking clearly is one of the most important parts of your presentation. If you’re mumbling or speaking in circles your participants won’t learn anything from you. Speak up for the people in the back.
  3. Personality. Don’t be a dud! When you’re onstage in front of an audience, it’s imperative that you sparkle and stand out. You want to be remembered – and no, you don’t need the fake eyelashes and glitter, you just need to have a great time. Speak with cadence to your voice, don’t read off your PowerPoint slides, and always move around the stage.
  4. Dressing the Part. Sorry everyone, but how you look is very important up on stage. It’s a way for your audience to relate to you. You should know the kind of people who will be attending your conference. For example, the conferences I have been to have always been business casual, and the speakers dress on the same level.
  5. Confidence and Fun. The truth is that when you’re up in front of an audience it’s all about just having a good time. You need to enjoy yourself, be passionate about the topic you’re speaking about or what you’re doing on stage. If you don’t truly believe in what you’re saying, no one else will either.

The whole idea of making a presentation might seem overwhelming to you but I promise you, if a four year old wearing her body weight in sequins and fake hair can do it – so can you.

The Man Who Talked Too Much

Dr. Bob is a legend at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, but if you go on campus to ask students where to find “Dr. Bob” the only people who will direct you to him will be those who are in the field of Communication. Dr. Bob, also known as Dr. Robert Steinmiller, presides over his class in a way that makes you think of Santa Claus. He looks like the jolly one, too – with a bright red nose, a round belly, and a full beard. He likes to laugh, tell stories, and is incredibly approachable.

Dr. Bob was my favorite teacher in college and as the debate coach he was a close mentor to me. Without debate and his encouragement, I probably would not have crawled out of my shell. Since I graduated from a small school, I took a lot of courses from the same professor – and Dr. Bob was always my choice. Dr. Bob was a story teller and a joke teller. For as wonderful and as amazing of a professor that he was, he had a tendency to get a little long winded – not that he wasn’t an amazing communicator, he just failed to miss the warning signs in his easily distracted college students.

Here are the warning signs that Dr. Bob should have been looking for:

  • Lots and lots of yawning.
  • No one is blinking (also known as “zoning out”)
  • Obviously working on something else.
  • Sleeping.

These are also warning signs you can look for in your next presentation to tell if you need to bring your points back into focus. Just like Dr. Bob, I bet you’re a great presenter, it’s just sometimes; we forget that when we are passionate about something, we might go on just a little bit too long. If you can recognize the warning signs early, you’ll be able to wrap up your story and get back on track.

Have you ever seen these signs when you’re in the middle of a presentation? Share in the comments and tell me what did to get everyone’s attention back. How did you get yourself back on track?

PS: Dr. Bob if you are reading this – you were always my favorite and you always will be.

Down With Being Boring

Have you ever seen the movie Down With Love?

I have seen it so many times. You have to look beyond the fact that it didn't get great reviews and see it as what it really is -- it a satirical piece that pokes gentle, but loving, fun at the rom-coms of the 60's. It happened to be on a couple of weeks ago and I watched it with a friend. (Sidenote: Movies like this should always be watched with your best friend. It makes them way more fun.)

The movie was so flawless in its satire - even right down to the over the top, wild hand gestures. David Hyde Pierce really has those down pat. My friend and I determined that everything should have big, over the top hand gestures. It makes things more exciting. Simply reading your lines in a movie and expecting a reaction is not going to be effective. The reason Down With Love works is because the actors and directors took special steps to make sure they moved and spoke in a way that would make the audience feel a certain way. The hand movements and camera angle were supposed to look cheesy -- so that I would remember my love of 60s rom-coms and giggle.

The next time you host an event or a web conference, think about how you are using the tools at your disposal to evoke emotions in your participants. Much like an actor, your tools are limited to your voice, movements, and facial expression. When you're without one or more of these elements, like on a conference call, it makes it harder to get the reactions you want and you could end up failing. Think about when Hollywood made the move to "talking pictures" rather than silent films, many of the faces that people had grown to love were no longer a viable part of Hollywood because they had really unattractive voices.

It's not really a shock, then, that I am often suggesting that you are aware of the way you sound. Which is where this title comes into play -- Down With Love has inspired me to advise to be Down With Being Boring.

  • Stop writing out all of your notes on a page and reading them word for word.
  • Stop standing behind a podium.
  • Stop mumbling.
  • Stop leaving your audience out of the presentation.

Instead....

  • Start making a bullet list so that you can follow a guide for your presentation instead of droning on and on. (People know when you're reading from a list)
  • Step out from behind the podium and walk around the stage during live presentations. Movements are natural.
  • Speak clearly and enunciate. Be sure you host a sound check with the conference call provider or the venue to have a sound check.
  • Leave plenty of time for a Q&A session. The information you're presenting will surely raise questions along the way -- questions that only you can answer.

On your next presentation or conference call, try taking the down with being boring approach and see how your feedback changes. What do you do to keep from being boring when you make presentations?

Using the ICEPACk

Until today, I had never heard of ICEPAC, but this acronym stands for the steps of creating a great presentation. Whether you have weeks to craft, or get handed the project last minute, this acronym--and the other tips in the article--break down a presentation into easy-made parts.

ICEPAC

Interest - If no one cares about a subject, then why bother with a web conference? If they’re supposed to care, then it’s your job to make them care. Think about how your message will affect your participants daily lives and business, and emphasize the more interesting points.

Comprehension - There’s such a thing as too much detail, especially if your participants will get information overload. Keep data to bite sized chunks, avoid jargon, and cater to their--not your--expertise.

Emphasis - The main message is the whole point of your presentation, so emphasize it. Put key information on its own slide. Pause after saying a main point, or even precede it with, “This is important.”

Participation - Getting your participants involved creates more investment on their part. Utilize Q&A often, or ask impromptu, “soft ball” questions. Use the Socratic Method to draw people out, and praise highly when it works.

Accomplishment - For people to be more open to ideas, they have to like the ideas. And the best way of getting them to like ideas is for them to be a part of their creation. With good participation, you’re halfway there, but the web conference as a whole should be satisfying with something completed, decided on, or improved.

Confirmation - This is more than follow-up after the conference, it includes during as well. Q&A throughout is good to make sure you’re on track. And it never hurts to get participants to repeat their assignments so you know they understand.

Try ICEPAC when you create your next presentation and let us know how it worked for you.

Right or Wrong

Sayings and turns of phrase used incorrectly can make you look bad.

People treat us by how we dress and generally present ourselves. On a conference call, when they can’t see us, they judge us by how we speak and what we say. With that in mind, we should look at some common words and phrases in everyday use and make sure we’re saying what we want our participants to hear.

First are words that are similar, but mean different things in different contexts. A common one of these is saying “further”--as in “further than I can run”--instead of “farther than thirty miles”. The difference is that farther goes with actual, measurable distance.

Along those lines, when you mean to say something is less than a specific number, you say “fewer than ten”. Alternatively, you would say, “You have less than me.”

A sneaky one is between “bring” and “take”, and it all depends on what direction the thing is going. If you are going to a party, you are taking the wine. The hostess of that same party can say that you are bringing that wine to her.

My favorite is the subtle “infer” and “imply”. If someone suggestively says something, they are implying. If we draw a conclusion from their statements, we are inferring.

What about phrases that we use almost without thinking? For example, some people say that they need to “hone in on a solution” when they actually mean to say, “home in”.

Or when they say that something is “different than” something else, it’s more correct to say it’s “different from”.

Less is more in so many things, and the same goes for speaking. One such way is to drop the “of” when combined with “outside”. It’s not that the dogs are “outside of the house”, they are simply “outside the house”.

I hope these speaking and usage tips will “raise the question”--not “beg the question”--of your verbal habits, and help you vocally put your best foot forward.