What’s your nervous tick? Finger cracking, eyes darting all over the room—that quiver in your voice just as you begin to speak? Let’s face it: on a scale of “love it” to “dread it,” the majority of us barely tolerate or else absolutely avoid public speaking. That said, no matter the position we hold (CEO of a Fortune 500 company or an entry-level software engineer), communication skills matter, and everyone can benefit from learning to communicate better.
Media expert and Emmy Award-winning correspondent Bill McGowan has coached and trained everyone from corporate CEOs to celebrities such as New York Giants quarterback, Eli Manning, and actress, Katherine Heigl, on how to overcome common communication pitfalls. McGowan’s even got a few tricks up his sleeve for corporate presentations, virtual meetings, and generally, how to command the attention of a conference table. Here are some McGowan method takeaways to live by.
Keep it simple
Mark Twain said, “I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English—it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don't let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in.” According to McGowan, this applies to both written and spoken English. “Don’t make up words and don’t be a jargonista,” says McGowan.
Concentrate the “flavor”
Brevity is the soul of wit. Think about it like a pot of pasta sauce boiling away all afternoon—it’s that thick, fragrant reduction that contains the most flavor. “Being verbose is like putting water in the sauce,” says McGowan. Cut to your point. Reduce your speech until the essence of that point is palatable and impactful.
Trim your speech by getting rid of filler words, such as “um,” “yeah,” and “like.” “Think about your brain and mouth as two cars,” says McGowan. Your brain is the lead car and your mouth is the car behind it. “Keep a safe verbal distance. Pause when you need to. Don’t tailgate,” advises McGowan. You should speak only as quickly as you are certain of the next sentence coming out of your mouth.
Position yourself with intention
If you’re seated and addressing a room full of people, sit with your back off the chair and a small curve at the lower spine. Cross your feet at the ankle and tuck them under your chair. If it’s a phone call and all other participants are off-site, stand up and walk around the room. Don’t sit behind your desk because there are too many distractions. If the audio connection is delayed, just keep going.
Spread your attention
In a meeting with management and executive teams, avoid showering all your attention on the most powerful person in the room. It’s best not to slight anyone because if the CEO leaves the room, he’ll turn to that other, semipowerful person in the meeting and say, “What did you think of that guy (you)?” And that person’s going to say, “I don’t know. He seemed kind of like a jerk.” Instead, spread your attention around the room and zone in on that number one decision maker for the big points.
McGowan is a walking trove of communication insights, and the number of people his lessons apply to are, well, everyone. For more tips and practices check out McGowan’s book, Pitch Perfect: How to Say It Right the First Time, Every Time.
This post is part of our ongoing coverage of Microsoft Research and its Visiting Speaker Series. Microsoft Research supports its mission to educate and foster innovation and growth through inviting authors and speakers that inspire big ideas, spark new ways of doing things, or help people see things from a new perspective.
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