What If Your Strength Isn’t That Strong? What do you do when you can’t rely on your number one asset? When it comes to speaking on a stage, in a meeting, or even in casual conversation, we each have strengths and weaknesses. Our strengths help us make a powerful impression, state our case, and get results. Yes, all of us have some; one of my missions as a coach is to make sure my clients know their strong suits and know how to make the most of them. Me? If I had to pick my top strength as a speaker it would be my voice. I have some other natural attributes, and I’ve learned some other skills. But the quality people most often compliment, the characteristic that makes me stand out from others, the feature that was the basis for a 25-year career in radio and for early success as a speaker … is my voice. Here I sit today, without my voice. Well, I have a voice, it just isn’t my usual voice. I have a cold, and I don’t quite sound like myself.
Words, words, words. We’re having quite a debate over language in Chicago. Mayor Brandon Johnson warns us, “We have to be very careful when we use language to describe certain behavior.” You know me, I’m all for clarity, crispness, and maybe a bit of pizzazz when we choose the words we use. And I think the mayor, along with some of his allies, are muddying the waters with the language they use. Johnson was reacting to a reporter’s question about a mob of young people rampaging through city streets, breaking store windows and damaging vehicles. “To refer to children as, like, baby Al Capones is not appropriate,” he scolded.
Call me! On the line… So far today, two people have called me. Another friend texted to find out if it was a good time to talk. A longtime pal checked in by text from Lyon, France to see if we could chat on WhatsApp. Oh, and my friend Cindy came to visit in person. With coffee and scones!
I do have WhatsApp—I’m not a total dinosaur. And of course, I text. What with my caregiving responsibilities, I don’t get out much these days, so I’m thrilled when Ring tells me “There is a person at your front door.” I tell you all that to say I am not a Luddite or a fuddy-duddy. And … I still like to talk on the phone. (Yes, I use wireless earbuds. I’m not yakking on the princess phone from years back.) However, there seems to be a generational split going on when it comes to connecting with friends and family. This was the headline in the Washington Post …
Who’s Sorry Now? You see them in the news all the time—the non-apologetic apology. “Sorry if I embarrassed you and your family and friends.” “I sincerely regret any miscommunication that contributed to this result.” “I’m sorry if anyone was offended by that picture of my children holding AR-47s.” “We are disheartened by the way this situation unfolded…” And of course, there’s the classic non-apology: “Mistakes were made.” The truth is, mistakes are made. Often. Sometimes, by us. You’ve been there, I’m sure. You make a sharp remark and then wish you’d kept that thought to yourself. You misinterpret what somebody said and respond more harshly than you should have. You miss a deadline, show up late for an appointment, or fall short on a commitment. That’s when it’s time for a sincere apology. Emphasis on “sincere.” Not back-handed, not a fauxpology, but an honest-to-goodness acknowledgement of our own screw-up and an expression of remorse.
Speak their language. What do you say? A better question might be “How do you say it?”.
Marketing genius Seth Godin was writing about writing this week. I had speaking in mind, though, when I read this in his newsletter: “It’s tempting to simply focus our attention on the text itself… But messages merely begin with the text. The rhythm, presentation, source, and context deliver most of what we take away from a message.” Amen to that! A client preparing for an important speech came to my office dining room table this week with a copy of her speech. It was fine. And “fine” isn’t exactly a home run, is it? My job is to help my client bring this talk from fine to fabulous.
How did you react to the “#girlblog” title? Maybe you smiled. Or maybe you thought, “Who is she calling a “girl” … and why? Or maybe you shrugged and moved on. Your response may well depend on your age. And your familiarity with TikTok. We’ve seen a wave of #girl the past few months. Girl dinners, random food from the fridge, eaten alone, possibly standing over the sink. Hot girl walks, taken without a companion and without regard to how the walker looks. Even girl rotting, which seems to mean lying around your room doing nothing for hours on end. Young women have shared images of their girl moments on social media. Eating, walking, or lounging, what they have in common the absence of male participation. Thus #girl. For many of us, “girl” has long felt insulting or patronizing. As full-grown adult women, we want to be seen as equals to our male counterparts, not children to be patted on the head and indulged. Or dismissed.
Apparently, they really ARE just like us. Anderson Cooper makes 12 MILLION dollars a year from CNN alone. Toss in what CBS pays him for his work on Sixty Minutes, royalties from his books, and speaking fees. The guy is a celebrity and a mega-millionaire. And yet, he told a New York Times interviewer he’s long since stopped paying attention to the business side of news. It just doesn’t interest him. “For me,” Cooper said, “the solution was to focus on what I had control over: getting better at interviews, improve my writing, stop saying ‘um.’” Just like every speaker I’ve ever coached, platform professionals as well as those who need to be more effective with an audience for the sake of their business or career. The goal is to get better at the craft. And stop saying “um.”
Where Do You Shine the Spotlight? Never mind what we see on TV. The silly hats, the banners, the t-shirts featuring vulgar slogans. Whether you lean right or left politically, the chances are good you don’t lean very far. Most of us are pretty much in the middle … maybe just a pale, pale blue or a very light red. Political scientist Ruy Teixeira is jabbing at progressives, in particular, as he promotes a centrist manifesto, a series of statements he thinks most regular Americans would agree with. They’re the kind of beliefs that you or I might espouse if we were brave enough to talk politics over dinner. Teixeira and his colleagues at the American Enterprise Institute may be brilliant political specialists. He could use some help from a communication specialist. I’m happy to oblige.
What Are They Waiting For? For all the grumbling people do about inflation or the state of our schools or climate change or whatever … the truth is, Americans are reasonably happy. The General Social Survey has been asking us about happiness since 1972. And the results are surprisingly consistent. Something else that might surprise you? Being married is the most important differentiator between the contented and the miserable. That University of Chicago study found the married among us are happier than the unmarried, with a gap of 30-percentage points.
Weak words? Soft talk? There it is, in the New York Times. Women have permission for soft talk. “’Stop using weak language.’ If you’re a woman, you’ve probably gotten this advice from a mentor, a coach or a teacher. If you want to be heard, use more forceful language. This advice may be well intentioned, but it’s misguided.” Having been one of those mentors, coaches, or teachers, I’d like a word … In his NYT Guest Essay, Dr. Adam Grant explains why “weak language” is beneficial for women. The gist is that when women are direct, strong, and straight-forward, they ruffle men’s feathers and wind up getting slapped down in the end.