In almost every work group setting I’ve ever seen 3-4 people account for 90% of the discussion. Doesn’t matter if the work group is 5 people or 25 or more. A few people speak and the rest clam up and often disengage completely.
If you are one of the 3-4 I have a piece of advice. This advice was given to me when I was 25 and it’s very simple.
Your limited speaking will add value in 3 ways:
- You will engage others. You don’t need to be the one to fill the air space. If you stop speaking, someone else will speak in your place. It could be one of those unheard voices finally has the room to speak up. You are increasing their engagement and feeling of value.
- You will learn more. I know your ego wants to believe your answers are best, most valuable, most complete (see Monday’s post). But very likely others have valuable contributions that you are preventing them from making by filling all the air space.
- You will be heard more. Just because you have a strong voice doesn’t mean people are really listening. In fact, the more often you speak, the easier it is for others to tune you out. When you quiet down you will discover that others often say many of the things you would normally say. That means you can save your breath for the really creative ideas or insightful comments that make people sit up and take notice.
Of course, don’t team members #5-25 also have some responsibility . . .
In every medium it turns out the same. There is nothing with a greater ROI than a question.
Selling something? Ask a question. Your chance of sale just shot up.
Speaking somewhere? Ask a question. Your audience just got more engaged, energized and interested in your topic.
Tweeting? Ask a question. Tweets tend to go viral that ask others for some kind of input.
Talking to your spouse or kids? Ask a question. They’ll be more excited about the conversation.
And the beauty of all of this? Questions are free. The return is unlimited. So ask away.
BTW, what are your favorite questions?
There are Four Fatal Communication Blunders.
In each of these blunders people may think (and would certainly say) they are trying to do one thing, when in fact they are doing something totally contradictory. (Click to see blunder #1 or #2 or #3.) Here’s the fourth and final:
4. Speaking – Educating vs. Explaining
When you have an audience in front of you, what are you really trying to do? Is your goal to explain your topic? Or is your goal to educate your audience?
Many speakers are brilliant orators. They speak clearly and perhaps even entertain. Their logic is impeccable. They can speak flawlessly on their topic for hours at a time.
Of course, therein lies the blunder.
People don’t learn very well by listening. We learn by talking and doing and creating. We learn through action.
Next time you are asked to speak to a group, don’t be fooled by the title “Speaker.” If your intent is to educate, then spend less time explaining. Ask your audience to do something, to use your idea, to talk to each other. They will learn and remember more through their actions than anything they take away from your words.
Carolyn Hiatt was the President of the Honolulu Rotary Club when they invited me to speak at their annual charity fundraiser last spring. This week she sent me an email with a concept I found brilliant and profound.
She said she considers herself to be an attitude salesman.
I love this concept.
Whether we realize it or not, we are all attitude salespeople. I had to drive to the event location for a speech I gave last week in upstate New York. When I arrived my host asked how the drive was.
I told her, “It was great. This area is extremely beautiful.”
That was true and led to an energized conversation about the area.
It also would have been true for me to say, “I got lost. I stressed out. I was afraid I wouldn’t make it here in time to be properly set up before my speech.”
These are both true stories. One sells an attitude of appreciation and optimism. The other sells an attitude of frustration and anxiety.
As a speaker, I know without question what attitude I need to sell. Think about the various roles you play. What attitude do you need to sell as a boss, a direct report, a parent, a friend?
And remember, no matter the situation, you’re selling your attitude all the time.
What if you could make one decision today that would make you more efficient for the rest of your life?
The first year or two I spoke professionally I experimented with various forms of dress: suit, blazer and slacks, tie, no tie, loud and bright colors, subdued. Not just experimentation, I thought the variety was important. Heaven forbid I show up for a speech wearing the same outfit I had worn in my speaker video.
But I discovered that there is something more important to me than fashion. One particular outfit is easiest for me to put together and most likely to give me a feeling of confidence in how I look.
The outfit – dark suit, blue shirt, no tie.
So that’s it for me. That’s all I wear now for speeches, and possibly forever more.
But the point here isn’t about a clothing uniform. It’s about any kind of universal decision.
Sometimes variety really is important. Often it is a false idol we worship and it steals time and energy we could be spending more wisely.