How to Engage Listeners with the Power of the Surprising Pause

October 25th, 2016

As a business speaker, would you like to learn how to use your voice, to keep your listeners riveted to your message?

Like a good actor, you can use your voice and the power of the surprising pause to command attention and add depth to your business message.  You may be interested to know that the great Shakespearian actor, Sir John Gielgud, said that the pauses are the most important moments of a speech!

Pausing at meaningful and unpredictable moments will enhance your speaking power in three ways:

It will create variety in your delivery:  A moment of unexpected silence provides the greatest contrast to a stream of words.
It will create suspense:  It teases your listeners for just a moment, making them want to hear more.
It will enhance listener understanding:  A surprising pause, filled with meaning, allows your listeners to observe a difference quality in you and highlights the subtle nuances of meaning within your message.

Watch this video to see and hear my demonstration:

Right now, I’m going to speak an excerpt from a play called Other People’s Money by Jerry Sterner.  The dialogue is spoken by a character who is a CEO of a company.  As I speak,  I’m going to pause in spots that are logical and fairly predictable.  Here I go:

“One day, / when the dollar is weaker or the yen stronger, / or when we finally begin to rebuild the roads, the bridges, the infrastructure of our country, / demand will skyrocket.”

Now, a more interesting and more engaging choice would be to pause in spots that are less predictable; like this:

“One day, / when the dollar/is weaker / or the yen / stronger, / or when we finally begin to rebuild the roads, the bridges, the infrastructure of our country, / demand / will skyrocket.”

Isn’t that more interesting?

As you rehearse and deliver any business talk, take some meaningful pauses at less predictable moments.   Use the power of the surprising pause, and make your delivery truly compelling.

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Perfectionism Kills Your Leadership Presence

September 3rd, 2016

When you prepare for your business presentations, do you try to make everything perfect? It’s great to get personal satisfaction from excellence. But trying to make your presentations perfect can actually jeopardize your leadership presence and success.

Here’s a case in point:  a story about my earliest years as a professional singer.

I always loved singing on Broadway, but what I really wanted to sing was jazz. I feel in love with jazz after I had been singing other styles for a few years. And I can tell you why I fell in love with it: it forced me to dare to sing with a kind of freedom that I had never known before.

Until that time, my singing was about executing everything in a certain way, locking it in – duplicating over and over my idea of how something should sound. My attempt was to freeze what I thought was my best performance. I was trying to be perfect. And the quality of my singing suffered.

My perfectionism went hand in hand with a preoccupation with the audience’s response; would the audience think that I was “good”, or good enough? I thought that perfection would give me their approval. Perfectionism kept me in bondage, because it robbed me of the freedom and spontaneity I needed, in order to be truly creative with a song. And it took the fun out of singing, until I was able to learn to let go.

So, how does this relate to your business presentations and your leadership presence? Leadership presence is an energy that says, “I am so happy to be with you, and I have a message for you that you’re going to value. And during our time together, whatever happens, I can handle it!”

The purpose of your preparation and rehearsal for a business presentation is to give you a solid foundation for the delivery of your message, so that by the time you get in front of your business audience, you will have the ability to project gravitas while being spontaneous, conversational, and authentic.

So, take this tip:  When you rehearse for your business presentations, internalize your content. Don’t memorize it. The only parts to memorize are the opening and closing sentences, bearing in mind that you will always need to be “in the moment” and ready to be flexible at any time.

When your business listeners see that you not only “know your stuff”, but have the confidence to be spontaneous, your leadership presence will skyrocket.

Being flawless or slick is not always engaging. Being “in the moment” is compelling.

Perfection is an illusion. So, take the risk. Let go of perfectionism when you speak for business

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Decisiveness Enhances Leadership Communication & Presence

August 1st, 2016

Are you a decisive person? And how can decisiveness enhance your leadership presence when you speak for business?

You can see the importance of decisiveness every day in the realm of business speaking.  Take business presentations, for example.  I’m sure that you’ve seen presentations that were lifeless or boring.  Sometimes this happens because speakers are afraid to use their top energy to engage their listeners:  afraid that using their top energy will make them appear phony if they’re not feeling a big emotion underneath the words.

Don’t be afraid of appearing phony.  You don’t have to have a big feeling in order to take a strong action.  Be decisive!

Here’s a story from my own professional life that provides some insight about the fear of appearing phony and the importance of being decisive.

Years ago, I had the happy privilege of being directed by James Earl Jones in a play called The Road to Rome, by Robert Sherwood.  It was an anti-war comedy, set in ancient Rome.  Hannibal’s Carthaginian army invades Rome.  I was playing Fabia, the wife of the Roman Emperor.  At one point in the play, Jimmy (we called James Earl Jones “Jimmy”) directed me to feint. My character was supposed to be so overcome when Hannibal’s army invades our home, that I fall onto the floor in a dead faint.

Now, as a young actor, I wanted this feint to look authentic.  I did not want to look phony.  And I was worried that I was not going to be able to do realistic-looking feint.

At every rehearsal, I was unable to fall onto the floor.  At every rehearsal, I said to James Earl Jones, “Jimmy, I’m so sorry; I’m having such trouble; I want this to feint to be realistic;  I don’t want to look phony!”  At every rehearsal, James Earl Jones said to me (in his beautiful, resonant voice), “Maria, just fall on the floor!”

I couldn’t do it.  Finally, on opening night (it wasn’t until opening night!), I made a decision.  I decided to throw caution to the wind and let go.  I decided that when it was time for the feint, no matter how I felt, and no matter how phony it might look, I was going to fall on the floor.

And that’s exactly what I did.  And the audience bought it.  And, not only did they buy it, but they laughed so hard that they almost fell onto the floor!

So, back to your business.  Ask yourself:  Are you waiting for a big feeling to hit you, before you

• use your top energy to engage your business listeners?

• speak up at a meeting to voice your own perspectives?

• make a difficult recommendation to senior management?

Don’t wait for a big feeling to hit you!   Be decisive.  Just fall on the floor!

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Speaking Mistakes: Humility Saves Face

June 26th, 2016

Have you ever made a mistake during a business meeting or conversation: a big mistake that was obvious to everyone?  You don’t have to lose face in situations like these.  Here is a tip that will help you save face.

At one point or another, in your professional life, you may at one time or another, have dropped the balls. You said the most inappropriate thing or your spoken mistake that everyone noticed was a serious one.  These situations present two choices for you.  You can

1:   Pretend that it didn’t happen:  this is never advisable when you are sure that everyone noticed your mistake!

2:   Accept that you dropped the balls and demonstrate humility.

Humility might be an instant and sincere apology. It might be self-deprecating humor.  It might be that you allow others to see you try with your heart and soul to correctly your mistake and maybe even fail to correct it!  Humility means that we accept our right relationship with nature and allow people to see our human-ness.  Because human beings make mistakes and are sometimes wrong — and most everyone we do business with can identify with that.

Humility is a very importance ingredient in successful business speaking.  It’s not a weakness.  It’s actually strategic.  It’s a quality that makes us approachable, more likeable, and more attractive to do business with.

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Demonstrate Your Ability to Be a True Business Partner: Listen Actively (Part 2)

May 2nd, 2016

Do your prospects believe that you will be a true business partner for them? To help you achieve this goal, I shared with you in my last video the first three steps of active listening. Today, I’ll share the final 2 steps.

I shared Step 1 for active listening: Blend; Step 2: Backtrack; and Step 3: Clarify.

Now, here are the final two steps:

Step 4: Summarize
Here, your goal is to show that you have listened and understood. Paraphrase what your partners have just said. Say something like, “So, if I understand you correctly…xyz. Paraphrase their meaning as accurately and concisely as you can.

Step 5: Confirm
Here, your objective is to be sure that your conversation partner feels satisfied. Ask: “Do you feel understood? Is there anything else?”

When you use the five steps of active listening (Blending, Backtracking, Clarifying, Summarizing and Confirming), you’ll be better able to convince your prospects that you’ll be a true business partner for them.

That’s a strategy for building relationships and generating business.

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Show Prospects That You’ll Be a True Business Partner by Listening Actively

March 28th, 2016

Would you like your clients and prospects to believe that you will be a true business partner for them?  You can help make this happen by sharpening your active listening skills.  Active listening helps you project a spirit of good will and project your most positive, professional image.

Very often, it’s wise to listen as your conversation partners express themselves fully, before you present your own thoughts, opinions, and perceptions. People are more likely to agree when they feel that they themselves have been heard!

Here are three steps that will help you listen actively:

Step 1:  Blend
Blending is any behavior that helps reduce the differences between you and your conversation partners. The goal is to increase rapport.  As we speak, listeners are often subconsciously wondering “Are you with me, or against me?” — so building rapport is very important.  Blending will help you do it.  This means that you will mirror – and not mimic – your conversation partner’s tone, pacing, volume, facial expressions and posture.  Give receptive signals: “Oh, yes, I see, I understand”, and use a lot of head nodding.

Step 2: Backtrack
The goal of backtracking is to show that you are listening and want to understand. When you backtrack, you repeat verbatim your conversation partner’s words.  It is important not to paraphrase; use the exact words. This is particularly useful during business conversations on the phone.

Step 3: Clarify
Ask clarifying questions.  Your goal is to gather as much information as possible and delay giving your own responses. Clarifying questions begin with the words “why”, “how”, and “tell me about…” There are three main benefits to backtracking: it shows that you are patient and supportive, it helps an unreasonable conversation partner behave more reasonably, and it helps reveal any hidden agendas that your conversation partners may have.

These three steps for active listening will help you project a spirit of good will and caring.  Next time, I will share the final two steps to help you listen actively and make it easier for your clients and prospects to believe that you’ll be a true business partner for them!

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Increase Harmony in Challenging Conversations: Part 2

February 22nd, 2016

When you’re in the middle of a challenging business conversation, and you’re certain that your tone of voice has been “above reproach”, what else can you do to increase harmony?

I recently talked with you about the importance of monitoring your tone of voice to increase harmony in challenging conversations.  Here are three more strategies to help guarantee your success: 

#1: Give positive reinforcement.

We often need to continue having business conversations with people whom we have already experienced to be difficult.  Be on the lookout for their positive behavior, and acknowledge it verbally.  Whenever you witness behavior that you would like to see repeated, you can say something like, “That’s one of the things I admire about you:  your ability to ___”.    Identify the positive behavior; praise it. 

#2:  Interrupt people tactfully when they are shouting, dominating a conversation or meeting, or complaining with increasing negativity

Calmly repeat the person’s name over and over again.  When the person stops speaking, state or restate your own intention in the conversation. 

#3:  Respond to criticism strategically.

Thank people when they criticize you.  When we defend ourselves, it often  appears to be an admission of guilt.  Instead, you can say something like,  “Thank you for telling me how you feel”, or “Thank you for being honest”, or just “Thank you.”   “Thank you” is a complete sentence! 

When you monitor your communication in these three ways, you’ll help bring out the best in people, increase harmony, and set the stage for greater success in challenging business conversations.



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Challenging Business Conversations: Increase Harmony by Monitoring Your Tone

January 25th, 2016

Would you like to increase harmony during challenging business conversations?  You can do it by monitoring your speech!

We all know that business discussions can be challenging whenever one of the participants is stressed or behaving inappropriately in any way.  Monitoring the way you speak is a powerful opportunity to influence conversations and business relationships for the better.

Monitoring your tone may be the most obvious and most important approach you can use.  Your tone of voice is a strong indication of the opinions you hold about your conversation partners.  It reveals the truth of your feelings.  Those feelings can easily leak out and, if they’re negative, obviously they can jeopardize business relationships. 

People respond to tone of voice.  When your tone of voice contradicts your words, your tone of voice is what people respond to the most.  Whenever you hear yourself sending a mixed message (when your tone and your words don’t match), acknowledge it verbally in the moment, and explain it to your listeners, using a different tone.  For example, you might say something like, “I’m sorry if I sound a bit rushed.”  Or  “I know that I sound angry; that’s because this issue is very important to me.”   

Monitoring and modifying your tone of voice in the moment will have a very positive impact.  It’s an important step in increasing harmony during challenging business conversations.


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Build Trust & Rapport in Business Conversations: Acknowledge Positive Intent

December 2nd, 2015

Here is a strategy that will help you deepen trust and rapport with your business conversation partners:  acknowledge positive intent.

Positive intent is the good purpose meant to be served by any communication or behavior.  Always look for positive intent within others; give people the benefit of the doubt in situations that are difficult or have not turned out well, and especially when your conversation partners have caused a problem.

Take the following three steps:

  • Look for things to thank people for.
  • Verbally express appreciation for things that people have done well.
  • Acknowledge any information that people may have lacked, and promise to keep them better informed in the future, even if it’s not your job to do so.

Then say:  “Thank you for (xyz)”.   This is the point when you will mention the person’s positive intent.  For example, if a person has been excessive in some way or overly-detailed, or has made errors, you might first say something like, “Thank you for your attention to detail.”

In some situations, unfortunately, it may be challenging to identify someone’s positive intent!  If you truly cannot identify positive intent, make something up that is plausible.  When you mention a positive intent that is plausible, it’s very unlikely that your conversation partners will deny that this was their intent.  Most people want to be seen in the best light and appreciate the opportunity to save face.

In the moment when you’re identifying positive intent, blend.  Blending is any communication or behavior that minimizes the differences between you and another person.  This means that you will mirror (and not mimic) your conversation partner’s tone, tempo, volume, energy level, and body language.  Give receptive signals, such as “oh, yes, I see, I understand, etc., and use lots of head nodding.

Verbally acknowledging positive intent will help you build trust and rapport and increase your success in business conversations.



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Building Belief With Acting Objectives: Benefits for You

November 2nd, 2015

In my last few blogs, I have described the value of applying acting objectives when you prepare to speak for business.  Here are some additional benefits that you will experience when you use this technique.  Pursuing acting objectives

#1:  gives you laser-beam focus and simplifies the process, because it gives you just one thing to think about: what you are doing with your words as you speak

#2:  galvanizes your energy toward your listeners; it’s the quickest and most powerful way to project energy, commitment, passion, and poise.

#3:  provides a completely organic way to make your voice and physical demeanor support your content.  It turns your voice, body language, and content into one seamless, unified message.

When you are speaking in business conversation or making a presentation, this gives you maximum power and delivers to your listeners maximum impact.

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