Managing Interruptions and Managing to Interrupt

Posted By on June 12, 2013

May I interupt?

Like modern life, meetings, conversations, and public speaking often are full of interruptions. How do you keep from being interrupted? How can you politely interrupt when you need to be heard?

The challenge is exacerbated because of the accelerated speed with which meetings and conversations take place in today’s work cultures. Knowing how and when you can get a word in edgewise is important. Those who speak first and often may easily determine the course of the conversation. By the same token, companies lose valuable input when people who need more time to digest and think (aka introvert) are passed over. These lost voices are underestimated in many corporate cultures. Don’t squander the brilliance of those who think before they speak. The idea generation at the company will be less potent because valuable ideas were left unsaid or unheard.

To make the most of your communications and defend against interruptions – and to make your voice heard – here are some tips.

To assert yourself into a conversation, try these Speaking Tips:

  1. Make a bold gesture with your hands to show you have something to say.
  2. Lean forward with a puzzled look. This subtle interruption may work if the speaker is paying close attention to you.
  3. Look directly at the speaker’s eyes until they look back. Once you have their attention, smile or raise your eyebrows to acknowledge their connection and confirm what the speaker has just said and insert your comment. For example, “I agree and I’d like to add” or “That’s an interesting point and I’d like to add”.
  4.  At a pause (however brief – even if it’s only to take a breath), state
  • “I’m sorry, I’m not following you”
  • “I’m sorry, can we pause a moment to give us all a chance to think about what you’ve said?”
  • “I am not following you, would you please repeat that?”
  • “May I stop you for a moment to ask a question?” State what you don’t understand, then ask your question.
  • “Wow! That was a lot of information! Let’s pause a minute to consider what you’ve said.”

When you do get the floor, slow things down. Give yourself the opportunity to make your points clearly so they are understood by your audience and ask for their thoughts. Modeling a slower pace provides the opportunity for others to contribute.

Speaking Tips on how to handle the person who interrupts you:

  1. “Please! Let me finish.” Matching the energy of the interrupter.
  2. Place your hands and arms on the center of your chest while saying “I’m not finished.” This gesture will personalize your request and dissuade further interruptions.
  3. Use verbal tai chi to deflect the interruption. Thank the person for their point or question – and say that you will respond after you finish your point.

Speaking for impact is not an accident, it’s a skill. What specific techniques do you use to get your voice heard. Comment on this post and share your suggestions.


Virtual Communication

Posted By on February 19, 2013



A growing challenge in communications today is the demand for executives to communicate virtually via conference call, webcast or by phone. Remote communication tools have replaced many in-person meetings. Virtual meetings save time and money and thus allow us to do more with reduced budgets and staff. That said the speaker must make-due without the visual cues that are so persuasive and influential on an audience. Their voice alone must carry the day.

In our most recent Speaking for Impact seminar, the issue of “bad” conference calls was discussed. Stories of speakers that drone on; who fail to engage the participants; who sound distracted, bored or tired; who fail to have or follow an agenda.

Sound familiar?

So, how does one “do” a good conference call?

Conference Call

Conference Call

Here are a few conference call tips:

  • Prepare your remarks. While this sounds obvious, many people confessed to “winging it” on conference calls. What will you say? Where will you emphasize your point with vocal variety, varied pacing and pauses?
  • Keep your audience in mind. Who will be on the call? What is it they are expecting from you? How much clarity can you bring to their need? What objections or resistance might they have to your message? What actions will you ask them to take? Where can you build in “interactivity” such as taking one topic and opening to questions and then dividing to the next topic and then offering Q & A on that topic.
  • Prepare an agenda. (Again, an oft overlooked pre-meeting step.) Allow time for interactivity which will keep people engaged and focused and allow for their concerns and obstacles to be revealed. If there will be more than one speaker on the call, coordinate with them in advance. Decide who will cover which points.
  • Before starting the call, pause for 30 seconds to think about each of the people who will be on the call. Picture them in your mind and imagine what they may be thinking about the call – are they excited? Dreading the call? Is their role core to the topic or are they a peripheral player who’s there to “be informed”? Are they at their desk? In a car? At the airport? At a client site? At home?
  • Smile before you dial. Then smile frequently during the call. People can “hear” your smile.
  • At the start of the call, acknowledge they may be still wrapping up what they were doing before the call and ask them to complete their wrap-up and give their undivided attention to the call. State the purpose of the call. Introduce yourself and any other speakers. Review the agenda and state the time the call with end.
  • Before the end of the call, allow time for questions and to review the purpose of the call and summarize the content. With enthusiasm, state any “next steps” and repeat any calls-to-action. Thank everyone for their contributions and time.

Try these tips before you next conference call and share the results by commenting on this post. For tips on video calls, check out “Lookin’ Good on Video Conference Calls“.  Remember, speaking for impact is not an accident. It’s a skill.

Share your thoughts

Please share any tips you’ve developed for improving virtual communication effectiveness.


When Mistakes are Good

Posted By on January 29, 2013

For many executives, the fear of mistakes and the fear of public speaking are a one-two punch to their performance. But, as Daniel Coyle explains in his book, The Talent Code, mistakes help us learn. Learning new speaking skills is no exception. Learning new speaking skills is no exception. For many executives, the fear of mistakes and the fear of public speaking are a one-two punch to their performance.

So let’s deflect that first punch by reconsidering the value of mistakes.

Good Mistakes

What makes a good mistake?  One made in practice.

Like a staggering baby, with each practice step the baby learns to walk. Practice what you plan to say in a safe, comfortable environment. Notice what’s working and what’s not. Rather than feeling bad about each mistake you make in your practice session use it to adapt and modify to improve your skills step by step. This is what Coyle calls “deep practice.”  His research shows this is what true masters did to become excellent in their fields. Our experience coaching professionals proves his point. Practice builds skills – in part because it allows for safe mistakes and safe learning.

Not Just for the Big Speech

Practice should not be reserved for formal speaking events. Practice before meetings, important one-on-one conversations, internal and external presentations to small groups. In fact, anytime you are addressing an audience (including an audience of one) with an important message.

Advice Worth Taking

While I realize just the thought of practicing before your next weekly meeting may make you uncomfortable, I assure you, your communications will be better for it. Now, I realize you’re probably thinking “that’s good advice” and, like most advice, plan to ignore it.

But I implore you not to do that. I want you to actually take the advice. Practice what you plan to say before your first meeting tomorrow. Say out loud what you plan to communicate. Rinse and repeat until you feel your message is delivered comfortably and without mistakes.

Go ahead, indulge me. Then, write me a comment to this post and tell me the results. Speaking for impact is not an accident. It’s a skill.


Top 5 New Year’s Resolutions for Executives in 2013

Posted By on January 2, 2013

We’ve refreshed our Top 5 New Year’s resolutions for executives and leaders for 2013. This is a pivotal year.  Your communications skills will be vital to thriving in this year where uncertainty is the norm and turmoil is possible. So what’s an executive leader to do?

Download the free 2013 resolutions poster, a gift from all of us here at Grant and Associates.

2013 Resolutions for Executives

This year resolve to:

1.    Get in Shape – Get your messages clear and master your delivery. Clear, confidently delivered messages are reassuring and help people to act.

2.    Lose Weight – Focus on the messages and goals that matter most. Less is more

3.    Stick to a Budget – Keep your communications short and provide ample time for questions. Give your team time to express themselves. Feeling heard matters to everyone.

4.    Get Organized – Prepare. Organize your thoughts in advance. Be ready to handle the tough questions.

5.    Find a Better Job – There’s no better job than one you do well. Communicate what you do well. Develop your personal elevator pitch. Then seek opportunities that align to your strengths.

Use communications to make 2013 a banner year for you and your team! If you’d like to supercharge your communications skills, we can help.  We offer private one-to-one coaching in our Executive Presence program as well as group training  in our popular seminar, Speaking for Impact, available as a private program or in a public seminar offered in cities around the country. We’d be delighted to work with you or your team.

Share your thoughts

Speaking for impact is not an  accident. It’s a skill. For more tips to sharpen your communication and public speaking skills, check out other Speaking for Impact blog posts. Stellar communication skills pay off in opportunity, achievement and income.

What are your 2013 resolutions as a business leader? Tell us in a comment to this post.


Books to Expand Your View of Leadership

Posted By on December 4, 2012

Reading can expand our minds and change our view of the world. Here is a list of interesting and engrossing books that will challenge your view of  leadership.

Emotions Revealed, by Paul Elkman

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is a facial express worth? Psychologist Paul Ekman is an expert on facial expressions.  For 32 years he was a professor at UC  San Francisco. In this fascinating book, Eckman shows the emotional states revealed on the human face. Joy, fear, confusion, compassion – every emotion has a unique facial expression that appears before we can consciously change them. Even when we are not speaking facial expressions convey their messages to those around us. Improve your recognition of these expressions and you will be able to read the mind, or more accurately, the heart of others.

Leading from Within: Poetry That Sustains the Courage to Leadby Sam M. Intrator and Megan Scribner

This collection of poems will give you a fresh perspective on leadership and vision. The book affords you the opportunity to nourish yourself with the power of poetry.  In the words of Jeff Swartz, president and CEO, Timberland “Leading from Within” offers a candid view straight into the heart and soul of leaders striving to do good and effective work in the world.  The poems and commentaries remind us that leadership is always deeply personal and chock-full of dilemmas that must be addressed by creativity, passion, imagination, and courage.

Leading Through Conflict, by Mark Gerzon

As conflict multiplies in business, organizations, and cultures, this book seeks to push the frontier of mediation and leadership to bring resolution.

The Talent Code, by Daniel Coyle

The Talent Code summarizes the common ingredients for optimal learning of any skill. It also gives a compelling neurological explanation of how and why those ingredients are so important. It will change the way you look at how people learn and may even help you learn new skills more effectively.

Primal Leadership, by Daniel Goleman

Daniel Goleman’s research shows great leaders excel not just through skill and smarts, but by connecting with others using Emotional Intelligence competencies such as empathy and self-awareness.


100 Ways to Motivate People: How Great Leaders Can Produce Insane Results Without Driving People Crazy, by Steve Chandler

Short, motivating, real life stories and anecdotes on how to motivate achievement. Like our Speaking Strengths™ communication model, Chandler believes good leaders build on people’s strengths.

Presence, by Patsy Rodenburg

This book offers insights on how to use your positive energy to achieve success. Rodenburg is a British acting coach has helped many people learn to be present on both the theatrical stage and on the stage of life.

Quiet by Susan Cain

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain

In this thought provoking book, Susan Cain challenges our reverence for the extrovert. She makes the case that the power and impact of the introvert is equal to the extrovert even though we assume introverts are less effective. She takes us on a journey of Dale Carnegie’s birthplace and charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal.

She offers guidance on how to negotiate differences in introvert-extrovert relationships and introduces us to a witty high-octane speaker who recharges in solitude.

For introverts, this book is validating and inspiring. Extroverts will find it enlightening.

Share your thoughts

I hope you find enjoyment reading these inspiring and though provoking books. Please share you favs for my summer reading pleasure!


Lookin’ Good on Video Conference Calls

Posted By on November 6, 2012

Video conferencing has become ubiquitous in both the workplace and at home. Services like GoToMeeting, Webex, Vidyo, Facetime and Skype used with a webcam, tablet or Smartphone make it inexpensive and easy to hold virtual meetings with almost all the benefits of an in-person meeting. However, looking good on video requires different considerations than face-to-face meetings.


  • Wear clothes that are simple in design and pattern. Busy stripes and prints will appear blurry and distracting on video.
  • Use the “self view” window in advance as it will show you how you look to the other participants
  • Position the camera directly in front of your face or slightly higher pointing downward. Do not position the camera below your face pointing upward. This is an unflattering and awkward looking position
  • Clear the space behind you. A blank wall is ideal. If you have pictures or other objects on the wall behind you, make sure they are hung straight or neatly arranged. Remove loose papers, dishes and other distracting items
  • Sit up straight and tall
  • Do not eat or drink on the call
  • Hold the call in a quiet place.  Turn off all distracting sounds from phone, text, email, or perhaps, the barking dog
  • Know how to mute yourself and others

Body language

  • Listen with intent
  • Keep your eye contact steady with the webcam/camera as that mimics your connection with your audience. Do not look at your own image
  • Do use facial expressions
  • Do use gestures to make a point. Don’t wave hands wildly or frequently.
  • Sit still. Do not swivel in your chair or look away from the person/people on the call. Do not nod your head
  • Avoid note taking
  • No Multitasking. Ensure no secondary conversations
  • Stay focused

Handling technical difficulties

  • If you experience video problems, get out of the video mode and stay on call with the audio. Seamlessly continue. At a break in the conversation, calmly indicate you have lost video
  • If you lose audio, calmly tell the other participants you cannot hear who is speaking
  • If the call drops, dial back in. When there is a break in the conversation, state that you have rejoined the call. If necessary, ask to be caught up on what you missed
  • Avoid coughing or sneezing. If you need to, put the video call on mute/hold

Video conference calls are a great tool for closing the distance gap between you and your team and customers. Used properly, you can create an experience remarkably similar to an in-person conversation. Speaking for impact on video is not an accident – it’s a skill.

Share your thoughts

Share you favorite  tips for video conference calls by submitting a comment to this post.


Fast delivery can mean fast failure

Posted By on October 9, 2012

In our busy, fast-paced world we are at risk to accelerate everything – including our communications. Unfortunately, fast delivery can mean fast failure.

A senior level executive recently asked me to review his personal communication process. He wants to improve. Yet, he felt there were communication problems jinxing his desired results. We began by observing his communication in executive team meetings.

I quickly identified his main Speaking Strengths™ are Command and Authenticity. But he was right. His communication style was causing problems. My client never sat down and never paused. He paced the room and spoke the entire time. In order to “get through” the agenda, he rushed his content, rapidly delegated tasks, and did not allow time for questions or deliberation.  The executive team hardly said anything.

After observing this charming man and respected leader, I was curious how effective the team felt his approach to be.

The team confirmed my perceptions.  While they recognized his Authenticity and Command strengths, they felt his speed was a hindrance.  Because he did not provide opportunities for questions, they were unclear about what was expected.  Many assignments were only partially completed, or, took much longer than requested.

Once aware of the problems, the executive took responsibility to slow down. His goal was to use his Command and Authenticity strengths to be a calming presence in the room – rather than a whirlwind. He decided to focus on what it would take for the executives on his team to be very effective with an assignment rather than getting everything assigned.

We provided him one-to-one coaching and on-camera practice. We incorporated the skill of pausing to speak more slowly, suggested asking more questions and eliminating the finger-pointing. He also established a new process and discipline for the meetings and the agenda:

  • Provide the agenda and background material in advance of the meeting. Verify that everyone has read the material before beginning.
  • Create some breathing room in the meeting. For him, this meant making a request and then pausing so what he said had a moment to be digested.
  • When delegating, ask the person to name specifically what they understood he wanted.
  • Include humor at some points in the meeting to lighten the mood.
  • Stop pointing a finger at the person with whom he is speaking.
  • Ask more questions overall to determine whether everyone understands their assignments.

While the new skills initially felt very challenging for this executive, he has been rewarded with countless saved hours, improved effectiveness, and less anguish, both for him and his team! His commitment and efforts to develop a communication style that allows people to take a breath, ask questions and identify the goals won him additional respect from his team. Speaking for impact is not an accident. It’s a skill.

Share your thoughts

Please share them your thoughts about your own communications challenges by posting a comment to this post.


Jargon is Junk

Posted By on September 11, 2012

Buzzwords and Jargon are bad for business communicationsI was working with a client last week who riddled his speech with industry jargon and acronyms.  I felt frustrated and confused trying to figure out what he was trying to say.

I was reminded of a wonderful and amusing blog post I read late last year by Dan Pallotta (@danpallotta). It was published in his Harvard Business Review blog and was titled “I Don’t Understand What Anyone is Saying Anymore”.  He points to the proliferation of acronyms, abstractions, Valley-speak and meaningless expressions.

In short, Dan observes, people do not speak simply and clearly. I agree.

Avoid Industry Jargon

Business people who use jargon run the risk that their communications will be rendered completely useless because people do not understand what they’ve said. For amusement, immerse yourself in some Internet speak from Entrepreneur’s Magazine’s post titled “Jargon“. My favorite? Blamestorming. CNET published the Beginner’s Guide to Telecom Jargon which includes now-familiar gems “4G”, “NFC”, and, another of my favorites, “Throttling”. Throttling, of course, doesn’t refer to strangling. Rather it refers to your carrier slowing down your connection speed when you exceed the maximum allowed under you data plan. Who knew.

While every industry has terms of art, these are effective only when speaking to people who understand those terms. I worked in television news for years and in that industry the word “window” did not refer to the glass on the perimeter of your office or building.  It referred to booking broadcast time on a satellite. For people “in the biz,” it was fine to use “window” in this way. But when talking with people we were interviewing, we avoided such terms.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking everyone understands industry terms. Replace jargon, clichés and management-speak with straightforward phrases or an example that illustrates an otherwise unclear phrase.

Use Plain English

You won’t go wrong if you use plain English.

Identify simple words to replace the buzzwords. Substitute the common word for the jargon in your daily business communications. Notice when others are using buzzwords and mentally substitute your chosen alternative. This “practice” will help you expunge jargon from your own communications.

In the words of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis: “Once you can express yourself, you can tell the world what you want from it.”

And, to Dan’s point, if you obfuscate through cliché and words that are not clear, you miss the opportunity to raise your voice, be heard, and tell your audience what matters to you and what you are looking for. Speaking for impact is not an accident. It’s a skill. Hone your skills using plain English and you’ll improve your impact.

Share your thoughts

What are good substitutions for your industry’s jargon? Share them in a comment to this post.


Top 7 “Good Reads” for Communicators

Posted By on August 23, 2012

As you might imagine, I’ve read dozens and dozens of books on communications. Here’s my short-list of “good reads.” None is new. For leaders, executives and other professional communicators, these books will stimulate your thinking, creativity and productivity, even if you read small bits at a time. Whether you are looking to improve your impact, strengthen your vocal instrument, or write well, your time will be well spent with these titles.

The Right to Speak, by Patsy RodenburgThe Right to Speak by Patsy Rodenburg

Vocal control and variety are powerful tools for creating impact when you speak. British acting coach, Patsy Rodenburg, details how to understand your vocal instrument and provides skillful exercises to enhance your vocal communication.

I Never Met a Metaphor I Didn't Like by Dr. Mardy GrotheI Never Metaphor I Didn’t Like, by Dr. Mardy Grothe

Known affectionately as the “quotation maven,” Grothe inspires creative thinking and more interesting speaking. He presents a plethora of quotes, each in the context of a story. This book is a  good value even if you have time for just parts of it; and it is a wonderful resource for speechwriting.

The Power of Story: Change Your Story, Change Your Destiny in Business and in Life, by Jim LoehrThe Power of Story by Jim Loehr

Storytelling is an essential skill for effective leaders and communicators. However, the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves have a powerful effect on our success. In this insightful book, Loehr calls on you to give your life-energy to telling your own powerful, authentic story.

The Way We Talk Now by Geoffrey NunbergThe Way we Talk Now, by Geoffrey Nunberg

The changing English language is chronicled here with easy-to-digest commentaries on our current language and culture. Nunberg is an American linguist, a professor at Stanford and a commentator on NPR’s Fresh Air. Witty and erudite, Nunberg shows how our daily language reveals who we are and who we want to be. His blog, Language Log, offers additional insights.

The Elements of StyleThe Elements of Style by Strunk and White, by Strunk and White

This thin volume was first published in 1918 and to this day is a “bible” for the principles of composition and usage. Study it to increase clarity, precision and brevity in your writing and speaking.

Writing Broadcast News, By Mervin Block

Writing Broadcast News, by Mervin Block

Merv is a master of writing in clear, simple language. He wrote for CBS and ABC evening news and makes explicit what good writers do implicitly for impact and ease of understanding. Everyone seeking to improve their writing would do well to learn from this master of storytelling. Merv also offers a number of articles  on his website.

Free Play by Stephen NachmanovitchFree Play, by Stephen Nachmanovitch

This is a resource to build your improvisation skills. It applies to your life, your art – and your speaking! It offers practical techniques on getting past blocks. It is inspiring and offers useful insights into the nature of the creative act. Here’s a list of suggested readings from Stephen on creativity and improvisation.

Spoken communication is a contact sport. So after you’ve enjoyed reading the wisdom offered in this collection of writings, actively apply what you’ve learned to your communications. Remember, speaking for impact is not an accident. It’s a skill.

Share your thoughts

What books have you found valuable as a communicator? Please share your thoughts by posting a comment to this post. Happy reading!


Learning from Marissa Mayer: The benefits of being seen

Posted By on July 18, 2012

Marissa Mayer, the newly appointed CEO of Yahoo!, is widely regarded as a visionary leader and talented engineer. Employee #20 at Google, she led critical strategic initiatives for the company and was considered a serious candidate to take the CEO slot to replace Eric Schmidt at Google.

She has an estimated personal net worth of over $300M. By every measure, she is a highly successful executive. How is she different from many other talented engineers-turned-executives at Silicon Valley companies? Why was she chosen?

Like many executives, she is first and foremost a good leader, manager and domain expert. What’s more, she has consistently distinguished herself by more than her accomplishments. In reporting this story announcing her appointment, the San Jose Mercury News article commented:

“More importantly, she was often the public face of Google, speaking at prominent events while cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin stayed at the office.”

She was visible. Alone among her peer executives at Google, Marissa built a public presence that increased awareness of her work and gave people a chance to see her in action. The CEO role is a public role. By giving people the chance to see her in action, they could assess first hand her style, presence and skills. She built her image as a leader. By sharing her ideas and positions she developed both her reputation and her credibility.

On a CES panel earlier this year,  which included Mayer, Padma Warrior of Cisco, and Caterina Fake, who co-founded Flickr. Mayer kept to her talking points, but according to CNet, she came with a certain grace and feminine poise that’s unusual in C-level execs, and especially unusual in contrast with the brash Carol Bartzes of the world.

Read the CNET article on Marissa Mayer and view the CES video.

You, too, can use speaking to generate opportunities for your career. It will require effort and a single minded dedication to developing your speaking skills but the rewards are worth the effort. Opportunity knocks at the doors of the known and the prepared. Be known. Be prepared.

Share your thoughts

What opportunities do you believe are in store for you if you raise your visibility? Comment to this post and share your thoughts.