Key #22. When you are doing the talking . . .

. . . strive to be interesting!



‘People yackety-yak a streak 

and waste your time of day,

but Mr Ed will never speak,
unless he has something to say.’



(1) Ask yourself, ‘Why am I telling the person this?’
Someone I know is adept at telling me a long meandering story without getting to the point. I keep trying to understand her underlying message, but fail. I finally ask her, ‘Why are you telling me this?’ She responds by continuing to tell her story. She doesn’t understand that I am bewildered, and doesn’t attempt to understand her motives for speaking to me.

I ask her again, ‘What is the point you’re making?’

Again she keeps talking. She can’t answer me because she doesn’t know. That’s why her conversations don’t end. She is speaking to me to alleviate her loneliness. I doubt she realises that, though she may. The trouble is, by not having a message she bores people silly and frightens them away. And exacerbates her loneliness.

Don’t be like her. Be like Mr Ed. Don’t speak unless you have something to say. Know precisely what your message is, and give it. If you are telling a story or giving information, ask yourself,
‘Why am I telling them this?’
‘What’s the best way to make my point?’
If you cannot think of an answer, conclude the conversation.



‘Examine your feelings and intent before the conversation., to ensure you know what you want to say and why you want to say it. Pinpoint your ultimate goal and how it will impact the person you are talking to. We have to think, ‘What’s in it for them?’ ‘What’s my bottom line and how am I going to get it across.’ says Robyn Hatcher in her book, ‘Standing Ovation Presentations’, and brought to my attention by Toastmaster Kathleen Fordyce.

(2) Ask yourself, ‘Does this person want to know this?’

Some people assume that because they themselves are interested in what they are saying, the other person must be interested as well. It’s a big mistake and unacceptable. Don’t make that assumption.
 Ask yourself, ‘Does this person want to know this?’

‘Does this person really want to hear about my grandchildren? My hernia?’

If the answer is ‘no’, stop telling them.

When we speak to people our job is not to alleviate our loneliness, (it won’t work anyway), but to:
– be informative to people who want the information, or
– be entertaining.

That’s it. Just two things. Indeed, it’s really only one thing: we need to be interesting. If we are not, we need to stop talking.

Conversely, it’s their job to treat us with the same respect.

When we cut our conversations short, and only talk when it’s relevant or interesting to the other person, we stop frightening people away.

(3) Ask yourself, ‘Is the person interested in what I am saying?
Look to see. When I speak at Speakers’ Corner those who have listened long enough just walk away. But when I have only a handful of grasshoppers, some are reluctant to leave for fear of hurting my feelings. But when their eyes look away and their feet splay in the direction they want to go, I immediately conclude and thank them for their interest. They smile and take that as a good time to leave.

I have done them a favour.

It’s my job as a speaker to be interesting, and it’s my job to be interesting in every day-to-day interactions. It’s everyone’s job. We might fail regularly, but we need to try. Every time we interest someone, we connect with them. That brief bond is undeniable, and important. Get plenty of those interactions during the day and we can’t fail to satisfy our deep need to belong.

The tip again: Look to see if the other person is interested in what you have to say. It’s your job to make sure they are, and if they’re not, leave them be.

We can tell when a person’s interest is fading if we look. It’s our job to look. The signs:
– Is the person avoiding eye contact?
– Is their body facing yours, or away?
– Are their answers short, clipped?
– Is the tone of their voice flat?
– Are their smiles forced?

(4) Be watchful for what the person wants.
If the person asks for your opinion on something, they might want a detailed opinion or they might want a one-liner. Ask them which. ‘Do you want me to be thorough, or the quick version?’



(5) Ditch the detail.

Can you remember a time when someone told you a story and included boring, irrelevant facts just to make sure they got the story right?

‘Last October . . . no, it might have been November . . . Yes, October, just before Halloween . . .’
 And the month wasn’t important to the story?

’She lived there for four years.’

Did you care how long their aunt lived on her farm? Of course you didn’t. Yet the speaker talked as though you did. Painful.

Why do people do it?

They do it because they aren’t talking to you for your benefit, they’re talking to you for their benefit. They find the story interesting. They don’t aim to interest you; instead, they throw a story at you and expect you to be interested. Big difference.

Don’t be that person. Spare your listener the irrelevant details. Edit out those details as you go. Figure out your point and say it succinctly. By doing so, you show the person you care about how they are experiencing your story.

The exception? A good storyteller will include the details to enhance the story. They include the details for your benefit, not theirs.

In short, the other person doesn’t need to know the name of the newsagent who sold you the newspaper. Dump the details. Get to the meat.



(6) Don’t hog the conversation. Give the person opportunities to respond. Aim to use fewer words in total than the person you are speaking with.



(7) Don’t be a topper. Let the other person have the moment.
Kim: ‘I once kicked eight goals in a game.’
Dale: ‘I once kicked ten.’
Dale could have graciously refrained from topping Kim’s story. Instead, he created a disconnection.


(8) Don’t repeat yourself. It’s rude and it’s boring. Australia’s ABC Radio National presenters do it often when presenting an item.


Presenter: ‘Today such and such happened. Tim Smith reporting — ’

Tim Smith: ‘Today such and such happened — ’

Yep, we get the same facts told to us twice. I look at my radio and tell the presenter off, though it’s unlikely they hear me.

They would claim the introduction is a ‘teaser’. I call it ‘laziness’.

Just because ABC presenters can be lazy doesn’t mean we have to be. Let’s not repeat ourselves.
Let’s not repeat ourselves. (Irritating, isn’t it?)



‘If you say something ten times, you clearly don’t expect them to listen to you. Notice the way people in authority – police, for example – take control of a situation. A wave of their hand, and the traffic stops. They say things once, and directly.’
From David J. Lieberman’s book, ‘Never Be Lied To Again’.

(9) Don’t litter your paragraphs with terms like, ‘You know’ and ‘You know what I mean?’.
If you can refrain from ‘The bottom line’ and ‘at the end of the day’, even better.

(10) Every ten years tell a joke.
I’m thinking of that guy in the party who tells one joke and gets a laugh. He tells another. And another. And another . . .

Don’t be that guy.

Be as funny as hell in conversation. Quips are fine. But don’t recite more than one stand-alone joke at a time. Unless a joke is relevant to the conversation, (and isn’t torturously long), leave it for a comedian or emcee to tell. Get on with proper conversation.



(11) Don’t lie when you speak with someone.

Make a conscious decision to not lie when you speak with someone. On some level the person will know you are lying, and that will diminish the connection they have with you.



(12) If you give a compliment, make sure it’s genuine.
If you like someone’s dress, tell them. If you like someone’s haircut, tell them.


‘Help people feel good about themselves – catch them doing something right.’
From the book, ‘The One Minute Manager’, by Kenneth Blanchard.

(13) Consider inviting other people into the conversation.



(14) Conversations are not a promotional opportunity.
Don’t taint yourself by attempting to exploit them.

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