Archives for category: Communication

I’m no different to anyone else when it comes to delivering ‘the big presentation’. I get nervous before I have to speak in front of a large audience. Who doesn’t? They used to say that if you weren’t nervous you didn’t care, and I think that adage still applies.

I’m not talking about the content of a big presentation in this post. I’m talking about getting into the right mindset so you do the best job you’re capable of.

I approach the psychology of a big presentation this way. I acknowledge that I’m nervous, and then I ask myself, ‘what’s the worst thing that could happen?’ However serious the ramifications are of a presentation not going well, they pale in comparison with, let’s say, our health and the health of our nearest and dearest. We sometimes fear in advance that things could go spectacularly wrong, but we always recover from these bumps in the road.

Once I’ve reminded myself that the worst that could happen is not that bad at all, I tell myself that I don’t care how the presentation goes, to take the pressure off. I’m now starting from a position of an empty box, a box empty of nervousness, and then I proceed to fill it with positive thoughts. I’m getting in the right frame of mind to deliver the best job I can. I’m getting my head in the game.

I mentally run through the order of the first few things I’m going to say, safe in the knowledge that once I get going everything will flow. I want to open with a bang, perhaps a surprise, earn the respect of the audience, and then relax knowing that I have them with me.

Sometimes someone introduces me, sometimes I’m the one speaking first, it doesn’t matter. I smile, and begin talking.

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It seems odd to me that we European English speakers diverge from our US counterparts in our use of the words over and again.

When we on the eastern side of the Atlantic have to repeat something we start again. Sometimes we might have to do it over again. In the US and perhaps Canada they simply start over, never starting again or over again.

It’s a bit like the John Lennon song, no doubt crafted for an American audience while he was living over there with Yoko Ono, I think, called Starting Over. Perhaps he too was hedging his bets when he said It’s like Starting Over, with the ‘like’ seeming to soften the statement somewhat, as if he wasn’t sure.

Speaking of idiom, I was talking with an Iranian friend of my mother’s the other day. He said, after almost a lifetime of living here, “I can’t understand why you English people say ‘Would you like to come in for a nice cup of tea?’ Whoever would ask for a horrible cup of tea?”

Good point, well made. I was careful to ask for a horrible cup of tea the next time I was visiting.

I’ve blogged before about how a preposition can make an enormous amount of difference. None more so, I don’t think, than in this example.

‘I believe you’ seeks to assure someone that you think they’re telling the truth. It’s almost like letting them off the hook if their story or defence is flimsy and they’re clutching at straws. It’s hardly a glowing endorsement.

Contrast this with ‘I believe in you.’ This has an altogether more committed, almost spiritual tone of endorsement about it. You’re placing your trust and faith in another person, and perhaps this is the greatest compliment or statement of togetherness that you can pay  them.

It changes the verb, the sentence structure and the meaning completely.

When my brothers and I were kids, our parents were teachers and we had a special way of answering the  house phone and dealing with phone calls.

We’d say hello. We’d never say ‘hello this is London 123456’, giving away our number, and we’d never say our name. If someone said is this 123456, we’d either say, no it’s not, what number were you looking for, or else we’d ask who they were looking for. If someone asked to speak to a person in the house, we’d ask their name before we checked if our parents or our brothers were in.

As teachers, my parent’s were ex-directory, that is to say that they chose not to list their phone number in the big book. We would occasionally get crank or abusive calls and this escalation protocol was a useful process for getting rid of them.

Nowadays, people just say hello, which is fine of course, but in business it’s not particularly helpful. This is because it forces many callers to say ‘is this Paul?’ to which we would have to say yes before the call had even started.

I used to date an American girl a long time ago. When she was at work she wouldn’t answer with hello, she’d say ‘this is Susan’. Susan wasn’t actually her name, but you get the point. I liked it. It was helpful, personal and sounded more customer focused. I adopted it immediately.

So don’t be surprised if you call me on business and I say ‘this is Paul’, or it’s even friendlier version ‘hello, this is Paul’.

Despite the advent of all things digital and web, a lot of us still do a lot of travelling, to physical meetings or events. We still spend a lot of time out of the office. That makes it hard for people to get hold of us but also hard for us to get stuff done while we’re travelling.

If we’re driving to meetings, much more so than if we’re travelling by rail or air, then this can be dead time, because the act of driving occupies so many of our faculties on a constant basis. After all, we might be guiding a one-and-a-half ton killing machine through fast motorways, narrow, winding roads roads and populated areas.

This is road time. In the car is the best time for people to reach us and for us to hold calls and get them out. The one thing we can do when we’re driving is talk. And think, it least to some degree.

If I want to do a long call or an interview with someone, I’ll ask them when they’re travelling. They’re a captive audience during their road time, they’re happy to get the call out of the way – it’s a good use of their time – and they generally have privacy, which you can’t say for train journeys.

Road time can be productive, for both the driver and the person trying to reach them.

In the US it’s not uncommon for people to put the phone down or kill a telephone call without saying goodbye. It’s not considered rude. We’ve seen it on TV and film a hundred times. That’s not to say it’s not mildly unnerving to a European the first time it happens.

At the other end of the extreme are people that say bye multiple times at the end of a call. It’s as if they’d be terrified if the person at the other end didn’t hear them formally close the conversation, so they double- and triple-up to be sure.

I heard this staccato farewell a lot in Scotland when I lived there and you hear it a lot in Ireland. It’s a rat-tat-tat delivery of multiple byes that has a natural cadence of its own: 3 quick byes and 3 longer byes over a 3-second-or so period. Sort of a ‘ba-bye-bye [very short pause] bye-bye-bye.

I have a Belgian friend who always closes the call with a ba-baaaaaye, one short blast and a long blast, and then he’s done.

Me? I prefer a punchy ba-bye, that’s it. Simple, decisive, clear.

Speed camera warning sign in Ireland

I passed a scruffy truck the other day and as I passed I saw a notice on the back, which said: ‘This truck is equipped with visual recording technology’, presumably to ward off would be thieves or stowaways.

Next to the words was a symbol of a camera, and it was exactly the same type of image you see on signs all over Irish roads, warning you against speeding by the presence of speed cameras. Except there aren’t any speed cameras generally, except mobile ones housed in a vehicle. So the sign has come to me to be considered a fake symbol. Whenever I see the speed camera sign my reaction is, ‘oh, no speed cameras here, but probably a well known speedy stretch – or potentially dangerous stretch, or both – is coming up’.

And so it was with this truck. My first thought was, ‘no it’s not equipped with that technology’. It’s like the visual equivalent of fake news, or at least reverse news. A sports club announces it’s fully behind their beleaguered manager, they’re on the way out.

Call it middle aged suspicion, but since the advent of April Fools’ Day in my childhood years I’ve become conditioned to look out for fake news, and fake symbols are no different.

Biannual, biennial, it’s tough to remember which one means which, what timespan we’re talking about, isn’t it?

The prefix bi generally means 2, as in biped or bipolar, so one means 2 times a year and the other means every 2 years, so not much help there.

Taking a look at the suffix, annual means yearly, and -ennial is, well, quite similar. A perennial plant is one which lasts a while, rather than something that shows up every year, so again we’re slightly in the dark.

As it turns out, biannual means twice a year, and biennial means every 2 years. I suppose you could say biennial is like triennial, which is once every 3 years, as long as you don’t think it means 3 times a year…hmmm.

I haven’t found a good way to remember which is which, other than the raw facts themselves, which is harder to do the older you get. Us older folk tend to learn via patterns rather than by rote these days.

They say that three’s a crowd, but for me there’s something elegant, memorable and succinct about groups of 3.

I like the grouping of that particular number. We seem to be locked into the number 3 in a way that 1, 2 or a number greater than 3 can’t really get to. Maybe that’s why we feel so comfortable with TLAs, those handy ways of summarising a sometimes difficult concept in  3 easy letters. NGO, PVC, and of course TLA; each industry or milieu has a gazillion of them, serving as shorthand, occasionally inclusive but also sometimes excluding.

Business seems to be fond of the number 3 as well. Getting 3 quotes is always advisable, 3 key metrics is a good management starting point, and a good presentation slide starts with 3 bullet points. I know I’m easy with it, and many times in my writing, from this blog to reports and even books, I find myself grouping my phrases into 3’s. You can see an example in the first line of this post. Another example might be ‘let’s make sure we have a good session tomorrow, keeping it simple, focusing on the basics, and staying on track.’

So I shall continue my attachment to groups of 3. I like it, it works for me, and I think it resonates with my audience.

One area that highlights the division between American English and English English, as opposed to other versions of English, is the different pronunciations and accentuations on words.

Take the words laboratory and controversy for example. Our US friends prefer to accent the first syllable and the English prefer to accent the second, and continue to do so, despite the huge influence of American English on our daily European lives.

One difference I can’t get my head around is munging the last syllable of words that end in ‘-ile’. I remember watching an eipsode of the 6 Million Dollar Man back in the mid-seventies and they talked about a dangerous ‘missle’. What the heck’s a missle? In English English we put the accent on the first syllable but still give the second syllable a bit of a dance as well.

Futile is another one. Or Fyewtle as the Americans would say. Now that’s a futile pronunciation if ever there was one.

There are plenty of laudable examples of American English changing the spelling of words for simplicity’s sake. I offer you color, realize, maneuver and celiac for that argument.

But futile, missile, versatile, agile? Why not change the spelling on those too?