Sunday, May 23, 2010

Using small talk and empathy to present ideas

I've shared before that women and men actually speak about the same number of words per day (16,000), despite the myth that women talk more than men do. The difference lies in what you might call small talk.  Women prefer talking to build rapport, often one-on-one, while men like to report to a group rather than speak to one person alone.  Women also often are told--or it's implied--that being "too emotional" in the workplace and in public is a mistake, a characteristic that makes them seem weak. Yet one of the strengths of women's speaking is the ability to empathize with your audience and to be seen doing so.  The good news? You don't need to go against the grain.  Both small talk and empathy can help you present your ideas effectively.

Small talk, big gains

A lot of the speaking and presenting we do, in the workplace and elsewhere, involves negotiating.  If that describes you, check out a recent post on the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation blog, "Small Talk, Big Gains?"  It's a thoughtful discussion of how and when to introduce small talk into your discussions (and you can do the same in presentations, too) to benefit your goals. The post notes how to use cues about the context of the discussion to decide whether small talk is useful and appropriate (cues like location, whose turf it is, and more), but notes that the substance matters, too: 
Suppose that you are waiting for your counterpart in her office, and the diplomas hanging on the wall tell you that you both graduated from the same small college in New England, three years apart. In fact, you dropped your son off at the same school two weeks ago. This coincidence is likely to forge a connection, even if other factors argue against small talk. Yet complimenting your counterpart on her beautiful family based on some framed photos might be a mistake if the context does not otherwise invite small talk.
Speakers should note that small talk with organizers, the person introducing you or even audience members before your talk also can give you useful clues that can inform your content and approach to a speech or presentation, while building a connection with the audience in advance.

What Suze Orman can teach you about balancing empathy and toughness

Orman's got a signature speaking style that makes her voice instantly recognizable.  But if you push past the loud, fast-paced tone of her talking, as the Harvard Business Review did in this post, you can take home a lesson on why you don't need to choose between being a strong leader and empathetic, too.  From the article: 
We've found that exceptional leaders often defy these tradeoffs. They're demanding excellence, while being relentlessly committed to enabling their team's success. They're not motivated by being feared or loved, or by anything else that makes them the stars of their own leadership story. Their spiritual focus is to help other people to achieve their full potential.
The article recommends you look anew for 15 minutes at one of Orman's broadcasts to watch how she uses both empathy and high standards in tandem.  The author calls it the "secret sauce" of leadership.  How will you use it when you're speaking and presenting?  (A hat tip to Tactical Philanthropy for leading me to this great post.)

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