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Tag Archives: Conversation

Posted on Monday, March 16th, 2015

Spur of the Moment Speech? Here’s Help.

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Google ‘fear of public speaking’ and you will be inundated with articles. Not one of them says run from the room screaming, so you’re out of luck there.

I’ve written more than a few articlesbook chapters, and cheat sheets on ways to overcome what still appears to be the number one phobia in the US.

Dr. Paul L. Witt, assistant professor of communication studies at Texas Christian University, claims making a public presentation is “even scarier than rattlesnakes.”

Ouch.

If you have an engagement coming up and you are nervous about it (and you probably are because everybody is), there are ways to ease the anxiety. Preparing, practicing, exercising, breathing, medication and even donning a pair of lucky socks can help. But what if you are under a surprise attack? What if, as bad luck would have it, you are asked to make a presentation or speech or toast right now?

First, don’t panic. (Don’t you just hate when people say don’t panic? I know, I know. But, really, try not to panic.)

And next, try this:

Take A Deep Breath And Then Take A Few More

Give yourself the gift of oxygen and time, both in equal measure. Remember, you don’t have to jump up and start the song and dance routine right away.
Then:
• Breathe (again)
• Stand up (if necessary – if the situation allows for you to stay in your seat, then do so and be grateful)
• Politely thank the horrible, hateful person who has done this to you
• Take a sip of water
• Smile
• Remind yourself that you know what you are talking about and (no offense) not everyone is going to hang on your every word anyway, so you are not going to die
Now it is time to actually speak, here is a plan:
• Introduce yourself, if necessary
• Do not apologize for yourself with something like I’m not great at public speakingor I am not prepared or I know these pants are too tight but I was running late and I like donuts, because you just set yourself up for criticism or sympathy and neither are great in this scenario
• Reiterate what’s been said so you can get the ball rolling: As Jim (aka Satan) mentioned, we are launching a new product line in May, 2017 and it promises to bring major change to the marketplace

Engage the Three Two One Strategy and Use “We”

Pick three positive points, two potential negatives and finish strong:
Our research shows that 68% of our potential customers will benefit from this product, and that interest is high based on market analysis.
• The marketing team has created a far-reaching marketing and advertising campaign that will incorporate social media, television and print, thus capturing a wide audience
• We’ve looked closely and carefully at the cost analysis and it appears that this product could potentially bring in more than $2 million over the next 18 months
• Our team still has work to do around the production schedule, but our goal is to finalize those details by year-end
• We are still in talks with investors on how and when we can bring this full-circle
• The future looks bright for our company and our customers

Open The Floor For Questions But Be Careful What You Ask For

Questions are a great way to keep the conversation going without having to carry the weight solo. It’s important to open the floor for questions without stepping too far down the rabbit hole, so instead of saying:
Any questions?
Try:
I’m happy to try to answer any questions I can or
Great question and we will be ready to talk more about in November 
• This will project a confident image even if you don’t have the specific answer at the moment

Wrap It Up

State that your time is coming to an end and wrap up the meeting:
We have time for two more questions 
• Thank the audience and that troll Jim for getting you into this nightmare, then smile, hold you head high and mentally pat yourself on the back (not literally, you just made it through a spur-of-the moment speech, don’t embarrass yourself now!) because You. Did. It.

Bring on the rattlesnakes.

 this post originally appeared on The Huffington Post

Posted on Monday, February 23rd, 2015

Say What? What To Say When You Don’t Know What To Say.

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The human heart is a truly amazing mechanism; so hard working and tough under pressure, but oh so easily damaged.

We all have heartbreaks (I can’t even discuss my 7th grade boyfriend saga. A tragedy of epic proportions). Disappointments and suffering and grief and anguish are all part of life. Hooray for us!

We have all heard bad news and immediately gone to that big Rolodex in our head searching, desperately, for the right thing to say. Or we’ve skipped the search and blurted out something clichéd and trite before quickly excusing ourselves to privately negotiate our own foot into our mouth. Or — the worst crime of all — we’ve been faced with bad news and said absolutely nothing.

Neil Rosenthal writes a stellar column in The Denver Post appropriately titled “Relationships.” His January 29th piece highlights the importance of an empathetic response. As Rosenthal points out, a thoughtful response is certainly needed in times of tragedy, but even the day-to-day frustrations that affect us all would benefit from a kind and compassionate acknowledgement.

When dealing with a loss, phrases like: Time heals all wounds or It was his time to go are common. And sort of a cop out. Why? Because they don’t really mean anything to the person who is suffering. They are just words. Words that can leave the listener feeling worse than when they started. Because only words that “honor your feelings of loss and sorrow,” writes Rosenthal, truly honors the emotions around an issue that causes turmoil.

Rosenthal, referencing How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It
written by Pat Love (not kidding) and Steven Stosny, makes a case for how important it is to “step into the puddle” with others. Stepping into the puddle means offering our “heartfelt presence, caring concern and participation” when others need it most. And even when they don’t. By employing the puddle technique to everyday life, communication and connection are bound to improve.

So, how exactly does one ‘step into the puddle’ without getting drenched? By offering statements with a little more meat and a lot less fluff — like this:

When your spouse walks in after a long day of work, it’s temping to pull out the eye roll or the Ha! You think YOUR day was long, well let me just tell you about MY day… instead try saying:
I am so sorry about your day and I am so glad to have you home safe and sound. 

When someone is dealing with a death, resist the He’s in a better place or Call me if you need anything and try This must be really difficult; I can’t imagine what it feels like to lose a sibling. Your brother was one of the funniest men I’ve ever met — I still laugh at the fun we had skiing in Vail. How are you handling everything?

Whatever the situation — death, job loss, hard day at work, tough day at home with children or even the tragedy of a 7th grade break-up, by acknowledging, truly, the heartache of others, we can make a big impact and — just maybe — lessen the blow.

 

This blog was originally posted on The Huffington Post.

 

Posted on Friday, January 9th, 2015

One Minute Weight Loss: GUARANTEED!

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I had grand plans to stay on track over the holiday season, but people kept FORCING me to eat and drink and be merry. It’s rude to turn down a glass of champagne. And a cookie. And then another cookie. It is.

As I was trying to figure out my 2015 resolutions while sweating it out on the elliptical, I had an epiphany. I — anyone really — can lose five pounds immediately by doing one simple thing: putting down the devices.

By ridding ourselves of the laptop, and smartphone, and e-reader, and tablet, and ear buds, and Go Pro camera, and selfie stick and charger (and backup charger and solar charger) and whatever else may qualify we can experience instant weight loss. Like magic. Try it:

Hold all your devices and get on the scale.

Toss all your devices and get on the scale.

See? It works.

But we all know that when it comes to these hand-held handcuffs it’s really not about the physical weight, is it? It’s about how being constantly connected, in-touch, and interrupted can take a toll.

I talked to a handful of mothers who were in a quandary about gifting their children with smartphones or tablets. Why? Because they were afraid of losing their children to the ever-addictive world of electronics. One parent sighed, “I’m afraid I won’t see him after 9AM Christmas morning if I give him the iPhone 6 he’s been asking for since August.”

But electronic addiction doesn’t just affect the under-20 crowd. My friend’s father-in-law received a Fit Bit and was so enthralled by the constant feedback he actually fell off the curb while trying to amass his 10,000 steps. So much for a peaceful walk on a chilly morning. He’s currently chilling his swollen ankle with an ice pack.

By now we know that technology is not going away. And technology is not a bad thing. Just like cookies and champagne aren’t bad things (the exact opposite in my opinion, but I digress) especially if enjoyed responsibly. It’s just about a bit of moderation and employing some boundaries or, if that’s too strong a word for you, some flexible agreements.

Maybe 2015 COULD be about losing the weight of technology. Maybe it’s time to sit down as a family and determine when using devices is ok and when it is not. Not ok might be in the early morning hours before the first — or second or third — cup of coffee. Or at night in bed, considering that blue light is apparently Mr. Sandman’s archenemy. Perhaps dinner and the hour after school is tech-free, ensuring that you actually have a shot of seeing your child’s face instead of the top of his head. Together, create a framework for when it is ok — the hour before dinner or the 15 minutes before school as long as other tasks have been completed.

And how about workplace situations? Is it really necessary to place the smartphone on the conference room table? Probably not. The office is tech-heavy as it is so an hour without being attached to a device is like vacation! If you’re running the meeting, offer an empty basket at the entrance to the meeting with a note that simply states: Please silence phones and leave in this basket until the meeting adjourns. You will get some huffs and eye-rolls (after all, we are all a little childish when it comes to putting down a toy/gadget of any sort), but your colleagues might just thank you later for the free weight loss.

I recently came across this very same topic in a magazine article about graciously managing technology when entertaining guests. It was in a below-the-Mason-Dixon-Line publication I was leafing through while sitting in a lobby NOT on my phone (full disclosure: that’s because I had inadvertently left in the car — oh the horror!). But — and forgive me here for such an obnoxious blanket statement — many Southerners appreciate the finer points of entertaining, and the article made it clear that playing a video from YouTube while the Shrimp and Grits are being served is not considered a finer point.

So I am dedicating myself to some easy weight loss goals this year. I am limiting the times I am tethered to technology. After all, I wrote the book (for real) on The Fine Art of Small Talk. I am spending more time listening and less time scrolling because face-to-face time is more fulfilling than any face-to-screen time. If you look down too long, you’re likely to miss out on the good things – like friends and family and colleagues. And the curb. And cookies. And champagne. And maybe another cookie.

Are you attempting a tech diet? Tell me about it. And cheers to a happy, healthy 2015.

Posted on Friday, January 9th, 2015

Party Time? A Cheat Sheet To Help Break The Ice

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Of all the crazy things I’ve been asked about regarding The Fine Art of Small Talk (“Dear Debra, I know my boyfriend is going to propose but I don’t want to marry him” — ohhhhh.), it’s the everyday situations that can cause the most jitters.

We are in the thick of the holiday season, which means lots of parties, dinners, gift exchanges, cocktail events, company soirees and neighborhood gatherings. Here’s a short and sweet cheat sheet to get you through some of the stickiest situations.

There are some hard and fast rules: 
• Arrive with three topics to talk about; think of these as your safety net should you need them.
• Always be polite.
• Always be gracious.
• Always smile.
• Remember that you are likely harder on yourself than necessary.
• Remember that a lot of people get nervous, a lot of people are shy, a lot of people are uncomfortable — and those people are dealing with their own anxieties so they are not paying attention to yours.
• Alcohol or 22 cream puffs will not make the situation better. Ever.
• Steer away from foul language and sexual innuendos or starting any sentence with ‘I heard this joke that is SO funny. You are going to laugh SO hard. Now let me see if I remember it…’
• If you have that little voice that says ‘maybe I shouldn’t say this,’ listen to that voice. And listen good.
• It is not your responsibility to babysit other adults; but it is your responsibility to be a good guest or a good host by introducing yourself and participating in conversation.
• If someone, including you, thinks you’ve had too much to drink you probably have.
• You don’t have to answer every question — your weight, your income and your relationship can be off limits if you wish them to be.

If You’ve Met Someone Before But Have Forgotten Their Name — Again.
It’s so good to see you again. Forgive me; I’ve temporarily forgotten your name. Will you remind me?

If You’ve Met Someone 20 Times Before But Have Forgotten Their Name – Again.
Discreetly ask a friend to remind you and if that doesn’t work: It’s so good to see you again. Forgive me; I’ve temporarily forgotten your name. Will you be kind enough to remind me?

If You’ve Been Given A Gift That You Hate:
Thank you for thinking of me.
If You’ve Been Given A Gift But Didn’t Give One to the Giver:
Thank you for thinking of me.

If You Were Expecting A Year-End Bonus and Received a Jelly Of The Month Membership:
Thank you for thinking of me.

If You Are Hosting A Dinner And Guests Are More Than An Hour Late:
Make sure nobody is stranded on the highway and then encourage your guests to begin dining. It appears John and Jane are running a bit late; let’s begin and they will join us when they arrive.

When John and Jane Do Finally Arrive:
We’re so glad you’re here! Let me take your coat and get you settled; we started dinner; please sit down and allow me to get you a plate.

When You Are Serving Alcohol But You Know a Particular Guest Doesn’t Drink:
May I offer you something to drink?

When Someone At Your Event Has Had Too Much To Drink And Is Being Obnoxious:
Wow — it’s getting late! Thank you for joining us. Let me get your coat.

When Someone At Your Event Has Had Too Much To Drink And Drove To The Party:
Wow — it’s getting late! I hired Uber for tonight’s party; your driver is outside. Let me get your coat and walk you out.

When Someone At Your Party Has Food Allergies or Sensitivities That You Were Not Aware Of Prior To Arrival:
My apologies for not being aware; the salad and dessert are both (fill in the blank: gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free) but the main coarse is not. May I offer you something else, such as a piece of chicken?

When Someone At Your Party Has Food Allergies or Sensitivities And Brought Their Own Food:
Thank you! Let me plate this for you and then we can sit down!

When Someone At Your Party Shares Big News That Is Not Necessarily Good News (divorce, job loss, illness, the latest Kardashian episode): I’m so sorry to hear this news, John. How can we be of support? 

When Someone At Your Party Shares Big News That Is Very Good News:
What wonderful news, John! May I offer a toast to celebrate (make a heartfelt toast.)?

When Someone At Your Party Is Intent On Talking About Things You Do Not Wish to Discuss (politics, religion, money, the Kardashians):
Gosh, I don’t think we have enough wine in the house to tackle this issue tonight! Speaking of wine, I was thinking back to the best gift I ever gave and it was the trip to Napa I surprised Steve with in 2008. What was a favorite gift you gave or received?

When You Are Stuck In A Conversation That You Want to End:
It was great catching up with you. Excuse me, I see Jane just walked in and I must say hello.

You’ve Insulted Someone By Mistake:
Forgive me! I did not mean to hurt you in any way (change the subject quickly).

You Are Tired and Want Everyone to Leave:
This was such a fun night (stand up, begin clearing dishes, do not open more wine.) – thank you all for being here. 
Whatever situation you are in, remember that being kind and generous usually solves most problems. If that doesn’t work, remember it will all be over soon.

Happy Holidays!

Follow Debra Fine on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DebraFine

Posted on Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

Tis The Season to Make Conversation

 

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I have been invited to many a party in my day. I used to think it was because of my good looks or great taste in wine or overall fantastic-ness. But, alas, as my husband so lovingly pointed out, it’s because I am conversational. A professional conversationalist at that. I realize that even though I barely know the party host, they want me there.

Why?

I’m insurance.

With me, there isn’t a lull in conversation. There isn’t that uncomfortable, awkward moment that feels like a year and a half when nobody is talking. Where people start checking their phones or shoving canapés down their throat. When you wish someone would choke just so there would be something to talk about.

You cannot imagine how many wedding gifts I have purchased over the years. And all because I can’t keep my mouth shut. I can’t handle the awkward lull. I am not tooting my own proverbial horn here, but I am the best wedding guest you’ll ever have: I keep the conversation flowing and I buy really nice gifts. It’s just a fact.

So, it’s rare that I find conversation icebreakers that I have not A. thought of or B. used or C. written about in a book.

But paging through Real Simple magazine’s November issue changed all that. One of the questions they recommend you ask at the Thanksgiving table was (drum roll please):

If you could eat only one food on this table for an entire year, which one would it be?

I know, great, right? Though the answers won’t be that interesting because clearly mashed potatoes is the only right answer here. Again, just the facts.

Last year, I wrote about what not to say at the Thanksgiving table. But the upcoming holidays encompass an entire season, so the pressure is on. Ever considered that holiday weight gain is not due to egg nog but rather hovering near the buffet to calm social anxiety? Keeping your mouth full of baked goods may seem easier than witty conversation. It’s not. Or maybe it is – for a minute. But then you’ve got that whole if I don’t unbutton my pants in three minutes I am going to die and that’s not very festive, is it?

Real Simple did a nice job of a few things you can say, so take a peek. Then relax, review and enjoy those potatoes.

Posted on Thursday, October 9th, 2014

Why A Handshake Beats A Fist Bump

 

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I was two cups of coffee in to the Sunday Denver Post when I noticed this picture ofBob Beauprez fist-bumping his son. At first I didn’t realize it was his son; I was just momentarily mesmerized by the fist-bump. A fist-bump?

When I realized it was Beauprez’s son, I was a bit mollified (though I will admit I think a hug makes more sense, but it’s not my business and I mean that in all sincerity and without sarcasm because they are father and son and it’s their fist-bump, and at least they communicate and that’s always a good thing), but still pondering the fist-bump. When did this replace the handshake? And why?

A recent study in Germany touts the health benefits of the fist-bump. Yes, someone in Germany studied the benefits of the fist-bump versus the handshake versus the high five. The fist-bump won for least amount of germ transmittal. Researchers dipped a gloved hand into a vat of E-coli matter and then proceeded to shake, bump and high-five the participants. And you thought your job was bad.

I have asked a handful (pun intended) of adults why they fist-bump and most of the time the response is something along the lines of: Well, it seems to be the trend. AHA! This is not a good reason to forgo the time-honored handshake! By continuing to fist-bump you are only encouraging it. It’s like feeding a whiney toddler a lollipop or getting a tattoo in Vegas because the rest of the wedding party did. Just because everyone is doing it does not make it a ‘do!’

The handshake, at least in America, is still a ‘do.’ It’s still considered the most professional yet personal form of greeting. When should you shake?

• When introducing yourself to anyone (including your parole officer)
• At the beginning and end of a job interview
• When you meet the president of just about anything
• When greeting a colleague or client you haven’t seen in a significant amount of time
• When you’ve been introduced to someone by another friend or colleague
• When meeting your potential father-in-law (or parole officer)
• When acting as host or hostess to a business meeting or event
• When saying goodbye to a colleague, client, friend (or parole officer)
• When you need to indicate the end of an interaction or conversation and your impending exit
• Really any other time that seems obvious: when someone saves you from a careening bus,
when someone kills the mice infestation living under your stairs, when the guy in front of you tosses your 9 year-old the foul ball he just caught at the baseball game. You know when it feels right. Right? (In all of the above instances a hug is probably also warranted, especially in the mice instance.)

Wondering how to master the fine art of the handshake? It’s easy:

• Make eye contact
• State your name (if necessary) while extending your right hand: Hi, I’m Debra Fine
• Lean slightly in, grasp the other person’s hand firmly for a mere 2-3 seconds
• Release

That’s it. Really! So, don’t overthink it. And avoid the following:

• Dead Fish Hand: This limp, lifeless creature belongs in the grocery case, not in the handshake.

• Lady Fingers: The handshake involves the HAND, not just the fingers. Even Princess Kate does not daintily offer her royal fingers in that awkward way that makes it seem like you’re hiding a microphone in your palm. And she’s a princess.

• The “Make Mine a Double”: No need to cover the successful handshake with your other hand. Don’t ruin a good thing. The handshake is a singles match, not a doubles tourney. One and done.

• Be cognizant when greeting guests from other cultural backgrounds, as the rules may differ. If you are the guest, take your cues from the host to show your willingness to be flexible and respectful.

Handshakes are like parenting: Extend yourself. Be straightforward. Be firm. Smile even when you don’t feel like it. Practice what your preach.

On that note, teaching children the fine art of the handshake is a gift. After all, we teach our dogs to “shake” not “fist-bump” – shouldn’t we do the same for the little humans in our lives? Agree? Let’s shake on it.

 

Posted on Thursday, September 11th, 2014

Great article (and hilarious clip) from The Sydney Morning Herald on Awkward Conversations

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James Adonis – thank you for this great article – and the clip! All you awkward conversationalists out there, you are not alone. Well, maybe you are alone now, but with a few easy steps, you won’t be for long. Promise!

Posted on Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

Back to School: Top Ten Ways To Avoid Flunking the Fall

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It’s here! The school year is back! Some parents may be jumping for joy, especially those dealing with an eye-rolling teen or a bored 8-year-old. And some are white-knuckling it through the emotional turmoil of prepping a college-bound young adult (when did THAT happen — didn’t he just lose his baby teeth and learn how to tie his shoes?) for departure. Speaking from experience, that’s a rough one. Survivable, but rough.

Because the summer usually offers many freedoms — later nights, lazier mornings and space in between to just be a kid — the structure of a fall schedule can be a bit jarring for the under-20 crowd.

And while I am no David Letterman (love you, Dave!), I love a good Top 10 List, so below are the Top 10 Ways to Avoid Flunking the Fall.

1. Back Up Bedtime:

No matter what age your child is, chances are the bedtime hour has vacillated a bit over the past three months. Use these weeks before school to start transitioning into an earlier bedtime and a more structured wake-up routine. Ever try to wake a 15-year-old boy at 6:30 a.m. after a summer of sleeping until lunch? Exactly.

2. Collaborate on Calendars:

Add school and sports events to your calendar now, and share that information with your spouse and any other important people in your life. If your child is old enough to carry a smartphone or iPad, have him update his own calendar. This will encourage him to be responsible for his activities and can be a useful tool for tracking homework deadlines and social engagements. If your child is younger, discuss what each week will look like and create a chart that will help him understand his schedule. If your child can’t read, use stickers (a sticker of a soccer ball on Wednesday, for example).

If your child is leaving for college, talk through their class load, asking open-ended questions on how they foresee accomplishing schoolwork, any part-time work, sports, social and volunteer responsibilities. By talking with your child about prioritizing their time, you are setting them up for success and showing them that accomplishing a myriad of tasks doesn’t happen well without a plan in place.

3. Manage Medical Mayhem:

Make sure your child — no matter what his age — is up-to-date on vaccinations and physical exams. It’s easier to accomplish this task now rather than wait until the day before football practice starts. I speak from experience here. Also, if your child has late starts and early dismissals during the school year (this is a standard in some Colorado districts), schedule future appointments for those chunks of time. It’s much easier to squeeze in a teeth cleaning or eye appointment on those short days than try to do maneuver kids and teens after school when offices are busier and kids are over-booked.

4. Communicate About Communication:

Do you want your college freshman to connect with you daily? Weekly? Via phone? Via text? Via email? Clarify your expectations around this issue now to save headaches and heartaches later. Remember that your college freshman is, for the first time, out on his own. Maybe he doesn’t want to check in with you daily; or fill you in on every last detail of his day and night. Maybe you DO, in fact, want to hear his actual voice once or twice a week and would rather not find out about his life on Facebook. Communicating about communication will alleviate future confusion.

If you are parenting a younger child, carve out time at the end of each day to talk. Avoid asking: “How was school?” unless you are ok with getting a “Fine” in response. “Tell me during your science lab” or “What was the funniest thing that happened today” will get your child talking.

5. Role Play Reality:

Help your child, regardless of age, practice his social graces. Role-play introductions to friends, teachers and parents. Discuss the benefits of a firm handshake, a smile, eye contact and decent posture. Remind him that social media is forever, so think long and hard before posting anything that he wouldn’t want his grandmother or boss to see. Talk about ways to avoid peer pressure when it comes to drinking, drugs, sex, cheating, bullying and gossip.

Help younger children deal with playground issues by teaching them about walking away or stating clearly: “I don’t like it when you push me.” Remind kids of all ages that they have what it takes to handle tricky situations, but they can always come to you or another trusted adult if needed.

6. Find a Friend:

Taking your child to college? Make some inroads with the parents of their dorm-mate or floor resident advisor so you have another contact should you need it. Make conversation with other incoming freshmen and their parents without overdoing it; it’s not a popularity contest but it is a chance to make some connections for both you and your child.

For younger children, invite a classmate over to play before school starts and don’t skip on Meet the Teacher night, even if your child has been going to the same school for years. Having familiar faces to search out is so helpful, no matter your age. Let’s be honest, even adults look for someone they know when walking into a party or business function. Give this gift to your child and alleviate a bit of stress for everyone.

7. Navigate the Necessities:

Handle haircuts, new shoes, lunch boxes, school supplies, clothes and toiletries now. Let your child have a say in what he wants to wear on a regular basis and pick your rules sparingly. Forcing a kid to wear collared shirts and khakis while the rest of the pack is in sport shorts and sweatshirts are, um, mean. Agree that you have final say on special occasions (picture day, school plays, etc.). Don’t micro-manage things like coats and gloves. Kids figure out pretty quickly that standing at the bus stop in a t-shirt is pretty miserable when it 14 degrees outside.

For the college-bound, stores likeBed Bath & Beyond will allow you to shop for items in your home state and pick them up in another state, making packing the car that much easier. As for clothes, remind your child that less is more in a tiny space — and that you can always send needed items if necessary. Or use this as a way to entice them home more often…all’s fair in love and empty nesting.

8. Make It Personal:

For the shorter set, add notes to their lunch boxes or color on their breakfast napkins — anything that lets them know you miss them and think about them and encourage them. I’ve seen blogs about cutting sandwiches and fruit into fun shapes to make little kids smile. And while that’s such a cute idea, we both know it won’t happen for long. But a quick “Good luck with spelling” on a sticky will do the trick.

For those heading out of the house for college, send a care package! Then send another one! And another one! Kids love getting mail and treats, no matter how cool they are. I would jump for joy if I opened my mailbox and found a box filled with cookies, new magazines and a $20 bill, wouldn’t you?

9. Make It Easy:

Hoping your freshman will send letters to you? His grandparents? His siblings? Provide him with a stack of funny cards and other various stationary along with a book of stamps and a list of addresses — and then just hope for the best. Offer a gentle reminder about how HAPPY his grandparents would be to receive a handwritten note from him. Remind him that his grandparents have been putting money in his college fund since birth.

10. Read My Book or Have Your Teen Read My Book or Read My Book Out Loud to Your Teen:

I’m kidding on the last one – do not read this book out loud to your teen because then your teen will hate us both.

This is not even a plug for you to BUY the book. I swear. I don’t care if you get it from the library or page through it at the bookstore. Really. But Beyond Texting: The Fine Art of Face-to-Face Communication for Teenagers was written for a reason – to help children and young adults navigate human interaction, balance real life in a digital world, and use technology as a tool instead of a crutch.

 

Posted on Thursday, June 26th, 2014

Wait! What About ME?

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Dear Debra:

I recently spent an enjoyable evening with an acquaintance of mine. In reality, we had a nice time, but a few days later, I realized she never once asked about me, my work, my family – nothing! I have read your books and I am patting myself on the back for being a good listener – but I am feeling a little put-off now looking back on the night of what I can only call “All About You.” Where did I go wrong? I want to be a good listener (and a good friend), but I also feel like there should be some give and take. Any advice?

Sincerely, What About Me?

Dear Me:

Dear me! I hear you — pun intended.

First, I, too, am patting you on the back for being a good listener. Even without meeting your conversation cohort, I would bet my retirement fund that she left feeling absolutely great. Why? Because most people love to talk about themselves. So spending an evening with you, talking about her, likely felt like a perfect night.

I don’t typically receive emails like yours, so my ears perked up — again, pun intended. Most of my readers and audience members ask me how to start a conversation and keep it going. So, if you are looking for the silver lining here, celebrate the fact that you didn’t have to carry the conversation. Your friend, while a bit narcissistic, did the bulk of the work for you. Sometimes it’s nice to sit back and just listen.

But if you are hoping for a true exchange of thoughts and ideas, use these three simple steps next time:

Be General:
If you have had enough of listening to someone else’s stories about their children, their renovation, their vacation and their stock market success, try to steer the conversation into a more general direction, like current events or — oh I don’t know — euthanasia.

Kidding. (Sort of.) But by redirecting the conversation towards a topic that lends itself to a back-and-forth exchange: Did you read the article about how women over forty are smarter than any other creature on the planet? will allow for a more equitable exchange.

Be Specific:
If being general doesn’t float your boat, mention something that you are doing: It’s so good to hear about what’s happening with you! I promised myself to tell you about our recent good news. Charlie was accepted to Stanford and now I am both celebrating his success and mourning his departure!

Now you have changed the dynamic because:
• There is a new topic on the table
• It’s a topic you can (probably) both relate to
• You’ve done your job as a good listener by allowing your friend her time and space to share her news and you’ve done your job as a small talker by offering a peek into your own life

Be Ready to Make a Move:
Sometimes the only way to stop a monopolizer is to get out of the conversation. When you realize you have no hope of having a lively exchange of ideas, give your friend a warning sign like Gosh, hearing about your food poisoning has been amazing. I’ve got an early meeting tomorrow morning, so I’ve only got about fifteen minutes left to hear about the details of the Chicken Cacciatore.

Now you’ve let your friend know that this LOVELY conversation needs to be wrapped up in a timely fashion, but you haven’t been abrupt in your departure. As the clock ticks, smile, nod and find a break in the conversation.

Being a good small talker is an art; and being a good listener is a gift. Being good at both is pure conversational gold.

 

Posted on Friday, May 2nd, 2014

Teaching Teens How to Talk Without Technology

 

 

beyond texting book coverMy recent bookBeyond Texting: The Fine Art of Face-to-Face Communication for Teenagers is the result of several things: I was once a teenager, I had children who later became teenagers and I married a man who had children who later became teenagers.

In a nutshell: The world is full of teenagers.

Teaching the younger generation the finer points of interpersonal skills is key to their long-term success. No matter how advanced technology becomes, landing a scholarship, job interview or fiancé will still require some form of verbal communication.

In a recent post, there were tips on how to help your teenager start a conversation — now the trick is to keep it going. Conversations for teens and adults can take a turn and what was an engaging exchange becomes an excruciating effort. Why? Because we get excited or nervous. It’s normal. It’s also avoidable. Here are some simple steps to share with your teen:

Avoid Interrogation

Questions are a great way to get to know the other party, but don’t get carried away:

Jack:How was the party?
Jill: Fun!
Jack: Who was there?
Jill: Josh and Tricia.
Jack: Who else?
Jill: Um, some guys from the track team.
Jack: Was Kyle there?
Jill: I didn’t see him.
Jack: Who’d you go with?

Wow. At this point, Jill is looking for an escape route because she’s feeling cornered and peppered with questions. When questions continually receive short answers, switch from interrogation to sharing:

Jack: Wish I could have made it. I was at the movies last night. Have you seen…?

Now there is another topic on the table, allowing Jack and Jill to move in new directions.

Don’t Get Too Personal

Asking someone about their family, their job, their friends — it all sounds innocent enough. But getting too personal can backfire. Always give the other party an exit strategy when delving into personal information:

Jack: How’s work?
Jill: Great — I love it there.
Jack: I’ve been thinking about applying but I am concerned about the pay scale. I don’t know if you feel open to sharing, but I’m wondering if they pay more than minimum wage?

Now Jill can either answer with Yes, they pay more than minimum wage or Yes, I make $20 an hour or I don’t like to talk about money. Jill’s been given an escape hatch.

Don’t Compete

One-upping is such a downer. Resist the temptation to be “Mr. Been There Done That.” If someone is sharing a story with you, be a good listener instead of anxiously awaiting your chance to tell your bigger, better story.

Don’t Interrupt

This happens so often, it’s frightening. I actually think adults do this more often than teens. Let your conversation partner finish his or her thought. You will get your chance to speak; if you don’t, there’s always next time.

Don’t Hog The Spotlight

Long stories are just long. Your friends will either start glazing over or start slowly backing away. Pass the conversational ball often and remember that a play-by-play of something interesting to you is not interesting to all.

Jill: Yeah — the latest episode was SO funny. The ending was the best. I won’t ruin it for you though, in case you get a chance to watch. What did you do last night?

Don’t Give Unsolicited Advice

I had a friend like this growing up — she was always suggesting ways I could improve myself, whether it was changing my clothes, my hair or my boyfriend. It didn’t feel helpful, though — it felt like a magnifying glass on her perception of my faults. The friendship didn’t last, but the lesson did: if someone wants your advice, they will ask for it. If not, your job is to be a friend, not a parent.

Don’t Gossip

Gossip is an easy trap to fall into, so beware. What starts as a friendly conversation can lead to trash talk. If you are in a group of gossipers, say, “Oh — yikes! I don’t gossip about anyone — I’m too afraid it will come back to get me!” This often stops people in their tracks, mostly because they didn’t realize they were gossiping in the first place. If that doesn’t do it, move away. Gossiping has a way of haunting you forever.

Be Careful of Foot-In-Mouth Disease

We’ve all done it; we’ve all unintentionally said something that we shouldn’t have said. The best way to get out of this situation is to avoid it entirely. Do not ask personal questions unless you already know the answer: “How come your dad isn’t ever home?” or “Why does your little brother scream like that?” or “How come you only have one car?” can lead to really awkward results. If you do, in fact, stick your foot in your mouth, sincerely apologize, change the topic, and learn from your mistake.

Learning from mistakes is what being a teenager is all about. Trust me — been there, done that, got the t-shirt.