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July 28, 2008

News & Opinion: Excerpts from How to Wow

By: Dylan Schleicher @ 4:58 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

You'll find below three short excerpts from How to Wow: Proven Strategies for Presenting Your ideas, Persuading Your Audience, and Perfecting Your Image by Frances Cole Jones. In the inroduction, Frances writes:
I present the information in How to Wow in a one or two page "search and destroy" format to make it easy for you to find the information needed in your situation--meeting, lunch, job interview, speech, PowerPoint presentation--so you can begin employing it, and enjoying the benefits of it, immediately.

Below, then, you'll find three of these sections.


From Chapter Two: Make It More Than "Just Lunch"
"Hi, you've reached ..."
These days, voice mail is ubiquitous. But like so many things in this category--mugs and baseball caps come immediately to my mind--it's rare to come across a voice mail message that's really appealing, much less knocks your socks off.
Why is this important? Because your voice mail message is often the first contact a new person has with you. Consequently, it's an opportunity to impress someone right from the start. Despite this, however, I hear far, far too many voice mails that are less than memorable, and more than a few that do the person active disservice.
Here's an example:
One day I got a call from a client who had just promoted a midlevel manager to a top spot. I asked her if there was anything in particular I should be aware of. Well, she said, he's smart and enthusiastic--which is great--but we're worried he doesn't come across as "manager material."
Next, I called his office to make an appointment. Here's what his voice mail message sounded like:
"HI THIS IS JOE I'M NOT HERE LEAVE A MESSAGE OR CALL LEWIS AT 212 ..."
Instead of sounding competent, calm, and in command, he sounded like he was trying to find his way out of a burning building. Was it Joe's goal to come across this way? Of course not. It was simply that no one had ever told him how important this seemingly
small detail was to the overall impression he left behind. Although we worked on a lot in his session, we began by rerecording his voice mail message. Now, should you call, you'll hear a message that's authoritative, warm, and welcoming--manager material, which he is.
So how should you go about recording your voice mail message?
  • You want to record it while standing and smiling. This will give your voice warmth and energy. If you sound even slightly flat/tired/anxious/impatient/distracted/drunk/flirtatious or like you are speaking to children, redo it.
  • You do not want any background or ambient noise. No cars, music, dogs barking, telephones ringing, etc.
  • You want to inhale before you begin to record and speak on an exhalation as you begin to leave your message. This gives your voice resonance and authority. Note please that you want to inhale before you begin to record. We don't want to hear you sucking in a big breath before you start speaking.
  • You want to be sure that your name and any alternate numbers and--should you have one--your assistant's name and number are distinctly articulated. If you, or they, have an unusual name, you will want to speak even more slowly.
  • You want to make sure it is current. Updating it should be the first thing you do on returning from a business trip or vacation.
    Among the many benefits of doing this is the fact that once it is done, you will always have that recording of you as your best self--even on days when you might, perhaps, not be.
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    From Chapter Three: Conspire to Inspire

    Hands Up!

    While I've discussed the importance of being aware of your posture at the table, I am giving hand placement its own section in order to emphasize its importance in signaling your intentions to others.
    As we all know, "Hands up!" is among the first things a police officer says when he has a criminal in range. In that instance, the police officer's goal is to ensure he or she doesn't have a concealed weapon.
    More happily, raising our hand is also the symbol of knowing the correct answer in grade school, or signaling our willingness to volunteer for activities as we get older.
    When you are seated at a table, your hands perform much the same function. They allow others at the table to feel safe around you, and they signal to others that you are available and excited to answer their questions, or volunteer for their cause.
    "But," some clients object, "I tend to talk with my hands if they're on the table. Isn't that bad?"
    Not at all if those motions are a natural outgrowth of what you are saying. They only become distracting when they are doing something to relieve you of nervous tension, such as tapping a pencil or fiddling with a wedding ring, etc.
    So if your goal is to inspire trust in others, one of the easiest ways to do that is to keep your hands where people can see them. Once they're on the table, my request is that they remain unclasped, as clasping your hands in front of you creates a barrier between you and those to whom you are speaking.
    The same principle holds true if you are standing. When you want others to trust you, keep your hands out of your pockets. Leaving them in sight will signal your honorable, or favorable, intentions. Alternatively, putting your hands in your pockets will send a message of distrust or unavailability--not to mention ruin the line of your suit.


    What's Working?
    This is a lesson I picked up in a terrific magazine article I read a few years ago. As I'm not a research/footnote type, I didn't make a note of the magazine it was in, the name of the article, or the author of the piece. If you are that person, please let me know so you can get the credit you deserve.
    What I do remember is that the thrust of the piece was how to solve problems more efficiently and effectively. The author recalled for readers the scene from Apollo 13 where the scientists have gathered to figure out how they are going to get Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, and Bill Paxton back from space alive--and notes that the first question they asked about the equipment on the ship was, "What's working?"
    Her point--now my point to you--is that when we have a situation that's tricky our first instinct is often to focus on what's not working as opposed to what is, and that this doesn't do a lot to facilitate problem-solving.
    "But," you might be thinking, "if we don't talk about what's wrong how can we take steps to change it?" This is a valid question. In reply, however, please note that "What's working?" was just the first question they asked; it was not the only question they asked.
    Unfortunately, however, beginning with the problem, the missteps, the drama seems to be the norm. It takes a cool head to step back and realize that not only does this waste time, but it also tends to lower morale. That from here it’s generally just a few short steps to people feeling overwhelmed and consequently becoming belligerent, defensive, self-righteous, defeated, victimized--take your pick from a medley of distracting motions.
    So the next time you find yourself gathered around a conference room table preparing to triage the latest equipment breakdown/drop in the market/wardrobe malfunction, see if you can take a moment before you focus on what’s not working to articulate what is. It might not make an enormous difference to the solution you discover, but it's
    more than likely it will help you arrive at that solution more quickly.
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    Excerpted from How to Wow
    Copyright © 2008 by Frances Cole Jones
    Published by Ballantine Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

  • About Dylan Schleicher


    Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.