If there was one key to happiness in love and life and possibly even success it would be to go into each conversation you have with this commandment to yourself front and foremost in your mind, “Just Listen” and be more interested than interesting, more fascinated than fascinating and more adoring than adorable.
Mark Goulston

Less is More!

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” ~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Crazy English

Working in Asia many years, I certainly feel empathy for those who have English as a second of third language..what a challenge!


Homographs are words of like spelling but with more than one meaning. A homograph that is also pronounced differently is a heteronym.

1) The bandage was wound around the wound.

2) The farm was used to produce produce.

3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.

4) We must polish the Polish furniture..

5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.

6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert..

7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.

8) A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.

9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.

10) I did not object to the object.

11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.

13) They were too close to the door to close it.

14) The buck does funny things when the does are present.

15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.

16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.

17) The wind was too strong to wind the sail.

18) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear..

19) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.

20) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

Let’s face it – English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren’t invented in England or French fries in France . Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren’t sweet, are meat. We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig..

And why is it that writers write but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce and hammers don’t ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn’t the plural of booth, beeth? One goose, 2 geese. So one moose, 2 meese? One index, 2 indices? Doesn’t it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? Sometimes I think all the English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell?

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which, an alarm goes off by going on.

English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race, which, of course, is not a race at all. That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible.

PS. – Why doesn’t ‘Buick’ rhyme with ‘quick’ ?

Stories and a Challenge

From John Mauldin….this is true about writing, and about presenting:
There is a hierarchy to what is offered in publications these days. The first and lowest level is data, the raw numbers. On top of that come the levels of information, news, analysis, opinion, and actual actionable advice. Each adds to our depth and breadth of understanding. Yet, even as they add to our store of knowledge, we find ourselves drowning in information and knowledge. All too much of it is random noise, serving only to drown out clarity and wisdom .

The highest form of writing … is storytelling.

Our goal (and that of many of our friends) is not to be the teller of old tales, but to seek to find the analogy, the resemblance of what is happening in the world to what we can readily understand. If the reader can come away with a fresh insight into the mysteries of life and markets, of our larger social contracts and how they impact our financial future, then we have done our work.

Scientists have found that we humans actually get an endorphin rush when we arrive at an understanding of an event that that has perplexed us. Sadly, that understanding does not have to be true, but merely believed, to release that ancient chemical rush.

Our craft is part of the human heritage, harking back to when our ancestors sat around the fire at night relating the events of the day to the larger picture.

Are you helping your audience find the fresh insight?  Are you helping him or her to understand things in a new way, minimizing complexity and improving clarity?


Rehearsal is a Process

Many people don’t understand there are clear steps to a rehearsal.  There is a process.  Once you have an understanding of this process, you will be better able to prepare and practice powerful presentations.

Read Through

Read Through is the process we all learned in school. It’s a mental process. Once you have your script, bullet points, notes, etc., take your presentation and read it through, paragraph by paragraph. Hone it and polish. Clarify. Look for cumbersome words and sentences. Simplify. Think of the audience. Do they have your language as their second language? Will they understand this?

The Sharpening Stone

As you do this, get more focus: think as if you were the decision maker in the audience. Hone your content against the sharpening stone of your audience understanding and your objective. Make it sharper and sharper, like an knife on a sharpening stone. At the end of each paragraph, stop and ask yourself: Would I (as the decision maker) understand that? Do I care? So what? Does this statement help to meet the objective? What does that mean to me, as a prospect? By being ruthlessly critical and thinking like the prospective audience, you will be able to cut unwanted material and to sharpen the message.

Remember the Four P’s: Properly Prepared Pitches Prevail!

Talk Through

This is the first step in physical rehearsal. In this step, you actually speak the presentation out loud. This is the only way you’ll really crystallize the ideas in your mind. Many business people bridle at this step
 when I’m working with them, saying, “I’ll just talk you through it.” You can no more learn your presentation by talking about it than you can improve your swing by talking about golf. Actually deliver it. The more you speak the pitch out loud, the more comfort you will have when presenting. I suggest you do it several times for new material. Even better, speak it into a recorder, and listen to yourself. Do you sound confident, professional, and interesting? Go ahead. You can do it.

When you do this, you will again find cumbersome sentences and words. We tend to write at a higher level of language and precision than we speak. We use larger words and sentences. Now is when you personalize your pitch, making it sound the way you talk; making it warmer and less stilted. Make it yours. Continue to hone it against the objective and audience. Continue to ask, “Will they care?” You will find that you can make your points clearer and clearer as you trim and focus. Each time you rehearse, you will find something that could be better.

Walk Through

After Talk Through, do a Walk Through. This second step in physical rehearsal consists of standing and delivering the pitch. You can do this wherever you are, but it’s best if you can do it in a room similar to (ideally the same room) the one in which you will present.

For this to be most effective, have some audience members in attendance and use a video camera.

Rehearse to yourself in the office (door closed if you must), in the shower, in front of a mirror, in the car, in an empty boardroom, in front of your colleagues, and in the actual presentation room you will be using. Ideally, if possible, you should do a full rehearsal in the room where you will present, with a coach and with video. But any rehearsal is better than none!

For a big pitch, you will want to do full dress rehearsal as the final Walk Through. As we know from theatre, this is a full rehearsal on the final stage, wherein the full performance is run as it will be on the opening night. We run a dress rehearsal with full lighting, slides, videos, etc., so the pitch team has a very good level of comfort with each of their parts and the overall flow, impact, and delivery. The presentation is recorded. A dress rehearsal often is where you iron out the “bugs” regarding logistics, microphones, technical issues, etc. All team pitches will be better after a dress rehearsal. If you are unable to use the actual venue, replicate it as best you can.


  • Professionals rehearse.
  • Practice and rehearse in advance, not in front of the prospect.
  • Hone your content against the sharpening stone of your objective and audience understanding.
  • Four steps of rehearsal:

1. Read Through (a mental process)

2. Talk Through (a physical process)

3. Walk Through (stand and deliver)

4. Dress Rehearsal (on location, with props)



Barriers to Listening


Below is a list of those things that get in the way of listening. Sometimes, it’s a wonder we get the message across at all!


Physical Barriers

-        Background noise and competing conversations

-        Visual distractions

-        Hunger (thirst, other physical distractions)

-        Hearing impediments (sinus, respiratory, auditory impairments)


Mental and Emotional Barriers

-        Not “present” — mind elsewhere, wandering, tuned out

-        Not “open” — already decided

-        Disinterested, bored

-        Stress, anger, dislike of speaker

-        Prejudices


The more you are aware of these barriers, the more you can do to overcome them.


Three Basic Listening Modes


How often do we listen, really listen, to another? I suggest it’s not common at home or in business. Listening consists of three general modes in a continuum.


-        Competitive or Combative Listening happens when we are more interested in promoting our own point of view than in understanding or exploring someone else’s view. We either listen for openings to take the floor, or for flaws or weak points we can attack. As we pretend to pay attention, we are either impatiently waiting for an opening or internally formulating our rebuttal and planning our devastating comeback that will destroy their argument and make us the victor.


-        In Passive or Attentive Listening, we are genuinely interested in hearing and understanding the other person’s point of view. We are attentive and do listen. We assume that we heard and understand correctly, but stay passive and do not verify it.


-        Active or Reflective Listening is the single most useful and important listening skill. In active listening, we also are genuinely interested in understanding what the other person is thinking, feeling, and wanting; and we are active in checking out our understanding before we respond with our own new message. We restate or paraphrase our understanding of the sender’s message and reflect it back to the sender for verification. This verification or reflective process is what distinguishes active listening and makes it effective.


Reflective listening is another way of rephrasing what the other person has said in a nonjudgmental manner, and then saying it back to them to make certain you have understood what they have said — not just the words, but the feelings and meanings. Reflective listening may be the most important and often underutilized skill involved in effective communication.


One of the biggest barriers to reflective listening is the notion that repeating back the ideas and feelings of the other person is to accept and agree with them.  This is not the case — you are simply demonstrating that you understand what is being expressed (and you are affirming the person for expressing the thought and feeling).


This technique gives the other person the chance to correct or modify the thought or comment. It also makes them feel good because they see you making the effort to really understand what they are about. Once you have a clear understanding of what the other person has said, then you can begin to evaluate where to go from there. As Stephen Covey said, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”


Reflection is possibly the most powerful device in our personal tool box for relating to and working with other people. It is also very underused by most people. It is a fundamental approach toward affirmation and shared understanding.


The technique is straightforward.


-        First, you listen with aggressive attention. Listen to learn. Listen without judgment. Don’t assume this is easy; it requires concentration and mental discipline!

-        You support this physically: lean slightly forward while you listen, maintaining good eye contact with the speaker, being calm and not fidgeting while they are talking. Give verbal feedback as they speak (“yes,” “I see,” “uh-huh,” etc.).

-        The next step is to empathize with the feelings involved. Take a few seconds to quickly remember a time when you experienced the same or a similar feeling (it doesn’t have to be the same situation). The feeling is the thing that counts.

-        Then you find the words that feed back the essence of what the other person is saying and feeling. Do not interpret any element of their statement. Don’t guess at their motivations, for example. Just rephrase what they have told you. The interpretation comes later. You can use empathic statements such as “so you feel that…” or “I can sense that you…” to help capture the emotional qualities of what they said or how they said it.

-        Feel free to name the feeling or emotion expressed. This is key to affirmation of the other. “So you are upset about the new policy.” I call this “naming the emotion, without becoming emotional.” Maintain your disciplined, cool demeanor.

-        Once you have done this, then you can add your own thoughts and feelings to the situation — but only after you have fed back the critical portion. If you are off a little in your understanding, the other person will correct you. Now, you have real communication and understanding. If you were right on, they will realize that they have been understood. Rapport will skyrocket as a result.


“Listening, not imitation, may be the sincerest form of flattery.”

- Dr Joyce Brothers

Great Quote

For those of us with older children, this one really strikes home…

“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around…

“But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years!”

Don’t Do It

I recently worked with a client preparing for a board presentation. We spent a number of sessions, getting the flow, messaging and takeaways just right.  The talk fit well within the allocated time, with plenty of time for Q&A.  He was comfortable and ready.  Then, a few minutes before his presentation, the boss took out one slide (he only had 5).  So his whole flow was thrown off, and the messages got jumbled.  The manager said he cut everyone, as they all were too long!  Nothing like putting your team in deficit!  Now, he also said they were supposed to ‘be flexible’.  I agree with the sentiment, but most certainly not in the method.  Managers:  Don’t do it!  Give your team the best chance you can for a good impression on the board.  It speaks to them… and to you.

10 Ways

Thinking will start some ‘lists’ posts…how about 10 Ways to Keep Me Engaged in Your Presentation

  1. Be real. Let people see the actual person inside you. Most times that will occur through your personal stories.
  2. Talk like I do. Avoid the ‘ten-dollar’ words, the fancy descriptions, and the mysterious TLAs (three-letter acronyms). Relate to ME.
  3. Use humor when possible. Laughter creates interest and memories.  The best humor comes about when you are willing to laugh at yourself.
  4. Don’t tell me what to think. Let me reach my own conclusions. Don’t ‘sell’ too hard.
  5. Be honest. Credible person = credible message.
  6. Avoid being too polished. Back to #1; real stories and real comments count.
  7. Reveal your weaknesses. We all are far from perfect. It helps me to respect the areas where you are gifted if you reveal your mistakes.
  8. Be brief. Less is more. I’ll likely remember only 2-3 things you say.
  9. Make me smart. Use my language, and make it easy for me to apply what you’re presenting.
  10. Tell me why I should care. Help me understand why I should listen. Why is a ‘heart’ question.  Tell me why I should listen, care, and act on your message.

The Elevator Speech

We often do a poor job answering the simple question, “What do you do for a living?”.  If we say, “I am a _____.”, it leaves the listener to decide what that means, based on their experiences dealing with others who gave themselves that label.  And we miss the opportunity to set ourselves distinctly apart.

There are many instances where we see people for just a short time.  Here’s how to use that valuable time to make the right impression.

What is it?

The classic “elevator speech” is essentially a standard answer, crafted in advance, to the “Who are you and what do you do?” question.  The name comes from the idea that you need something ready to say when you have a chance encounter with someone you need to connect with on an elevator, and have less than 60 seconds to deliver your message.

It begins with a brief description of what you do and the organization you work for, and often includes points or examples of special aspects of your offerings – how you uniquely provide value to clients or customers.  It typically closes with a mechanism that provides a link to future contacts.

Some people prepare specific elevator speeches for the boss, co-workers (peers) and employees…to drive home specific points about current projects and initiatives, and to keep communication flowing in their companies.

Effective elevator speeches, while not literally memorized word for word, are well rehearsed so as to sound completely natural and spontaneous. They need to be rehearsed, practiced, but sufficiently flexible to permit on-the-fly adjustment to the person you are talking to.


Being well-prepared for opportunities involving recurring questions, like the elevator scenario, is a basic requirement for the exceptional presenter.  It’s also a good opportunity to practice techniques that will work for opportunities involving more complicated questions wherein you don’t have complete answers worked out in advance.

Many of life’s presentations are impromptu, therefore much of your success in life will depend upon how you approach these opportunities.  The prepared presenter possesses the skills to leverage opportunities offered by being at the right place at the right time with the right audience.  Being “Always On” means having the ability to say the right thing, in the right way; at the right moment, and in a manner that helps people to care about what we have to say.


Here are some basic tips on preparation of elevator speeches.  These recommendations won’t look a lot different from advice on scheduled presentations; they simply emphasize the key aspects of a very specific type of impromptu opportunity. To be your best (an exceptional presenter) you need to put in some extra effort doing your homework (see below).

Preparation Tips for the “Elevator Speech”

1. Define and Design. Tie down the following four design and context factors before you begin writing your speech.  Good definitions here will limit the range of situations you need to be ready for.

  • Your Audience: This is the “who” part.  Do you need to be ready for potential clients or customers, senior management or peers in your own organization or, for job shoppers, a contact in another organization?
  • Your Objective(s): These get to the point of the chance encounter and define what you want to accomplish.  An objective could be as simple as establishing name recognition in a positive way, or as difficult as getting a “yes” on a request for a future interview or sales call.
  • Your Content or Subject Matter: With the “who” defined above, you now need to fill in the “what” – the range of topics that you plan to be prepared for given the audience.
  • Your Key Message: These are the key points that you want to make with your target audience(s) and form the foundation for the words you’ll use.  Often you’ll want your key message to involve a benefit to the audience of some kind, so people are intrigued and want more.

2.      Develop Your Content.  Collect and organize your thoughts about topics, objectives and key messages on paper.  Keep in mind that you typically will have less than a minute to deliver your key points.  Ruthlessly edit to get your content down to a size that can be delivered without even a hint of being rushed.  Work carefully with the Why to assure that each piece of your material connects to an objective you’ve identified for this audience, and with the How to assure that your planned methods contribute to the image and style you want to portray.  Interactive is best.

3.      Write Your Script. Literally write down the three to six sentences you want to use.  Again, edit so that each word carries value and each phrase rolls easily off the tongue.  Here’s a simple example:

“Hi, I’m Jeff Woodard. I help people communicate better.” Then I pause and a new contact will ask “about what?”  I then say something like “Most of my work involves presentation effectiveness”.   “In fact, I truly believe that much of the quality of our life depends on how we approach the many communication opportunities we have, and we too often miss opportunities because you don’t learn much of this in school.  I know that both individuals and companies can achieve dramatically better results through improved presentation skills.” I then pause.  They likely will respond.  Then “I personally coach some of the brightest people from the best companies in the world, and I speak on my Presentations at special events.”  Then I hand over my card, and ask for theirs.  Then I mention that we have a cool website and look for a way I can email them something of value free – always looking for ways to give value up front.

4. Rehearse, Rehearse and Rehearse. Rehearse with a video camera (the best way).  But rehearse in whatever ways you can.  In front of a mirror, with your associates, your spouse, with anyone who will listen and give you feedback.  This type of presentation must not have any hints that it is “canned” or “memorized” and must be paced to come off as smooth, natural and unrushed.  Let me emphasize that it’s important to be real – definitely be ready, but be real.

5. Deliver with confidence. When the opportunity emerges, deliver it with vigor and confidence


A good elevator speech is a mainstay for almost everyone.  We all like to be liked, and at a minimum, a good elevator routine helps us leave favorable impressions.  On the upside, the good elevator speech might just be the entry ticket to the client you’ve always wanted to call on or the firm you’ve wanted to interview with.  This preparation can make a positive difference on your credibility, your reputation and your future opportunities.

Action Plan

  • Start now by defining the types of audiences you want to be prepared for in the context of elevator speeches.
  • Use a written planner, and follow the steps in the tips section above to build your own speech.
  • Evaluate how it works in the first few uses, and modify as needed to make sure it works for you.