Thursday, December 31, 2009

Interviewing for a Job: Projecting Enthusiasm from the Get-go!

Recruiting experts and employment specialists are constantly, and rightly, advising job seekers to look upbeat when they meet a potential hirer. In fact, just yesterday, appearing on PBS’s highly regarded "Nightly Business Report," John Challenger, CEO of the well-known firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas, urged applicants to project optimism during an interview, despite the understandably dispiriting environment. Well, here are two easy-to-implement suggestions on how to project enthusiasm and zeal from the get-go:

1. Display a wide smile when the hirer and you look at each other for the first time. I call it the “all-32-teeth-showing-smile.” In other words, a plain, ordinary smile is not good enough. I have ample evidence to say, with conviction, that a display of dental enamel has a visceral impact on the other person. It unambiguously conveys warmth that words cannot express. (So, if you stop by a McDonald’s to gulp down a sandwich just before the interview, be sure your teeth look perfectly clean before you meet the hirer.)

2. Move with alacrity. Move with energy. For instance, supposing you are walking toward the hirer who is standing at the other end of the hallway, or as the hirer is looking on, you get up to fetch a glass of water or cup of coffee from across the room. Well, take brisk strides instead of moving at an arthritic pace. In other words, let your physical actions project that you are a person of enormous energy.

Remember, a key thought in every hirer’s mind, as he or she studies you, is: If I were to hire this person, will he or she come to the workplace each morning bursting with enthusiasm and zeal?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

High-Impact Communication Skills: The Extraordinarily Articulate Bruce Hoffman in Action on the BBC This Morning

Bruce Hoffman’s name first entered my consciousness in the early part of this decade, shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, thanks to his unremittingly lucid and penetrating comments on al Qaeda in particular and terrorism in general, and I soon realized that he is perhaps the most articulate American in the field of anti-terrorism. Ever since, I’ve found listening to Mr. Hoffman to be most rewarding: His extraordinary command of the language enables him to give expression to his expertise, deep insights, and views as few specialists can. Thus, whenever he is featured on any of my favorite radio or TV shows, I instantly sharpen my antennas so that I don’t miss a word of what he is about to utter. Not surprisingly, I honor Mr. Hoffman on my website’s home page as well in my book The Articulate Professional – 3rd Edition (on page 4, where I laud some 15 or so Americans whose voices are extremely influential partly because they possess a vigorous vocabulary).

This morning, Mr. Hoffman was on a 3-member panel assembled by The BBC World Service to discuss the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. He did not disappoint, using a stream of fresh, vivid, evocative, and synonymous words and phrases--the defining trait of articulate people--to emphasize his points. For instance, when asked whether it was his view that the 9/11 attacks had indeed shaped this past decade, Mr. Hoffman replied: “This was the end of the halcyon period during the '90s when, supposedly, a new world order was emerging which would be far more peaceful, far less truculent than was the case during the Cold War. (Instead) these attacks led to a dramatic transition from the belligerence but non-violence of the Cold War to an actual hot war that the U.S. was involved in during the last 9 years--this succession of military engagements that would have been unimaginable in the 1990s.”

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Formula for Seizing People’s Attention When Expressing Your Indignation; New York Judge Jeffrey Spinner’s “Piercing” Words

One of the benefits of possessing a powerful vocabulary is that when you are really indignant, it is easier to capture everyone’s attention. [No wonder I have devoted an entire section on words for “Specifying Criticism or Disapproval” in my book, The Articulate Professional – 3rd Edition (2008).] A New York judge’s criticism last week of a bank for its apathy and indifference (in its dealings with a customer facing foreclosure) was so piercing, thanks to his liberal use of out-of-the-ordinary and high-caliber words, that it made national headlines.

Here is some of Suffolk County Judge Jeffrey Spinner’s opinion, as reported on “ABC World News with Charlie Gibson”: He called the bank’s behavior “repugnant” and accused it of “inequitable, unconscionable, vexatious, and opprobrious” conduct, as well as “duplicity… intransigence… and a condescending attitude.” Saying that “each and every proposal (made by the customer), no matter how reasonable, was soundly rebuffed” by the bank, the judge decided that “the appropriate equitable remedy was to simply cancel the loan."

A note of caution with regard to oral communication: As I stress in my seminars and in my book, when speaking, it’s not a good idea to spew out uncommon words in the manner of a fusillade, because that gives the audience acute listening indigestion and creates a deep aversion toward the speaker. In oral communications, use high-caliber words sparingly and with synonyms (or synonymous phrases), antonyms, and split-second pauses to help ensure everyone in the intended audience understands your message fully.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Praising an Employee: GM Chairman’s Uninspiring Performance Yesterday

By now you’ve probably seen the widely broadcast video clip showing General Motors Chairman Ed Whitacre Jr. making the surprise announcement about CEO Fritz Henderson’s sudden departure. What struck me most about that video clip was the manner in which Mr. Whitacre delivered his words of praise for Mr. Henderson’s role in engineering the company’s ongoing turnaround. With his left hand holding a sheaf of papers, and his other hand in a pocket, Mr. Whitacre’s utterance sounded very knee-jerk and superficial—a far cry from what I would have expected from one of corporate America’s most highly accomplished execs. [It was under Mr. Whitacre’s leadership that Southwestern Bell—later renamed ATT—was transformed into an industry titan.]

Granted that Mr. Whitacre had no choice but to read his statement (the press conference had been hastily called), he could have easily made his praise for the outgoing CEO effective and impactful by using his right hand to accentuate the words, rather than have that limb hidden in his right pocket.

Bottom line: All execs are quick to say that “people are our greatest assets.” Well, if that is the case, why not manifest that sentiment? Here are some tips: When praising an employee, (i) be emphatic, (ii) make your sincerity unambiguous and transparent by using appropriate body language, and (iii) use at least a couple of fresh words or phrases to help shed triteness.

Later this week, I will be posting a video clip of the GM Chairman’s shabby performance to help illustrate how not to praise an employee. And you can bet that the clip will become a prized asset in future renditions of my seminar on How to Deliver Effective Praise in Just Three Sentences,” the objective of which is to help managers boost employee morale, loyalty, and productivity.”

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Men Diminishing Women in the Workplace, Albeit Unwittingly

To graphically illustrate the unwitting diminution of women that occurs in the workplace, even by men who are supposedly sophisticated and urbane, I narrated the following story to my audience at last week’s Toastmasters District 56 Fall Conference in Houston, just as I did a few weeks earlier to employees of Shell and the USDA, among others. [Incidentally, this is just one of the many recent cases I can readily recount that help rebut those who contend that such diminution of women’s communications is a thing of the past and that the topic is passé.]

A couple of years ago, around the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, George Stephanopoulos, host of ABC's “This Week with George Stephanopoulos," interviewed a panel comprising four members of the 9-11 Commission--former Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, Attorney Richard Ben-Veniste, former Navy Secretary John Lehman, and Commission Chairman Thomas Kean. There were five rounds of questions, hence a total of 20 questions, and this is how Mr. Stephanopoulos addressed the panelists each time he asked a question: For each of the five questions put to Gorelick, she was addressed simply as “Jamie”; Ben-Veniste was addressed “Richard Ben-Veniste” all five times; the other two men were addressed as “Secretary Lehman” and “Commissioner Kean” respectively each time they were asked a question. I was aghast and indignant at seeing even George Stephanopoulos, widely regarded as one of our more suave and polished TV hosts, succumb to how we men are “hardwired.”

The express purpose of my sharing the above story with audiences is to raise men’s consciousness on this issue. The screw-up by Mr. Stephanopoulos, along with a couple of other real-life examples which specifically illustrate how men are losing job/ sales opportunities thanks to such invidious, albeit unconscious, behavior, have become staples of some of my communication modules. In a future blog, I will be discussing simple tactics and strategies that can be employed to preempt or nullify such situations.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Powerful Communication Skills: The Late James Lilley—Unquestionably One of America’s Most Articulate

In recent days, there’s been many a commentary on the airwaves lionizing James R. Lilley, former U.S. ambassador to China and South Korea, who died earlier this month. For me, his passing away is a deep personal loss. You see, Mr. Lilley was perhaps the most articulate American public figure, and therefore a source of great inspiration to me. His communication skills were unmatched and unrivaled. His use of simple but powerful verbal and nonverbal techniques--the type I discuss in my seminars and coaching--was exemplary. For instance, note the flow of synonyms--a defining trait of articulate people--in the following example taken from a 2001 interview during which he urged China to publish President Bush’s letter written to the widow of a Chinese pilot in the wake of the famous EP-3 surveillance-plane incident off Hainan Island. "I hope they publish it because their language has been attacking, strident, virulent, whereas Bush looks sympathetic, calm." No surprise that whenever U.S. relations with China or with either of the two Koreas were in the limelight, Mr. Lilley was the preferred guest on radio and TV.

James Lilley was one of my heroes. I seriously doubt that I’ll see the likes of him during the remainder of my life.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Upcoming Presentation that is Open to the Public: “Simple Verbal and Nonverbal Skills for Creating a Highly Favorable First Impression”

This coming Saturday, November 21, I will be presenting two sessions on “Simple Verbal and Nonverbal Skills for Creating a Highly Favorable First Impression” at the Toastmasters District 56 Fall Conference to be held at Unity Church’s Grace Hall, 2929 Unity Drive, Houston, TX 77057. [For location, click on: ] The two sessions, each 45-mintues long, will begin at 11:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. respectively. Non-Toastmasters are welcome to attend either session.

This topic, one of the newest in my repertoire, has previously been presented at, among others, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Shell Oil, the Kellogg School of Management, Project Management Institute’s Austin Chapter ( and some job fairs. Among the modules on my agenda: the theory of matching contrasts for men’s attire; the visceral attraction of dental enamel; answering a “why” question; men diminishing women unwittingly; the ability to initiate and sustain an engaging conversation with anyone; enunciation/pronunciation for foreign-born professionals; the power of a single word that is out-of-the-ordinary and strong, vivid, or evocative.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Nonverbal Communication Skills: Using the Torso--Leaning Forward to Emphasize a Point

During my presentation earlier this week on “Uncommon Tips for More Impactful Presentations” at Rice University's Jones Graduate School of Business, I did not discuss the use of one’s torso, something which was on my original agenda but had to be deleted because of a late start. So, here goes:

The use of one’s torso to help emphasize a point and enhance one’s impact on the audience is best illustrated with a real-life example, this one involving then-Houston Fire Chief Lester Tyra. In the summer of 2000, Tyra was embroiled in a major controversy stemming from the sudden death of a 12-year old boy Daniel Lopez who had twice sought medical help at a local fire station. It appears that paramedics failed to examine the boy thoroughly, and his death a few hours later stirred an “uprising” of sorts and quickly became a cause célèbre within the Hispanic community.

In September/October that year, Chief Tyra was interviewed by Houston’s most prominent TV channel and fielded numerous questions relating to the circumstances surrounding the boy’s death. Upon noting that Tyra was impassive and not evincing much concern or sensitivity to the tragedy, the interviewer asked him, “You agree that the incident was tragic?” (or words to that effect). I remember being stupefied by Tyra’s demeanor when he replied “Yes, it was tragic.” His expression was devoid of any sign of regret. The somewhat corpulent fire chief, who was comfortably seated during the interview, did not move a single muscle as he uttered those words. Perhaps sensing that this apparent indifference could damage Tyra’s cause, and as if to give the fire chief another opportunity to express his pain, the interviewer again asked “It was tragic, right?” But Tyra simply repeated his previous utterance, and once again in an apathetic tone. Not surprisingly, Tyra was demoted by Houston’s mayor a few days later.

Now, I have absolutely no doubt that Fire Chief Tyra had greatly agonized over the young boy’s death and that he was full of compassion for the Lopez family’s suffering and loss. But he failed to exhibit any concern. Tyra should have made his sense of grief manifest during the interview by using appropriate body language. For instance, at the crucial moment when he was asked that direct question (“...this incident was tragic?”), Tyra could have leaned forward in his chair, and using a different vocal pitch and speaking slowly, said something like “You know (interviewer’s name), I have agonized greatly over young Daniel's death….” I believe such an unambiguous display of his feelings during that high-profile interview might have helped mollify many in the local community and perhaps enabled him to retain his job.

Note that if Fire Chief Tyra had been standing (such as at a press conference) while fielding the above question, he could have displayed his feelings and sadness by leaning forward, holding the lectern firmly and pressing his torso against it, as he gave the above suggested reply.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Interviewing for a Job: How to Emphasize that You are the Right Person for the Position

Last weekend, while working one-on-one with an employee of an oil services company who is looking for a new job, I observed that she was having difficulty speaking persuasively and with conviction when replying to the question “why do you think you should get this job?” Here is one of the three-sentence approaches I presented to her for responding to such questions or comments:

Sentence 1: (with an endearing smile) Well, I have studied the job requirements (or responsibilities or expectations) for this position and I firmly believe that I am the right person for this job.

Sentence 2: For instance, while working as … at the abc company, it was my initiative (or I spearheaded the project) that led to the firm saving xxx dollars (or which led to the company finding new opportunities in ….). [Could be expanded, by adding another sentence, to mention a second relevant experience or accomplishment.]

Sentence 3: Which is why (or, it is for these reasons), Mr. Smith, I have absolutely no doubt that I am fit to handle the many challenges (or responsibilities) that come with this position (or that I have the requisite skills and the competence to address the broad spectrum of problems this position entails.)

There will be more on job interviews in future blogs.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Why This Blog? My 28-Year Journey Critiquing and Dissecting Communications

The purpose of this blog is exactly what’s implied by the byline just under the title: To share with you, the reader, verbal and nonverbal communication tips that are worthwhile and readily applicable in most occupations and professions. And the principal animus for my starting this blog is to help stay connected with the thousands of men and women who have attended one or more of my workshops, seminars, speeches, and the like, as well as all those who have acquired my book The Articulate Professional (first published in 1993; the 3rd and most recent edition in 2008).

It’s been nearly 3 decades since I first began critiquing and dissecting communications--a pursuit far removed from my academic qualifications which are in engineering and financial management. The first time my “analyst’s mind” got oriented toward analyzing people’s utterances, with the objective of determining why a crucial communication had succeeded or failed, was in 1981, 2 years after my graduation from Northwestern’s Kellogg School. That occurrence involved a first-time visit to a remote Northwest Houston plant of Texas Instruments (TI) by the company’s then CEO, Fred Bucy. Mr. Bucy, who was justifiably revered throughout the company as a demigod, stumbled badly and failed to capitalize on a rare opportunity to speak to--and thus inspire and “connect” with--the hundreds of us employees who worked there. The Bucy incident, plus others (both within and outside of TI) that followed in quick succession, served as graphic illustrations of how even well-educated, highly trained, and exceptionally smart execs and managers could screw up big-time when it came to communicating a very simple message to employees, clients, and other stakeholders. But it took me another dozen or so years to gather enough cogent material (based on my observations and research) and courage before I was ready to present workshops and seminars, and conduct one-on-one coaching, all with the objective of helping others invigorate their important communications. Thus, in the fall of 1994, 3 years after resigning from Texas Instruments, I embarked on my new full-time career.

Often, while I am conducting a workshop or an executive coaching session, a client’s face will light up when I demonstrate or discuss a skill or technique that he or she feels is eminently applicable in an upcoming meeting or presentation. Well, if this blog succeeds in providing its readers at least one such valuable and “implementable” idea each month, it will have met its modest goals.

V.J. Singal
Communication Consultant, Coach, Trainer, and Speaker