Saturday, March 31, 2012

Executive Communication: Shell Oil President Marvin Odum Wins Me Over Instantly, Thanks to a Most Disarming and Endearing Smile

Take a look at the video clip below which is from a recent interview broadcast on PBS’s famed Nightly Business Report. I believe you too will be full of admiration for Shell Oil President Marvin Odum’s facial expression: His wide, almost constant, and somewhat apologetic smile gives him a disarming appearance, thus helping him come across as personable, approachable, full of the milk of human kindness… (I could go on).

[Click here for the full interview.]

The clip below is now Exhibit One when I am coaching top executives (as well as others who have to make presentations to new audiences) on how to be endearing and create a highly favorable first impression.

© Copyright 2012 V. J. Singal

Glaring Mispronunciations by Leading Lights

First, let me remind you of the purpose behind this periodic feature on glaring mispronunciations: It stems from my belief that if someone who is well placed or who moves in “articulate circles” is mispronouncing a word, chances are that a few of my blog readers are also making the same pronunciation error. In other words, this feature is not at all meant to denigrate or ridicule any particular person. And the reason why I name the program and identify the speaker is solely to make this feature credible.

Two notable cases of mispronunciation by high profile people caught my ear in recent weeks:

(i) Albeit being pronounced as [awl-by-it] instead of [awl-bee-it] by Wharton Professor Susan Wachter during the January 19 edition of Marketplace. Hear it for yourself by clicking here—she begins speaking at about 2.0 minutes into the clip. BTW, Ms. Wachter has a very mellifluous voice and great diction.

(ii) Artifice being pronounced as [ahr-tuh-fys] instead of [ahr-tuh-fis] by filmmaker Kevin Smith during a March 20 interview on NPR’s “Morning Edition.” The mispronunciation of artifice occurs at 6.0 minutes into the interview. Here is the link.

© Copyright 2012 V. J. Singal

Boasting (with Humor) that you are “Severely Patriotic” or “Severely American”; Inducting the Adverb “Severely” Into Your Humor Vocabulary

Recall Mitt Romney’s assertion during a major speech last month (February 10) that he was a “severely conservative” Republican governor….

While Romney was dead serious when he uttered those words—after all, he was desperately trying to woo diehard conservatives—the highly unusual use of the adverb “severely” with such a positive connotation quickly became the butt of jokes, and has been grist for my “humor mill.”

For instance, last week, while introducing someone who shares my concern for the environment, I described her as a “severe environmentalist,” using a panoply of nonverbals to emphasize the word severe, thus drawing laughter from the audience, as intended. And on numerous occasions in the past few weeks, I have jokingly referred to friends as being “severely Democratic” or “severely Republican,” depending on their ideological bent, and praised some as being “severely progressive” or “severely advanced” in their thinking.

Thank you, Mitt, for enlarging my “humor vocabulary”!

© Copyright 2012 V. J. Singal

Friday, March 30, 2012

Vocabulary Enhancement Words: New Edition of “Words of the Month”

The latest edition of “Words of the Month,” my free vocabulary enrichment feature, has been online since the middle of this month. The six featured words, all of which lie within the conversational vocabulary of America’s most articulate (as is the case with all of the words featured in my book, “The Articulate Professional-3rd Edition”):

1. inveigh
2. fatuous
3. wunderkind
4. histrionics
5. metastasize
6. consummate


-- (with reference to the ongoing vitriolic attacks among the Republican presidential contenders) analysts wondering if all the inveighing against one another will leave the ultimate nominee severely weakened

-- Rick is constantly inveighing against something or the other

-- to inveigh against abortion rights; inveighing against the absurdly high pay packages of some corporate CEOs

-- Rush Limbaugh: an unfailing inveigher against anything and everything that is liberal; on the issue of abusive labor practices in foreign countries, everyone seems to be attacking Apple--no one inveighs against

-- amid the mounting international condemnation of Syria’s Assad regime, inveighers being of all stripes: the Muslim nation of Turkey, the Arab state of…


-- my previous employer suffered from the fatuous thinking that if you have a fantastic new product, sales will automatically ….

-- I think Doug is pretty realistic, not Pollyannaish or a fatuous optimist

-- this is a fatuous statement because….; some of the fatuous and inane ads during last evening’s Super Bowl

-- the comment “let them eat cake” falsely attributed to Marie Antoinette by her detractors who wanted to portray her as fatuous, callous, and blithely unaware of…

-- a fatuous question, fatuous argument, fatuous statement, fatuous meeting, or fatuous stereotype; a fatuous belief

-- the fatuous conspiracy theories triggered by the sudden death of Andrew Breitbart


-- when Bob Simon of “60 Minutes” asked Dudamel “how do you react to being described as a genius, a prodigy, a wunderkind,” the maestro responded…

-- Ben and Marsha are our firm’s two wunderkinds, both being at least 15 years …

-- Radha Chitale of ABC News writing: “Omega-3 fatty acids are the latest wunderkind of the mood world

-- Mozart, the musical wunderkind

-- Tiger Woods, who is now well past his wunderkind phase


-- watching the defendant shed many a tear, people wondering: is the show of remorse histrionic or sincere?

-- somebody’s deliberate use of histrionics as a negotiating tactic

-- many in the audience being turned off by Nicole’s histrionics, her over-the-top performance, during her campaign speech

-- a driver who is given to throwing up his hands histrionically every time the freeway traffic comes to a halt

-- people who have been diagnosed with a “histrionic pattern of behavior” or “histrionic personality disorder” because of their…

-- the frequent histrionics, or histrionic outbursts, that characterized Adolf Hitler’s speeches


-- the fear that America’s use of drones could quickly metastasize into technologically advanced nations using such weapons unhindered to obliterate anyone anywhere…

-- we need to confront the issue before this sort of indiscipline metastasizes and becomes out of control

-- Phil’s concern for looking neat and well dressed has metastasized into an obsession

-- the committee’s charter has metastasized into a heady ambition to…

-- an unfounded notion metastasizing into a widely held belief, thanks to repeated assertions of a  falsehood by some prominent Americans with ready access to a media mouthpiece

consummate (as adjective)

-- the late Louis Rukeyser, whose constellation of highly admirable attributes made him a consummate interviewer of his panelists and guests

-- Steve, our division manager, is a consummate leader—for instance, he can….; somebody’s consummate preparation for a Q&A session

-- consummate happiness is a way of life, not a destination

-- the Supreme Court ruling: “Headlong flight, wherever it occurs, is the consummate act of evasion: it is not….”

-- a consummate master of the piano; a consummate entrepreneur; a consummate professional; a consummate dealmaker; a consummate pianist; a consummate worrier or a consummate liar; an ancient artifact that reflects consummate skill; Bruce Hoffman widely regarded as a consummate expert on counterterrorism; Bill Clinton, a consummate campaigner

© Copyright 2012  V. J. Singal

Answering Questions Effectively: When Replying to a “Why Question,” Start With a Direct Answer and Only Then Elaborate, If You Must

Earlier this week, while presenting a workshop on how to speak concisely and emphasize your point in just three sentences at the Southwest Regional Conference of FEW (“Federally Employed Women”) held at Houston’s Hyatt Regency, one of my key points was the following: When responding to a “why question” (such as “why is such-and-such thing important” or “why is such-and-such development affecting the price of milk in grocery stores”), it’s always a good idea to first give a direct answer--preferably by way of a relatively short sentence--and only then elaborate, if necessary, rather than the vice versa. An immediate direct response helps provide the listener with an instant milestone as to where you are heading, thus making the overall reply easier to digest and more compelling.

An illustration of the wrong way to answer a “why question”: the video clip below, from a recent PBS interview with actor and activist George Clooney, shows how cumbersome it can become for the listener when the person answering a “why question” first launches into the elaboration phase and only then gives the direct answer to the question. In this case, when PBS’s Judy Woodruff asks Clooney whether the resolution of problems in remote South Sudan will really affect the price of gas here in the U.S., he first gives a mini-101 on the various factors affecting gas prices--buttressing it with statements from President Obama and Senator Lugar--and only then answers affirmatively “there is no question …that it does raise the price.”

Clooney’s response would have been far more elegant and streamlined, and therefore easier to digest, had he first said something like “Judy, there is no question that the goings-on in South Sudan are affecting gas prices here” and then gone into the geopolitical aspects.
© Copyright 2012 V. J. Singal