Stand Out From The Crowd With The Right Communication Skills.

I've invited Erin Ardleigh, President of Dynama Insurance and one of the best professionals I know, to give you a few tips on successful communication in business: I say “insurance salesperson”… You think, let me guess, “pushy”, “slick”, “fast talker”. Maybe you think of the stereotypical, unrelenting salesperson, such as Ned Ryerson, the schoolmate turned insurance salesman intent on selling life insurance to poor Phil, Bill Murray’s character in the film, Groundhog Day.

Well, I have to admit, I’m an insurance salesperson. As the founder and president of an insurance brokerage, I have to contend with the negative stereotypes that many people have about my industry. In my uphill battle to distinguish myself and earn my clients’ trust, I’ve found that communicating clearly and effectively is crucial to my success. I’ve worked with Jayne Latz of Corporate Speech Solutions to improve my elevator pitch, public speaking, and overall communication skills. Here are the tools that have helped me the most:

1. Listen, REALLY Listen. This sounds simple and obvious, but so few people truly do it. I try to start a meeting by asking a few questions, listening to the other person and learning what is important to them.  I love to hear my clients’ life stories – how they built their businesses and what their kids are up to – and they love to talk about their passions. Listening helps build a relationship, and lets people know I’m not there just to push a product at them.

2. Speak Clearly And Slowly. In my industry, there are a lot of product names, technical terms and acronyms. It’s easy to confuse a client with all of the ‘lingo’. My team never uses acronyms, even if we think the abbreviation is obvious, because we want to be certain that our client understands us. For example, long term care insurance is never just “LTC”. We speak slowly when using technical terms and give our clients time to write notes, if they like.

I’ve traveled extensively, and it’s made me realize just how quickly New Yorkers speak! When I’m talking with someone that speaks English as a second language, I am mindful of the speed of my speech and the enunciation of my words. I’ve adopted the same approach with clients, since insurance really does seem like a foreign language to many people!

When addressing a room, Jayne taught me to always take a slow, deep breath first, to smile, and to pause and count to three after saying my name and before saying my company name. I want my audience to hear my name and company name clearly so they can follow up with me!

3. Be Aware Of Your Body Language. If you’re focusing only on your speech, you’re missing a big part of effective communication. Most of us have distracting habits that we are not aware of: some people put their hands in their pockets, or nervously click a pen, others sway while standing and speaking. Having Jayne film me while I gave my elevator speech was an eye opener. I have the habit of using my hands a lot while I am speaking. Jayne helped me to use gestures to accentuate my message rather than distract from it. I make sure that my message is consistent, through both verbal and non verbal communication.

In business, we all need to communicate effectively, which takes training and practice. I think every business owner would benefit from communications coaching. (Having an amazing executive coach like Rich Gee doesn’t hurt either!) I, for one, am committed to continually improving my verbal and non verbal communication skills.

Now, if only I could bump into Bill Murray!

Erin Ardleigh is the President of Dynama Insurance, an independent insurance brokerage that emphasizes transparency and education as part of the insurance planning process.  Dynama Insurance offers life, health, disability and long term care insurance as well as complimentary reviews of existing policies.  www.dynamainsurance.com

Jayne Latz of Corporate Speech Solutions is an expert in communication skills. For over 25 years she has worked as a speech-language pathologist, professional speech trainer and coach and has co-authored two books titled, Talking Business: A Guide to Professional Communication and Talking Business: When English is Your Second Language.  www.corporatespeechsolutions.com

10 Tips For More Successful Presentations.

Yesterday, I presented in front of a Fortune 50 organization and spoke on the subject of 'Closing The Sale'. It's a near and dear topic with me and I feel EVERYONE needs to always brush up on their closing techniques. I was so happy to receive hearty applause from the group when I finished — many team members came up to me afterward to shake my hand. During the entire morning, I realized I've 'built-in' a number of successful habits when I deliver presentations and I thought I would relate them to you — so here goes:

1. Pack up the night before.

I check (and double check) all of my files, my laptop, my projector and all of the peripherals/cables needed the night before. I ensure they are packed and ready to go in the morning. I know of so many instances when people forget things for their presentation — a cable, adapter, handouts, etc. and it makes them spin into a tizzy prior to their presentation. Prepare.

2. Arrive early.

Really early. Hours early. I arrived at my location at 6 AM to set up my laptop, projector and to check if everything was ready to go. I can't stress this enough — nothing went wrong, but if something was amiss, I had ample time to repair it.

3. Greet everyone as they come in.

I make it a point to stand by the door to greet people as they enter. It breaks down the 'wall' which develops with presenters and the audience. They get to meet you, ask questions, you can ask questions of them — it's a win-win for everyone. In addition, you can find out more about them and position your talk to their needs.

4. Build an intro slide.

I always have my laptop powered up, my projector running and an intro slide with me welcoming people. Usually my slide would say GOOD MORNING TEAM! It's a nice way to greet people AND it is a great excuse to have my entire setup on and ready to roll for my presentation. I hate when presenters are introduced and they are fidgeting with their laptop, projector, and cables to get everything running.

5. Ask if everyone is 'READY'.

I always begin with a slide (after the title slide and introduction) to stop and ask the audience if they're ready. It jolts them at first but then I get a resounding 'YES!' and their attention is on me and their blood is pumping.

6. Ask a lot of questions.

I make it interactive and ask the audience a lot of questions — "Has this happened to you?" — "How do you feel about this?" It allows me to keep the volley moving between speaker and audience.

7. Use the audience as examples.

During my pre-talk greet with the audience, I get to know their names, professions, and some of their worries. During my presentation, I might use them to reinforce a point I'm making by singling them out and using them in a fictitious example. They always agree with me and everyone around them gets the message — they could be next!

8. Watch the clock.

I always ensure I've locked down the EXACT length and time to present. Hosts ALWAYS try to cut it short, so I make sure I meet with them prior to the talk and clearly define MY time on stage. I then reiterate my start time and end time and in a very nice way let them know not to cut it short. It seems every host has a secret need to let their people out early and I have to head that inkling off at the pass.

9. Always leave time for questions.

Know when to stop and leave time for the audience to expand on what you just presented. Not only does it clear up some things for them, it allows them to flourish you with accolades in front of the audience.

10. Be available after the talk.

I always buffer additional time after all of my speaking gigs to allow the audience to meet me, speak with me, ask questions, and exchange cards. I get a LOT of business that way. So stick around and be available — I find there usually is a line of people ready and willing to reach out and touch you.

Social Media Is Ruining Your Life.

How many text messages do you send in a day? How many emails? Tweets? Foursquares? How many quotes/photos/links do you post on Facebook? Pinterest? How many sites do you surf to learn about the world around you?

All of this is GOOD. But it shouldn't be the end-all of what you do to communicate every day.

Do you interact with strangers anymore? Your neighbors? The shopkeeper down the street? The man at Starbucks who makes you that perfect coffee every day?

As we stretch out via the web, we are slowly and subtly closing out many people around us. Not our friends, but those people I call "Strangers". You know, the people you DON'T know and unfortunately, they don't know you either.

As we entwine our lives with more and more social media outlets, it allows us to forgo the opportunity to reach out to people we touch everyday — the waitress, the auto mechanic, the crossing-guard at the school — and have a meaningful conversation with them.

Honestly, we don't even have to talk to them anymore — they are not only strangers, they are 'non-people' in our lives.

You might say — so what? But you might be missing out on your new best friend, your new boss, or your new life partner.

A better title for this post should be "Start A Conversation".

In the next few days, start a conversation with 3-5 strangers whom you wouldn’t normally talk to:

Ask them a question, make them laugh, or give them a compliment (I really like how your arranging those oranges - how do you do that?). You also need to get a response back — and if the opportunity presents itself, have a conversation.

But this is my charge to you — you have to do it this week. Make it happen.

I Went To A Funeral Yesterday.

When was the last time you had a powerful experience? For me, yesterday. My sister-in-law's mom passed away - I knew her as Ditty and she was 97 and she lived a full life. She was a wonderful lady and I was lucky to know her.

Many things happened to me during the church service especially at the grave site, and at the restaurant get-together afterwards.

The Service

We all go to funerals. They are things we have to do for family members and friends. We endure them and then move on. Not this funeral.

As a deacon at my own church, I was overwhelmed by the powerful homily and eulogy. First of all, I rarely get to experience a service in a Catholic church — it was very moving. Father Richard Futie (Ditty's cousin) guided everyone through a myriad of emotions — praise, remembrance, sorrow, humor, and most of all, love.

His role was the hardest of all — to help each of us handle our grief and help us move on in life. In my opinion, it's one of the hardest 'speaking' jobs anyone could ever tackle.

The Eulogy was given by a family friend and a fellow coach (which I surprisingly found out later!) — Danny Martin. He brought singing, stories, love and remembrance to the part of the service. He made us remember that Ditty experienced all the events of the 20th and 21st centuries — from World War I to the iPad. It was wonderful.

In addition, Father Futie began the wake (the previous night before) by explaining what a wake really is and where the name 'wake' is derived. I originally thought it would be a 'yawner' — but Father Futie caught my attention, made me sit up, and relive this wonderful woman's life.

The Grave Site

I've gone through the death of both parents and I can tell you, the grave site is the hardest of all on everyone. It's the final goodbye. For me, I held it together through the wake and funeral service, but when I had to say goodbye to each of my parents, I was a wreck.

Father Futie again made the entire service a deeply religious experience, yet he also ensured that it was short and focused. Everyone was moved and it was a fitting experience to all place flowers on the casket.

The Get-Together

At the restaurant afterwards, family and friends all ate great food and spoke lovingly about Ditty. Danny again regailed us with his entire song, and family and friends stood up to speak about how Ditty impacted each of their lives. We laughed, we sang, and we all healed one another.

When you run into unexpected experiences which change your life — grab and hold onto them tightly. They are the experiences which change you for the better and make you a stronger person.

3 Steps To A Perfect Presentation.

I'm asked frequently by clients and colleagues alike how I construct my presentations (see a typical slide to the right). Here's my secret: Step One: Who Is Your Audience & What Do You Want Them To Take Away

This is the most important step that most executives and speakers forget. The usual process is to pick a topic and brain-dump into Powerpoint until you hit the requisite 75 slides. You’re done!

How To Connect With Key People.

I attended a NSA (National Speakers Association) meeting last night. I know . . . after a full day at work, I spent additional hours in a cramped, hot hotel room looking at slides. I wouldn't change it for the world.