By Kirk McCarley
Moments before, the attention span began wavering. Soon, thoughts drifted, eyelids drooped, head nods.
Who hasn’t experienced these physical and mental symptoms at conferences, meetings, or classrooms where either the subject matter was dry or the speaker or presenter was less than stimulating?
In a momentary state of arousal I pondered the blandness. Why was this particular talk so boring?
Finding a reason to listen, not for content, but rather for individual words, I transformed the notepad in front of me to a tally sheet. The speaker presented a large diet of the first person pronoun: I, me, and mine. Over the next 15 minutes one of these three words made its way into the talk 126 times, that’s an average of once every seven seconds!
For me, the lesson that day was not the intended subject. Rather it was about one of the surest ways to sabotage a talk, presentation, or even a conversation; too much focus on ourselves. Yet how often are we guilty of that infraction? In fact, I’ve already used a word referring to me five times to this point.
A young man was experiencing difficulty making connections with classmates at school. He had few friends, spending lunch and free time alone, isolated. Saddened, he shared this loneliness with his mother. “Why don’t I have any friends?” he asked. His wise mother asked him, “How often do you ask your classmates questions about themselves? Their hobbies? Their activities? Their families?” And then she offered this insight, “To be interesting, be interested in others.”
The boy took mom’s counsel to heart, and through time, interpersonal relationships and life in general became richer, more jubilant.
First, become interested in others. Unless you’re dealing with memory issues, you can remember the names of someone’s kids. Make it a game. Some friends were talking about their children the other night. I had been experiencing an especially difficult time recalling their names until I visualized a fishing boat with the initials JJS on the side representing Jeremy, Jonathon, and Susannah. It also doesn’t hurt to list those names in the context of a story. How about Jeremy and Jonathan playing banjos on their knees on the way from Alabama to visit Susannah?
Another remembrance method is one that I’m particularly adept at, “the embarrassment route.” Not one that I recommend, but one I apply all too frequently. In this instance in conversation with Mark’s wife, you ask, “How is Mark?” to which she replies, “Oh, you mean Mike?”
Also, what is the ratio of “you” vs. “I” in your dialogues? And not just, “How are you?” How about:
- “How was that vacation you took?”
- “What are your grandkids doing this summer?”
- “How was your past semester at college? What activities were you involved in?”
- “How is your workout program progressing?” And, as a follow up, you can always throw in, “Tell me more.”
As a final touch, it doesn’t hurt to do follow up on the questions. For example, let’s say the person/people took a vacation to Hawaii. If you have never been there, doing a little research on the 50th state might prepare you next time to ask, “What was the most memorable thing about Pearl Harbor?,” or “What is the best time of year for whale watching?”
As this year progresses aim to be more in tune with others and enjoy its side benefit: becoming more interesting.