Have questions about a blog post? Email the author directly. We love hearing from people.

13 Jun How to Maintain Proper Eye Contact

Eye contact is generally considered the most important visual reinforcer a speaker has. Listeners like to be watched;, this is particularly true in persuasive business speaking. The American business culture relies heavily on the “look ’em straight in the eye” approach.

Generally speaking, eye contact should be a controlled speaking behavior. Don’t stare at people, yet don’t be too fleeting. That may sound contradictory, so here are three tips for effective eye contact while speaking:

  1. Hold eye contact for approximately one to three seconds, then move on to someone else. If you’re in a deep and serious one-on-one conversation, the time could easily double or triple.
  2. Use the X-Y-Z method, which means moving eye contact around the room in an X, Y, or Z pattern. Imagine yourself drawing one of these letters with your eyes.
  3. Move your eye contact everywhere; don’t look at only one or two people. This is a common mistake. You may find textbooks on speaking that urge you to “find a friendly face in the audience, make eye contact with, and talk to that person.” Don’t do it. It’s nice to feel comfortable with your listeners. However, if you get too comfortable and have too much eye contact with one listener, you’ll lose the others. They will feel rejected and ignored. Be careful of this common mistake. Move the eye contact around.
Read More

17 May Identifying Manipulative Communication in the Workplace

Manipulative communication in the workplace decreases work efficiency, increases job dissatisfaction, contributes to a hostile environment and lowers morale. Most people are challenged to identify manipulative tactics and even when they spot them, they do not feel competent in responding effectively.

Spotting the manipulator can be difficult. They can be everywhere that humans are found. The manipulator can be anyone! They are difficult to identify because they are so well camouflaged and have no outwardly identifiable physical markings.

Manipulators are not restricted to certain locales, climates, social environments, or work settings. They prey on other humans. As a result, you may find them in any place that other humans frequent. You won’t have to “find” one; they will find you and, before you even realize it you will be engaged in a charismatic conversation!  In fact, they only way you can be manipulated is through communication.

To identify the manipulator, you must be a keen observer of behaviors and a critically active listener. You must understand the manipulator’s mindset to interpret your observations and know what you are listening for. Here are some key indicators:

They think in terms of win and lose. If someone is winning, they are losing, and they keep score of everything. Win/win does not exist for them. You will notice this in a random conversation where they bring up something from the past that seems minor or odd.

They show a need for controlling others and situations. They are the puppet master controlling everyone’s emotions and actions. It may be part of a strategy to achieve a goal, or it may just be for the sake of feeling more intelligent and powerful than others. Think about the cat playing with a mouse that it never kills so that the fun won’t stop.

They have an insatiable need for adoration and attention. Typically, they are charismatic and adept at attracting people.  They are usually glancing around to see who is looking at them instead of making genuine eye contact with someone.

They are deeply insecure. They try extremely hard to hide their insecurity. They may cover it with arrogance, confidence, and bravado, or they could use shyness and helplessness – all means are at their disposal. This insecurity will leak out randomly, so you must pay close attention. You could be having a wonderful conversation, and they slip in a question or comment revealing their insecure nature. If you dig deeper, it will go nowhere. They will change the subject if they think they revealed too much. Thus, the “insatiable need” to control.

They will NEVER allow themselves to show vulnerability. This is difficult to figure out because when another human shows vulnerability, an average person’s instinct is to show sensitivity. In contrast, to a manipulator, displaying vulnerability is a sign of weakness. On the other hand, they will feign vulnerability as a manipulative tactic. Of course, you will want to give the benefit of the doubt to someone who appears vulnerable, and you should.

They show feigned empathy to others. They are incapable of truly feeling empathy. If they did feel it, they wouldn’t be able to manipulate. Watch for consistency.  You may have a relative dying of cancer, and the manipulator may tear up (not real tears, though), hug you, and offer to help. One week later, your relative may come up in conversation, and they don’t even notice or acknowledge it.  Showing empathy in the moment is a common tactic used to cause others to see them as good and compassionate.

They ask a lot of questions. One identifiable behavior of a manipulator is that they traditionally ask many questions if they are going into an unknown situation.  Of course, that’s normal for most people, so you have to pay attention to the types of questions; the manipulator needs to strategize to control. Some of their questions will seem odd, nuanced, or detailed.

Now that we have reviewed the manipulator’s mindset, you may realize that this mindset’s manifestation comes through infinite types of conversations, behaviors, and circumstances. Are you to go through life suspicious and paranoid? No!

While you are learning, you will likely start thinking many people are manipulators who are not. In other words, they may be persuasive to get something to go their way – as we all do – but are not necessarily seeking to control another’s emotions, beliefs, or actions. The definition of manipulation is “the tactics used by adults on other adults for the sake of self-gain at the other’s expense.”

Over time by paying attention, you will become proficient at identifying manipulators. The manipulator will sense that you see through them and avoid you as they prefer easy targets.

Read More

9 May Sometimes It Takes All Day To Get Nothing Done

In the past three years, we’ve had to look for creative ways to collaborate. We’re in the era of real-time virtual technology mixed with in-person meetings. It’s overwhelming. When we’re overwhelmed and spread too thin, we tune out and barely participate in one meeting as we often try to multitask.

Zoom, Teams, Slack, WhatsApp, and many others give us no reason not to collaborate on our day-to-day jobs. However, with so many meetings, are we really getting anything done?

Interestingly, a recent McKinsey survey found 80% of those leaders surveyed say they find themselves spending too much time in countless interactions that produce an overwhelming amount of information and drain their productive energy. They report making changes to reduce the number of non-collaborative meetings that could be done asynchronously or in a condensed timeframe.

One suggestion in this research for improving collaborative interactions is to categorize them into three types of communication:

Decision making – Major committee decisions, like an investment committee.
Creative solutions and coordination – Innovating/brainstorming for a new product or service.
Information sharing – One-way sharing: videos and two-way communication such as at Q&A sessions or Company Town Hall.

The common thread in all these is knowing your communication strengths and areas for improvement.

Having a good framework to hang your thoughts on when you collaborate in a meeting is crucial. We know that 65% of the time we are in virtual meetings, at least one participant is busy doing other things.

Frameworks for delegating, problem-solving, and giving feedback are just a few of the tools a good Coach or Team Leader will use to grow their team members. A good Coach can help you speak and lead with confidence. This is a driver for effective collaboration.

Read the study here:


Read More

12 Apr Defensiveness Prevents Clear Communication

The First Moment: Defensiveness 

If your listener is defensive, your point is probably missed. They have been left with the impression that you, intentionally or not, are criticizing their idea or them. Instead of focusing on getting solutions, they will be driven by this passion for defending the idea or their persona. They are struggling, and it may be your fault. You may have needed to set the right expectations; your tone may have needed to be more appropriate for the message you were trying to convey; you may not have provided them with the necessary resources to accomplish their goals, or they could just be worn out. If you take advantage of their defensiveness, it will only get worse. If you understand how to handle their defensiveness, you can rapidly shift their negative energy—whether fear, doubt, or worry—and help them leave the conversation with your message.

The Trap

They say, “No.” You say, “Yes.” They say, “I didn’t know.” You say, “You should have.” Perhaps you were taught to ask questions to manage effectively, so you say, “How could you not know?” But, the presupposition in this question suggests that they are somehow not smart because they did not know. While that may not be your intended message, it’s there, their spine will rise, and their eyes will narrow. If you react to their posturing instead of listening and assisting them to sit back and reflect on what’s bothering them, they will also react rather than focus on the real purpose of your conversation.

If you are in a conversation and you notice someone getting defensive, stop. Do not go any further with your point, as attempting to argue your idea differently rarely works; they won’t listen when defensive. They have one agenda: to deflect whatever they think you are attacking. You may need to just listen, ask a question, or make a statement like “What do you need?” or “Help me understand your point of view.” You may have to continue the conversation at another time. The fact that you take time to process and digest that conversation is validation, and that’s the first step to overcoming their defensiveness.

If you do not plan how you’ll approach their emotion, rigid beliefs, or confusion ahead, they will stay shut down and retreat deeper into themselves. To help them come to a decision or understand your point of view without feeling defensive, use a format called “Defensive Persuasion.”

The Format: Defensive Persuasion  


  1. Validate. If they are going to be comfortable, they must know you value whatever issue is causing their defensiveness or their opinion—even if you disagree. Choose your mode of validation; will it be a head nod, listening, or paraphrasing? They can’t open their minds until they know you have heard and understood their point—especially when you disagree entirely. Even in established relationships, you will need to validate the other person. Not as often, but if they are fired up, the only way to cool them down is to show them you recognize their view or the value of their contribution.
  2. Frame. What message are you trying to communicate to them? You have to decide this ahead of time, and that’s why if you run into someone who is defensive and can’t figure out why and they won’t tell you, you have to pause the conversation. If you don’t’ know the message you want them to understand, the conversation will still go in circles, and they will stay defensive.
  3. Decide your timeline. It can take several conversations to overcome their emotion. Before stating what you want from the other person, you may need to validate for two or three conversations. If you do this correctly, the trust you build will enable you to communicate more easily next time.


Excerpt from Mastering Communication at Work: How to Lead, Manage, and Influence

Read More

27 Mar Be Prepared Before You Speak to a Group

Here are 10 important questions to ask before the business presentation process. These 10 questions relate to listener analysis, and therefore, your needs:

  1. Why am I speaking to these listeners?
  2. Why are they listening?
  3. What relationship do we have?
  4. What relationship do listener members have with each other?
  5. What do they know about this topic?
  6. What would they like to know?
  7. How will they use this information?
  8. What are they doing the day before I speak?
  9. What will they be doing the day after?
  10. What are the logistics of the event?


This last one, logistics, is often overlooked. What do you need to know about the speaking situation before you speak? Answers to the following questions will help you to gather information. Add additional items to fit your particular situation.

  1. Where will I be speaking?
  2. What time of day will I speak?
  3. How long will I be speaking?
  4. Who is speaking before and after me, and on what topics?
  5. Will there be a moderator? Will I be introduced?
  6. What is the size of the room?
  7. How will the seating be arranged?
  8. Will the setting be interactive?  Will it be formal or informal?
  9. What audiovisual equipment do I need? Will a technician be available on site?
  10. What are the lighting and temperature of the room?
  11. How far in advance may I check out the room before speaking?


The information you gather from all these questions will make preparing a speech much easier.  Additionally, if your listeners understand that your research has helped you tailor your preparation specifically for them, they will be more likely to respond positively.


Read More

7 Mar Thinking on Your Feet

Thinking on your feet, also known as being quick-witted or spontaneous, is important in many situations, such as public speaking, negotiations, impromptu speeches, or spontaneous debates. Here are some tips to help you develop your ability to think on your feet:

  1. Be Prepared: Preparation is vital to success. The more you know about a topic, the more equipped you are to handle unexpected questions or challenges. Read up on current events and familiarize yourself with key facts and figures related to your area of expertise. Be open to learning, unlearning, and relearning.
  2. Practice Active Listening: Pay close attention to what others are saying, and respond thoughtfully and deliberately. Listen to understand, not to give a response or argue. Avoid interrupting others, and try to understand their point of view before responding.
  3. Stay Calm: When under pressure, it can be easy to become disoriented, flustered, or intimidated. However, the ability to remain calm and focused is imperative to being able to think on your feet. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that you are well prepared.
  4. Be Confident: Confidence is a critical component of thinking on your feet. Believe in yourself and your ability to handle whatever comes your way. Try to project a sense of self-assurance, even if you are feeling nervous.
  5. Use Humor: Humor is a powerful tool for disarming tense situations and keeping the conversation light. Use humor to answer difficult questions, diffuse escalations or complex situations, and keep the audience engaged and focused.
  6. Stay Flexible: Be prepared to pivot and change direction when necessary. Be open to new ideas and perspectives, and be willing to adjust your approach if the situation warrants it.
  7. Stay Focused: Avoid diverting or bogged down on irrelevant details. Stay focused on the main topic and avoid getting sidetracked by tangential issues.
  8. Keep it Simple: When thinking on your feet, it’s essential to keep your responses clear, concise, and easy to understand. Avoid using jargon or complex language, and try to make your points in a way that is easy for others to comprehend.


In conclusion, thinking on your feet requires a combination of preparation, active listening, confidence, humor, flexibility, focus, and simplicity. With practice and persistence, you can develop these skills and become a confident, quick-witted communicator.

Read More

16 Feb How to Prepare for a Big Four Partner Interview

A partner interview is part of the recruitment strategy for the ‘Big Four’ accounting firms in the US, (PricewaterhouseCoopers, KPMG, Deloitte, and Ernst & Young) and is the last stage in what can often be a lengthy recruitment process.

The purpose of the partner interview is to make sure the candidate is a good fit for the company. There may be some preset questions – and usually a short presentation – but the interview itself is mainly reactive, based on the speaker’s comments, and at times can feel adversarial or combative.The key to a successful partner interview is preparation. For this reason, this article will focus on one specific area of mastery within the partner interview: the Question and Answer segment.

Knowing the likely styles of questions that will come up and preparing practical answers with a speech coach will help you prepare and come across as a confident, polished expert. Almost all of the companies will combine standard interview questions with behavioral and competency questions.

Here are three strategies on how to best prepare for the partner interview Question and Answer portion:

1. Prepare it, then let it go. It’s important to note that preparing for an interview does not mean trying to remember the answer to every possible question that may ask you. While a speaker may formally make notes in advance, and prepare answers with the key talking points, you should not plan to reference the notes in the interview, (even if you are virtual and could sneak them onto your monitor without anyone knowing). Your research and preparation will ensure that you have a set of adaptable answers that you can alter for anything that might come up.

2. Brainstorm the questions you expect to get, and the questions you hope are NOT asked. Below are examples of questions you might be asked at a partner interview:

  • With the current [latest world event here, such as a new President or global health crisis], how do you see your market changing?
  • Tell us a first in the door example.
  • What is your point of view on where the account needs to focus on continuing its growth trajectory?
  • How has the [latest topical event or challenge] impacted your market and how you sell and deliver to clients?

And as mentioned above, plan for the questions you hope are NOT asked, which will be personal and unique to you, such as:

  • What are our most significant challenges with [topic you feel uncomfortable addressing], and how would you recommend we address them?
  • What are your thoughts on the future strategy of our business?
  • What do you see as our most significant talent challenges, and how would you address them?
  • Tell me about a time you got it wrong.


3. Create a plan to handle nervousness. Despite this being the final interview in the process, it doesn’t have to be the most nerve-wracking. The company has seen something in you, so be confident, open, relaxed, and personable. Simple ways to demonstrate confidence include being aware of your nonverbal communication, (such as fidgeting), having a warm smile when appropriate, and speaking with clear and concise language.

One final thought – we often say as Executive Communication Coaches at The Speech Improvement Company – your amount of preparation should match the level of importance. I’d place a Big Four partner interview at a high level of importance. It’s always better to over-prepare than to under-prepare, especially when it comes to interviews.

We regularly help our clients thrive in partner interviews for the Big Four. Let us know if you’d like to talk about how we can help you with your upcoming high stakes interview.

Read More

7 Feb How to be a Dynamic Panelist



Are you a panelist or moderator at an upcoming conference?

Watch this short video by Executive Communication Coach Melody Elkin and learn how to be a dynamic panelist.


Read More

16 Jan MLK – Changing the World Through Speech

Martin Luther King is known as the greatest orator in modern times– a man whose words and style created profound social change. Though few of us will transform society, we can elevate our professional world through the way we speak.

Here are three lessons: (more…)

Read More