Learning how to converse well and easily with others gives people more confidence when handling both business and social events. Mastering this skill - either one-on-one or conversations in small groups - is thus an important life skill.
In this talk, I cover the fundamentals of what it really means to be a good conversationalist, how to make effective introductions in order to ease the way for others, and (for emergencies) how to escape from the boring individual who insists on dominating your attention. We also touch on non-verbal (body) language.
Have you ever looked enviously at someone who has presence - that enigmatic, 'can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on-it' quality - and wished you could have it too? Have you ever wondered why people just don’t respond well to you? Are you having trouble getting your message across?
Perhaps the answer lies more with how you’re saying something, than what you’re actually saying.
This talk will help you be more aware of the message you’re actually giving beyond the words you’re saying, and show you how to use your voice and body language to appear confident and have presence.
During my year-long working holiday in America, I tried to see as many different cities as possible. I often made use of Greyhound buses, and one day, when leaving Chicago, I had a ticket for a bus that was due to leave at 4pm. I arrived at the terminal at midday, but didn’t want to walk around with all my bags, so I just sat and waited. Another lady had also arrived early, and she too decided to wait. As the afternoon wore on, crowds of people started arriving to catch the bus, and the fact that we had been waiting four hours didn’t seem to matter - the new arrivals just pushed and shoved so that we were forced right to the back of the queue. We were both furious, and the lady shouted and screamed at the conductor, demanding to be let on the bus. I kept calm and explained that we had been waiting hours. In the end, the conductor let me on to the bus, but turned the other lady away for being rude.
The lesson here is that aggressive behaviour seldom, if ever, gets you what you want. No one likes a rude person. If you want something, ask for it in an assertive, NOT aggressive, manner, always taking the feelings of the other person into account.
One year, after spending the winter ski season working at an exclusive resort in Denver, I decided to use my earnings to see as much of America as I could before returning home to SA.
One of the many places I visited was the Zion National Park – the oldest National Park in Utah, and known for its incredible canyons. I joined a Green Tortoise Adventure Bus Tour, a budget, backpacker-type organisation that arranges trips to many of America’s most famous national parks. The costs of the trip are kept low by, among others, getting the people taking the tour to muck in with some of the chores – preparing meals being one of them.
One day, I was helping one of the other girls make a fruit salad. We were chopping pineapple and, because I love the hard core of the fruit, I put it into the salad. The other girl, however, was throwing it away. I was horrified that she was chucking it out, and she – because she never ate the hard core - was equally horrified that I was putting it in!
There are actually two lessons here. The first one is that even people who like doing the same thing (exploring America’s Parks) in the same way (on a low-cost backpacker bus), will not always like doing everything in the same way. We are all so different and we all believe that our way is the best way (otherwise, why would we do it?). Tolerance and compromise are key.
The second lesson is almost a corollary of the first. Just because you have always done something in a certain way doesn’t mean someone else may not have worked out a better – or a different but equal – way to do it. We can all learn from each other.
I recently had the opportunity to realise a long-held dream of visiting the Okavango Delta in northern Botswana. Many parts of this delta – the largest inland delta in the world - are only accessible by boat or Makoro (the wooden canoes used by local fishermen) and where there are roads, a 4x4 vehicle is essential in many parts.
I was travelling with a friend who fortunately had such a vehicle. Other people we encountered were not as lucky, and were travelling in a minibus. When it came to crossing a river, the guide who was leading us told us to drive slowly into the water, so as not to create a wash which would rise up over the engine, drowning it. The driver of the minibus decided not to heed this advice, no doubt assuming that as he didn’t have a 4x4, speed and momentum were what were needed to successfully negotiate the crossing. He duly raced into the river, causing a wave of water to wash up over his vehicle, drowning the engine and stranding him in the middle of the river. My friend and I proceeded as advised, driving slowly and carefully though the water, and eventually arriving safely on the other side.
The life lesson here is two-fold: Firstly, advice given by someone experienced in the area they are advising you on is more often than not well worth listening to, and secondly, speed and enthusiasm are not always going to get you where you need to go. Slow and careful will more often than not get you safely across life’s rivers.
I recently had the chance to travel to Maputo in Mozambique. I was there on business, but was also able to spend a little time exploring some of the city. One afternoon, I ended up in the market, walking though the different stalls, and chatting briefly with the traders. They were all friendly, but were obviously eager to sell me something – anything – and were not too subtle in the way they went about it! Quite often, such dogged persistence has the opposite of the intended effect, and instead of being persuaded to buy something, all I want to do is leave the market as quickly as possible to escape the constant hounding.
On this occasion, however, one particular trader stood out from the rest. He was selling some very pretty teaspoons, which caught my eye and I went over to have a closer look. I admired the spoons, but decided not to buy them, and so started to walk away. The seller called me back, and began what I thought would be the normal sales pitch in an attempt to get me to buy the teaspoons. But he was different. He was so inoffensive and non-threatening in his approach, and he seemed so genuine, that I was drawn to him and actually stopped and listened to what he had to say, rather than thinking of the quickest way out of the situation.
In the end, I bought the spoons!
The lesson here is that persistence, backed up with the right approach and a positive attitude, will – in many cases - go a long way towards getting you what you want.
One evening while in Naples, Italy, Tim, a fellow crewmate, and I decided to go out for dinner. We chose a tiny restaurant on the edge of a little harbour filled with colourful fishing boats. The tables were laid with white linen cloths and napkins, the evening was warm and still, and the lights twinkled on the water - it was a fabulous setting for an alfresco meal.
Halfway through the meal, while enjoying the atmosphere, good conversation and the great food and wine, Tim put his knife and fork down on his plate. He did this in such a way as to show that he had not yet finished his meal – or so he thought! The waiter, however, came up to our table and whisked Tim’s plate away. Tim was annoyed to say the least, and it was only after much upset and gesticulating that he finally got his meal back.The waiter was also upset and went off muttering, soon returning with the maitre’d who could speak some English. He explained to us that while in England, the way Tim had put his knife and fork down indicated he was not finished his meal, in Naples it showed that he wasfinished, and the waiter was thus only doing what was expected of him. Tim and I were fascinated at this complete contrast in table etiquette. We had had no idea.
Don’t ever assume that your own customs are the way of the world. Take time to find out about the customs of other places so as not to cause offence. (Ask open-ended questions so that you can find out about things you don’t know you don’t know!)
While I was working on a yacht in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, I met a wonderful South African woman sailor, Meme Grant, who one day said she would take me across the bay to the local shopping market. She came to pick me up in a little rubber dinghy, greeted me and told me to “jump in.” As the level of the deck of the yacht was a lot higher than the rubber dinghy in the water, I was horrified! However, I didn’t want to appear stupid and incompetent, so I took a deep breath and jumped. Of course, I nearly capsized the both of us! Meme was furious and shouted at me: “Don’t you know that you never jump into a dinghy?” I explained that I had never been in a dinghy before, so I had no idea. Meme, being the great teacher that she is, immediately calmed down and gave me my first lesson in dinghy skills. I learnt that when Meme said "jump in" she meant, “very carefully get into the dinghy so as not to capsize us”. I heard: “don’t waste time mucking about - literally jump.”
Don’t always assume another person will understand what you are talking about. Be clear and communicate the message you intend to communicate.
In Gibraltar, I witnessed an accident where a child was fooling around, fell off a wall and landed on his head. He became completely hysterical. It transpired, much later, that his distress was not from the pain of the fall, but from his belief – based on a film he had seen where a similar incident had occurred – that he was going to die from his injury. The parents tried to soothe the boy but soon grew annoyed with his continuous crying. Finally they became angry demanding that he stop crying. They did not actually ask him why he was so upset, they just assumed it was from the pain of the fall. They therefore didn’t understand what the problem was, and were unable to calm their child down.
Listen to what your children have to say. Respect that they have their own thoughts and ideas.
No matter how similar people are, we are all unique. There will always be some ideas, issues, situations etc. on which we disagree. This is to be expected. Conflict in itself is not bad. Knowing how to deal with it, is what counts. If we know how to cope with conflict, we will learn to be less fearful of it, and so not try to avoid it. This creates healthier, more harmonious relationships.
In this talk I focus on the fundamental skills and attitudes you need to deal with conflict and understand that, contrary to popular belief, dealing with disagreement or conflict is far more important to a relationship than not having disagreement or conflict at all.