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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Is Your Diction Affecting Your Professional Image?

A participant in a communication seminar told me about her experience in another training session, where the instructor used the phrase “All’s you gotta do.” After she heard that phrase, she stopped listening.

In the example above, the instructor’s use of language detracted from his message. 

I also have heard many people use substandard language that takes away from their professionalism. It may not be fair, but people often judge others on the quality of their diction. They may make negative assumptions about someone’s intelligence or education, based on that person’s word choice.

Consider the following phrases expressed during business conversations: 

-- Are youse finished with the project? Use just you. The word you is both singular and plural in the English language.

-- I'm gonna get it for you. Use I’m going to or I am going to.

-- Didja get to the meeting on time? Use did you.

-- All’s you gotta do. According to an article a number of years ago in the New York Times, all’s in this context started off as a contraction of all as, but generally it is considered a substandard word today. Instead of all’s, use all, and instead of gotta, use have to, so the phrase becomes All you have to do. 

-- Are you going with dem? Dem is not a word. Use them.

-- I attended the meetin. Make sure you pronounce the endings of your words. Say meeting.

And my favorite, although these words were said in a non-business setting: 

-- Jeet? No, didja? This should be expressed as: Did you eat? No, did you?

Sometimes, we may pick up the use of these nonstandard words from their use in marketing or creative fields. Think about the song I Gotta Feeling from the Black Eyed Peas, and its well-known line: I gotta feeling that tonight’s gonna be a good night. Though I like the song, I would not encourage the use of gotta and gonna when speaking to others.

Monitor the way you speak. Do you use any of the above expressions? Years ago, I found out I was using gonna, and didn’t realize it until someone pointed it out to me.

Additional information on projecting a professional image can be found in my book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way to Success (McGraw Hill).

Pachter’s communication seminars and coaching sessions also empower professionals to use language to their advantage. Contact Joyce Hoff at joyce@pachter.com or 856.751.6141 for more information.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

An Etiquette Request: Remember to Give Your Name

I have an etiquette request: Please remember to introduce yourself by name after someone has introduced himself or herself to you.

This may seem like a little thing, but it’s important.

Let me explain. Before most of my seminars begin, I shake hands with each participant and say, “Hi, I’m Barbara Pachter, your instructor. Welcome, and enjoy the day.” Many people respond appropriately and will introduce themselves, also.

This kind of etiquette give-and-take paves the way for a connection between the two people, and makes it easier for conversation to begin.

However, there are some participants who don’t give their names. They just shake hands, or shake hands and say “Hi.” An awkward silence usually follows, and I will often jump in and politely ask, “And, you are…?”

When people don’t volunteer their names without prompting, they appear shy, timid or standoffish. As a result, making a connection or starting a conversation can be more difficult.

It’s not just in my seminars that people fail to give their names. People tell me the same thing happens to them when they attend meetings and introduce themselves to the men or women sitting next to them.

Why do people do this?

In my classes, I know that some people are startled when I introduce myself to them. They are not expecting the instructor to practice this protocol. One woman sent me a thank-you note, emphasizing how much she enjoyed meeting me before the seminar started. She hadn’t experienced this with other instructors.

Other people may not give their names because they are preoccupied, or because they simply don’t know they should do so.

Monitor your own behavior. Pay attention when people introduce themselves, and please respond with your full name. You may be surprised at what a positive difference it makes in your interactions with others.

Additional information on greetings, introductions and conversation can be found in The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way to Success.

Pachter & Associates provides training and coaching on business etiquette and communication skills. For additional information, please contact Joyce Hoff at 856.751.6141 or joyce@pachter.com.




Tuesday, January 13, 2015

He’s Still Talking! The Secrets to Managing Time When Presenting

Last week’s blog talked about how anyone giving a presentation could encourage questions from the audience. Participants in my presentation skills classes or coaching sessions also have a lot of interest in learning how to judge the timing of their presentations. I often hear comments along these lines:

My speech went over time. They hated me!

I panicked when I was told to add 20 minutes to my talk!

There seem to be two major concerns:

• How do you correctly calculate how long your talk will take? Many people misjudge their timing, and either go over their allotted time, or run out of things to say.

• How do you quickly adjust the length of your talk? What do you do if you are told, shortly before you are to begin, that you have either more time, or less, than you had anticipated?

Here are four suggestions that can help you address the problems of timing:

1. Prepare properly. If you have prepared what you want to say, you are less likely to ramble, which adds additional time to your talk, and you are less likely to forget material, which would shorten your presentation. In my training classes, participants use my Speech Organizer, which provides a visual representation of the parts of a speech, to structure their presentations and plan what they want to say.

2. Time yourself. Practice giving your presentation so you will know how much time your talk will take. Make it realistic. This needs to be done a couple of times so that you become comfortable with your material and your pacing. Timing your talk won’t be helpful if you are racing through it or stumbling over sections during your presentation.  

3. Know what to add or delete. Part of your preparation is anticipating time concerns, and knowing what material you can easily add to or eliminate from your talk. To add extra material, have at the ready additional research, statistics or stories that highlight your key points. The opposite approach is effective when you need to shorten your remarks. Know ahead of time what material is not crucial for your key points, and don’t discuss those items. Speaking faster is not a substitute for the elimination of material.

4. Get a signal. Arrange to have someone in your audience give you an unobtrusive signal to alert you that you have only a certain amount of time left.

If you like this post, check out the highly-acclaimed book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way to Success (McGraw Hill). Additional information on presentation skills, effective communication, and etiquette can be found in this book.

Pachter & Associates provides training and coaching on presentation skills. Contact Joyce Hoff at joyce@pachter.com or 856.751.6141.

 --An earlier version of this blog appeared almost two years ago. However, there were so many questions prompted by last week’s blog on presentation skills that I decided to update and reprise this one, which is one of my most popular blogs.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

6 Tips To Encourage Questions From Your Audience

How do I get people in my audience to ask questions?

Recently a vice president of a major healthcare company asked me this question during one of our coaching sessions on presentation skills.

No one had ever asked me that before! 

Often presenters want to avoid anything to do with the Q&A segment of a presentation, but he wanted questions so he would know whether his audience had grasped his concepts. This desire for feedback is just one reason to encourage questions. There are others.

For example, you seem more approachable as a speaker when you take questions. Plus, how you answer the questions, and participate in any discussion that follows, can help explain and/or enhance your ideas and clarify any misunderstandings. In addition, the types of questions asked may let you know your participants’ opinions of your suggestions.

Try these 6 suggestions to encourage people to ask questions:

1. Let the audience know when you will be taking questions. Don’t assume your audience knows; tell them at the beginning of your talk. In a more informal talk or training session, participants may be encouraged to ask questions throughout. (“I’m open for questions throughout my presentation.”). Or, if the presenter doesn’t want to interrupt the flow, he or she can ask the audience: “Please save your questions until the end of my talk.” 

2. Non-verbally encourage questions. Keep your body language open, and don’t cross your arms. Look at your audience. Move towards audience members when you can. Pause after you ask for questions – don’t rush to start talking. This gives the participants a few seconds to formulate their ideas.

3. Use an open-ended question. If you say to your audience, “What questions do you have?,” you are telling participants you assume that they have questions and, as a result, they’re more likely to speak up. If you say, “Do you have any questions?,” it is easy for people to say “No.”  

4. Request questions on a specific topic. You can expand on the above open-ended question and pinpoint a particular area of your presentation. For example, if you have discussed the budget, you can ask, “What questions do you have about the new budget items?” Also, asking about something you just discussed can help you transition from one part of your talk to another.

5. Have participants write their questions and submit them beforehand. This can be effective with large audiences or audiences at remote locations. You can answer some of the questions during your presentation, or refer to them at the end.

6. Be prepared with your own first question. When you ask for questions and no one speaks up, you can offer one of your own by saying, “A question I am often asked is… .” Hearing you answer a question often makes audience members feel more comfortable asking questions of their own. Or, you might consider coordinating with a participant before your presentation, and arrange for that person to get things started by asking a specific question.

This blog addresses how to encourage questions from your audience. There’s a lot more to discuss about handling questions, including how to prepare for difficult ones. But that’s a blog for another day.

You can find additional information on making presentations in my book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way to Success (McGraw Hill, 2013).


Pachter & Associates provides training and coaching on presentations skills and business communication. For additional information, contact Joyce Hoff at 856.751.6141 or joyce@pachter.com.               

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Avoiding Conflict: 10 Suggestions for the Holidays

After hosting one family celebration too many, a woman threw a cookbook at her sister-in-law and screamed: “Maybe now you can cook a holiday dinner for us sometime.”

One young man drank too much at his company’s holiday party, cursed out his boss, and was fired on the spot.


A woman did not respond to an invitation to a neighbor’s holiday celebration. She showed up at the party, but there were no gifts for her children as the host did not know they were coming.

With the holiday season here again, there are lots of opportunities for gift-giving, party-going, and joyful celebrating. But, as the above stories illustrate, there are also lots of opportunities for conflict and difficulties.

In my assertiveness seminars, I ask people to discuss their conflicts. Many concern the holidays, and these conflicts drive people crazy. Review this list and make sure you are aware of these “polite and powerful” ways to reduce the likelihood of holiday conflict:

1. Do your fair share.  One of the biggest complaints involves family members who are Holiday Meal Moochers. They don’t offer to host a meal, they don’t offer to help clean up, and they don’t bring anything to the meal.  Offer to help. Even if your sister loves hosting the holiday meal every year, make sure you find out how you can contribute.

2. Stay sober. Generally, a lot of liquor is served at celebrations during the holidays, and sometimes people can drink too much. That’s when they are likely to say and do things that cause problems for themselves and others. Limit your alcohol intake, and your holiday celebrating is less likely to be a problem.

3. Share family time graciously.  With divorce, remarriage, and families scattered across the country, sharing the holidays with family members can be a difficult juggling act. Divorced parents often fight over who is going to spend time with the kids, and when. If possible, be inclusive of others. If that is not possible, devise a fair rotation and keep to it.  

4. Respond to RSVPs.  Failing to respond to an invitation that requests “RSVP” and then showing up at the event, or saying that you will attend and then not showing up, are both inconsiderate behaviors that cause problems for the host. Always reply to an invitation, whether it is to accept or to decline. If you accept but then cannot attend because an unavoidable conflict develops at the last minute, telephone (do not text) the host and explain.

5. Don’t post inappropriate photos on social media. When people are celebrating, some of them may get carried away and post photos from parties or other events that are not public. Often, the people being tagged in those photos would prefer that the images remain private. To avoid online conflict, err on the side of caution. Ask the people in your photos if it’s okay to post them. And when in doubt, don’t put the photo out there! 

6. Avoid gift-giving gaffes.  Gifts are supposed to make people feel good, but unfortunately gift-giving can cause a lot of problems.  People who give inappropriate gifts to others – such as items that are too personal for co-workers – may cause conflict at work. Know what is appropriate for your workplace. Plus, make sure you show appreciation for any gift you receive. Say thank you, and also write thank-you notes.  

7. Don’t become a holiday slacker. Co-workers who take three-hour lunches to finish holiday shopping, or who call in sick to avoid working the holiday, make the holidays more stressful for their colleagues.  The old “golden rule” still applies – treat others as you would want to be treated.  

8. Participate. Don’t be the person who refuses to celebrate or get into the holiday spirit.  People who constantly complain about the holidays cause stress for everyone around them.  You don’t want to be labeled “Scrooge.” Attend the party hosted by your department, or your neighbor.  Participate in group gifts. Wish people happy holidays.

9. Be a courteous shopper. Most people have a lot of shopping to do during the holidays. Often, they are rushed, stressed, and surrounded by crowds – which means tempers can flare.  Before you “lose it” at the perfume counter, take a deep breath.  Ask yourself, “Is this really worth getting upset about?” or “Does this person really mean to be a jerk or is he just really stressed out, too?” This will help you to stay calm, and may help the other shopper, too.

10. Remember the true meaning of the holidays. With Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, it’s easy to think that the holidays are all about material things.  People who focus on giving to others, being with family, and doing nice things for other people are the people who enjoy the holidays with the least amount of conflict. 



Additional information on avoiding conflict can be found in my books, The Power of Positive Confrontation and The Essentials of Business Etiquette. 

Pachter & Associates provides training and coaching on communication and etiquette. For additional information, contact Joyce Hoff  at 856.751.6141 or joyce @pachter.com 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Speak Up: 10 Ways to Get Your Voice Heard

Have you ever left a meeting or conference thinking, “I wish I had said something?”

You are not alone. People often come up to me and confess that they are hesitant to speak up at meetings. Others mention that when they do say something, no one responds.

In a recent article in the New York Times, Sharon Napier, CEO of Partners + Napier, stressed the importance of voicing your opinion when she said: “Don’t sit quietly and think about things and maybe whisper to somebody or tell people afterward. Put yourself out there, and get involved in the conversation.” 

Check your behavior against this list of 10 key assertiveness points to make sure your voice is heard. Do you:

1. Prepare ahead of time? It is easier to say something when you have practiced. Think about the meeting and what may be discussed. Familiarize yourself with what you want to say so that you can say it with confidence when the topic comes up.

2. Establish your presence? Walk into the room as though you belong there. Greet people. If you feel comfortable being in the room, you will feel more confident about saying something at the meeting.

3. Understand the consequences of not speaking up? You want your bosses, colleagues, and customers to view you as competent and credible. If you don’t speak up, they don’t know what you know, and you can become overlooked and irrelevant. Jenny Ming, chief executive of the clothing chain Charlotte Russe, was also quoted in the New York Times article. She said: “What I learned is that you can’t assume that people know what you’re thinking or what you want in your career. You have to speak up.” 

4. Speak early? The longer you wait to give your opinion, the harder it will be to speak up. Make a comment or ask a question near the beginning of the meeting.

5. Make your point without asking permission? Do you say, “May I make a point?” When you do, it’s easy for others to think, “No.” Either say, “I have a point,” or simply speak out with your comments.

6. Speak loudly enough to be heard? If you speak softly, your comments may not register with others. Practice increasing your volume. Initially, you may feel that you are shouting, but the chances are that you are finally speaking loudly enough to be heard. Additional information on verbal and nonverbal communication can be found in my latest two books, The Power of Positive Confrontation and The Essentials of Business Etiquette.

7. Know how to interrupt? Yes, I know, interrupting is generally frowned upon. Yet, in some situations, if you don’t interrupt you won’t get to speak. The easiest way to interrupt is when the other person takes a breath. You then speak up quickly, acknowledge what the person said, and add your thoughts.

8. Avoid giving too much detail? If you belabor your points, people will tune out. Say what you need to say in as few words as necessary.

9. Control your body language? Do not wring your hands or play with paper clips or rubber bands. They become distractions, and take away from what you are saying. Make sure you look people in the eye. You appear more confident when you make eye contact.

10. Eliminate self-discounting statements? Don’t start your comments with, “It’s only my opinion,” or similar statements. Don’t conclude with, “I don’t know. What do you think?” If you discount yourself, it’s easy for others to discount you as well.

Pachter & Associates provides training and coaching on business etiquette and dining. For additional information, contact Joyce Hoff  at 856.751.6141 or joyce @pachter.com

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Avoiding Blunders: 5 Tips for Ordering Wine at a Business Meal

A colleague of mine just sent me a news story about a man who ordered what he thought was a $37.50 bottle of wine, but, unfortunately for him, the cost of the wine was $3,750.  Big difference!

A few days later, that story was included in an article on MarketWatch, a website for business and finance news, about five wine-related blunders that turned out to be very costly. Here are some guidelines for ordering wine so you don’t end up on that list: 

1. Learn about wine. You will make a better choice, whether as host or guest, if you know something about the product. There are many books and websites with lots of information about wine. You can take a class at an adult-education school or wine store.  Visits to wineries also can be helpful. The general guideline is that white wine is served with fish and poultry and red wine with meat, but there are numerous exceptions.

2. If you are the host, you are in charge of the wine selection. As mentioned above, knowing a little about wine will make your decision easier. You can ask the wine steward, or sommelier, to recommend some wines. Most of them are very knowledgeable and will be happy to pair your food choices with wine. Just make sure you are clear about the price!

Participating in the wine-tasting process is also part of the host’s responsibility. The wine steward will present the bottle’s label for your review and then pour a small amount of wine into your glass. You should taste the wine and (usually) nod approval. Send wine back only if it is spoiled. Do not send the wine back because you do not like the taste. (The five wine-tasting steps are explained through my acronym LaCEST™, and can be found in my book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way to Success.)

3. Check the wine list ahead of time. Many restaurants post their wine lists on their websites. Pick a few bottles and research those. Though not all restaurants have prices on their website wine list, your research will give you a general idea of the price range for a wine. Keep in mind, however, that restaurants mark up the price.

4. Know your budget. Have a general idea about what you want to spend before you go to the restaurant. There are many good, reasonably priced wines to be found. Look for wine that you have enjoyed before.  And remember that the most expensive bottle on the list is not always the best.  If you are celebrating a big occasion, or your guest loves a certain wine, you may choose to increase your budget.  You can give the sommelier your price range by pointing at a price – not a wine – and saying something like, “I was looking for something like this.”

5. Be cautious if you defer to your guest. He or she may order a bottle outside of your budget. Some salespeople have reported that when they have deferred to their guests, those guests sometimes ordered very expensive bottles of wine. But that’s not always a bad thing. One director told me, “My client just gave me two million dollars’ worth of business, so he can order whatever he likes!”

Regardless of the wine chosen, or whether you are the host or the guest, do not drink too much. You need to stay sober. It is easy to blunder when your faculties are impaired by alcohol. 

Pachter & Associates provides training and coaching on business etiquette and dining. For additional information, contact Joyce Hoff at 856.751.6141 or joyce @pachter.com