“You’re the one that wanted a big dog. So if you don’t get him under control, I’m sending him to the farm.” I didn’t’ ask what my wife meant by “the farm.” But she was mad. Balou, our six-year-old lab, had unleashed a shockingly large stream of urine on our dining room drapes.
Desperate, I hired “Sit Means Sit” dog trainers out of Douglasville. Not only did they get Balou in line, but they had some lessons in how to improve your communication skills.
Lesson 1: Keep the attention focused on the challenge.
To take Balou on a walk was to risk having your shoulder pulled out of its socket. If he saw another dog or, heaven forbid a squirrel or a deer, he would lunge. My wife and daughter stopped walking the crazed beast long ago. So with my boys in college, it was up to me. And I hated walking him because it was so unpleasant.
Our trainer taught us to use a remote training shock collar to keep Balou’s attention on the job at hand, walking without pulling on the leash. We would say “come” and at the same time, using a hand-held remote, give him a quick low-level zap to get his attention (I zapped myself a few times and it doesn’t hurt at the lowest levels. But it does get attention.).
Every time Balou wandered away or pulled, he got a zap as I said “come” pulling him in position. Within an hour he was walking on the leash without pulling. A month later, he can walk without a leash and stays right by my side. If he starts to wander, I say “come” and he returns usually without a zap. It feels like a miracle.
Similarly, to break a bad speaking habit, you must focus your attention. One classic challenge is filler words like “um” and “you know.” In our classes, we have listeners snap their fingers every time they hear the speaker use a filler word. Within 15 minutes, the speaker has learned to pause rather than say “um.” The snap focuses the attention.
Use the same approach to help with poor eye contact, annoying hand gestures, or poor voice or facial energy. You just need some way of keeping attention on the problem.
Lesson 2: Practice Matters
Before the drapery incident, I confess that Balou was neglected. But now, we walk him every day and practice things like sitting and coming when called etc. He’s improved dramatically.
The same is true with speaking. One executive asked me why he was such a lousy speaker. “I used to be very good,” he told me. When I asked if he ever practiced, he said, “You know I used to.”
Practice makes you better.
Lesson 3: Have Fun
Balou gets heavy praise every time he does something right. And he’s having fun and learning quickly.
The same is true when learning to be a better speaker. Most people are poor speakers because they hate doing it. And it’s no wonder. Most presentations are dull to sit through and painful to deliver.
Try to make your presentations fun. Tell stories and make it interactive with questions. Give out prizes for good questions. And keep it short. No one likes listening to long presentations. Delivering them isn’t fun either.
All of this dog training has given me an idea: remote electronic shock collar training for business professionals.
Joey Asher has worked with thousands of business people helping them learn how to communicate in a way that connects with clients. His new book 15 Minutes Including Q&A: a Plan to Save the World from Lousy Presentations” is available now. He is also the author three previous books including “How to Win a Pitch: The Five Fundamentals That Will Distinguish You from the Competition”, “Selling and Communication Skills for Lawyers” and “Even A Geek Can Speak.”