5 Things You Need to Know About Things You Need to Know Lists

I have to be honest, I’m not sure what to think of the “online list” craze. But I have to admit that people sure do love them. Every website is full of lists. They’re everywhere… and they make us want to click to find out what’s number one.

Professional WomanWhile these lists can be fun and easy to consume, keep in mind they my not be as useful as they seem at first glance. In a world where you can “google” anything don’t fall into the trap of thinking information is knowledge. Lists can be useful, but they can also give you a false sense that you are learning more than you really are. They are the cliff’s notes of learning, so treat them with care.

In my business, business training and coaching, these lists are particularly popular. It seems like every magazine, blog or social media site is full of articles that include numbers. Not just research numbers or financial numbers… list numbers. Expert’s top 10 this, and 6 hot ways to do that. You can find lists to tell you about how to find a job, what to say in an interview, how to close a sale, or the tips for networking.

I assume you’re going to continue to click on the lists… frankly, so am I. So to help you out I’ve compiled my own Top 5 List. Here are some things to keep in mind as you consume those enticing lists. While you’re clicking through them think about how you might really use the information they provide you. Again, lists are not good or bad. Just be thoughtful about what you’re truly getting.

  1. Lists are going to be pretty basic. They are lists, not chapters. Let’s face it you can only say so much in a 600 to 1000 word article anyway. As writers we are taught to use bullet points to draw your eye down the page. That’s a big purpose of those lists. It makes an article faster and easier to read. As attention spans dwindle it’s a way to keep you, the reader, engaged so you don’t click off the page. It also means you won’t be given anything too in depth. Bullet points are by nature short and sweet. So they will also only deliver the basic information about a subject. There isn’t time to do much more.
  2. The list may not really help you unless you already know something about the topic. I first noticed this when I was researching my “Network with Ease” course. There are many lists that give you pointers on how to network. But I found that it was a bit like learning to ride a bike. When someone is on the bike for the first time if you tell them to “balance”, “pedal faster to stay up” or “lean to turn” they may yell at you in a panic. Those tips are meaningless to them at that point. They sound like gibberish. However, once they get a feel for the bike and actually experience some of those things, like balancing, your suggestions will start to make sense. They need to know something about riding before  your instructions for riding really make sense. Online lists can be similar.
  3. Lists can help get you started but rarely fill in the details. This follows #2. Lists may tell you “what” you need to do, but that is only half the story. You also need to know “how” to do those things for the list to have any true meaning. It’s the bike riding thing again. It I tell you that you shouldn’t just talk to people you already know when you network, but you are totally anxious about introducing yourself to strangers is that tip really helpful? Sure, you now know you need to do it… but without the “how” you’re still stuck feeling anxious. Without the how, the what is only marginally helpful. It can actually be discouraging.
  4. Anyone can come up with a list by googling any topic. Full disclosure: I’ve used this one myself (and probably will again). Now, in my defense I only do that to find examples or quotes about a topic I’m writing about. But that’s not the case for everyone. It’s easy to grab a couple of info-bites online and throw a post together around them when you’re on a deadline. I see this happen all the time. People reuse each others information all over the Internet. I know, it’s not always a bad thing. Just please keep in mind that if you’re looking for in depth information you’re probably going to have to read more than a glorified David Letterman Top 10 List. Having the headline is not going to help you discuss the story in depth with someone. So watch out thinking you’re an expert on what’s going on after you read a list. Check the source for this particular list before you pull out the information to a client or your boss.
  5. Usually lists are a way to get you to keep reading. Lists and bullet points are designed to keep you on a page so you see the click through ads on a page. It’s what allows a sites advertisers to have viewers… it’s about eyeballs. This is just the way of the Internet. I use it, HuffPo uses it, as do all the leading news and entertainment t sites. I’m not saying you can’t get some interesting and useful information in a “List Post” (hopefully this post is an example). If you’re looking for tidbits to use in a conversation then have at it. Be careful relying on the information too much though. If you expect to get any depth of information you’ll need to move beyond that top 7 list. People who really know a subject can see through you if you try to pass off that list info as real experience or knowledge.

Please use those “listacles” responsibly in business conversation. Keep these tips in mind and you should get more out of your list surfing. And yes, I’m aware of the irony of saying this in a “5 things” list post. I didn’t say they don’t work. You’re here reading it aren’t you? If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Why fight the rising tide. Maybe my next post should be “The 10 reasons I should write more 10 reasons posts”.

Feel free to connect with me directly at www.linkedin.com/in/ericbyrd.

The Key to Engaging an Audience

Presenting to a GroupA friend of mine called me in a panic the other day. She had to give a presentation at work and she was petrified. I asked her what the problem was and she replied, “what if I’m not interesting?” She was worried that she was not well known in her company and so people wouldn’t be willing to listen to what she had to say if she wasn’t outstanding.

This is not the first time I’ve had this conversation with someone. As a presentation coach I work with lots of people who are nervous about public speaking. The good news is that my friend didn’t have to be some celebrity speaking to get people to listen to her. She just had to be good at being herself in front of the room. You don’t have to be a personality to have personality when you present. You do need to keep your audience interested and engaged. Just being natural and not trying to be someone you’re not is the real trick to a first class presentation.

When I was teaching classes to IT engineers for Cisco I learned some important lessons about teaching adults. A good friend of mine, who was a master instructor in the Air Force, explained to me one day that if you can engage your class they will take care of learning the information themselves. This was a real revelation for me. All I really needed to figure out was how to keep them interested and participating for the full week of the course. Since many of my students didn’t really want to be there, and the content I was teaching couldn’t be changed, that could be a bit of a challenge. However, it was a challenge I was willing to take on.

From that point on I committed myself to paying attention to how my classes reacted to different ways of presenting the course material. I began trying new things to keep the class interesting. I could not deviate in the content I was teaching, but I could vary how I delivered the information. I was looking for the most effective and most interesting ways to keep the class with me the entire time.

I used videos during breaks, I played music, I would demonstrate concepts and processes by drawing diagrams. I had the class interactively tell me how to draw the diagrams to build the different systems we were learning about. I encouraged people to experiment during the lab sections. Try a certain configuration and see what happened, then report it to the whole class. I supported them in asking lots and lots of questions, both of me, and of each other. This created a dynamic, engaging environment that was fun for everyone in the room. That included me.

There’s nothing worse than presenting something that you find boring. If you think it’s stupid your audience is certainly going to see that and they just might think it’s stupid too. So finding a way to be interested in whatever it is you’re presenting only helps make you a better presenter. Find something that you think is particularly relevant, eye opening or exciting about your presentation and emphasize those sections. That will go along way to helping your audience be interested as well. When you’re excited they are more likely to be curious what you’re excited about. Emotion is catchy. Use that fact in your delivery.

There are a lot of ways to accomplish this. You just need to find one or two techniques that work well for you. It helps if those techniques match your personality. If humor is your thing then be funny. Don’t be afraid to make the audience laugh. If you are not comfortable with humor then for goodness sake do not try telling jokes. It will come off is disingenuous and potentially turn off your audience. Your delivery needs to be consistent with who you are in real life. Authenticity is important for you to be seen as credible and believable. However, you do need to keep in mind that you’re going to have a mix of personalities in your audience. So you can’t just do a presentation that you alone would like. That will be too limiting and will only be interesting to the people just like you. So you do have to learn to mix it up a little bit.

The biggest thing that everyone needs to know when you’re giving a presentation is to be clear what story you are telling. Humans communicate through telling stories and a presentation is just a specific kind of story. Like a fairy tale, a business presentation needs to have a beginning a middle and an end. It needs to go somewhere. By that I mean that we need to be able to follow where you’re leading us, the audience, so we can discover things along the way. Just throwing a bunch of facts and figures and data up on a slide is not telling a story. It may be important information but we may not see it as particularly interesting without a narrative about why it’s important, where it came from, or what we need to do with it.

When you need to give a presentation use these factors to help you prepare and focus on keeping your audience interested. Engage them while you are speaking and be authentic in your attitude towards what you are talking about. Tell them a story about why this is important and what you want them to do with this information. Use interesting pictures, videos, sounds or props to help make the information relevant to them. Work on ways to keep them engaged and actively listening to what you’re saying.

Doing some or all of these things will virtually guarantee that your audience will respond positively to whatever it is you’re talking about. It will also help you feel more comfortable and more confident in front of the room. Knowing that you’re giving them something that they will want, in a way they can engage with, helps you get over any nervousness you have before you start. Following these guidelines, anyone really can give an interesting presntation… even you.


Listen to What I’m Saying

Make active listening work for you… or else.

Got 30 seconds?

I’ll give you a tip to make your professional networking more productive.



Active listening is extremely important when you are networking. some people ask me “how is active listening different than just listening?” Too often listening is really just waiting for someone to finish what they are saying so you can say what you wanted to say, regardless of the conversation. I see this with people rushing to tell people about their business or products. Active listening, on the other hand, involves really paying attention to what the other person is saying. Then you can move a conversation forward, wherever it goes. The former is not a good way to have a genuine conversation, and can lead to people feeling you have an agenda. It puts people of to think you don’t care what they are saying. Active listening on the other hand lets the conversation unfold naturally, so you can learn more about the other person. That’s what gives you a real chance to find a connection. one you can explore in the NEXT conversation too.

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