There is nothing like a 45-minute commute on your way home in bumper-to-bumper traffic on a cold Monday evening to stifle your holiday cheer. As I unpacked my briefcase and pulled off my tie, Jackson (my fourth child) came running into the bedroom wearing a chef’s hat. He cheerfully said, “Dad, I’m in charge of dinner tonight. I made a menu and I’m ready to serve you.”
I grumpily walked down the stairs to the kitchen, where I saw that the table had been set (…with various sizes of plates and different cups…). On the counter, Jackson had pulled out all the leftovers from the refrigerator. Since we have been dealing with a family crisis and I have been playing single parent for the past few weeks, its no surprise that every one of the leftovers was old and moldy.
So, I threw away Jackson’s dinner.
He sat at the table with a crossed-look of horror, sadness and disappointment as I threw out his dinner. And rather than console him, I legitimized my actions: “Jackson, the food was rotten. Get over it.” (Ouch! I actually said that.)
I realized my mistake later. Not when I was making his favorite sweet potatoes and marshmallows. Not when we were saying prayers and reading in bed that night. Not the next morning as I walked out to work with a kiss on his forehead. But, later, as I was driving home the next evening—stuck in traffic again—and preparing for a better evening. It dawned on me that on the previous night I had killed my child’s joy and excitement. Here are three practical ways that you can do the same this holiday season:
- Put on your frown and ignore smiles and laughter. There is no better way to kill joy when you come home from work, with a room of children excited to see you, than to “wear your day” on your face. If you have had a bad day, and your face shows it, and you ignore the fun and excitement of seeing your family in the evening, then you will surely set the tone. Your frown can be infectious, and lead to a handful of frowns on your spouse and children. Try it.
- Focus on your day, rather than their day. Another practical way to kill the joy of your family when you come home from work is by stealing it, tying it to a concrete block and throwing it into a lake. In other words, you should steal the opportunity from them when you walk into the house and focus on your day (whether good or bad). Don’t let them tell you about the dragons they slayed, the forts they built, the knock-knock joke they made up. Keep it all about you.
- Don’t ever say sorry. Sometimes you will realize that you are crushing your children’s joy and excitement and you will have the urge to correct yourself. But don’t. Instead, rationalize your actions, tell them to “Grow up!” in a stern voice, and bury any desire to apologize. Kids are smart enough to know when you messed up and they never need to hear those weak words, “I’m sorry.”
If you add family health issues, work demands, financial stresses and everyday family squabbles to the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, you have a recipe for imbalance. In our household, while we experience all of these pressures right now, our kids need joy and excitement. And so do yours. So ignore my words.
Earlier this year I was speaking at a national construction conference when I made a huge speaking mistake. At the onset of my presentation, this crowd of more than 200 future leaders in the construction industry was rather quiet. I had to engage them; I had to get them to interact; I had to break the silence.
I was talking about the importance of “communication” in retaining good employees. The first question I asked was: “Have any of you been through a merger of two companies?”
The question I asked was simple, but not one person responded. Not one person had been through a merger. Not one smile—not one hand raised. The silence was deafening. In my attempt to make a connection, I lost all connection to the audience. Everything I said after those words appeared unimportant.
Later, as I thought about the presentation, I realized that details matter…the small things matter…the polish on the speech matters. Here are five things that I have learned not to say during a presentation:
- “Have you ever….?” The problem with this type of lead-in is that sometimes not one person in the audience will have experienced your lead-in. You can still share the story you intend to share, but introduce it a little different. Rather than on open-ended question, tell the audience about the story and the lesson learned. Use the story to make the connection; use details they can connect with; use common phrase to which they can relate…even if they have not experienced the same event.
- “I was so *^?!@*#~ upset…” Yes, that is right, you should refrain from colorful words. You may think that society is now more accepting of four-letter words, but you’ve heard me say it before that words matter! The chances that you will offend someone (…who may even be your next client…) are far greater than you making a real connection with someone because you added a few vulgarities to your speech.
- “I did not have time to prepare, but…” You should never start a presentation with excuses. Even if you were just added to the roster, or you are not feeling your best, you should give it your best! The editorial comments that “explain away” your circumstances detract from your message, no matter how prepared you may be.
- “I will keep this short.” I cannot tell you how many presentations I have seen where the speaker starts off with this broken promise. As a member of the audience, I don’t really care. I came to learn something, or be inspired, or be informed. You should pick a different intro, such as, “I am going to change how you look at construction law” or “Today you are going to learn how to grow your business by treating your employees differently.” Don’t make your introduction about the length of your presentation.
- “As the slide says, …” Never, never, never read your slides. In fact, I am a large proponent of slides that do not contain words, or very little words. The audience is there to hear you share with them a great speech. They did not come to hear you read your slides to them. If you spend more time de-cluttering or de-wording your slide presentation, it will pay off in the long run. If you have to include detailed information, provide a hand-out or article at the end of your presentation.
Questions: What mistakes have you made in a presentation? What have you learned to “never say” during a speech?