Stop Talking, Early and Often
Recently, I happened to overhear a job interview being conducted in my local bakery. (What can I say; it’s Brooklyn!)
And what caught my ear was that the job candidate talked about herself for 10 minutes in response to her interviewer’s first question!
She didn’t know when to stop talking, even though I could see the interviewer’s eyes glazing over from two tables away.
Now, this was an informal job interview — but the same thing happens all the time at pitches, presentations, networking events, and meetings.
Someone asks a question, and the person who’s being questioned launches into a dissertation on the subject.
Stop Talking Before Your Listener Loses Interest
This even happens in non-public conversation, as this excerpt from a fourth grade essay by my daughter (“The Life of Laurika”) illustrates:
My Daddy is a musician. He plays guitar. One time I wanted to know what one of his guitars was made out of and he took almost half an hour looking in manufacturer’s catalogues trying to find the exact kind of wood from the exact kind of tree that grew in the exact place. And when he was finished I wasn’t even interested anymore.
Now Laurika adores her father.
But it’s unlikely that an interviewer, or prospect, or someone you just met networking is going to adore you if you talk them into not caring anymore.
Why Do We Forget to Stop Talking? Blame It On Our Public Speaking Personalities
The reasons we all talk too much differ from person to person — but also from one public speaking personality to another.
- Helpers tend to go on because our passions are engaged. If I start talking about the local politicians who displaced hundreds of my neighbors to build an arena, good luck getting me to stop!
- Reliables (like Laurika’s dad) are honor-bound to be as thorough as possible. They owe you a complete answer, and their answer isn’t complete unless it’s comprehensive.
- Improvers love technical detail. They’ll tell you about how the thing works, why it’s better than the thing that came before it, and how the thing that’s coming next will be even better before you even know what the thing is.
- Experiencers get caught up in the moment. They’re re-living what they’re talking about, and that can mean re-living (and recounting) every detail of what happened.
In other words, all of us can fall prey to the tendency to blather. But you can avoid this trap by following these simple guidelines:
Know When to Stop Talking — and How
Watch Your Listener’s Body Language. As in all forms of public speaking, your listener(s) determine what’s working, so your job is to read their feedback. If they’re nodding, leaning in, or have a thoughtful expression on their faces, keep talking. If they don’t, wrap it up! And don’t be fooled by a polite smile, as the interviewee in my bakery was. Really look at them, and you’ll see what you need to know.
- Make Your Most Important Point First. It’s easier to wrap things up if you’re confident that you’ve made your point, and the best way to do this is to make your most important point immediately. This means answering the question first, and then explaining your answer, not doing it the other way around.
- If You Don’t Understand What the Question is Getting At, Ask. Don’t keep talking until you accidentally hit on something that satisfies your listener. Ask them to clarify what they want to know.
- Leave Them Wanting More. Stop your answer before you’ve told everything, and chances are they’ll ask a follow-up question!
With these tips and a little bit of self-awareness, you’ll be able to more effectively monitor whether what you’re saying is working for your questioner, or driving them to drink.
But the benefits of this approach aren’t all for them.
You’ll be growing your public speaking skills, wow-ing your listeners, and building a rep for being a good conversationalist.
That’s a lot of pay-back for answering the question and then Not Talking!