Great people talk about ideas, average people talk about themselves, and small people talk about others.
–– John Maxwell
Everyone knows someone who can’t shut up. They’re constantly talking, rarely listening, and don’t know when to stop. Whether during a job interview, presentation, or a conversation with the boss, they just go on and on.
In a recent Wall Street Journal article about talkaholics, Aqua America’s chief executive Christopher Franklin described a job interview in which a woman spent twenty-five minutes answering his first question, followed by another twenty-five minutes on the second one. “I felt like I was being filibustered,” he said. “There should be no need for verbal diarrhea.” Needless to say, no job offer was extended to her.
The problem is that people learn to tune “talkaholics” out, and after a certain point, will stop listening. In today’s information society, attention spans are shrinking. In the 1970’s, the average person saw some five hundred ads a day, and today we see at least five thousand messages a day.
Instead of a couple of channels on TV, we have access to hundreds of channels and streaming services, which puts hours of media at our fingerprints. A Microsoft study in 2015 found that people lose focus after about eight seconds, while a goldfish has an attention span of nine seconds.
There are many different types of people who fall into the talkaholic category, but here are a few I've seen in my work as a communication coach:
Ms. All About Me –– These people talk incessantly about themselves and rarely give someone else the chance to speak. It’s always about them.
Mr. Redundant –– This man (or woman) is repeating the same lines, in the same conversation, and repeated conversations.
The Know it All –– This person has all the answers and is certain that these are the right answers. He’s going to tell you, whether you asked or not.
Captain Obvious –– He or she is saying stuff that everyone already knows. Obviously.
If you've been accused of talking too much, or some of this profile seems to fit you, you might be limiting your effectiveness.
Too much talk can hurt your personal brand because it gives the sense that you’re not tuned in. Everything you say just becomes noise, as people tune you out.
With that in mind, here are a few tips for overcoming the tendency to speak too much:
1. Develop awareness
The first step to solving a problem is to become aware and pay attention. Self-reflection is an important part of growth. If you’re unsure as to whether you struggle with talking too much, ask trusted colleagues or friends what they think. An outside perspective can help illuminate potential weaknesses.
2. Find your listening ratio
A listening ratio is the amount of time you spend listening versus the amount of time you spend talking. For introverts, this ratio might look like 20/80, spending 20 percent of the time talking and 80 percent of the time listening.
As I wrote about listening ratios, depending on the nature of your job and your natural inclination, you may find that you need to spend more time talking. For others, they need to concentrate on speaking less and listening more.
3. Be prepared
It is common to talk too much when you’re nervous or unsure of what you’re trying to say. Prepare your thoughts ahead of time so you stay on track and don’t veer off topic. It’s important to know exactly what you want to say in a presentation or an important conversation with a colleague.
I recommend having one central message that you want people to remember and then develop three points to support that main message. This will keep your conversation clear, focused, and memorable.
4. Practice, Practice, Practice
For presentations and other important talks, it’s important to rehearse what you’re going to say. Try using your phone to record yourself and play it back to see if you’re staying on topic. Try challenging yourself to make the point in one minute, then thirty seconds.
The more you strengthen your message and cut out the unnecessary fluff, the easier it will be to convey your point. And the more you practice, the more comfortable you will become with delivering a concise message. Here are other methods to rehearse your talk.
5. Less is more
Mark Twain once quipped, “I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Less is more when it comes to speech. Since people lose focus quickly, their attention is more likely to be held by a short, concise message.
On November 19, 1863, a famous orator by the name of Edward Everett gave a 13,607-word speech that was two hours long. It was followed by a two minute, 272-word speech given by Abraham Lincoln; the now famous Gettysburg Address. Everett later told Lincoln, “I wish that I could flatter myself that I had come as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”
A main idea can be conveyed in two hours or two minutes. It takes more work to be brief, but you’ll enjoy the many benefits of being a person who is heard and understood.
What about you?
Are you, or someone you know, a talkaholic?
Have you thought about your listening ratio? If you talk 80 percent of the time, try listening 80 percent of the time and see if you get different reactions and results.
I'd love to hear your thoughts and stories about compulsive talkers. Just hit “reply” to talk with me.
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