Conversation Points: Making Old Words New Again

January 31, 2014

If I had taken better notes, then I would have written a book titled “The People I’ve Met on Airplanes.”

There is something unique and often stimulating about having a long conversation with a stranger who you have been forced to share an armrest with for hours at a time while cruising at an altitude of 35,000 feet.

I recall talking with a young professional while flying from one coast to the other. Somewhere over Idaho, he confided that he was confused about career direction and I found myself sharing my own experiences that I hoped would be helpful to him. Hours later, we landed, said goodbye and exchanged business cards.

Weeks later, I received an email thanking me for my advice. He said our conversation was life changing and as a result, he was happier than he had been in a long time. His words meant so much and then, I started to wonder: If I could influence this young man when simply speaking from my heart, then imagine what each of us can do if we put more emphasis on sharing our experiences to spice up business conversations or rejuvenate that tired sales pitch that we’ve made a hundred times.

Brands do this all the time. Look at Proctor and Gamble’s Oil of Olay skin products. It is more than 60 years old, and new packaging and an updated marketing approach have made it one of the company’s leading brands. Perhaps the brand was always great, but the company needed to reinvent how it appealed to today’s customers.

Updating your delivery and recharging your battery

When we write articles, papers, produce videos or give talks, we’re not always reinventing the wheel, as our core message remains important. But it’s up to us to find ways to deliver information in a new or different manner that not only engages our audiences but makes us more engaging as well.

This includes using more modern examples, sharing new data and analogies or replacing stories we’ve been telling for years with more recent anecdotes to drive our message. This way, we can share important information with the same vigor and enthusiasm we did the first time around because we’re saying it differently.

Think about that feeling you get when you have a great experience, start a new job, meet someone who fascinates you or have a stimulating conversation that stays with you for days. You might feel happy, challenged or even excited. It’s as if your battery suddenly recharges.

Refreshing your vocabulary

Here are some additional suggestions to help you make old words new again.

Like a new challenge or project that makes us jump out of bed in the morning, it’s important to approach your listener as if this is the first time they’ve heard what you have to say. That means if you want them to be excited, then you need to act as excited as you were the first time you talked the talk.

For starters, forget the pitch or presentation and remember the listener. We always advise clients to eliminate the word “presentation” from their vocabulary and replace it with the word “conversation.” Unlike a presentation, a conversation is a dialogue — and that’s what you should be having with every listener. Try thinking of that listener as a friend who you’re chatting with as opposed to talking at. If it’s one-on-one or a small group, then find out what they need and care about before you launch into your solution.

Next, when writing or speaking, think of talking to one person. As a former reporter, I used to broadcast live to more than one million people per night. If I stopped to think about all those people watching me, then I might have choked. Instead, I pretended that camera was one person. That made my delivery much warmer and more personal.

It’s also important to look and listen for cues. When preparing for a sales communication training program, I recently shadowed a sales rep on a call. Ultimately, his goal was to enroll the prospect on a new website that would provide valuable resources for her practice. As he walked her through what the website offered, she repeatedly told him that she was technology challenged. I glanced around and noticed that she didn’t even have a computer in the office.

As the meeting was drawing to a close, he asked her how she thought she might use the website. Really? Didn’t he hear what she said or was he so focused on his own agenda that he missed an opportunity to help her understand how these resources, which were also available offline, could help her?

Finally, get out of your comfort zone. Like telling a stranger a story for the first time, when writing or speaking, look for ways to bring some of that passion and energy to your business conversations. To quote poet Maya Angelou, “People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”

If you can make someone feel, then you can make them care. If you make them care, then you will be in a far better position to make them listen.


Karen Friedman

Karen Friedman is a business-communication expert, executive coach, speaker and author of the books “Shut Up and Say Something” and “Ordinary People: Extraordinary Lessons.” She heads Karen Friedman Enterprises ( in the Philadelphia area. Follow her on Twitter @karenfriedmane.

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