Senior professionals often tell their juniors to stop doing things that detract from meetings with prospective clients.
Don’t say I.
Don’t stand with your hands clasped in front of you (sometimes called the fig-leaf position).
Don’t interrupt the client.
Don’t talk so much.
Don’t say uhm so much.
Don’t sound so academic.
Try not to sound so presumptuous.
Don’t talk so fast.
The pressure on younger professionals goes up as such instructions get repeated overtime with, at the least, the implication that lack of improvement could limit their careers.
These instructions are often hard to follow. It is relatively easy to stop saying I by replacing it with we, but many of the other examples are hard to comply with. A person who sounds academic doesn’t do so intentionally. From long personal experience, I know how hard it is to stop talking fast.
They are hard to comply with, because they don’t tell you what you are supposed to do. And your ability to modify your behavior depends more on what you do than what you don’t do. So, when given instructions like these, try to translate them into something you can do, instead.
That’s why it’s easy to stop saying I so much; the we-alternative is obvious. The alternatives to some of the others are relatively easy to identify. So, for example, instead of holding your hands in the fig-leaf position, you can fill one of them with a prop (a pad of paper, your glasses, or even a pen) or place one on the back of a chair. Though harder, you can practice letting your hands hang naturally at your side, between gestures.
The person who sounds academic can try reformulating what she has to say, as if she were explaining it to a twelve-year-old. The person who sounds presumptuous can broaden client-specific advice (you should, you need to) with observations from firm experience (we have seen that many companies faced with your situation have found it helpful to . . .). For some alternatives to talking too much, see the post, He Talks Too Much.
Sometimes, the do instead of the don’t isn’t easily deduced. Sally Goodman taught me that for most people increasing eye contact reduces uhms. Otherwise, I never would have known.
But if you can translate don’t do that into do this, your chances of changing your behavior go up.