Sitting in the audience looking up at the man the MC just brought on stage, I gasped.
It was a speakers worst nightmare.
He hugged the woman who introduced him and started to speak.
I didn’t hear anything he was saying.
Is someone going to tell him? How long will they leave him up there exposed like that?
It felt like it took forever. There were over 100 people sitting in the audience. We all saw it.
There was no missing it.
But, nobody in the audience stopped him.
Finally someone pointed it out to the MC who immediately rushed up to the stage and whispered in his ear. He stopped talking, smiled and looked down. He looked sheepishly at the audience, turned around for a moment, zipped himself up and then turned back.
He smiled, definitely a little embarrassed but also kind of amused, and said “listen, I just survived one of my greatest fears and it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I thought. Yours probably won’t be either.“ He then carried on with his talk.
He was right … it wasn’t that bad. Yet, nobody seemed to want to tell him. Nobody wants to cause someone embarrassment even though not telling someone actually will result in even more embarrassment when they eventually find out!
So if nobody is going to tell you then it’s up to you to know what to watch for. You can’t influence people if they are distracted by that thing they don’t want to talk to you about.
Here are 7 Awkward Conversations People Will Avoid Having with You:
1. Your Fly is Open
Unless someone feels pretty comfortable with you, it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, you can’t count on the fact that other people will give you a heads up when your pants make a peep hole. Triple check when you walk out of the washroom, or at least take note when you feel that midsection draft.
2. Your Handshake Gives Me the Willies
Last week, on a trip to Toronto where I spoke at one major conference with nearly 500 attendees, and another smaller 40 person meeting, I shook hands with at least 100 people.
I don’t remember the ones that were good, but I certainly remember the bad ones.
There was a woman who gave me a cold set of fingertips to shake. She runs a pretty big company too … I couldn’t believe she would have such a terrible handshake. My immediate impression was that she’s insecure. That’s the thought that went through my head when she shook my hand like that.
There was a big burly man with a deep voice who I expected would have a strong handshake … I actually braced a little thinking he would crush my hand. Instead, it felt like I was shaking hands with large spaghetti noodles. Finally I had a woman who CRUSHED my hand. She had a bony little hand and squeezed like she was trying to make my fingernails pop right off. They nearly did.
The gentleman with the noodle shake I actually stopped and let him know. It was just the two of us chatting to the side of the meeting room and I just said “Hey – let’s do that handshake again. This time let’s shake like we mean it. Give me a rock solid hand.” It was much better. It didn’t change the fact that his hand was a bit damp, but at least it was a firm shake. And, you know what? He smiled and seemed happy to get a second run at it.
Most people will never let you know, so you need to ask some trusted friends and colleagues. Ideally ask them in the setting where you’re networking. When you’re comfortable and amongst good friends you may not have a damp handshake. The nerves that cause that may only be present amongst strangers. You need to know.
Not sure what makes a good handshake?
First, your hand should be warm, dry, and firm. Connect your palm of hand to the palm of hand of the other person, smile and maintain eye contact while your hands are connected. Hold for two seconds and then release. It’s not difficult. It is important.
3. You Aren’t Believable
Your voice tone can ruin your chances of being promoted, getting the sale, hiring the right people and getting what you want in life. The worst part is that people often won’t even know WHY they don’t believe you. They will just know that you don’t sound confident. It’s up to you to practice and perfect this so you come across confident and comfortable when you speak to anyone. This video explains:
4. Your Breath is Bad
When you’re in public connecting with other people you MUST practice safe breath.
People you’re connecting with in meetings, at work or events are unlikely to let you know that your coffee breath makes them want to run. They will just step back, end the conversation as quickly as possible and avoid you after that.
What can you do about it? How do you practice safe breath?
Good hygiene is an important first place to focus. Morning and evening brushing, daily flossing and regular dental cleanings will go a long way to reducing the bacteria in your mouth. Less bacteria means less smell. Second, watch what you eat. Know which foods like to come back on you and avoid them when you’re going to be socializing or networking. Pay attention to what might have a lot of garlic or raw onions which will always make you smell (And for some, garlic comes out of your pores as well making you smell no matter what you do to freshen your breath). And, if you’ve been drinking coffee, know that your breath will be unpleasant shortly after you are done drinking so be prepared.
The safest approach? Always assume your breath is bad and take measures to reduce your impact. An Altoid mint, a fresh piece of gum, or a quick rinse with mouth wash will do the trick. Be aware that none of these things have long lasting effects. You’ll need to refresh every hour or so to keep it fresh and friendly.
5. There’s Something Green in Your Teeth
After sitting at a poker table in the Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas joking around with the guys at the table for at least 90 minutes, I went to the washroom. I was chatting with the woman next to me at the sink while I washing my hands when it caught my eye in the mirror … there was a large blackish looking chunk of something just left of center on my bottom teeth.
It was big.
It was unmistakable.
I hadn’t eaten in two hours. It had to have been there the whole time I’d been at the table and nobody said anything!
I’ve never been one to primp and fix in the mirror. I’m trying to be more aware … so I’m warning you and reminding myself.
After you eat, head to the washroom and check your teeth (and my husband adds here … check your face and facial hair for food too). Or, ask a friend.
Back at the poker table I felt less confident. I was embarrassed. Why had nobody told me?
I lost money that night … I blame the green thing in my teeth for throwing me off my game.
Stay on your game and keep the green in your pocket by making sure it’s not in your teeth.
6. The 70’s Called and They Want That Hairstyle Back
A friend of mine is a high level executive with a hearing aid company. He had someone on his team that decided to embrace her gray hair. The problem was that she looked like a skunk while she was growing out the coloured hair. She parted her hair in the middle of her head and her roots had about two inches of grey and the rest was a dark brown.
He handled it beautifully, letting her know that it’s not fair but clients will judge her and the company because of how she looks (it’s not fair, but it IS true). He gently let her know that he thought she would look great grey but perhaps, to get through the in between stage, she could get it coloured grey at the salon. The company would pay. He knew it was distracting and he also worried that clients would think she was ok letting things go; not taking care of the details and their trust would be eroded.
That business in the front, party in the back look is not working for you. Neither is that teased hair look. Noticeable roots on your hair colour distract too. People will talk about it when you’re not there. And, if they aren’t talking about it, they are thinking about it when they should be thinking about what you’re saying to them.
Appearance matters way more than any of us want it to.
Hit a hair salon, ask for a master stylist (yep, the expensive one) and get a consultation before you get a hair cut. Ask for a style that will be the best for your face, easy to maintain or fit with your lifestyle and go for it. You can go to the cheaper places after that for maintenance … but to get the best cut for you. It will cost a bit more. It’s worth it.
7. You’re Wearing THAT?
I was 19. It was my first job in an office. My jobs before that were cleaning motel rooms and working as a lifeguard. My parents owned the motel I cleaned rooms in. Sure, I had completed two years of business school at that time, and I had an idea of what business people wore but I didn’t realize how out of place I looked.
I was wearing a skort – shorts that looked like a skirt (but apparently not enough), with a sweater and some brown little boots. I have never been great with fashion but apparently I was really out of touch at that moment.
My boss was stopped by her boss and told to get me into something more appropriate. I didn’t fit the culture.
Slacks or a skirt with heels and a blouse or a nice sweater (implying the sweater I was wearing was not nice).
I felt so embarrassed. And, even worse, she told me at 10am so I still had to work until 4pm. All day I felt like I might as well have been wearing a clown suit. I felt ridiculous and could not wait for that day to end.
I never made that mistake again.
Once I knew how I was supposed to dress, I was able to impress my boss with my work. I was still doing the same high quality work in ‘slacks’ and heels as I was in a skort and boots, but in the right attire I was apparently a much higher performer in their eyes.
I worked there for two years and received several raises and some cool perks most other interns didn’t receive. That was unlikely to happen if I didn’t dress in a way that was deemed appropriate.
Looking great is context dependent. What looks great when you’re at a night club is different than what looks great at the office. What looks great when you’re out for dinner on a date is different than when you are going wear to go golfing.
Dress in a way that makes YOU look and feel great in that context. This is different for everyone. Some places actually have a dress code so you have no choice. You’re not getting into that country club if you’re not wearing the right attire.
But, many places have an unspoken dress code. It is up to you to know this in advance. Be your fabulous self, but try to be you in a context appropriate way. You’ll be more comfortable and confident, and those around you will be too.
Most people won’t sit you down like my boss … and believe me, you actually don’t want it to come to that. Be aware and take measures to look great for that situation. Have your own style. I am all for standing out, but stand out in a good way.
It’s a tough world out there. We don’t want to make others feel uncomfortable. We don’t want to embarrass people, but that means most people won’t have these awkward conversations with you. It’s up to you to be aware, ask questions and address the issues before they reduce your ability to have a great impact on those around you. Then, you can watch your influence grow and expand.
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