Thursday, February 16, 2006

ADHD: Getting Your Point Across in 30 Seconds or What Were We Talking About Again?

Before launching into this week's column I wanted to follow up a bit on last week's column where I faced my fears of incapacitation and took a ride in an MRI. Well, the results are in and it doesn't look good. The doctor says that my brain is normal. I'm not sure how to feel about that. On one hand, I went through all that for nothing and we're still not any closer to understanding my disability. On the other hand, I'm normal which means I'm trading the book club for a golf club and buying a SUV. I'd almost rather go into the machine again.

While I wrangle with my newfound normalness, I thought I'd explore an AD/HD problem near and dear to my heart: The ADHDer's inability to get to the point when speaking.

Of all the adorable eccentricities born of my AD/HD brain, I believe the one trait that is guaranteed to cause seething hatred in my fellow man is my inability to get to the point. Oh, I start out towards the point, but somehow the point becomes accented with various anecdotal but insightful comments, garnished with unrelated topics I must bring up before I forget, and sprinkled with a heavy dose of absentmindedness. If my listener is lucky I might resummarize for them a few times just to keep me on track, at which point they get itchy for one of my new golf clubs.

All it takes is a few phone calls and I can make enemies for life. Forgiving and laid back people usually just gently remind me what the point is or beg me to get there sometime before the cows come home. The Unforgiving ones, however, decide I must be deliberately trying to torture them so they set out to get even. Tired of all the hitmen sent after me, I decided to make some drastic changes.

A few years ago I was looking up How to Make Friends with 90 Bucks or Less and came across How to Get your Point Across in 30 Seconds or Less. Sounded perfect at first, but it's sales centric approach seemed ill fitted for my needs. One problem with 30 Seconds was that it relied too much on insider information. Somehow I was supposed to find out that the random HR guy interviewing me dug country music, liked braggarts, and was way into Furbies. Then I needed to figure out a pithy way to work that into the conversation.
"Hello. My name is Douglas Cootey. Nice to meet you. I'm the art director you've been dreaming of. Yes. I'm that good. I have more talent in my left boot than you can shake a Furbie at, and I'm a whole heckuvva lot cuter too. Yeehaw! Now, where's my desk?"

With a little adaptation, however, I developed a system that has helped me cut down on attempts on my life. People even like it when I call now. I boiled the book down into three basic points I keep in mind before making a call or start a meeting.

• Decide what your point is before making your point.

I know, really radical advise here. But how often have you hung up after a twenty minute phone call and realized you forgot to discuss the main reason for calling? I don't sweat this much when calling friends, but for business I always jot down the main points I want to make on paper or PDA. Otherwise, I can plan on disaster.

• Know your audience

Not everybody is forgiving of absentmindedness. And some people are downright selfish. You know the types - nobody's time is more important than their own? I try not to do business with people like that, but when I can't avoid it I try to be especially terse. People who like me may enjoy the odd ramblings of my mind, but not these guys. They don't have the patience for it and will hold and use my ramblings and verbal flubs against me. Besides, it's only considerate to utilize an economy of words. Ramble with friends; keep it basic for business.

• Don't Forget to Get to the Point

Long before your audience's eyes begin to glaze over, you need to remember the main points of the discussion. Make your points, ask for what you need, listen to the feedback, and then you're done. Following this method felt awkward for me at first, leaving me with the feeling that there was something left unsaid, but I soon realized that was just the AD/HD misfiring.

Call me silly, but having the ability to talk for an hour about everything but what I meant to discuss isn't a very useful attribute to me. It irritates most people, in fact. Over the years I've known some people to avoid my calls because they didn't like talking on the phone as much as I did. You'll just have to forgive me if I see that as a bad thing. However, all is not gloomy. Although keeping these points in mind has not repaired past relationships with the Unforgiving ones, it has helped me not repeat past mistakes. Considering how many assassins were employed over the years to take me out, this is a vast improvement.

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