Knowing When To Keep Your Mouth Shut

Hi Persuader,

Wow! I understand stage fright, but I don’t understand this… Odds are, if you’re much of an internet surfer, you’ve seen this clip already:


It’s a clip of Laura Caitlin Upton, the Miss Teen America contestant from South Carolina, giving her answer to a question about education and geography: “Recent polls have shown that a fifth of Americans can’t locate the U.S. on a world map. Why do you think this is?”

Seeing it written out word for word is almost scarier:

“I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, uh, some people out there in our nation don’t have maps. And I believe that our education, like, such as in South Africa and the Iraq, everywhere, like such as, and I believe that they should, our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S. or should help South Africa and should help the Iraq and the Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future for our children.”

Maybe she got left behind, if you know what I mean.

This story is a few weeks old, but I just thought the clip with the subtitles was hilarious and when I saw it, it made me (of course) want to relate it back to persuasion and sales. This comes under the title of “Why talking too much loses the sale”.

We’re not all on stage in front of thousands or hundreds of people and so, in all fairness, don’t understand the pressure the girl was under. On the other hand, there are fifty states (I think, I’ll have to send Laura an e-mail to verify this) and I don’t see video clips all over the internet and television of the other forty-nine contestants blathering on nonsensically.

When we persuade, (as Ms. Upton was trying to do with the judges – persuade them to choose her above the others), it is not about filling the air with words. It is about aiming our messages straight at what the client or prospect needs.

Regardless of whether or not her physicality was pleasing enough to win is really the issue in this case and the fact that she came in third is truly an indication that this was not a brains contest, but a beauty contest. She appeared poised, at least. I’ll say that for her. Also, she’s not hard to look at, just hard to listen to.

Without proper training, you may be perceived as a bumbling idiot. If we take a lesson from Ms. Upton’s “answer” to the question, it should be this:

Sometimes less is better. If we don’t have answers, we need to keep our traps shut unless we are blessed with the gift of gab and can fake it until we come up with something passable, at the very, very least.

Until Next Time,

Kenrick E. Cleveland

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 3 comments
Dave - September 14, 2007

Being able to sound clear and coherent is a rare trait in the world today. When I recognize that someone isn’t making much sense and they appear to be fumbling or bumbling for the words to express themselves, I realize that it’s not particularly their fault and they are not alone. In my opinion, it a lack of being prepared; whether it is being out of the person’s subject matter or being caught off guard, it makes even the smartest of people difficult to listen to.

When I am in the middle of a persuasion setting and I hear someone fumbling, I realize the need to either take charge or really listen to them if they are working to process their thoughts into words, or of course they may be bs’ing me. And that is the beauty of learning language skills; the ability to determine if someone is searching to give their criteria words or um, … ya know, … just trying to bs me, or in the best scenario: showing me that they want my leadership.

Now if I could only be in a situation where people thought I was so gorgeous and I had even a small amount of language skills, …

Brennan Kingsland - September 16, 2007

Poor girl! It was so uncomfortable to watch her rambling, my heart just went out to her. And not because of her apparent beauty (I’m a happily married grandmother), but because it is part of the human condition to feel empathy. She will suffer horrible and excruciating embarrassment for a long time to come. Teenagers haven’t had an opportunity to develop a good frame of reference for human frailties, and castigate themselves even more than adults do. I hope this experience hasn’t ruined her self-confidence and that she will learn valuable lessons from this.

It reminds me of the old saying you alluded to: “It’s better to stay silent and be perceived as dumb, than to speak and remove all doubt.”

Poor girl!

Breian Malupa - February 7, 2009

Knowing when to keep your mouth shut is very important (and not just in persuading others, but in all aspect of your life). There is always the proper time and place, things need to be said and things that shouldn’t even be mentioned.

Part of persuasion is assessing the listener as you talk. You need to be aware on the subtle body language or response every second. Everything could be going good and it would take just one word to change your prospect from good to disappointment. Hence the term “pushing the button”. Are you pushing the right buttons or the wrong buttons? Because if you are pushing the wrong buttons, isn’t it smart to stop at that moment and change your approach?

In my opinion,… knowing when to open or close your mouth is as powerful as the ‘3 sec pause/silence’ rule – as well as being the most important.


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