Category “Clear Communication”

The Best Investment You Can Make

Take a Chance and Change 3 Communication Skills

Here’s part of Warren Buffet’s answer to Michael Hood’s question. He asked: “What is one tip you’d give 21-year-olds just graduating from school?”

“Invest in yourself. The one easy way to become worth 50 percent more than you are now at least is to hone your communication skills–both written and verbal.”  Here is Warren Buffet’s whole answer.

This is not just good advice for younger people! Everyone can benefit from better communication skills. Here are my 3 Communication Best Practice 2019 changes for you. You can use these skills every day, whether making a formal presentation at a meeting, or even informally, outside of a work-related environment.

  1. Get to the point—and end there. (Content Change)
    I never send out any communication without trying to make it more concise and better organized.
    CHANGE: Try to cut every email you send by 1/3. Plan to speak 5-10 minutes less for every presentation you plan. Cut words and images from every visual you create (PowerPoint, Viseo, Prezi, executive summary, storyboard).
  2. Organize your messages and state them clearly. (Content Change)
    I set a context and name the topic area (headline) before I get into the details.
    CHANGE: Use headlines as you speak. Help your listener follow you. Take a chance and use these types of phrases: “Here’s the problem…” “The least costly solution is…” “There are 3 options to consider…” “Let me start with the 3 key messages I want you to remember…” In emails, consider putting your categories in bold letters such as Issue, Problems, Best Solution, Next Steps.
  3. Create a positive atmosphere with your voice tone, eye contact and focused words. (Engagement Skills)
    I find ways to be positive in my interactions with others, adding a positive feeling into the conversation. I project the energy I would like from others.
    CHANGE: Smile when appropriate and speak with enthusiasm. Take a chance and put more excitement, enthusiasm and curiosity into your voice and communications.
    Think about how you feel when someone sounds happy and excited about a topic, especially on the phone. Here’s some interesting research: “The More You Energize Your Coworkers, the Better Everyone Performs.”

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Several Key Takeaways From This Research

  1. The good news is that you can do something! Focus on relational energy—the energy we get and give in our daily interactions. Every action and word, no matter how small, matters in boosting productivity and performance.
  2. In your written communications, write positive comments and words that make the reader smile.
  3. Sound excited and interested when you speak to someone. When my husband was in the middle of a long 6-month crisis at work, he always sounded upbeat and happy to hear from me when I called him.

You have an opportunity to make these changes. Just try them for one week and notice the difference. 

State a Call to Action

TorchMetrics’ surveys have shown that more than 50% of presenters do not absolutely suggest next steps or provide a call to action.

The ramifications of this are profound.

Audiences feel lost and may think, “So what am I sitting here for?” They are frustrated having wasted their time and do not have a positive impression of the presenter.

The Executives do not like their time wasted. They want to move forward with suggestions and solutions. They now do not imagine this person as “executive” material.

Presenters have wasted time creating a presentation that ends in a whisper. And now they have to spend time after the meeting getting agreement on the next steps. Plus their career advancement becomes limited as they are not “seen” as getting things done.

Next Steps and/or a Call to Action are critical to a presentation. Always have a slide prepared that outlines the next steps to be taken. You may choose to show it either at the beginning or at the end of a presentation. In most communications you want a call to action be it a webex, email or presentation.

EXAMPLES: WHICH WOULD ENGAGE YOU?

NOT CLEAR

CLEAR & ENGAGING

Alignment Can I get alignment on this? Tomorrow I will start contacting each function to gather the information needed for this project. Please say now if this is not acceptable to you.
Marketing Piece What do you think of this marketing flyer? We have two colors of the flyer. I suggest we go with the purple as it fits our theme and is more eye-catching. Any comments or questions before we can agree on the purple?
Focus I suggest we focus on our top 10 accounts. I suggest on Friday we send a memo to the sales force telling them that for the next four weeks to only focus on their top 10 accounts. Is there any reason why you believe we should not do this?

Change the Pace–Keep Your Audience Awake and Engaged

There is a belief floating around out there about presenting that goes something like this: “We’ve got to be consistent. Act consistent. Look consistent. Talk in the same consistent voice. Show the same slides. This will brand our company.”

Yes, that will certainly brand your company with your audience. They’ll think of you as the company that makes boring presentations. We will talk about the slides another time. Today let’s talk about the presenter.

Misconception 1: I have to keep the same pace during my whole talk. “I should start talking and stop when my presentation is finished.”

Reality: Anything done the same way over a period of time is boring. To talk with the same speed and voice inflection is boring. To not change the speed of your delivery is boring. You must also change the tone of your voice. If you don’t, you will hypnotize your audience into a trance. They’ll just sit there, not really listening nor engaging in what you are saying.

Exercise: When talking, practice slowing down your speed. Say the words and points that are most important to your audience much more slowly.

Misconception 2: I should keep the same voice volume. “I can’t change my voice volume. That’s just me being quiet.”

Reality: Your speaking in a quiet voice all the time will also hypnotize your audience. You must vary the volume. Not everything you say is of the same importance. When you are delivering your key points, make your voice louder at the beginning of each one. This signals to your audience that you are about to make an important point.

Exercise: When talking, practice speaking softer and louder. Listen to how you signal to your audience that you have something very important to tell them.

Use Dialogue to Enhance Your Story

I have been encouraging my clients to use examples or stories. They frequently just describe what happened in a given situation. This does not have the same power as creating a dialogue.

For example, Sarah is trying to convince department managers to stop using roaming plans. To give her discussion of cell phone charges more impact, here is what she can say:

You’ve said to me about these roaming charges, “But I’m traveling. It’s just a business cost.”  “Yes,that’s true, but you can change your phone plan so you don’t have to pay a roaming fee.”  Then some of you responded, “Listen, you may be right, but I don’t have time to figure out another plan.”  Here’s my response, “I totally agree with you. You don’t have time. Here’s a small chart. All you have to do is look at the chart and tell me the plan you want. I’ll do the rest. Just think of me as your drive through phone plan.”

Another comment I hear a lot is, “I’m not going to carry two phones when I go overseas. That is ridiculous and too much trouble.”   “You are right, I agree with you. You don’t have to. I have made a deal with our phone company so all you need is one phone for all your business, at home and overseas.”

I will be coming by your office to take five minutes of your time to figure out what works best for you. I guarantee in two months you will be saying to me, “Hey, you were right. This is not a big deal. And I see we are saving money.”

The dialogue makes a boring topic more interesting and fun to give and also hits home with your audience,

Next time you want to convince your audience, use dialogue. You will be happily surprised with the results.

Talk and Add Value–Don’t Read the Slide

Talk! Add Value! Reading and Conveying Data is Not a Presentation

A typical boring PowerPoint presentation includes the speaker reading the slide and that’s usually about it. That is backwards. This upside-down pyramid shows how conveying the data itself is one small piece – and perhaps the smallest – of your presentation. Your task as a speaker is to communicate information that is not on the slide. Stop reading the slide. Start adding value and interest as you speak. Let’s start at the bottom of the pyramid.

Convey: First, convey your data, which may mean reading the numbers or text on the slide. You might tell your audience that the purchase of a new production machine will cost $500, 000. Most times you don’t even have to read the numbers; your audience can see them.

Add to: Second, add information to the data by telling your audience that this machine will allow the company to increase its inventory, which is critical because the manufacturing plant is now running at capacity. If you don’t add to and explain the number you are conveying, your audience does not know how to think or feel about agreeing to purchase a new machine.

Interpret: Third, interpret the data and give it meaning. Help your audience make a decision by telling them why the information is important and what it means to them. For example, your audience may be wondering if this machine really is necessary right now. You can help them make up their minds by stating, “The sales group is about to sign an agreement for an alliance with a vendor who wants to sell our products. We will need more inventory.” Now you are interpreting the data and giving it meaning.

Share your vision: Fourth, if appropriate, share a vision: “I know that this investment will pay off and lead to increased revenue when our partner starts to sell for us. They have already ordered more products than we have on hand.”

When you as the speaker actually “add value” to what you are showing on the slide, your audience stays engaged. The slide has the job to convey, but you have the other “3” jobs on the communication pyramid. To convince your audience, you must add to the data, interpret it, and share your vision. Then they will want to listen.

13 Most Convincing Actions that Get Senior Management to Sit Up and Listen to You

Here is your goal! You want to come across as totally knowledgeable about the content, confident and credible. You are presenting to upper management, investors, the Board or key customers. Here’s what your audience is looking, and not looking, for.

  1. Don’t waste their time. Be sure you talk to two people in the audience ahead of time. Make sure that the information you are discussing is exactly the information they believe your audience will need and want.
  2. Don‘t bore them by reading the agenda. An executive once told me, “I don’t need to listen to someone going through an agenda. He just wasted a minute of the ten minutes he has.” Instead, spend time telling them things they do not know. Look at your content and cut what your audience already knows. Finally, don’t tell them everything you know or everything you have done. Once again, they don’t want or need to hear or respond to it. What they do want to know is just enough in order to decide on the decision you are recommending.
  3. Provide an executive summary. Start by sharing the key messages of your presentation right up front. They don’t want to listen for ten minutes until you get to the punch line. Here are two examples of executive summaries.
    Download a “Change Executive Format” here: http://bit.ly/ymbllWDownload an Influence Executive Format here: http://bit.ly/xq9ZsS
  4. Don’t show many slides—if any. If you do show slides, create images that capture your messages. If you read the slides, you’re done for.
  5. Make time for your listeners to ask questions. Don’t talk so fast and plan to share so much data that your listeners cannot ask questions. Give them time during the talk as well as at the end.
  6. If you are explaining a product or an idea, show or demo it if you can. Seeing it is better than only hearing about it. That’s why companies give out samples.
  7. Keep the jargon out of the talk – unless they use it themselves. It’s your job to translate the jargon into everyday language, so that everyone in your audience understands.
  8. Pause between your sentences. Speak calmly, yet energetically. Don’t bore your audience with your voice. Don’t create a 15-minute talk and try to fit it into a 10-minute slot. Talking fast is not the solution.
  9. Look at each person. It’s supposed to be a conversation. End each sentence looking at someone, not at the paper or the slide. If it’s part of the culture and appropriate in the setting, before you begin your talk and you are meeting people, shake hands firmly and look at the person when you shake hands.
  10. Answer questions truthfully and concisely If you don’t know, don’t try to fake it! One strategy is to say, “That number is not on the tip of my tongue; let me get the figure to you later on today.
  11. If someone disagrees, get curious. Ask a question. Request more information. “Will you say some more about how you see this situation?” Or, “I did not consider this perspective. Let’s talk about it.” Be careful not to put someone down when he or she disagrees with you. Do a practice run. Find a colleague to be really argumentative and practice how to handle the situation.
  12. Be shorter than the time allotted, rather than longer. Save time for comments and questions. For a 20-minute slot, only talk 10-15 minutes.
  13. Be yourself. Film yourself and look at your behaviors. Then get rid of the bad habits such as holding your hands in front of you or saying “um.” Keep the good habits, such as pausing between sentences and speaking only about the details your audience needs to know.

These are not difficult behaviors to learn. You just have to practice them before you get up in front of an audience of executives. There are two pieces to a presentation: content and delivery. Prepare the content early enough that you have time to practice delivery; then rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. To add the frosting on the cake of your presentation rehearsal, find someone to ask you all the tough questions. The more you rehearse to sound confident and credible with your presentation, the more you will get your audience to sit up and listen. I challenge you to rehearse 3-4 times for the next important presentation.

It’s Not Necessary to Get a Laugh

Robert very seriously asked me, “Can you give me a joke to start my presentation?”
I replied, “Are you a good joke teller?”
“No,” he responded, “but I think I’m supposed to start a presentation with a joke.”
“Well, yes,” I explained, “you could do that if you are really good at telling appropriate jokes, but since you say you are not that good, I wouldn’t do it.” Then I added, “Do you like and want to keep your job?”

Should you start with a joke? Almost never in a business presentation, I believe. You may object, “But I want to get my audience to laugh.” A joke is only one form of humor—one that comedians study and practice for years to be good at their craft. If you really want to tell jokes, then take a workshop. Practice in the workshop, not in front of your colleagues or customers. Here are some ideas for being funny if you really don’t have the personality of a nightclub humorist.

  1. Stories: There are true, funny stories appropriate to different situations. Those are usually easier to tell than jokes. Stories I’ve heard from my clients include: got on the wrong plane and realized it too late or showing up for a Board presentation and having the wrong set of financial numbers but presenting them anyway. Cartoon: Show a humorous cartoon. I saw one that has a funny-looking character advertising “Ark Building 101” with the caption, “Plan Ahead: It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.” This could be a way to start a project update, report on disaster recovery or pitch a new process. At the start of another meeting, the leader wanted to discuss how to cut down on meeting time. On the screen, as people walked in, she had: “Meeting: that’s where people keep minutes but waste hours.”
  2. Make fun of yourself: Another way to relax the audience and perhaps get a laugh is to make fun of your own behavior. For many people this is easier than trying to tell a joke, and it often comes naturally when you are having a dialogue with the audience and something pops into your mind. For example, when I’m talking about communication techniques, I frequently throw in some of my experiences of floating down a river in Alaska for 14 days with my brother and his friend—both fighter pilots. Examples I act out include the dialogue of my brother yelling at me on how to throw myself head long in the raft so he does not float away without me or when he tells me to walk five minutes to the raft by myself through bear country and I tell him he is crazy that even if I had a gun I would probably shoot myself with it. The dialogue people hear either gets them laughing or shaking their heads in disbelief.

There is a payoff when using humor and getting the audience to chuckle—people think you are more human. That makes them relax and be more receptive to your recommendations. You will also create an atmosphere where people are more likely to ask questions and really get at the heart of the issue under discussion.
One thing you should not do with humor: never do or say anything that risks offending someone. Know your audience—you can make fun of yourself, but not of them. So when in doubt, cut it out.
And one last piece of advice: if you are planning to say or do something that you think is funny, ask several colleagues for their opinions first. Do a practice rehearsal with your humor, then ask, “Would you do or say this?” Their answer will guide you.