More and more RFP's are including oral bids as part of the contract process. If your team has any weak links, the oral bid is where it'll become obvious to all. That's why its essential to not only have the right content in your proposal, but to make sure every member of the team communicates those capabilities well.
No matter how good your capabilities are, you'll have to demonstrate those capabilities to win over clients. How do you do that outside the normal proposal process? Here are three top tips essential to making sure your team is poised to WIN:
- Demonstrate Your Competence : If you want to win bids, it's not going to be enough to make your team look good on paper. No matter what their experience, or how many glowing recommendations you include, you'll have to make that competence come alive in the oral presentation process. That means no one on your team should be delivering a written script that they simply read orally. Each and every one of the team members has to shine in their designated section, and that's not about delivering perfectly in word for word recitation. It's about delivering the right messages with confidence and conviction. You can't do that if you're simply reading the material instead of presenting it.
- Don't Let Anyone Hide: What tends to happen in oral bids is a deference to those who are best at the oral presentation process. That's not always the person most knowledgeable about a given subject. If an organization is hiring a team, however, they rightly expect the winning bidder to demonstrate competence throughout the team they'll be dealing with. Don't let those who should be outfront step back because of a fear of presenting.
- Practice, Practice, Practice: Reading over your proposal and having the right content is of course essential to winning bids, but no one is going to fully appreciate that hard work if they can't see clearly demonstrated it in front of them. That doesn't happen by accident. You need to set aside real time for oral practice as a team. That doesn't mean getting together and just reviewing the content. It means practicing your oral delivery as the offeror will hear it; orally. Yes, its hardly surprising this executive presentations coach is highly recommending you work with an outside coach, but if you can't, make sure you get someone outside your immediate team to help. You want honest feedback on the entirety of the presentation. What you need is a critical read on how your content and the entire team is being perceived.
If you're not winning the bids you know you should be winning, consider whether your entire team is presenting their full capabilities in a powerful way. Remember, this is about your team, not just your proposals. Make sure the power in your communications is matching the power in your capabilities.
Senior executives and CEO’s in particular, often assume they will be judged solely by what they do. What they say, and especially, how they say it, is presumed to carry less weight. That’s an assumption that’s as widespread as it is inaccurate.
Whether dealing with internal or external audiences, facts simply don’t speak for themselves. Positions, values, ideas and yes, even facts, need to be put into context. They need to be given a voice so they can be clearly understood. There is simply no substitute for the kind of powerful, in person, human communication that can ease concerns, prod action, and gain buy in among your target audiences.
That’s where powerful communication skills make all the difference. Memo’s, emails, web sites and advertising all have a role, but there are times when only personal communication with key stakeholders will do. These important players for every business need and want to hear directly from those in charge. Seeing and listening to a senior leader explain positions, policies or change allows these stakeholders to make judgments for themselves and can be key to persuading even skeptical audiences. It also serves as a powerful statement about the confidence of the speaker and the strength of the speaker’s conviction.
That’s why communication skill, and presentation skills in particular, are vital for top executives to master. Powerful speaking skills are the surest way for a CEO to embrace the role of Chief Explanations Officer and to gain buy in or good will, to build or regain trust.
While it’s easy enough to cite examples of highly successful leaders who’ve achieved success without strong speaking abilities, (Bill Gates, or in the public arena, George Bush come to mind), such a lack is always an obstacle to success, and often, an insurmountable one.
How then does a top executive best demonstrate powerful communication skills and how do you obtain them? Here are a few tips used by some of the best:
Take your communication seriously.
Make communicating at your best a top priority. That means resisting the temptation to view presentations, remarks and speeches as something “other” than getting things done. Deciding to set aside adequate time for preparation and practice will pay off many times over in instilling confidence in others in your leadership abilities. Remember these forums are an opportunity for those who don’t interact with you daily to hear and see your skills displayed. Time and effort spent on your communication skills is one of the most worthwhile investments you can make.
Take your communication personally.
Don’t confuse presentations and speeches with academic exercises. These opportunities are never solely about “educating” an audience on an objective set of facts. These appearances are opportunities to persuade your audience about the perspective on those facts, and the action or conclusion you’re leading to. Even if your audience doesn’t wholly agree with the case you’re making, these appearances are your opportunity to assure them you are the right person to be making the case. Don’t seek to be dispassionate. Allow your audiences to see the conviction with which you hold your ideas.
Do get help.
Whether through an outside coach or a trusted colleague or mentor, get some constructive feedback on your performance. Remember that successful communication is in large part dependent on what’s received, not only what was intended. You need objective help in evaluating whether you’re connecting with your audience effectively, and in what areas you can strengthen your performance. If possible, record your performances and replay them. Try to see your performance from your audience’s perspective.
Powerful communicators are adept at developing their own, unique style, rather than trying to emulate someone else. To do that, you’ll need to identify what your strengths are. Are you a natural story-teller? Are you someone who can easily get others to understand difficult or complex issues? Seek to play to your strengths by building the presentation, materials and format to your greatest advantage. For instance, if you are someone who relates well to audiences generally, don’t burden yourself with too much data and materials that might interfere with understanding, or compete with you for the audience’s attention.
Think about how you’d like to be regarded.
Your reputation as a leader is in your hands, and in many ways, that reputation for every leader rests on his or her communication skills. However unfair it seems, you will not be seen as a strong leader if you display weak communication skills. Work on developing the kind of communication style that reflects the leadership style you want to project. If you are a consensus builder for instance, display that trait through interactive presentations or speeches. A leader with an in-depth history and knowledge can effectively share that confidence through anecdotes and personal experiences, more effectively than flow-charts and graphs could ever do alone.
Whatever your title, understand the vital importance communication skills play when others evaluate the strength of your executive presence.
Mark Twain said it best: “There are two types of public speakers: those who are afraid and those who are liars.”
Even for those of us who enjoy it, public speaking can be intimidating. It is, after all, a moment alone in the spotlight; a moment when for some brief time, all eyes are on you, listening to what you have to say. Even the most confident of public speakers will sometimes wonder, “Will I meet their expectations this time?”
Why then, do we do it? Why do we subject ourselves to the work, the practice, and the (dare I say it) the need to summon up our courage enough to speak in public? Why do we need to meet the fear head on and achieve mastery at this particularly intimidating form of communication?
The answer is that, without a level of proficiency in speaking publicly, we have no real hope of informing, let alone persuading others beyond our immediate colleagues, about the strength of our ideas. Public speaking is the best way we have for letting those we don’t work with closely every day hear our ideas and, by extension, witness our competence and our skill. For anyone in a leadership position, or aspiring to hold one, communicating only in writing or through individual meetings attended by a few colleagues isn’t an option. Choosing to leave the communicating to others isn’t an option either if you want to establish yourself as a leader.
How is anyone to know these ideas or statements really are yours? How are they to judge the strength to which you hold those ideas or the passion you have for them if you won’t show them? How is our audience to be persuaded about the soundness of a position we hold, the knowledge behind that position, or rightness or the truth of it, if we can’t communicate our ideas ourselves? Email, printed reports, and third parties just can’t substitute for “being there.”
Leaving the communication to others means leaving the leadership to others.
If you want to lead in any capacity, public speaking is one of the necessary tools you’ll need; as necessary a tool in your leadership toolbox as a command of language itself.
But what if you already know how powerful public speaking skills can vault careers and help sustain existing ones. What if you’re convinced but have allowed fear to hold you back?
Again, we can turn to the words of Mark Twain who defined courage not as the absence of fear, but as the mastery of it.
For anyone who fears public speaking, (and that would be just about anyone who has considered it), how do we master our communication power and become powerful public speakers? You CAN learn to communicate, share, inform, entertain and persuade others, and get past the fear factor.
Begin with 6 basic steps that all successful public speakers have mastered:
- Preparation is Key The single most important thing you can do to boost your confidence as a public speaker is to be prepared. That means not only knowing your subject, but knowing your audience and what they need to hear from you on a given subject, on a given day. Preparation means always respecting your audience enough to do your homework, no matter how well you may know your data. A case in point: Researchers and entrepreneurs often seek our help before addressing target audiences such as investors. Communication coaches like me don’t get paid to tell such clients what they already know about their own work. Instead, we coach them toward powerful communication of what they know, for a specific purpose. In this case, we work toward understanding what their targeted audience of investors needs and wants to know about their idea or product, to allow for buy in and a motivation to act. Similarly, learn to think of your audience as investors in your ideas. What is it you need to say to them and that they need to hear from you?
- Assume Good Intentions If your audience didn’t want to hear what you had to say, they wouldn’t be there. If you’re unsure of why your audience came, you’re both in for a rough time. Even those you’ve never met have expectations about what you’ll say and what they’ll learn from you. Make sure you understand those expectations of your audience so you can better meet them. Arrive early so you can speak one on one to some in your audience ahead of time and discover those expectations for yourself. Greeting members of your audience this way will also humanize them for you, and help take away some of the fear of the unknown that is the “audience.”
- Channel those nerves Don’t seek to get rid of those fears (especially not by camouflaging them with artificial means like alcohol). Understand instead that your fear is really energy you’ll need to channel into your speech for a good performance. Blow a bit of the ‘froth’ off that energy by expending some physical exercise—a brisk walk, or deep-knee bends if you can—like an athlete might do before a race. Several deep breaths with slow exhalation really will help you slow a racing heart and help you focus. Continued deep breathing from the diaphragm as you speak will also help you control your voice and the level of your projection. Remember, your audience likely has no idea of your fear, unless you tell them (and you don’t want to tell them). Doing so will only lower their expectations. If you need extra help in those first moments—consider opening with a question to the audience, asking for a show of hands or displaying a prop. Getting the focus off yourself, even momentarily, may give you the boost you need.
- Take a risk Many who fear speaking in public retreat behind their materials. This is why audiences have come to dislike powerpoint and podiums. We in the audience want to see the presenter present. It is, in fact, why we’ve come. Disappearing behind the podium or literally turning your back to the audience at best is disappointing and boring and, at worst, annoying. Being read a script comes a close second for techniques that try an audience’s patience. They’d much rather catch a glimpse into the real person behind the data show or the printed speech. Think of public speaking as an opportunity to engage your audience with a story, your story. Try speaking to the audience in a way they can actually relate to and retain. Don’t tell them everything you know about a given subject. Try setting aside your materials, from time to time, to really communicate a bigger picture than data or facts can provide. If you are to gain confidence while you’re up there, it’s essential to take in feedback from your audience—and that takes eye contact. They have to see you are engaged and interested to catch engagement and interest. The energy coming back to you will help fuel a better performance.
- Visualize success Don’t allow yourself to focus on the worst of what could happen and indulge your fears—Replace that image by concentrating on how successful you’ll be at delivering your speech or presentation. Think ahead about how you’d handle any mishaps. Powerpoint meltdown? No problem— you know how to begin your talk without it, while the problem is being worked on. Notice some in the audience losing interest? No problem—you’ve already considered how you’d shake things up with some interaction with the audience and a change of pace. Tough questions after your presentation? You’re ready, having already prepared for the toughest anyone might throw at you. Visualize a successful outcome for every negative you throw at yourself. And remember, it’s not the mishap or the mistake we in the audience will remember, but the way you handled it.
- Engage The single most important factor to success as a public speaker is to show up. That’s right. You can’t win if you don’t play. Confidence isn’t something others can give you and it’s more than just a state of mind. It comes from real experience. Allow yourself to engage so you can have those real experiences that success in public speaking will provide you. All of it: preparation, assuming your audience wants to hear you, harnessing positive energy, taking risks, and allowing yourself to visualize success are basic to communication success. But you can’t tap any of those ingredients and put them to work for you and your good ideas, if you won’t allow yourself to get out in front of others. Don’t allow others to speak for you, whatever your job. Seize the initiative and begin accumulating the successes that will allow you to take on new public speaking challenges. You’ll be amazed at the reaction of others to your ideas, your authority and your leadership, when you finally begin speaking in public.
They’re short and not generally substantive. That’s why welcoming speeches don’t tend to get the respect they deserve in the realm of speech making. Seen as what they are though: an important first chance to make a good public impression, and it becomes clear why this deceptively simple task should never be overlooked.
Welcome speeches by definition should be more about the audience than the host. The aim is put invited guests at ease, get the proceedings off to a good start, and to set expectations for what is to come. As important as these goals are, welcome speeches are also opportunities to give the right impression–of the hosts and the individual speaker specifically.
Rush through these opening remarks, and you risk leaving the impression the event isn’t taken all that seriously, or isn’t well organized. Spend too long at the welcoming remarks, and your audience may have cause for concern about whether their time is going to be well spent.
Here are some tips and techniques executives can use for an effective welcome:
Be a good host.
As you compose your remarks, picture yourself hosting a group at your own home. Strive to strike the same tone of good-natured familiarity and ease. By all means, single out special guests, but be sure to include remarks that include everyone as well. Don’t make the list of individual recognition too long or detailed, or you may risk offending those not singled out for recognition.
Keep it short.
Welcome speeches are opening remarks that set a tone, not substantive speeches of any duration. Keep them just long enough to welcome attendees, recognize a few special guests, share your goals for the event and thank everyone for participating. Don’t get into any substantive details of the proceedings.
Do introduce yourself.
Even if you are reasonably certain most in the room know your name and position, do take a moment to give yourself an introduction. This is your opportunity to personalize your welcome and to show your sincere pleasure your guests are there.
Practice good delivery techniques.
Do make sure the audience will be able to hear you from any vantage point. Maintain eye contact as much as possible with your guests during these brief remarks. If possible, practice your remarks at the site of the actual event so that you know where you’ll be standing, whether you’ll be wearing a microphone, and how you’ll sound. Avoid reading your remarks if possible, so you can be sure and sound genuinely welcoming and prepared.
Use humor wisely.
It’s hard to recover from a joke that isn’t received well, so if you’re not comfortable using humor generally in public forums, this isn’t a good place to start. Never open with a joke at someone else’s expense. It’s a good idea to vet your remarks with someone else before taking the stage.
Welcome remarks are an excellent opportunity to showcase your confidence and your goodwill toward your guests. Do spend time preparing as you would any other public speech and make sure that first impression is a powerfully effective one.
What you need to be prepared
The mere thought of appearing before a legislative body can give even the most accomplished expert some pause.
There's a good reason for that. Marshalling your facts isn’t all you’ll need to marshal your confidence in this high-stakes game of influence.
Legislative hearings are not judicial proceedings and the advocate who expects a careful balancing of viewpoints, presided over by a benevolent, impartial authority, is likely to be disappointed.
However, those invited to testify to Congress or to state legislative bodies do play an important role in shaping decisions.
This most democratic method of taking the pulse of the citizenry survives and is even revered still, even in the age of instant messaging. It’s also true however that today’s legislative messengers probably have a harder time being successful at legislative hearings than ever before.
With the pace and the volume of information now available, it isn’t easy distinguishing one’s point of view, much less breaking through resistance or ambivalence
So how does one become successful and delivering testimony? By taking heed of the age-old tools of persuasive rhetoric: logic, legitimacy and passion. Some tips to remember:
Do your homework:
Preparation is crucial. You’ll need to not only know your issue, but the players who’ll be considering it. Find the ‘legislative lead dog’ on your issue and work with their staff in preparing your most effective testimony.
The facts actually don’t speak for themselves:
Understand that you haven’t been invited to testify so that you can offer a torrent of unrelated data. You’ve been invited to offer your perspective on the facts. That means you’ll have to distill your message to two or three major points, stated powerfully and succinctly, and then support each with a few key verifying pieces of evidence. That’s called messaging. Don’t set foot in a legislative hearing before you’ve learned to do it.
Know how to say it:
Be respectful at all times in these venues and don’t take remarks others make personally. Assume good intentions. That means not only keeping your cool but addressing your remarks to all who are listening, introducing yourself, maintaining eye contact as much as possible, being properly dressed, well-spoken and well- prepared.
Abide by time limits, ignore all distractions, and never, ever interrupt.
The personal is powerful:
Legislative testimony is first and foremost a reality check for lawmakers. It’s a chance for those making the laws to hear directly from those impacted. That means real life stories that bring issues into a fuller picture are exceptionally valuable. Yes, back up your points with data, studies, or statistics, but don’t forget to do it with a context. Become an effective (short) story- teller.
Ready those answers:
Do prepare for questions by anticipating not only those that will be most likely, but also those that you’d least like to answer. Do keep answers short, to the point, and do NOT ask any member if he or she understood your point. Never ‘wing it’ or offer a guess. A simple, “I don’t know” will suffice (especially when accompanied by a “but I can tell you this…”)
Finally, remember the proverbial directions to Carnegie Hall: "practice, practice, practice!" You want to be so well prepared that you can set aside your printed remarks, submit them for the record, and then summarize them for the legislators listening.
Do remember to thank legislators for the invitation. As with any good guest, follow the rules and you’re more likely to be invited back.
The Five Worst Pieces of Advice for Public Speakers and How to Ignore Them
It’s not as though the job isn’t hard enough. Getting up in front of a roomful of people gathered to hear you speak can stymie even the most accomplished professional.
Making matters worse is the well-meaning but misguided advice on improving your public speaking performance. That bad advice is everywhere and it’s deadly, especially for those speakers on shaky ground to begin with.
Here then are the top five pieces of advice you’ll want to skip when you’re preparing for your next public speaking opportunity–followed by some alternatives.
1. Practice your speech in front of a mirror.
Come on now. Have you ever tried it? Anyone who has knows it’s nearly impossible to focus on your performance and avoid being distracted by your own image.
Instead, try practicing in front of a colleague, friend or coach who can give honest feedback. A videotaped performance can also help (provided you play it enough times to be able to begin to “see” your performance the way others might).
2. Start with a joke.
You may as well start with a dance number. What? Not good at dancing? Well, if you’re not someone who is extraordinarily good at telling jokes, better leave this one alone as well. A joke that falls flat is difficult to recover from, especially if you’re trying to establish credibility.
Instead, try a story, a true anecdote, or an attention-grabbing question or statement to your audience. If you want to start it off on a lighter note, try some self-effacing humor…but leave the canned jokes to the professional comics.
3. At all costs; move.
Sure we in the audience like to see some signs of life up there, but movement without purpose is called PACING. Walk endlessly from one point to another or move with repetitive motions and your audience will begin WISHING for a podium to put you behind.
Instead, try looking for opportunities within the context of what you’re saying to add movement. Got an important point to make? Take a step toward the audience, but vary your physical performance the way you vary the content and practice it the same way: purposefully.
4. Wear bright, eye-catching clothes and accessories.
Your audience is sure to notice that huge broach or bright tie, but after they do, are they listening to anything you have to say?
Instead, make sure your clothes ENHANCE what you say by speaking subtly of your credibility and authority. Don’t let them speak louder than you do, lest they drown out your message.
5. Memorize your speech.
This is as sure-fire a way to give a flat and uninteresting performance as reading your speech to your audience is. That’s because, in truth, most of us aren’t going to memorize an entire speech or presentation well enough to actually ACT IT OUT with dramatic conviction, as if it had flowed naturally from our thoughts. And if you lose your train of thought, finding it again in a memorized speech gets difficult.
Instead, commit your speech or presentation to memory. There’s a difference. Committing your information to memory means you will have practiced it enough times to know it thoroughly, in its essence. It means you know what’s coming so well you can ad-lib or change it, summarize it or reword it on the spot, without losing your train of thought. It will keep you engaged and that means your audience will stay engaged as well.
t’s a stubborn myth that public speakers are born, not made.
While we assume climbing the corporate ladder or being in the public eye takes hard work ,we cling to the notion that communication abilities come without effort, springing from the lucky few naturally.
Both Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, widely regarded as ‘natural’ born communicators, worked continually to hone their ‘natural’ skills. Clinton worked with speech coaches throughout his presidency. Ronald Reagan famously said he couldn’t imagine being president without having been an actor.
It’s not just the communication skills of politicians that people notice. An executive who assumes a strong track record of accomplishment and the right connections will “speak for themselves” assumes wrongly. More often, the lack of communication ability will erode confidence in leadership abilities, and at the very least, become a stumbling block in accomplishing goals.
Leaders must have a clear vision and be able to articulate that vision well enough to inspire others. Leaders are expected to display confidence, most readily by the way they communicate with confidence to others. Like so many other attributes, the communication skills so necessary for today’s leaders are not automatically acquired. They are learned and honed purposefully and with effort.
So what to do if your communication skills are not on par with the position of authority you’ve achieved? Here are five tips to get you started on the road to communicating with power:
Take every opportunity to practice.
It sounds obvious, but we generally avoid the things we don’t like to do and we generally don’t like doing the things we feel we’re not good at. If you’ve been delegating the public speaking to others, stop. If you’ve been avoiding those opportunities, stop.
Many people’s fear of public speaking is directly proportionate to the number of people listening. If large audiences intimidate you, seek out opportunities to address smaller numbers of “friendly” audiences. You can work up to larger numbers and to audiences who don’t know you as you grow your confidence.
Never read a speech you haven’t rewritten.
Even if you have someone writing remarks or a speech for you, make sure you rewrite the final draft or at least key phrases in your own words. You know your own “voice” best. Unless you are a professional actor, or have an exceptional speechwriter, speaking someone else’s words will never sound as passionate and persuasive as your own.
Never give a speech you don’t believe in.
If you’re not a professional actor, now is not the time to try and become one. A lack of passion and conviction will show. Concentrate on what you do believe and what you can say with confidence and you’ll be much more likely to connect with your audience.
Learn to use your voice.
Our voices are as individual and as unique to us as our fingerprints. They provide an enormous amount of information to those listening about how we really feel about what we’re saying. Make sure your voice matches your message and says what you really want it to about you.
“There are two types of speakers; those that are nervous and those that are liars.”
— Mark Twain
Most of us put public speaking at the top of our list of things to avoid.
Then along comes that promotion or new opportunity, and with it, new responsibilities. Among them: communicating, powerfully and effectively in public. Before you rush to get out of that responsibility, or avoid it, consider what it can do for you.
It never ceases to amaze me how much this one ability, the ability to communicate powerfully and effectively, can impact our professional success. Become an effective communicator, and you will cement your reputation as an effective leader.
Yet many otherwise accomplished executives never learn to do it well and take pains to avoid having to speak in public at all.
That’s a lot of wasted opportunity. As someone once said, “You don’t plough a field by turning it over in your mind.” You can’t expect your ideas to be considered or followed, much less admired, if they’re not communicated well.
Ok. Speaking to a group, even to a small group you know well, can be intimidating. It’s not lethal. We can all get past the fear factor with practice. And what a reward awaits us when we do!
The important thing is to understand the power you have, that we all have, to communicate effectively. Don’t hide behind charts, graphs and power point slides. Don’t stand off to the far corner and let your materials speak for themselves. Materials can only support your communication, not substitute for it.
Once you’ve accepted that presentations really are about you and your ability to connect with your audience, organize your materials to allow you to speak with confidence.
Rather than adding more slides to fill more time, use fewer and leave plenty of time for interaction and questions and answers from your audience. Try getting your conclusions down first. What is it you really want your audience to remember from your presentation?
Keep an eye on those bottom line conclusions and never stray too far from them. Support them as best you can with data, facts, examples and stories, but remember that less is more when speaking in public. Your mission is to offer the big picture, the context, for your ideas. More details can be supplied in handouts and collaterals later.
Remember that you are the best promoter of your ideas. If you don’t sound as though you believe them and are enthusiastic about them, you can hardly expect your audience to supply the excitement for you.
Stay organized. If you get off track when answering questions, simply return to your two or three main messages. A certain amount of repetition of those messages will add power to your presentation, not detract from it. Your goal is to have anyone listening understand and be able to remember your two or three key points.
And remember, your audience came to hear you. Reward them with powerful ideas, clearly stated, and they’ll be back, willingly. Before long, you’ll be wondering how you ever considered communicating powerful ideas any other way!
As published in: Training Magazine Communication Skills Vital Business Intelligence
When Leaders Get It Wrong
Nobody–least of all those in positions of power–like to admit they’ve goofed. So, you may be surprised to learn that more than 1,400 leaders, managers and executives opened up on the subject to Escondido, Calif.-based training and development consultancy The Ken Blanchard Companies. The findings of the study, released last month, reveal these leaders’ views on their most-needed skills and biggest mistakes.
An ability to crunch the numbers and meet the bottom line may have played a huge role in securing them that coveted corner office, but survey participants have a strong appreciation for the more subtle art of interpersonal relations–an area that also causes them some trouble. Forty-three percent, for instance, identified communications skills as the most critical skill set to possess, while 41 percent said that inappropriate use of communication or listening is the number one mistake leaders make.
Many agreed that a much too heavy-handed approach was sometimes used. Twenty-seven percent cited under- or over-supervising, giving directions or delegating as a problem when working with others. Fifteen percent said that empathy and emotional intelligence are critical to leadership success.
Interestingly, when asked to identify the five things that leaders most often fail to do when working with others, high percentages of respondents targeted the same handful of issues. Eighty-two percent, for example, cited failing to provide appropriate feedback, praise or redirection as a personal shortcoming; 81 percent weren’t satisfied with their ability to listen or involve others; 76 percent said they fail to use a leadership style that is appropriate to the person, task and situation, which then leads to over- or under-supervision; 76 percent cited failure to set clear goals and objectives as a problem; and 59 percent said people in their position too often fail to train and develop their people.
The “show” in ‘show and tell’ presentations, is slowly making a comeback in corporate America. It’s a development that is long overdue. Long, dense, dry text projected on conference room screens around the country has too long passed for the “show” criteria of executive presentations. The more text and the fewer the graphics in presentations it seemed, the more the presenter was congratulated for having prepared well.
To the long-suffering audience who had to endure these presentations, there was little reward in the effort, except getting to the end of them, where it was hoped, a few signs of life might still be found in the unscripted question and answer session.
So why are we coaches beginning to see some signs of progress? Why is it increasingly acceptable to deliver shorter presentations with more graphics and less text? Why is it now becoming acceptable to present ideas using a few simple visuals or props, or even, on their own merit with no slides at all?
Call it the rise of presentation personality or simply the maturation of that long-derided but necessary business tool: PowerPoint. Maybe it simply has to do with the groans emanating forth from every executive suite when word filters out of another request to put together, or to sit through, one of these dated presentations.
Whatever the cause, there is increasing recognition of another, more successful communication method available to executives; one best illustrated by the energy-infused performance style presentations of dynamos like Apple’s Steve Jobs.
These new wave of presentation skills share some common attributes:
The audience takes center stage.
Good presenters ask themselves what their audience needs and wants from each presentation. Great presenters center their presentations on those needs and wants and make the audience integral to the presentation. Start with what you know about the audience’s perceptions and assumptions of the issues you’re presenting. What will it take for them to invest in something new?
No passion, no presentation.
Every presentation is an opportunity for the presenter to share a passion. If yours are about something else, a mere transfer of data for instance, find another way to get it to the people who need it (like hitting the send button). This is the difference between in person presentations and other ways of sharing ideas. If people are going to invest their time and energy to come and listen to you, you won’t be successful if you merely “tell”. You must show them your ideas through the passion with which you present them.
Written text projected on a screen is not a “visual”. If you use slides, find a way of representing your ideas that have real and instant impact. Never use text to “say” what a visual can “show”.
Presentation is performance.
Don’t present what you haven’t practiced or don’t believe in. This isn’t acting. To present well, be wholly engaged in your material and ideas before trying to communicate these well to an audience. Take your preparation seriously. And for heaven’s sake, come out from behind that lectern.
Your reputation for leadership is enhanced or reduced with every presentation. Seek to hit a home run then, every time you’re “on stage”, no matter your perception of what’s at stake. It may seem unfair, but the leadership skills you display during your presentation are the ones that will be used to judge the whole of your work. Even if you don’t yet have a leadership title, your moment in front of people is pivotal in determining if and when you’ll be given one. Think about what leadership looks and sounds like to you—and infuse your presentations with nothing less.
When someone makes the difficult look easy, we tend to label him or her “a natural.” President Barack Obama is no exception.
His ability to move people through soaring rhetoric and appealing rhythms of his delivery is now the stuff of legends. Detractors often attribute the president’s strong popularity in large part to his oratorical skills, not his ideas. It is the president’s personae and sheer natural magnetism at work they insist, nothing more.
The problem with the argument is that it assumes good communication skills are the same as good acting skills. It presumes that intent and belief by the speaker in what is said is irrelevant, and that, cynically, people can’t tell the difference. It’s that one assumption, that substance takes a back seat to style (and sometimes isn’t even riding in the same car), that holds back many if not most executives from communicating effectively in public.
Any executive looking to improve presentation skill or public speaking confidence must first understand the basics.
In fact, acting and presenting are not the same. In the real world, ideas and words have to align with what an audience knows or thinks they know about a subject and speaker. Contrary to popular notion, assuming audience ignorance or indifference of your own involvement is dangerous. In fact, what other reason is there in this day and age to expect others to leave their offices and devote valuable time listening to presentations or speeches, if not for the audience being able to “see for themselves” whether and how the speaker and his or her ideas resonate? If the speaker really made no difference in our judgment, then all communication could take place out of sight or in written formats.
There are still powerful reasons for us to watch someone communicate their ideas and to judge their veracity and effectiveness for ourselves. The president’s communication mastery is no lucky accident. Mr. Obama has developed his strengths as a public communicator precisely by understanding the links between his ideas and the way those ideas can most powerfully persuade others; techniques any executive can borrow from:
- Start with what you know. Yes, there will be times when you do not have or cannot address the full picture. Get rid of your discomfort through preparation and practice. Work to build your presentation or speech around those areas you are comfortable addressing. If you are forthcoming about what you do know, your audience will understand if you do not have all the answers immediately.
- Don’t speculate about what you don’t know. Being forthcoming does not mean taking a stab at addressing every possible concern or question on the topic, regardless of your expertise. Be clear on your purpose for presenting or speaking, and the value you bring on that topic to your audience. Don’t seek to lecture. Seek to communicate.
- Be clear. Never leave an audience wondering what your position is, why they are listening to you or what you expect them to do with the information you’re giving them. Of all the things you could say about your topic, only choose the things that are relevant to your audience and that they need to know.
- They’re listening, not reading. Write and speak “for the ear”, the way you normally communicate orally. Your audience cannot re-read your remarks, so seek to be understood the first time. Use a natural communication style, enunciating your words and using the vocabulary you’re comfortable with.
- Let them judge. Understand your audience is looking for your perspective, not just data. Welcome their attention and build on it with examples, stories and experiences, not just facts. Relate those facts and data to some larger points and conclusions. Look for something to give your audience that they couldn’t have gotten from you any other way than by watching and listening.
Powerful public speaking and presentation skills aren’t “bestowed” on a few lucky individuals. They take work and practice. Start with something you want to communicate, match it with your strengths as a communicator, and leave the acting to actors.
If you’re an executive, you probably already know the value of a powerful ‘elevator pitch’; that thirty second dazzling display of verbal brilliance designed to deftly sum up your position, your product, your qualifications or your company.
You also know just how tough it is to master the art of explaining your “unique selling proposition” in the time it takes an elevator to travel the length of a tall building. You know your business, product, service or issue well, but where do you begin in explaining it to someone else? What do you highlight? What do you leave out?
Whether you’re seeking votes, customers, a job, a partnership, or simply understanding, you have to know what to say and how to say it when faced with the opportunity to meet a key decision-maker. Perfecting your elevator pitch helps you explain yourself clearly and to best effect, giving you an edge in all executive communication.
How then to develop a powerful elevator pitch? Here are some brief tips to help you develop your pitch or perfect the one you use:
- Know who’s catching
Your pitch is far more likely to be accurate if you know your target. Everything you say has to be aimed at your listener and center on what you, your service or product can do for them. Make sure your entire pitch is about them. Don’t waste time highlighting your awards, your record or other markers of your success, unless you know how those relate to what your listener needs to hear. Leave out supportive data, long stories, detailed examples and anything that isn’t about ‘the bottom line.’
- Stay away from platitudes
Every business says it’s “customer-focused” and “results oriented.” Every would-be hire calls themselves “reliable” and an “out of the box” thinker. Every department believes they’re unique, and every cause believes it’s “just.” Ever hear of a startup that didn’t believe it had found a “winning strategy”? Find the uniqueness of what you’re offering and be able to explain why your audience should care. This is not your mission statement. It’s your core delivery.
- Preparation is the key to confidence
Don’t ever “wing it.” A first impression only happens once. Respect your audience enough to prepare well, including arming yourself with succinct answers to the toughest questions that might follow your pitch. Be flexible enough to be guided by your listener. If he or she interrupts with questions, make sure you answer them.
- Solve a problem
Don’t just offer capabilities, opinions or a suite of services. You’ve got to focus on the problem you solve; the solution you offer to this specific audience. If your audience has to ask “How does this help me?” or “Why should I care?” you’re in trouble.
- Let the passion show
Facts actually DON’T speak for themselves. They can move heads, but it takes emotion to move hearts. Let your listener hear the commitment in your voice and your words. Let them see your involvement with direct eye contact and confident body language. An elevator pitch is not a dry recitation of facts delivered neutrally. If you want to move someone to take action, you have to show them you care.
- Call for action
Give your listener something to do with the information they’ve just received. Make clear what you want to have happen and the suggestions or alternatives you are proposing. Talk about next steps, and make sure the action you want them to take is clearly understood.
Few appearances will test your ability to communicate well more than the investor presentation. Doing your homework, settling on strategy, developing messages, honing a pitch and delivering it well, will take time and a lot of practice. However, the judgment of your performance will be swift. Your audience will decide within the opening minute of your pitch, whether they want to hear more.
With so much at stake, there is simply no room for error on the basics. Investors won’t be sold on a good idea poorly presented. However powerful your product or idea, your presentation must be targeted to this very specific audience to be successful. Keep these basics in mind when preparing for your investor presentation:
- Where’s the beef? It’s simply not enough to explain your product or idea. Investors want to know whether that product or idea presents a worthwhile market opportunity for them. You must show you understand this potential and have done your homework well enough to be able to describe it from their point of view.
- Know the lay of the land: Know what others are doing in your field and how your idea or product stacks up to the competition. Who are your competitors, and what makes your product unique in comparison to them?
- Short and succinct: Investors will not invest in something they cannot understand or explain easily to others. No matter how complex or sophisticated your idea is, you simply have to be able to talk about it in a way that anyone, even those outside your field, can understand.
- Confidence is catching: Enthusiasm and confidence are essential in convincing investors of the need and worth of your idea. Hone and practice your pitch as much as possible to nail this one.
- Present like a pro: Keep your pitch short and powerful with a clear flow and a logical progression. Don’t forget to close the deal with a call to action and a clear “ask” about what you’ll need financially to make this investment a success for all.
Remember to let your passion and your confidence shine through. Invest in your presentation and your investors are more likely to invest in you.
If you’re climbing the ladder of success, you’re going to need the right equipment.
If you’re an executive looking to influence others, gain attention for your ideas or assume a leadership role, sooner or later, you’re going to have to embrace the challenge of public speaking. You might have the best ideas, own a terrific track record of achievement and be recognized for your abilities, but if you can’t communicate well, you’re limiting what you can achieve and how effective you can be.
Anyone who has ever listened to an effective public speaker can have little doubt about the power this one skill carries. Even if we don’t work with the person day to day or know much about him or her, we can be mightily impressed with their ideas, knowledge or passion. Most readily, this can be done by listening to a person speak in public. We can come to understand a point of view and be motivated to follow a call to action. Executives with the ability get up and hold the attention of others through the power of the spoken word find themselves rewarded and their abilities acknowledged.
Yet for all its power, many executives dread the thought of speaking in public, even to a room with friendly colleagues. Often, it’s because they fear they aren’t good at it or will be judged lacking. Executives who don’t embrace the challenge to speak in public, however, are missing out on the single greatest opportunity of their professional careers. What other skill can enhance reputations, prove leadership abilities, and cast you in the spotlight, all in the matter of minutes?
Here then are some brief tips to help those reluctant executives get started on embracing the challenge:
1. Start Small.
Look for public speaking opportunities that are lower risk for you; small groups of your peers, for instance. Volunteer whenever possible to deliver findings or present data. Simply volunteering for the job will set you apart from most and help get you accustomed to the process.
2. Assume Good Intentions.
Assume those you’re speaking or presenting to want to hear what you have to say. Remember to structure your presentation from the audience’s point of view and you will keep their attention and good will.
3. Preparation is the key to confidence.
Don’t ever “wing it.” Respect your audience enough to prepare well. Knowing your material is vital to a successful speech or presentation.
4. Prepare by mimicking the real thing as closely as possible.
You’re going to deliver a speech orally, so why wouldn’t you practice that way? That means you can’t simply read your material to yourself-you have to say it, as you would. Try on different phrasing, different words or intonations. If you’re going to be standing behind a podium, find one to practice with. If you’re going to be using a microphone, gets some practice using one. Speaking in a conference room? Try and find a similar one to practice in. Take some of the fear out of public speaking by getting to know the physical surroundings you’ll be speaking in.
5. Get some honest feedback.
If you can’t get professional help, ask someone to watch your practice delivery. Videotape your performance and play it back for someone whose opinion you respect. Ask specific questions and listen to the answers. Are you maintaining enough eye contact? Does your voice sound natural? Do you sound and look like you believe what you’re saying?
6. Show no fear.
Your audience more than likely has absolutely no idea you’re nervous. Be aware of signaling your nervousness through distractions such as fidgeting or lack of eye contact. Be comfortable with the silence by deliberately building in pauses after you’ve talked about key points and by avoiding “fillers” such as “ums” and “ahs.”
7. Remember to breathe.
When we are fearful, our bodies react accordingly. To consciously counteract that physical fear impulse, take several long, deep breaths, letting the air out slowly. Don’t be upset if you realize you are nervous. You want to channel that nervous energy, not get rid of it.
Remember, this is an opportunity to share your expertise. Seize that opportunity and let your confidence in your information carry you through. Soon enough, your performance itself will mirror the confidence you feel in your subject and you’ll find yourself reaping the rewards of being a powerfully effective public speaker.
Public Speaking and Communicating With Power Getting Past The “Venus” Myth For Female Executives
Family therapist John Gray was hardly the first to insist communication problems are gender-based. While it reinforced old stereotypes, Gray’s pop-psychology tome of the early 90’s did give female executives something new to ponder. If “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus” as his runaway bestseller claimed, what did that mean specifically for the Venetian executive? After all, her professional success on any planet still was likely to rest firmly in the hands of Martians.
For many women trying to climb the corporate ladder, the meaning was clear: when it comes to corporate success, communicating like a man is essential. In the decade since attention focused on gender communication differences, a whole marketplace of communication training sprang up focused on helping women fix their communication skills. Seminars were quickly added to business and professional rosters, to help women find their “executive voice.” Female specific executive communications coaching established itself alongside “assertiveness training” and “negotiating for women.”
I find only one thing wrong with the concept. It’s bunk.
As an executive trainer, and as a professional woman, the continued demand for women’s communications coaching means more focus on firms like mine. So why do I instead find the fixation on women’s communication skills frustrating? To quote Groucho, “Who are you going to believe? Me, or your own eyes?”
Despite the cacophony about gender-based communication differences, I’ve found a very different and much healthier reality in my own practice. In the professional sphere at least, there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between the communication problems of the sexes.
I find nothing gender-specific about confidence or clarity—two of the essentials for powerful public communication. Nor do I find any correlation between gender and the ability to maintain good eye contact or to speak thoughtfully using simple language to evoke complex ideas. Certainly it would be difficult to correlate gender to the ability to speak with conviction and passion—all hallmarks of powerful and persuasive communication.
I’ve trained countless executives of both genders. What I see is an array of common communication problems. Highly successful executives of both sexes often have trouble knowing how to deliver a speech: how to move, where to stand, how strongly to project their voices, how to communicate powerfully, yet succinctly, and how to stay in control. I’d go so far as to call public speaking the single most hated job requirement of senior executives of either sex, ranking in dreaded competition alongside speaking to reporters, presenting to the board, and testifying to Congress. Inevitably when coaching executives in media training or public speaking, clients of both sexes will routinely complain they have no “natural” talent for any of it. My response is always the same. Nature and talent aren’t what’s called for I tell them—this is about hard work and preparation.
For both men and women, effective communication is first and foremost about confidence. It’s about the clarity of the vision; not the sex of the visionary. It’s about the power of the message, not the gender of the messenger.
The notion of a communication disadvantage for women probably stems from widely heralded academic works analyzing interpersonal communication, such as Deborah Tannen’s “You Just Don’t Understand.” As several studies, including a 2004 study at Purdue have suggested, gender differences even in interpersonal communication tend to be small, but have become wildly exaggerated in popular culture. Thus the rush to “fix what’s wrong” with women’s executive communications, with no real evidence that communication failures in the executive suite are gender based.
Many executives buy into the notion that corporate communication skills are intuitive. That’s what makes it easy, especially for women, to believe others (men) do it better. In reality, the kind of communication skills that allow executives to successfully interact with reporters, deliver powerful presentations and riveting speeches are learned skills that many executives of both sexes struggle to master
The truth is women aren’t a special class of disabled communicators. The good news is that anyone can learn to be a powerful and effective public communicator. The better news is the same planet we all inhabit is one on which good communication skills are yours for the taking.
"There are two types of speakers; those that are nervous and those that are liars." Mark Twain
Most of us put public speaking at the top of our list of things to avoid. Then along comes that promotion or new opportunity, and with it, new responsibilities. Among them: communicating, powerfully and effectively in public. Before you rush to get out of that responsibility, consider what it can do for you.
This one ability--communicating ideas powerfully and effectively--can impact professional success more quickly and more absolutely than nearly any other. Become an effective communicator, and you will solidify a reputation as an effective leader. Yet many otherwise accomplished executives never learn to communicate well and take pains to avoid having to speak in public at all.
That's a lot of wasted opportunity. You can't expect your ideas to be considered or followed, much less admired, if they're not communicated well.
Speaking to a group, even a small group that knows you, can be an intimidating. No one has yet died in the effort. We can all get past our fear of public speaking with practice. The important thing is to understand the power you have, that we all have, to communicate effectively. Here are some tips for powerful public speaking:
--Don't hide behind charts, graphs and power point slides. Despite the cliche, facts don't speak for themselves. Materials can only support your communication, not substitute for it.
--Accept the "public" part of public speaking. Speeches and presentations delivered before an audience really are about you and your ability to connect. If you're bored, your audience will be as well. Find the passion in your work and build your presentation or speech around it.
--Put real effort into the question and answer period following your speech or presentation. For many in the audience, it's their chance to connect with you and you to them.
--Make sure your public speech or presentation isn't simply a recitation of the facts. Your audience could get that from you in an email. What any audience wants is your perspective. Always provide a context for the data or information you provide.
--Never go long. Any performer knows it's best to leave them wanting more. Make sure you have something your audience can take home with them to think about.
--Don't forget to speak ABOUT something. Your main points should be clearly stated and they'll be back. Before long, you'll be wondering how you ever considered public speaking something to avoid!
Above all, practice, practice, practice. Don't run from public speaking opportunities--embrace them--and the power they have to promote your professional success.
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