I have given a lot of thought about my communication skills and ways to improve them. Here’s what I wish I had understood early in my career. Effective communicating is almost ALL about CONNECTING and just a little about presenting.
1. Connect with the audience by “playing” for them more than you!
Every successful artist or entertainer knows this but it’s not talked about much in business. Here it is: when presenting, we have to be giving all that we have for our audience. They have to believe that we care about them and that our presentation is sincerely meaningful for them. Groups can sense when it’s more about you and what you have to sell. It’s not about how you sound, how flashy your PowerPoint is, etc. Whether around a lunch room or boardroom table, when we are given center stage our content has to connect to what matters to the listeners. It works better if the audience includes great listeners, but we are accountable for all aspects of the connection: from the subtleties of eye contact to the precision and clarity of language that makes them feel what you’re talking about. Whitney Johnson, a founding partner and president of Rose Park Advisers, shares a personal experience that reinforces this in a recent Harvard Business Review blog.
2. Paint a picture or tell a story so they feel the content not just hear it.
John Kotter, emeritus professor at Harvard Business School and one of the leading experts on organization effectiveness, tells the following story in his book The Heart of Change: Read-Life Stories of How People Change their Organizations.
A large organization had an inefficient purchasing process, and one mid-level executive believed that money was constantly being wasted with each of the organization’s factories handling their own purchases. He thought there could be tremendous savings from consolidating the procurement effort. He put together a “business case” for change but it went nowhere. His boss said that senior executives didn’t feel it was truly a big problem, especially with so many other daily challenges taking up their time. So the manager had an idea: he collected the 424 different kinds of work gloves the factories collectively purchased and tagged each one with its different price and supplier. He carted the gloves in and dumped them on the boardroom table before a senior executive team meeting. He first showed the pile to his boss, who was taken aback by this powerful visual display of the waste inherent in having dozens of different factories negotiate different deals for the items they needed! The boss showed the CEO, who scrapped the meeting agenda to talk about procurement because what he was looking at was so memorable, so compelling, and so real. It galvanized the executives to action. Ultimately, they overhauled their procurement process and saved a great deal of money.
John Kotter’s blog has more on this point. Too many times in my life I’ve walked away from a meeting with the “they just don’t get it” attitude. The harsh truth is that I didn’t get the “it” to them. I didn’t put the “gloves on the table.”
Character Move: Remember that in being a great communicator Connection more than just content is King. When we have the stage, play for the crowd and think before hand what your “424 glove moment” is going to be.
Connect in the Triangle,