The Four Simple Steps to Speaking Effectively in Your Business
So you are a highly expert professional with a large amount of experience and expertise. Sooner or later you will have to share that expertise with others. The longer you stay in your industry, the more information you come across that you weren't taught during your studies. Regulations change. New equipment arrives. Major projects are undertaken. Your tools are different. Clients have specific needs. Budgets are important. People pass all this information on to each other in a variety of ways: journals, seminars, training, email, websites, conferences. What are the consequences if information is not passed on effectively? Where does this leave your understanding of new developments in your industry and in your organisation? What are the implications for your project? Or for your business?
All professions suffer from communication problems. In a recent survey 70% of people said they didn't understand their accountant, and a staggering 97% said the same thing about computer experts. What would the figure be for your industry? The more highly expert you become, the more likely you are to use specific language. This is of course necessary because of the technical nature of most professions, but the danger remains that your listeners may not understand you as well as you think. The major trap is to assume that although your specific subject matter may be unintelligible to the lay person, it is perfectly clear to anybody in your own profession. Whenever you are passing information to another person or group, you are doing so precisely because that information is new to them, no matter what industry they belong to.
The key to successful communication is as simple as this – put yourself in your listeners' shoes. We have all been to conferences, seminars and meetings (internally or with clients) where one or more of the following happens:
- The speaker tells us nothing new.
- We could have got the same information from the Internet without leaving home.
- The speaker was obviously highly expert, but we were none the wiser after the event.
- The thing we remember most was the speaker's nervousness.
- Too much time was wasted.
- We were bored.
- The speaker jumped from topic to topic randomly or went completely off the subject.
Great speakers are not born. They simply use the right techniques. Most of us who are obliged to speak in meetings have never been shown these techniques, so we are doomed to repeat the mistakes we have seen other presenters make.
The good news is that the techniques are simple, easy to remember and easy to apply. They work in all situations, from large formal speeches to casual information sessions and even social occasions. Too many people worry about nerve attacks while speaking, but think about this: an attack of nerves is just fear of the unknown. Prevention is better than cure. What you do before a presentation is more important than what you do during it.
Follow these four steps every time you speak:
Work out why people should listen to you. If you can't do this you will be boring. What should your listeners be able to do with the information you are giving them? Approve budget? Use your experience on their own projects? Help out with technical difficulties? Speak knowledgeably about your project to the client? Suddenly your talk has focus, and you will know which topics to include and exclude. Work out which topics are critical, so that if time is tight you will be able to concentrate on them. Your talk will now be interesting, because it's useful to your listeners.
Now flesh out the detail. Put your topics in a logical sequence. For technical content such as professionals are often called on to deliver, you should give a general overview first, followed by the detail, which will then make more sense in the context of the big picture. Put together an introduction, which is a brief overview of your critical topics, not just a list of headings. Create a summary, which is a brief reminder of each of the critical topics. Create some visuals, which are instantly readable at a distance, not just copies of spreadsheets.
Not necessarily a full rehearsal, which would be overkill for most presentations. Just make sure you are ready. Can you use the equipment easily? Is your language appropriate for the listeners? Can you fit your content into the time allocated? What questions are likely to be asked, and what questions do you hope won't be asked? Get answers ready. Create some speaker's notes which are simply brief headings to keep you on track.
You have nothing to be nervous about. Both you and your content are ready. While speaking, just remember the following. Stick to your objective. Make eye contact with everybody in the room. Watch timing. Don't rush. And if an attack of nerves happens, take a deep breath right down in the pit of your stomach, not in your chest. Your audience won't see or hear it, and it truly calms the nerves.
Following these four steps will ensure that you can avoid the mistakes I mentioned earlier. Don't forget that whenever you are speaking to other people you are doing so to provide a service for them, not to demonstrate your own expertise. Think of the first three steps as Why – What – How. Why should people listen to me? What content will achieve that objective? How can I make it happen?
Try these steps next time you are asked to give a report or speak to clients. Practice makes perfect, after all, and it's worthwhile practising useful techniques, so that they become second nature. You can even use them effectively in a meeting at a moment's notice.
Think about this: How much time can you save, and how much extra business can your organisation generate because your clients prefer to deal with professionals they can understand?
Brian Cooney is one of Australia's most respected speakers and trainers. He is an Accredited Speaking Professional with the National Speakers Association of Australia and has addressed over 5000 people across Australia and internationally. His book Talk Sense! is available in bookshops nationally, and he regularly presents workshops, seminars and internet-based training aimed at helping professionals communicate their expertise as effectively as possible, and run effective meetings.
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