Talk the Talk

It’s not you. It’s them.

Think about the worst speaker you’ve ever heard.

Not the one who was so nervous his voice shook or the one who was so wildly uncomfortable that she stood ramrod-straight gripping the podium like a life raft, but think for a minute about a speaker who took to the stage (or conference table, or hallway conversation) with a haughty air of condescension. The one who used multi-syllable words when a common word would do and made obscure references that left you wondering what you’re missing. That speaker.

Did he or she make you feel smarter? Probably not. Leaving an encounter where you’ve been made to feel out-of-touch or not worthy doesn’t leave anyone with a positive feeling. That’s because nobody likes a know-it-all. Yet, for too many people, stepping up to the podium creates a change in personality from charming and collaborative to dictatorial.

So when you’re called on to be the expert, or the voice of authority, there’s something you must remember.

It’s not about you.

It feels like it is. You’re the one standing up there, You’re the one sharing the knowledge. You’re the one setting the tone. You’re the one running the show.

But it’s not about you.

It’s about your audience.

Good communication is not about showing how smart you are, and it’s definitely not about showing your audience members how much smarter you are than them. It’s not about how many slides you have or how complex they are. It’s not about burying people with an avalanche of numbers and charts to prove you did the work.

It’s about making your audience smarter. It’s about showing them slides that give your work meaning in their worlds.

If your audience doesn’t understand what you’re telling them and why it matters, you fail.

Plain and simple.

If the people on the other side of the podium, the conference table or the conversation don’t leave with an understanding of why they need to know the information and what they should do with it, you just wasted your time. And theirs.

Sounds harsh, doesn’t it?

It is. But it’s the truth.

That’s why the audience needs to play into every decision you make when you’re planning a presentation. Who’s in the audience? What do you want from those people? What do they need to know in order to give you what you want or help you get it? The answers to these questions will not only help you avoid being “that speaker,” but they will help you be more successful.

Who’s in the audience?

Think through who will be, or could be, in the room. Consider whether they’re executives, investors, peers, students or a mix. Tailor your information to their level of understanding and tolerance for detail.

What do you want from them?

If you’re seeking to provide them with better understanding of a concept, make sure you’re offering context and examples they can relate to in some way. If you need them to take action, make sure you’re clear about what you need them to do and what the benefits are.

What do they need to know to give you what you want?

Make sure the information you give them helps them build a case for any action they need to take. If you need them to evangelize a policy change, help them out by leading them through answers to potential questions. If you need your audience to invest money, give them the information about how the money will be used and what return they can expect.

Keep the focus on your audience and how you can help them, and I promise, you’ll never be “that speaker.”

 

Photo Credit: by Ralf Roletschek, Wikipedia

 

Don’t call it a soft skill, this stuff is hard

For the people we work with, many of whom are scientists and engineers, communications have long been considered a “soft skill.” That’s code for “not important enough to study.” The irony is that as people in even the most technical fields rise through the ranks, they realize that it’s more important, and a whole lot less “soft” than they thought.

In the newly-released results of the Chapman University Survey of American Fears, researchers found that, 28.4 percent of Americans are afraid or very afraid of public speaking. There are also a lot of undocumented stats out there stating that public speaking is scarier than death and is second only to a fear of flying. Actual soft things like cashmere sweaters and bunnies didn’t even make the list.

So why is a supposedly soft skill so hard?

There are lots of reasons. Fear of being judged, fear of failing, fear of losing control and any number of other anxieties about being vulnerable in front of a group of people all make public speaking pretty scary.

But you can cure your fear.

My Rx: take control, increase your confidence, and vaccinate yourself against the idea of perfectionism.

Take control

Take an organized, logical approach. Think through your goal for your presentation, an important meeting, or any other occasion that calls on you to talk about yourself and your work. Figure out how you’ll get the audience interested on an emotional level, plot the path to your conclusion, and create a narrative thread to tie everything together so you can end with a logical conclusion. Then practice. A lot.

You choose what information you include and how to present it. You deliver it. That’s control.

Increase your confidence

Think about what your audience is going to ask. Come up with questions and answers about your main points and your presentation as a whole. Be ready. Know what to do if they ask for information you don’t have. Know what you’ll say when you get those questions that are off-topic. Know how to positively handle anything the audience throws at you and keep the focus on your goal. Practice these too.

Know your stuff, and know you’re ready for the audience. That’s confidence.

Vaccinate against perfectionism

As for that vaccine against perfectionism, you can get that here .

Because once you know there’s no such thing as perfect, you can relax and do the hard work to be fantastic. That’s perfect.

 

 

Photo Credit: Ross Little (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Elevator speeches can get you to the next level

OK, I know the term “elevator speech” ranks right up there with “think outside the box,” “keep you in the loop” and “ideate” on the list of corporate-speak you’ve heard too much. But you know what it means, so there’s that. We can dialogue on new terms with a better ROI at a date TBD.

So how’s your elevator speech game? Chances are, you could step it up.

You might think you don’t need one.

But you’d be wrong.

You need one. Actually, you need more than one. They are a great way to talk about almost anything and they can help you get your way.

Elevator speeches aren’t just for people pitching a product or pitching themselves during a job hunt.

Having a succinct, what’s-in-it-for-them way to tell people about yourself, your job, your projects is absolutely the best way to be confident about your professional interactions. Elevator speeches are not about selling, so breathe a sigh of relief, you can skip the awkward “I’m so great” approach. Marketing and management strategist Michelle Golden describes those “salesy” kinds of elevator speeches as “in-person spam.” Not a good thing.

Your elevator speech should create rapport and give people a genuine idea of what you do or what you’re working on.

You’ve probably been in a networking situation asking someone what they do and getting the non-illuminating response, “I’m a senior account executive at X Tech.” And then what? Your eyes glaze over and you look for an escape. Networking fail.

The problem is that most times your job title and where you work doesn’t really answer the question of what you actually do. It’s not who you are. It doesn’t tell people why they should care.

So skip the salesy spam, and the boring-as-can-be glaze.

Like any other communication, you have to consider your audience and your goal. What do they need to know about you, your job, about your current project? What do you want them to know?

What are you working on? Why is it important? What’s exciting about it? What competitors are working similar projects? How do you have an advantage?

Know those answers. Be ready to talk about them. Organize your thoughts and present them in a way that tells someone why your work matters.

As with all things, practice, practice, practice.

You probably won’t deliver the information as a monologue very often, unless you’re in a meeting when you are asked to briefly introduce yourself. But you want to be comfortable describing yourself, your job or your projects when you are in the elevator with an executive or at a ball game with your neighbor’s brother-in-law, who happens to be starting a job in your company next week. In those cases, you’ll likely convey the same information in smaller bites as part of a natural conversation.

The point here: know the information you want to deliver and how you want to serve it, but be careful it doesn’t sound like a canned speech – no spam. Keep it fresh and cater to your audience, and you’ll notice a boost in both your confidence and the positive feedback you get.

Let me know how it goes.

Photo credit: Fletcher6 / Creative Commons Wiki

Practice does not make perfect

Every time we work with clients on presentation and communication skills, from college students to research scientists to engineers, when we’re doing training, we give real-life examples and opportunities for practice. People love it. As scared as they may be to stand up and give a presentation, the confidence they gain from doing it and getting immediate feedback is incredible.

Sometimes I wonder if The Mathews Group should start a service in airports where business travelers could stop in and run through their presentations. We could help them tweak their content, presence and visual aids to get to that next level of greatness. You may laugh, but the practice sessions are that popular.

During a recent presentation training for engineering students at the Miami University Lockheed Martin Leadership Institute in Oxford, Ohio, I was reminded anxiety around public speaking often comes from pursuit of an unachievable ideal. It’s called “perfect.” We want our presentations to be perfect.

But as I told the room full of future engineers, perfect isn’t a thing…

We can’t make any presentation perfect.

There’s better. There’s great. But there is no perfect.

Perfect would mean your presentation was without flaws. The harsh truth is that your presentation will be flawed because people have flaws. That’s part of what makes people, and presentations, interesting. Nobody wants to listen to an automaton. It’s boring.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting going to super-flawed status and just getting up there in front of your audience and saying whatever comes to mind without planning and forethought. Your presentation should be organized, engaging, accurate, well-presented, and inspire your audience. But there will always be flaws. Technology will fail you. Someone may fall asleep because they were up all night with a newborn, or taking the red-eye, or partying. You may have to adjust your timing on the fly and skip through some slides. You may say “y’all” as you’re coming up with a real–life example or the dreaded “um” as you are answering a question from the audience.

You – and I – should constantly work toward “perfect,” without any expectations of achieving it. You should make sure everything is ready. You should use powerful language without fillers. But it’s not the end of the world if you should happen to say “yeah” in the Q&A or if the audio system breaks and you have to use external speakers and have dozens of people gather ‘round your podium to hear the audio on a really powerful video. (Happened to me. True story.)

Even practicing your presentation over and over can’t help you avoid Murphy’s Law.

Practice can – and should – get you to the best you can be.

The good news is that’s really what people want: your best. You being confidently, authentically you and giving them accurate, truthful, interesting, useful or entertaining information.

So practice alone. Practice in front of the mirror. Call a friend and practice. Have your coworkers give you feedback. Practice in front of the dog. Get friends and family to be a guinea pig audience. Or get an actual guinea pig. Practice with props and without.

Practice enough that your delivery is natural, your inflections are genuine and you can vary your tone and volume naturally. Practice so that you’re confident enough to roll with those little unexpected twists and challenges that can – and will – happen in any presentation.

Practice, practice, practice. And then, go be wonderfully imperfect.


Photo credit: Fragola Productions

Communication is connection

Whether you’re in a B2C business, a B2B business, or in any other situation that involves getting other people to help you get something done (so that’s pretty much all of us), there’s one thing you have to prioritize.

It’s your audience.

B2C is customer-focused, and if you think about it, so is B2B. After all, B2B isn’t two computers comparing data. It’s at least one representative from each of those Bs communicating. If you’re dealing with a buyer, a board, a panel, or a team member, then you’re communicating your message to at least one person.

Your success depends on how well you connect.

Knowing the audience – the person or people you’re talking to, emailing with, or presenting for – is essential. You need to know what the audience needs and how you can deliver it.

Then you can make the connection that allows you to share your story.

Let us show you the keys to connecting and effectively communicating your message to reach your professional goals.

 

Get your audience to the right answer

Good presentations are like math – they really add up. Now, for some people, those are two really scary concepts: public speaking and math.

But don’t be afraid, presentations don’t have to be intimidating. Just like a complex math problem, they’re a lot easier to do if you break them down into steps.

When you deliver a presentation, all your points have to add up so your audience can clearly see the answer.

Don’t just walk the listeners through your main points, say thank you, and sit down. You’ll leave them hanging.

Instead, finish strong.

Your conclusion should be the answer you’ve been working toward. It’s where you bring everything together and give your call to action or deliver your big, summative statement.

This is the moment that will inspire people to do what you want them to do.

The value of a good presentation is more than a sum of its parts. Let us show you the formula for your presentation, so you can ace your next conference or meeting.

 

Don’t tell me about technology. Show me why I’ll love it.

You’ve got the latest and greatest. It’s the engineering innovation that will revolutionize manufacturing. It’s the medicine that will save lives. It’s a transformation in chemical processes that will save time and money.

Engineers and scientists are making life better for all of us every day. Without their work, we’d all be missing out.
We get that.

In today’s world, it’s not enough to just put something to market or into practice. It’s not enough to talk about what something does or all the hours that went into making it do that thing. Corporate investors, buyers, your team, the media, social media consumers, and even your neighbors, need an emotional connection to your work.

They want a reason to love it, a reason to want to use it.

We get that, too.

When you can effectively communicate your story, you’ll move toward the success you deserve. But many professionals in the STEM disciplines tell us they want to do a better job talking about the work they do. We believe you can be a great engineer (or scientist, or technologist, or mathematician) AND a great communicator.

We can help you get that.

GPS for communications success

Keeping it between the lines

Don Draper, the iconic ad man in AMC’s Mad Men series, says, “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.”
Great advice. But it’s hard to follow if you don’t know where you’re going.

You need a good guide.

If you’ve been selected to represent your company or group on a panel discussion, a roundtable, a media interview, or even a team meeting, you’re going to want to know what exactly you can do to keep the conversation going where you want it.

As the authority on a given subject you can anticipate some curveball questions or even some “rude Qs” when you’re facing the public, the media or even colleagues.

While true mind control over other people is tough to master, and frowned on in most professional settings, there are ways to keep the conversation on the right path – or lead it back if it’s started to wander.

We can give you the roadmap and show you the way.

The PB&J of Public Speaking

Most people are terrified of public speaking. You might be one of them. You think everyone else is better at it than you are, and in fact, you don’t even know where to start.

Start with a recipe.

It’s just like making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

You gather the ingredients.

You follow the steps.

You serve up something delicious and satisfying. It nourishes the needs of the people you’re speaking to.

And when you’re comfortable, you get a little fancier, adding in a layer of bananas or maybe even bacon.

If you’re out of an ingredient, you get creative. No jelly? Let the peanut butter be the star of the sandwich. Use sliced strawberries. Use honey. All are good, and all serve the purpose.

Let us show you how to use a step-by-step approach to thinking through your presentation, considering your ingredients and planning for possibilities to create a delicious final product. We know you‘re capable of gaining the confidence you need to be the kind of public speaker people admire.

Let us help you create your recipe.

GOAL!

Why are we here? It’s more than an existential pondering. It’s the difference between a presentation or a conversation that gets you what you want and one that falls flat.

Every communication has a goal.

Sometimes it’s to make plans for lunch. Sometimes it’s to maintain a relationship. Sometimes it’s to get executives to back your project.

That’s why it’s important to know what you want and know how to communicate your vision with people who can help you reach that goal.

Answering the question “Why are we here?” will help you clarify things.

Think of your audience as your team. They’re the ones who will help you score that goal.

You’re the team captain. Huddle the players. Share the strategy. Tell them what they can do to make it happen. Motivate everyone to help the team cross that goal line.

Let us help you develop your game plan.

The Mathews Group delivers training for corporate communicators, government officials and journalists, with an emphasis on helping engineering- and science-driven organizations communicate more effectively.