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Anytime employers are asked about the skills they value most in employees, it’s always in the top five. Senior managers and executives frequently cite it as one of the keys to their achievements. Business coaches, leadership development specialists and peak performance experts say it’s essential to success. “It” is the ability to communicate ideas clearly and persuasively. Yet, it’s often one of the most overlooked areas of personal development. Despite the fact that we spend up to 60% of our workday communicating, people rarely spend time trying to improve their communication skills. One reason for the neglect is that communication is often labelled a “soft skill.” When budgets are tight, training in a soft skill slides down the list of priorities and up the list of things to cut. Given it’s importance in the workplace however, a more accurate label would be “essential skill.”
One of the most visible forms of communication in the workplace is the presentation. Yet in the process of helping professionals transform themselves into more effective communicators, my greatest obstacle is frequently the misconception people have concerning the role and nature of presentations in their professional lives. A comment I regularly hear is “I don’t give presentations.”
If you believe this, you need to expand your thinking about what constitutes a “presentation.” What usually comes to mind is an event where you are standing in front of an audience and speaking for ten minutes to an hour. But presentations come in many more varieties than the formal situation I’ve just described.
The common thread running through what might at first seem to be rather diverse activities is an effort on the part of one person to communicate with others. And regardless of the message, you’re always presenting yourself. In fact, you’re presenting yourself every time you:
1. Motivate people to accept change 2. Launch a new program 3. Give a safety briefing at work 4. Solicit Donations for a charity 5. Train people to use software 6. Unveil a new policy 7. Present opening arguments in a trial 8. Convince a jury of the merits of your case 9. Give a sales presentation 10. Report your 3rd quarter sales results 11. Pitch for an account 12. Calm angry employees 13. Instil confidence in customers 14. Introduce a speaker 15. Facilitate a discussion 16. Depose a witness 17. Reassure stakeholders 18. Honor a community leader 19. Deliver an orientation to new employees 20. Reinforce commitment to an idea 21. Entertain an after dinner crowd 22. Change attitudes or beliefs 23. Accept an Award 24. Persuade prospects to buy 25. Talk to a service group 26. Position your service or product 27. Ask for a promotion 28. Promote your brand 29. Apologize for a mistake 30. Answer questions 31. Arouse interest in a new product 32. Explain how something works 33. Attract Investors to your business 34. Demonstrate your product 35. Negotiate a deal 36. Conduct a meeting 37. Express your support for a candidate 38. Articulate your vision as a leader 39. State your point of view at a meeting 40. Question a witness 41. Gather information from a patient 42. Teach a Professional CE course 43. Eulogize a friend or colleague 44. Spark interest in your new product 45. Review an employee’s performance 46. Speak on behalf of your organization 47. Approach prospects for a first appointment 48. Address a group of shareholders 49. Discuss alternative solutions to a problem 50. Interview for a job
Make no mistake about it: just like death and taxes, presentations in some form are an inevitable part of your working life. Ignore them at your own peril. Anytime you communicate you are presenting yourself. People will make judgments about your competency, your credibility and your character based on the quality of that communication.
The good news is that when you make the commitment to improve your presentation of self, you will have gained a skill that is transferable to dozens of other situations. When you learn how to plan your communication strategically, how to analyze and adapt to different audiences, how to craft compelling words and phrases and how to deliver your message in a way that commands attention, you’ll have a powerful set of tools with a lot of portability. They will contribute to your success in any job you may hold in the future.
If you recognize that you could use improvement in this area of your professional life, it’s important to get started now. Read books and articles on becoming a more effective communicator. Consider taking a continuing education course through your professional or trade association. Your local university or community college probably offers courses that range from one day workshops to semester long classes. It’s an investment of your time that has a guaranteed return.
Dr. Joseph Sommerville helps professionals create more persuasive messages. He is the President of Peak Communication Performance (www.peakcp.com), a Houston-based firm working worldwide to help professionals develop skills in strategic communication. Contact him at Sommerville@Peakcp.Com