Have you ever sat through a presentation and, at the end, wondered what the point of it was and what the speaker was trying to say? I am sure I am not the only person who has sat in a meeting wondering why someone was still talking as they didn’t seem to be making a valuable contribution to the discussion.
When I reflect back on these meetings and presentations, I find myself wondering if I have had that impact on others and thinking how I can ensure that is never the case!
These kinds of meetings and presentations can be very frustrating and leave you feeling you have wasted that most precious commodity – time.
So what can you do to make sure you are not the person people just want to stop talking, that you are heard, and that your contributions to meetings and your presentations add real value? How can you communicate effectively at work?
Try answering these four questions in sequence as you get ready to deliver a focused and impactful message.
The point of all communication is for people to take action. Those actions could range from making a decision based on all the facts, changing something, agreeing to a proposal, learning something or thinking differently about it, doing something or anything in between. If you know the outcome you want from your communication, it will be much easier for your audience to understand this and, therefore, make it more likely to happen.
In an increasingly busy world we need our communications to be immediately relevant to the people we are communicating with. We need to know what they already understand so we can make sure our points are accessible and understandable without wasting time on something everyone already knows. Consider questions such as ‘How much does your audience know about the subject? What is their perspective on it? What experience do they have in this area?’
When we are in a meeting or giving a presentation, it can be very tempting to tell people everything we know about a subject – especially if it is something we are passionate about or which we are an expert on. However, to communicate effectively at work, finding the balance between dispensing just enough facts and sharing your complete works on the subject is critical in being impactful.
We grow up listening to stories and learning from them so now is the time to put those lessons into action. As you put your contribution or presentation together, think about your listeners’ journey from where they are now (your answer to Question 2) to the actions they need to take (your answer to Question 1). To have the highest impact, you are looking for the most direct route.
The amount of time you spend answering each question and the rigour with which you answer before you start your communication will vary according to circumstances. Obviously in a meeting you won’t have much time, but regular use of these questions – as well as checking with yourself as meetings progress – will make a significant difference to your impact in those meetings.
Before a presentation you should have time to spend longer on the questions; this will ensure you are best prepared, help you engage your audience effectively and achieve the desired outcomes.
As you get ready for your next presentation and as you go into your next meeting, I encourage you to consider these four questions. They will help you be heard and get your point across quickly and with maximum impact. The more you practise using these questions, the quicker and more instinctive they will become; soon you really will be able to communicate effectively at work.
Being able to communicate effectively at work will help Set You Up for Success. Book a consult call with Bekka to find out how working with a coach who specialises in building your skills while you deliver in your role can accelerate both your development and your performance.
Sooner or later in our working life we all find ourselves facing a conversation at work that has the potential to be difficult. This could be due to heightened emotions, a sensitive topic, the possibility of negative consequences, having to give somebody news they may not want to hear, or even a heady mix of all of these.
You may be a project manager who needs to tell key stakeholders about a potential problem on the project; you may be a manager who needs to give some tough feedback or tell someone they are at risk of redundancy, or you may have to tell a client an important delivery is going to be late.
I have worked with many clients over the years to assess what has gone well in these conversations in the past and on how they will approach the difficult conversations they face in the future. This work with clients has highlighted the challenges of these conversations but has illustrated that it is possible to get consistently good results if three broad areas are considered before the conversation.
These three questions introduce you to the areas you need to consider before any difficult conversations at work so you can perform at your best and get the optimum results every time. The amount of time you spend on each question will vary depending on the circumstances; it may a quick mental checklist, or something you need to sit and really work through.
Getting to the bottom of what is really happening is going to give your difficult conversations at work a firm foundation. Gather your facts and separate them from your feelings. If possible, and if appropriate, talk to others whose input will be able to support your fact finding.
Consider what impact the situation is having, both on your business and on you. Knowing the size and the scope of the consequences will allow you to ensure that the reaction and the outcome are appropriate.
Having identified the facts and separated them from the feelings, it is also important to think about how you are reacting to the situation. What assumptions are you making? What personal hot buttons are being pressed? What concerns do you have about the conversation and are they really valid? Are you avoiding the conversation in the hope of a miraculous recovery? In truth we have all done this to avoid difficult conversations at work – but we have probably all found the longer we leave something like this, the harder it gets!
Take time to consider the purpose and objectives of the conversation. Think through the outcomes you are looking for and what options there are. What do you need to achieve? What would you like to be different as a result of the conversation? Thinking these things through ahead of any difficult conversations at work will allow you to really focus on what is being said and listen to understand the other person’s perspective, rather than to spend the conversation trying to work out your response.
Time to get planning! What are the practical things you need to consider ahead of the conversation? What is the best time of day? Where is the best place to have the conversation? Should anyone else be present? You’re probably not going to get the best results in an open plan office!
You also need to prepare yourself. Take some time to think about how you need to be and what behaviours you want to exhibit in the meeting. My own management experience, and the same has been reported by my clients, has highlighted the importance of keeping an enquiring mind during the conversation, keeping calm and listening to the other person.
Taking a few deep breaths not only calms you down but ensures your brain has the oxygen it needs to perform well. Being compassionate, considerate and listening actively demonstrates the respect you have for the other person. Being comfortable with silence allows you and the person you are talking to time to think and process the information that is being discussed and will help you get to a resolution that works for you both. What do you need to do to go into the conversation ready to be like that?
Personally, and I suspect I am not alone here, I find the hardest part is getting started. What are you actually going to say? Your opening sets the tone; it can make the whole conversation easier, or it can make it really difficult. Have you ever been on the receiving end of bad news where you knew something unwelcome was coming and you just wanted the person telling you to spit it out rather than beat around the bush for what feels like a lifetime? It is horrid and we don’t have to subject people to that! While scripting the whole conversation isn’t going to work, planning how you’re going to open the discussion is a really good idea.
Once you have answered these questions you should feel ready to take action and have those difficult conversations at work, without them feeling nearly as daunting as you thought they would be.
Support can make all the difference when planning for difficult conversations at work so get in touch to book a consult call and let’s chat.
A couple of years ago I read a BBC article on How to look interested in boring meetings and it has stuck with me because I found its premise so frustrating.
I have sat through my fair share of meetings so dull they would make watching paint dry look fun and a guide to surviving certainly has its place but – and this is a big but – surely the solution is not to fake interest but to ensure meetings are not boring in the first place. If we mask our true feelings, then how will meetings ever improve?
As the leadership element of our working lives grows so, typically, does the amount of time we spend in meetings. Therefore getting them working well for us can have a huge impact.
If you are reading this after a particularly uninspiring meeting, you may well be thinking this is impossible. But with a little effort it can be done, no matter what the topic. Here are my top three tips:
Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People®, talks about “always beginning with the end in mind” – and this also important advice for effective meetings.
Meetings are time and resource-hungry and knowing their purpose is fundamental to making them productive and engaging, and to ensuring they have a positive impact on both the business and the individuals attending.
Consider these questions:
Your answers will provide the foundations for a productive, engaging and effective meeting, and the remaining two tips assume you have already answered these questions.
Summarising the purpose and desired outputs of the meeting will give you the basis for a focused and productive agenda.
It will allow you to remove items which are not relevant to the purpose and which will not help you towards the outputs. You will know which agenda items could be managed outside the meeting or covered in a separate, more relevant meeting if necessary.
Sharing the meeting purpose and desired outputs with your published agenda will give attendees time to prepare and allow them to arrive ready to contribute in the best way. They will have had a chance to gather any information you are expecting them to contribute, to consider their positions and to understand what they will gain from the meeting. It will also give you chance to circulate any necessary pre-reading, again cutting down time spent in the meeting itself.
This simple practice will allow everyone to arrive with the same expectations, energised and ready to make it a great meeting.
And talking of people...
Having established your purpose and outputs, it should be easy to invite only those who are actually needed to achieve the meeting aims.
If certain people are required for just one of the agenda items, then only invite them for that section of the meeting or split your meeting into a series of smaller ones.
By its very definition, time is a limited resource, so why not let everyone make the most of theirs and avoid having them sit through sessions which are irrelevant to them and therefore just not interesting. If someone needs to understand what was discussed – or just know the decision you have made – simply share the output, rather than have them in the meeting itself.
Likewise, it is worth remembering you don’t have to attend every meeting you are invited to. If the organiser is not able to explain what the meeting is about or what they would like you to contribute, you should think carefully about attending
On the surface, these three tips may just look like extra work for the organiser but, in my experience, I have found that a little preparation upfront reaps huge rewards, resulting in more productive effective meetings and more engaged attendees.
Think of the most engaging meetings you have held or attending. How much better would life be if all meetings could be like that?
My challenge to you is to try my tips with some of your meetings and experience the benefits for yourself.
For more information on effective meetings or to discuss further how you can make these tips come to life in your working world