Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Communicating more effectively as a job and career skill set 3: connecting with and effectively communicating with a target audience

This is my third installment to a series on what is one of the most important, and also one of the most commonly problematical of all workplace skills: communicating with others, and as an effective two (or more) way process (see Part 1: bringing what you seek to say into clearer focus and Part 2: adding in the supporting details.)

I have been writing up to here about knowing and thinking through what you have to say, or to write about, and I have focused in that on bringing your core message into focus so you can better and more compellingly present it. I turn here to the issues of actually presenting your message where this might mean entering into a one to one conversation, or it might mean standing up or stepping forward to talk with a group of people or even give a more formal address. That might mean sharing your message with a still relatively small number of people or it could mean at least occasionally having to present to a full, large room. And I begin this by acknowledging a simple fact that many if not most people know, at least for themselves and that they might or might not realize, fully applies to many if not most others too.

• If asked, most people rate public speaking as one of the most difficult and uncomfortable experiences that they could possibly face.
• Most people hate even the possibility that they might have to stand up and speak to a crowd.

I wrote at the end of Part 2 about how I planned on discussing the issues of understanding your audience here, but I begin this posting at a more fundamental starting point: understanding yourself and in a way that can help you to more effectively reach out to share what you have to say to others too.

• If you are uncomfortable when faced with a need to present your ideas in public and with public speaking, acknowledge that. Successful public speaking is not about suddenly becoming an extrovert or enjoying the limelight of public speaking. People who are more introverted and who prefer to step back and listen can still learn to effectively speak in public too. That starts with knowing yourself, and it builds from there and from developing tools and approaches that can help you to open up and present your ideas while doing so.
• First of all, remember that when you speak to others, most of the time they would also feel uncomfortable if they had to speak in public and before an audience too. They know that and they, for the most part, want you to succeed and to share your message successfully and even if they do not start out deeply interested in the topic or issues that you would discuss. They still want your presentation to go smoothly and for you to succeed.

Make eye contact – this is important. This also means not reading verbatim from a script. If you have time to prepare a talk, and most of the time you will, go over what you want to say and prepare a set of talking points to help you organize your thoughts for when you present them – even if you feel more comfortable writing everything out in more detail as a first draft. The process of writing and preparing can and will help you bring what you want to say into focus so briefer reminder notes can become effective for you too.

If you have to present in public and can use a Power Point or other visual presentation tool, keep your screens simple and easy to follow and ideally with one core point plus a few clarifying details per slide. And you can use these visual aids as your talking point notes too.

• Look to your notes and I repeat: if you use visual presentation tools to flesh out your presentation, at least consider using what you are showing to your audience as your notes that you talk from. That can really help you to keep your presentation organized and it can help it to stay more lively and involving; it makes it more interesting, and engages your audience.
• And look up too, and make eye contact with your audience as well as looking at your presentation screens. And if you are uncomfortable and feeling a bit self-conscious, find one or perhaps a few people who seem receptive to what you are saying or who you know and like in your audience, and make eye contact with them. Then branch out and make eye contact with others too, when and as you feel comfortable doing so.
• And keep your presentation focused and on-target and brief and to the point as discussed in Parts 1 and 2 of this series. This both helps keep audience attention and interest and it makes a presentation go more smoothly and easily for you – the presenter.

There is, of course, a lot more to public speaking than I have touched on here and I will only add for now that positive experiences at this make it a lot easier for any next time, and that that in turn leads to still more positive experiences when you do have to speak in public again. I will come back to this topic area in future postings, but with this much of it in place here as to how to present in public and verbally, I turn back to the issues of knowing your audience, and with any audience size possible in mind for this, from one up to many.

I said towards the end of Part 2 that:

• I have assumed up to here that you really know the people you need to share information or insight with, but that is not always the case and sometimes you have to figure out their communications styles and preferences as you go along, and course correct accordingly. You may have to discern their basic assumptions and any barrier assumptions that they bring to this too.

And for verbal presentations where you can see body language and when you are making eye contact, your audience can and will give you feedback and even before they ask questions or make verbal comments.

Find out what you can in advance about the communications preferences of your expected audience and particularly for the people you expect to see there who you most crucially have to positively influence and convince. Know what level of detail they want to hear, where some people want to dive into the details and others prefer a more executive summary approach with details available if explicitly needed, and perhaps later in writing. But assume you only know part of the story as to who your most important audience members will be, going into giving a talk and that you might not fully know their preferences in advance for the level of details for the topic that you are presenting on.

• Are they focused and attentive on what you are saying or are they drifting and starting to look away from your presentation? Do they look like they would like to say something in comment? Are they leaning forward or more passively sitting back? What is their body language like, and what are they telling you with it?
• Are there parts of your presentation that seem to more positively capture their interest? You, in many cases, do have the option to make your presentation interactive by asking questions and encouraging some feedback,
• And if you see this as bringing your talk off-topic you can always cut off a developing discussion by saying that you would like to address its issues separately, outside of this presentation.

This, I add, can be one of the most positive points for making public speaking a more comfortable experience for you. You may not be in absolute control, with set time limits that you have to work within or when your boss or your boss’ boss are in the audience, but as the presenter and the person formally speaking you do have a significant say in what you say and in how you say it. You do have significant control and a genuine voice when publically presenting.

I am going to continue this discussion in my next series installment where I will delve into the issues of active listening. I will then switch directions to consider written presentations and documentation. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide. You can also find this and related material at Social Networking and Business and its continuation page.

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