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Presentation skills are often referred to as a ‘soft skill’ in many organizations.

At Mindful Presenter we believe that there is nothing ‘soft’ about the art of communication. We would go as far as to say that it is the most important skill in the world today.

Whether you choose to accept the highly respected work of either the late Psychologist Abraham Maslow, or the more recent thinking of Tony Robbins we know one thing for certain.

Human beings need to connect with one another.

Maslow calls it belonging/love whilst Tony Robbins refers to it as connection/love. At Mindful Presenter we believe that ‘connecting is everything’.

Whether you are an engineer, lawyer, teacher or tailor, the way we communicate with each other is extremely important.

Just because we can speak doesn’t necessarily make us good or effective at it. Anyone can share information but whether that content is clearly understood, felt and acted upon is an entirely different matter. A number of leaders operate in the belief that as there are no technical competencies attached to communication, it doesn’t affect the financial success of their business. To make matters worse there is a ubiquitous assumption that just because we can speak and got through the interview that we can all communicate effectively.

The inability of our teams to communicate with colleagues, clients, and stakeholders in a way that truly connects with them can have an adverse impact on every part of the business.

What’s the problem?

Poor communication is a bit like high blood pressure. If you neglect it for too long the consequences can be disastrous.

At school we are taught to read, remember and repeat. Whilst we may learn a very wide range of other skills, generally, one of them isn’t effective communication.

Some of us move on to higher education and the growing pressure we felt during our first few years of education to pass exams increases exponentially. Very little, if any time at all, is invested on helping us at this vital stage to speaking with confidence, clarity, and impact in a way that connects us with others.

The definition of success that is instilled in so many of us throughout our education is that the goal is to simply get your degree so that you can then go out and work hard. Immersing yourself in a good education and developing your knowledge, wisdom and critical thinking is, of course, a worthy goal.

On its own however, it’s not enough.

We often work with teenagers in schools to help them to develop their public speaking skills. A group of teenagers I was working with recently had been labelled ‘gifted and talented’ by the teaching faculty. Having spent the whole day with them I left the school with the concern that for most of them communication wasn’t one of their talents or gifts. I had to remind myself that was exactly the reason the school had asked me to help them in the first place. What concerned me more was the belief that there are countless young people all over the world who simply aren’t being offered this help.

The group I had worked with were highly intelligent, creative and talented young people. Despite their gifts and talents they were terrified of speaking and when they finally found the courage to do so had very little idea of what to say or how to say it. Just imagine how much more confident, empowered and influential they would be if they knew how to speak in a way that would connect them with others. This isn’t of course isolated to ‘gifted and talented’ teenagers or simply young people it is an epidemic in the workplace today.

We leave school, graduate from college or university and suddenly find ourselves in a world where the most important skill we need to survive let alone thrive is communication. Suddenly we are asked to present our work or ideas to colleagues or customers and the panic sets in. It’s no wonder that research suggests that 74% of people have some anxiety about public speaking.

What can we do as leaders?

The very first thing we need to do is to stop operating under the delusion and myth that communication is a ‘soft skill’ and therefore not as important as others. Here are 8 things every leader can do to help their teams communicate more effectively.

1. Create trust

Trust begins with honesty, openness and transparency. Invest as much time, energy and focus as you can encouraging your team to speak openly in the knowledge that you value and respect their voice and want to hear it. It means creating an environment where people can feel and be themselves and not have to edit everything they say just because you are the boss and you may not like or agree with them.

2. Start connecting

Every organisation has its own internal communication culture and jargon. What is frustrating is the ‘corporate speak’ that our teams hear every day that leaders think is healthy. How many times have you had to read the latest corporate communication several times before you could work out what on earth it was trying to say and why it was relevant to you.

Stop churning out emails, memos and updates in a language that very few people understand or speak themselves and only send it to those who it’s completely relevant to. Make it personal, make it human, make it engaging and make it count. Whether you are writing it or saying it make sure that it’s totally focused on connecting with the team.

3. Show vulnerability

If you want your team to present their ideas with passion, purpose and energy then lead the way and show them how to do it first. Show them how to be open and that it’s fine to feel vulnerable. Show them how to lighten up, relax and not take everything so seriously. Help them to be themselves rather than simply their job title. Avoid the ‘corporate speak’ by being yourself and show them that’s how you want them to be too.

4. ‘I don’t know’

One of the biggest challenges we help people with in our presentation training workshops today is helping professionals to find the courage to simply say ‘I don’t know’. It’s not really a communication or presentation skills issue, it’s a leadership one which impacts the way people think and speak. In many organisations today there appears to be a great deal of stigma attached to the reality that it’s impossible for us to know everything and therefore many feel that it’s unacceptable to tell someone you don’t know the answer to their question.

Make it acceptable and easy for people to be honest and tell you they don’t know and then help them to find the answer.

5. ‘The last mile’

You wouldn’t normally expect to read a word often associated with ‘death row’ used in an article about communication. Sadly, it’s a metaphor that describes what we see in companies every week.

Imagine this:

  • It’s the monthly management meeting.
  • Everyone arrives and sits in exactly the same seat they sit in every month.
  • The team takes it, in turn, to go around the room in the same turn that they do every month to share their update.
  • They each get up from their seat and take that long, slow and solemn walk to the front of the room to operate the laptop and speak to the screen.
  • They read out the same KPI’s that they do every month in the same voice.
  • After they’ve presented, the rest of the team have to watch the presenter survive a barrage of questions from the most senior person in the room.
  • A head of a department is waiting outside the meeting room for their turn to enter to present. They now enter with the expression of an inmate slowly making their way to their own execution.

Do whatever it takes to make every meeting different, make them fun, make them engaging and most of all make them something that your team can look forward to rather than dread.

6. Keep it conversational

No one likes to be lectured to. As leaders we each have an opportunity to connect with our teams in a far more conversational manner. Have you ever attended a presentation or a meeting where the speaker was addressing a room full of people but somehow it felt like it was just the two of you having a conversation. Keep your message personal, focused and tailored to the people you are speaking with and whatever you do, please don’t lecture them.

7. Feelings matter

Whatever the topic of the presentation or conversation is be absolutely clear before you begin to speak how you want people to feel. That means how they feel the moment you begin to speak, the way they continue to feel all the time they are with you and how you want them to feel the moment they walk out of the door.

Remember, you can say anything you want to but most people will forget most of what you said by the time they return to their desk.

They won’t forget how you made them feel.

Please keep in mind that there is nothing ‘soft’ or easy about communicating, it’s one of the hardest things we have to do every day. Help your team to get good at it.

8. Leave nothing to chance

Once you’ve made that crucial decision to do whatever it takes to help your team to find, value and express their true voice in a way that helps them to really connect don’t leave anything to chance.

Send them on a world class public speaking or presentation skills training course to give them all of the tools they need to succeed.

Image: Courtesy of flickr.com