The Nine Critical Communication Skills

If you want to succeed in business, what are the critical communication skills?

I’ve come up with nine. You need the ability to:

  1. Give a persuasive 10-minute presentation.
  2. Deliver an elevator pitch for your business, division, project, etc.
  3. Make a cold call.
  4. Report out on a project with no preparation.
  5. Deliver bad news.
  6. Answer a question in a way that inspires confidence.
  7. Build a relationship through listening.
  8. Tell a story.
  9. Rebut an objection.

Did I miss any?

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As Banks Market “Trust”, Execs Must Connect

“The image that we are going to be trying to project for the next 10 years will be safety and security.”

Those were the words yesterday of the senior vice president for external communications for a major bank.  I was meeting with him to discuss a program to help his senior executives improve their ability to give presentations to community groups.

Since I’m in the business of training executives to give speeches, of course, I found his words particularly interesting.  But his words also seem to point out that with the financial services industry melting down, banking executives in coming years will have to dramatically improve their image.

The financial services industry, more than any other, sells trust. If the public won’t trust a particular bank or investment firm with its money, that institution can’t function.

So how are financial institutions going to rebuild trust after the current debacle? True regulatory reform will obviously play a major role. And I’m sure that marketing and advertising will have a role.  

But a firm’s brand, contrary to what many think, is not the responsibility of the marketing organization.  Ultimately, the most important bearer of the brand are the executives and employees themselves.

If a financial services company wants to build trust, then their people are going to have to inspire confidence. Part of the way you do that is by learning to communicate with your customers, business partners, regulators, and prospects in a way that connects.

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Presentations Are Extensions of the Brand

I’ve just started reading an interesting new book called “slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations.”  It’s by Nancy Duarte, a designer who played a major role in helping Al Gore with his presentation “An Inconvenient Truth.” 

She makes the point that companies would spend much more on improving the quality of their presentations if they would consider presentations to be a part of their brand.  She writes:

Truth be told, the reason many organizations relegate slides to the bottom of marketing food chain has to do with how they approach brand.

Many companies have forgotten — or simply never realized — what branding is. Rather than a name or logo or tagline that reflects what a company thinks of itself, brand is what a company stands for in the hearts and minds of its customers: to be successful, the company must have an emotional connection with the consumer.

 Similarly, presentations all too often reflect the agenda of the presenter rather than build a connection with the audience. This is unfortunate because presentations could be considered the last branding frontier, in terms of both the attention paid to them and where they fit in the sales cycle.

In many instances presentations are the last impression a customer has of a company before closing a business deal.

Indeed, it wouldn’t take much for any company to stand out from its competitors if it paid some respect to its brand — and its audience — through presentations.

Great point.

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Can We Learn from Obama’s Acceptance Speech?

When Sen. Barack Obama spoke last night, I was excited about the chance to draw lessons for today’s post.  Such a prominent speech should be a wonderful teaching opportunity about public speaking. Right?

And I enjoyed his speech, though I did find myself flipping back and forth to the US Open match featuring Rafael Nadal.

But when the speech was over I was frustrated. And it took me a while to figure out why.

Then it hit me. The fact is that there is not much practically that the average business person can learn about public speaking from giant political speeches like the one that Barack Obama delivered last night at Invesco Field in Denver.

This political theater is so far removed from what the average person has to do in his daily work life that I have a hard time seeing how it relates.

Audience is too broad and message too unfocused

Let’s start with content. Last night Barack Obama laid out a broad political agenda, attacked his opponent, and tried to inspire a nation with well-crafted language. In other words, he was addressing an incredibly broad, undefined audience and seeking to accomplish several things at once.

Great business presentations are far more focused.  If you’re giving a sales pitch, you identify specific business problem and show how you can help. If you’re giving an internal presentation, you’re moving colleagues to action by detailing a specific plan for success.

Try to do too many things, and you’re sure to fail and frustrate your audience.  Great business presentations carefully address well-defined audience needs. Obama didn’t do that last night because his audience, consisting of the American electorate, is so broad as to be almost undefined.

Too long

And then there’s the length.  Obama’s speech last night was a 44-minute one-way conversation.  While that’s perfectly appropriate for a convention speech, that usually doesn’t fly in a business meeting. People are too busy. And even if they’re not too busy, who wants to hear anyone other than Barack Obama speak for 44 minutes straight?  

The best business presentations are more like conversations, with plenty of chance for the audience to interrupt, push back, and ask questions.

And I love his style, but  . . . ,

Now let’s look at the style issues. To be sure, we can all learn from Obama’s wonderfully inspirational style. He manages to be both exciting and conversational at the same time. His voice rises and falls like a roller coaster, yet he sounds like he’s having a conversation. 

But one of the reasons people love Obama’s style is his great voice.  The man is endowed with a wonderfully smooth sound.  Too many people hear such wonderful voices and try to imitate them.  But you’ll never be a good speaker by imitating someone else. The best corporate speakers maximize their own vocal qualities by speaking with the same passion that they bring to an animated dinner conversation.

And then there’s the script

Finally, Obama was reading a script. It may not have seemed that way. But he was on the TelePrompTer.  And business speakers should never read a script. It undermines credibility.  The best business communicators speak extemporaneously from notes. Once again, the effect you’re trying for is an animated dinner conversation.

Don’t get me wrong. I think Obama gave a great speech. But it was a political speech delivered for political consumption.  

I don’t just don’t think that the VP of Sales for a software company should use it as a model for next week’s pitch.

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Driving Employee Engagement in Times of Change

Let’s say that your company has made a major change in strategic direction. Or perhaps you’re changing the compensation plan. Or let’s say that you’ve acquired a new company.
If you fail to get employee buy-in and support, then the change is doomed to fail.
To discuss how to drive employee engagement on such challenging issues,  I recently interviewed Karlenne Trimble, a deputy-managing director at Manning Selvage and Lee, the public relations firm. 
Karlenne, who is based in Atlanta, has been involved in driving employee engagement for her clients for over 30 years. She is considered one of the nation’s experts on the issue. 
To listen to the podcast, click below. 
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