Communication as a topic needs its own post. It’s one of those thirty thousand foot words that represents one of the most essential skill sets to make it as a marketer, yet there is such little detailed understanding of what the requirements are. Today’s post will dissect the skill into many pillars, most of which are in the domain of oral communication. Master as many of these as you can. Your communication ability will be evaluated at all ranks…and will be a leading factor that determines exactly how far you go.
Marketers who are effective communicators can:
Present to executives.
I’m going to spend a little more time on this one because there are so few tips and so little training out there that’s easily accessible.
Hopefully you get to work for a company that lets you sit in on big meetings before you have to own them. Watch the dynamic between presenters and top executives. On many occasion, you will note that execs can come off as impatient as they often interrupt. They seem to charge to a decision or next steps and then usher you out in favor of the next round of victims. Daunting, to say the least, when you think of the prospects of ever coming in to lead a presentation yourself.
What you need to understand is that the best execs have a voracious appetite for decision making and at their very core want to help. Their limiting factor is time, coupled with a refined skill of shredding the conversation to salient facts and zoning in on the decision at hand. It’s a slightly more cultured version of the daytime courtroom reality TV shows.
The biggest piece of advice I can give you to nail a sesh with your VP would be to succinctly kick off the meeting to frame why you are all there and what needs to be accomplished. Highlight at the beginning how you need the exec’s help, too. In so doing, you have wired everyone’s brain for the conversation at hand as they all now know what they are listening for and what role they need to play. The more perilous approach is purely chronological. That’s natural, but no one knows where you are headed and how long it will take to get there. That’s anxiety-inducing and, hence, you get cut off.
The whole game is commonly what we call ‘getting to the point’, which is even more critical when giving bad news. Execs can handle it – they hear bad news all day — and are typically motivated to manage though the problem.
Here is an example of an effective set up:
“Team, we are here today to discuss the disappointing results to date for our new product launch. I’ll start off with a quick recap of our launch activities and summarize our in market performance. Then I will follow with two possible directions to turn around sales levels and I will recommend one. I will be looking for feedback on the options along with budgetary approval as I will show you how the plan can be funded.” There, you just teed up the whole meeting and actually set a tone of calm for the meeting with your confidence and command of the situation. If you nail the set up, you’re over half way to victory.
As you work through the meeting remember to contain the discussion to relevant points and err on the side of being succinct. You can always offer to provide more detail.
My other tip is when you have a meeting set with an exec, plan for a scenario where you only end up having about 25 percent of the allotted time. This often happens with managements’ busy schedule. Determine ahead of time what the salient discussion items and support should be and have that on the ready – your five minute version.
Speak well in front of groups.
Do your peers single you out for your stellar presentation skills? If not, dedicate more time to this skill via solo practice, solicitation of feedback and courses. The best speakers break down the wall between podium and audience; they bring energy to their presentation while maintaining a conversational style that is very authentic to their personality. Also, lessen your dependence on the crutch of detailed notes and power point slides. YOU are the presentation, not your presentation aids; keep the focus there.
Clearly this is not the entire toolkit for effective public speaking. I have taught in this area and will also dedicate more posts to the subject. Don’t go away.
Tell a story.
Most successful marketers, advertisers and PR specialists will declare that storytelling is what we do. Stories have a set up, a plot, a climax and a denouement. Learn to in any communication environment weave all parts together seamlessly, finding what I call the ‘connective tissue’ along the way. I have found this skill lacking in those who present data especially. Learn to stop chart-mongering in favor of having each slide of data build on the last. Don’t present 60 slides simply to prove your analysis to be thorough; move slides that don’t contribute to the conclusions to the backups. Relevancy is the key to maintaining engagement in your story.
There are two key situations that require effective feedback skill:
- On the job coaching. Solicit input on your performance in this area. If needed, sign up for a coaching workshop. While I’m not always a fan of classes, I have taken a few in this area and have walked away with a number of great tips. Coaching workshops also create a strong foundation for having difficult conversations.
- Agency work: creative and programming. Agencies usually don’t look forward to presenting their work because so few marketers know how to give feedback. In fact I have seen articles posted in social media where creative shops poke fun at the comments marketers make when giving feedback or direction. In my background, I received training from my manager and directly from agencies. If you are not readily offered this training, seek it out because you probably don’t know what you’re doing and thus you are not contributing to proper creative development. You will learn how to (among other things):
- Start with big picture comments, then drill into detail
- Weigh positives and negatives
- Distance your own personal feelings from those of the consumer
- Give strategic feedback vs. tactical
- Summarize and provide next steps
That was my big coaching moment. Someone finally sat me down years ago and told me I had so many great things to say but I urgently needed to give others a chance. I took that feedback to heart to such an extent that I have gotten to the point of trying to talk as little as possible. You, too, can influence and build better relationships by listening more than you speak. Effective listening involves paraphrasing what you have been told, asking questions to clarify or deepen your understanding, showing empathy and proposing implications of what you have heard. All of these combined prove that you are internalizing what you are told and incorporating same into your agenda to the extent that you can.
Again, take a class. One of a handful that I consider worth it. Sure, you’ll benefit on that next contract negotiation, but in reality we negotiate a number of things on a daily basis. Hone this discipline and, well, you’ll just get what you want a whole lot more both in and out of the office. #winning
Write an e-mail.
…and learn when NOT to write an email. Social media has taught us that we get real ballsy when we’re behind a computer, so beware! We hear about the bullying that is rampant with our kids in the digital age. Some of this seems to carry over in our adult lives. Also note that e-mails are forever…and get backed up and saved from company servers, so at worst you could expose yourself legally. At best, there are times to just pick up the phone or pay a visit. More in-person connection breeds diplomacy, a great dynamic for a positive outcome.
If e-mail remains the preferred medium, learn about sensitivity to your audience including use of appropriate tone and selectivity of recipients. In addition, work towards keeping most of your emails under two short paragraphs; people don’t read much more anyways….
Master your body language.
What is it, about 2/3 of all communication is contained in body language? What does yours say? For me it was all about – as a former boss would say – ‘checking my face’. I’m an open book which is at least entertaining to watch, although sometimes distracting in meetings!
Look people in the eye and deploy your energy to find that balance between being confident yet welcoming. Study your own style and learn your own habits so that you are clear on how you occur to others. Opinions about you are often shaped without you uttering a word.