Regardless of your chosen (if not chosen, than your current) profession, the ability to effectively communicate in person can be the biggest factor in your career advancement. This communication could take the shape of a one on one conversation with your boss, a meeting with a small group of clients, or a presentation to a large group of people. The circumstances in which communicate with each other are unavoidable, yet many people DREAD these interactions…especially presenting in the front of a room. Everyone knows someone that has a communication style that seems easy and confident and we assume that they were born with the ability and feel completely comfortable up there. FALSE.
Here is what is true:
Most people that look comfortable in a meeting or in front of the room do so for one of two reasons…
- They have spoken in these situations (i.e. PRACTICED) so many times that it is second nature to them to be in front of the room, and they do feel comfortable. Often, they have also had training to help them refine their skill.
- They have practiced and rehearsed so much that they are able to present effectively. Most likely this person does NOT feel comfortable up there; they just come across that way because of their preparation.
Experts will tell you that what you say only account for 10-20% of communication, the rest is accounted for in your non-verbal communication and the WAY you say what you are speaking about. Fortunately for us all, we can learn how to improve our communication skills by leaps and bounds.
All communication professionals will agree on one thing, your normal standing posture should be simple. Stand straight and tall with feet approximately shoulder width apart (not leaning, swaying, or fidgeting)
Arms should fall straight to the sides with the hands relaxed (not in the pockets, behind the back, or clasped in front)
*If you are sitting down during a presentation sit close to the table with your back straight and your hands relaxed on the table in front of you.
This is your baseline. From this initial stance, you can build in some animation….
Work in some hand gestures by describing the words you are saying (if something is big, show them how big with outstretched arms). Don’t be afraid to raise or stretch out your arms! This is true if you are sitting down or standing up. You should also add in some facial animation, and don’t be afraid to add a slight smile (when appropriate).
I can’t remember back far enough, but I’m guessing somewhere around 5th or 6th grade you are probably taught how to read or speak in front of a room. You are taught that you should make eye contact with the audience. After that initial lesson, you probably have never had any additional coaching on what that eye contact actually IS. If you notice the eyes of untrained speakers they look up, down, they scan the room quickly without ever really “connecting” with the audience; they look at their computer, or the projector. They really are all over the place!
The trick for eye contact is to speak to just one person at a time. You should make eye contact with one individual and talk directly to them for a full thought or for a sentence or two. You should then have a brief pause (no “filler words” in the pause…uhh, umm, you know, like, etc.) and you should move on to another person. You will be shocked at how much this helps you. It really does put you at ease and allow you to think about what you are saying vs. the frantic feeling you have when you are darting your eyes around the room. This also keeps your audience engaged. When you are looking them in the eye, they are forced to listen actively instead of having their mind wander.
The WAY you say it
For most people here is a quick summary of your presentation skills.
- You are too quiet
- You talk too fast
- You don’t pause between thoughts or sentences
- You sometimes run out of breath when speaking
- You keep the same volume through your entire presentation
- You voice trails off at the end of a sentence.
Yes, that is a bit negative, but the truth is, we know how to fix all of these things. In fact, most of the time when we communicate informally with friends and family, we do the opposite of this list! We DO HAVE inflection in our voice, we don’t trail off at sentences, and we rarely sound quiet or monotone. Try to incorporate some of that energy you show in your personal interactions into the work setting. It will go a long way. You don’t have to go so far that you sound like a wedding DJ or a morning radio host, just try to be a little more vibrant.
These are all “simple” things to do, but that doesn’t mean they make for a simple fix. It requires patience and practice to become a great speaker. Start off by focusing on one or two items. For instance, first work on your eye contact in meetings. Keep drilling that trait until it is second nature to you, then move on to the inflection of your voice, and so on. The athlete who can speak in front of a camera gets the endorsement deals, the accountant who is good in front of a room becomes CFO, the entrepreneur that feels comfortable in front of potential clients, turns them into clients.
How do you work on your communication skills? What do you struggle with? Leave your comments below.