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Communication Skills: Don’t Be an Asparagus


CommunicationMost people believe that communication skills consist of clarifying a message and delivering it in a memorable way. This is the cable news model of communication. Blow-dried personalities deliver to people sitting in front of their televisions catchy phrases reinforced by clever graphics and selected video sequences. In the cable news process, the sender delivers a message, and the audience receives it, participating to the same extent that an asparagus participates in gardening. 

If your communication goal is simply to inform, then the cable news-asparagus model of communication may be perfectly suitable. But nobody was ever persuaded of anything by cable news. If you want to change another person’s point of view, your communication skills need to go beyond message clarity and skilled delivery. Keep in mind that the workplace is not cable news. It is a setting where nearly all of your success depends on your ability to change other people’s points of view.

If you’re going to change anyone’s point of view, you need to recognize that communication is not simply an event in which a sender delivers a message to a receiver. In true communication, the sender and receiver work together work out the meaning the message. Each of them takes part in the process. Communication skills emphasize dialogue.

Many people approach what they believe to be dialogue by trying to make their position sound as reasonable as possible. But every point of view is reasonable to the person who holds it. You will never be able to show another person your point of view is more reasonable than theirs. So the first step in bringing a person around to your point of view is to first understand theirs. Ultimately, your goal is not to change their point of view, but to show them how they can be committed to their point of view by adopting yours.

This requires planning, legwork, and imagination. Effective communication begins before you utter the first syllable or type the first character. Communication skills involve message clarity and effective delivery, but they also include research, planning, listening, and imaginative empathy. Find out in advance whatever you can about your “receiver” and begin the communication process by probing for their viewpoint. You need to understand their point of view if you’re going to work with it. 

In Communispond’s communication skills program, Mastering Interpersonal Communication, participants learn to achieve their communication goals through a six-step process:

  1. Open a discussion.
  2. Recognize the other person’s viewpoint.
  3. Give your information clearly.
  4. Create clarity and understanding.
  5. Brainstorm to overcome obstacles.
  6. Ensure the next steps are taken.

In addition, the learners learn about their own core personality traits, the first step toward understanding the core personality traits of others. They learn to adapt their actions and style to promote message effectiveness. When you truly recognize the collaborative nature of communication, you become a better and more persuasive communicator and a master of communication skills.

When your communication skills are based on the collaborative nature of communication, you are not only a more skilled communicator, you’re a more effective team member. In organizations with truly effective communication, the focus of the workplace shifts from problems to solutions.

Business Card Etiquette


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Exchanging business cards is as natural to the sales process as breathing. It's amazing how many sales professionals, then, exhibit poor business card etiquette. Without getting into the specifics of doing business in other cultures, here are some general tips:

  • Keep your business cards in good condition — don't hand out crumpled or scribbled-on cards.

  • Look carefully at any card you receive — not only does it reflect well on you for paying attention, but there may also be important information on it that will further the conversation.

  • Hand the card toward the other person so they can read it, not upside down or sideways.

  • After receiving a card, put it somewhere safe so that it won't get lost or crumpled. Respect for the card shows respect for the prospect.

Pecha Kucha


If you have ever wondered how to raise your PowerPoint presentation to the level of an art form, check out Pecha Kucha, which originated in Japan as a discipline to keep architects' presentations from turning into "death by PowerPoint." The format is simple:

  • No more than 20 slides

  • No more than 20 seconds per slide

Therefore, a PowerPoint presentation-no matter how complex-will never last more than six minutes, 40 seconds. People are now using it as almost an art form, creating elaborate presentations that fit in the constraints of the format.

What's more, there are now Pecha Kucha meetings and competitions held around the world. Even if you're not a competitive person, use this discipline to make your presentations leaner and shorter.

Leadership Training: Are Leaders Born or Made?


LeadershipHere's a template for a story. See if it sounds familiar. A child is raised by a kindly family in humble circumstances and they never tell him about his real parents. When the child nearly reaches adulthood, he performs some symbolic act, such as pulling a sword from a stone, and is revealed as the son of the king (or a god) and the rightful leader of his people. This is a story that turns up again and again in different human cultures. There are at least four variations of it in ancient Greek mythology, and it still reappears regularly in Hollywood movies. This story reinforces the human desire to believe in born leaders, which can make life difficult for those of us involved in leadership training. 

Are leaders born, or are they made? If you have been reading this blog regularly, you know my position on the question. I have said before, “At Communispond, we view leadership training as skills training. There are a handful of skills that, when performed before an audience, are perceived as charisma.” Furthermore, anyone can demonstrate leadership in the right situation and with the right preparation.

One of the things that complicates the leadership question is disagreement over what makes a leader. We know that all leaders communicate well and that they influence people. Beyond that, however, there are about as many kinds of leaders as there are leaders, which makes it difficult to pin down their personality traits. That’s why leadership training should be open to anyone. 

At Communispond, we have successfully trained enough leaders to know that leadership can be learned. And anyone else involved in leadership training will tell you the same thing. They wouldn’t be involved in leadership training if they didn’t believe it. 

Now the leadership training community, however, has a scientific finding to work with. A handful of researchers from the University of Minnesota and the University of Toronto did a study (published in an academic journal, The Leadership Quarterly, in 2006) to find out how much of a person’s leadership is genetic. The link will take you to an abstract of the article and a paywall, if you want to buy the whole thing. By studying pairs of identical twins (who share 100% of their DNA) and comparing them to pairs of fraternal twins (who share only 50%), they were able to isolate the influence of genes. They concluded that genetics account for 30% of a person’s leadership qualities and that environmental factors (i.e., a person’s experiences) account for 70%. These researchers didn’t get into the weeds of measuring leadership traits. They compiled mini-biographies of the people in the study (there were hundreds of pairs) and gave them leadership scores based on their leadership experiences.

So if you’re engaged in leadership training, you’ve got 70% of a learner’s capacity to work with. This squares with what we’ve observed in our Executive Communication Coaching™ program, which trains leaders to effectively communicate strategy and vision. So let’s stop talking about “born leaders.” Nobody brings more than 30% of their final leadership ability to the table. The other 70% of their ability comes from having the experiences (including training) that create leaders.

Calling in Help

As sales move from selling commodities to solutions, the deals become more and more complicated. Sales professionals often can't know all the details or answer every customer question. Here are some guidelines for calling in help:
  • Try to arrange peer-to-peer calls. If they're bringing the VP of IT to the meeting, don't bring in the intern to answer questions.
  • Do your best to brief the subject matter expert thoroughly, and have them on the call from beginning to end, so that they don't repeat or contradict information you've already given.
  • Make sure that your support team understands where you are in the sales process, so they don't make assumptions that can backfire. 
You have a team behind you-use them. Just use them wisely.

Walking or Standing


Some presenters walk while they talk, while others stay in one place. Which is right? Well, it depends on what you're trying to achieve.

Most presenters walk while talking for a simple reason-it feels good and burns off excess nervous energy. This makes them feel better, but it may also cause them to do things that are distracting to an audience, block their visuals and get out of position.

On the other hand, walking with a purpose is a powerful tool. You can connect with your audience, appear more engaging and make a point. Here's some guidance:

  • Walk between making your points, rather than in the middle of a thought.
  • Be where you're going before the end of your thought, so that you are planted and have good eye-to- eye connection with your audience on the important point.
  • Know in advance where you're going, so that you're not out of position when it's time to change the visual.

Selling Skills: Three Types of Customer Motivation


Selling SkillsPeople are unique, but you can generally categorize their motivations as one of two types: motivations that are gratified and motivations that achieve goals. As a sales person, you seldom work with motivations that can be gratified. They are biological and psychological and generally are deeply embedded is the customer's makeup. Don't worry about them. Use your selling skills on the other kind, the goal-driven motivations.

If you’re a sales professional, motivations that achieve goals are your stock in trade. Most of your selling skills are focused on creating ways to help the customer achieve goals. But first you have to find those goals.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming everybody is motivated by money. In the workplace, people are likely to be motivated by three things: achievement, relationship, or power. People with a high need for achievement care about a project’s success or failure, feedback on performance, and challenges. People with a high need for relationship, on the other hand, are driven by the welfare of the team and mutual understanding. People with a high need for power tend to be competitive and desire influence and prestige, including money. Figuring out these motivations, and addressing them creatively, are what your selling skills are all about.

Don’t assume the three kinds of motivation are fixed. People might have one type of motivation at one time and another at another. The important thing is to recognize that the customer’s motivation is not necessarily the same as yours. Say, for example, you’re currently driven by achievement (such as booking the most business in your region), but the customer is driven by relationships. You’re going to make very little progress toward your goal by setting the customer up for achievement. Use your selling skills. Stand in the customer’s shoes and know the customer’s needs, professional and personal. Then you can show how your product benefits the team.

Your selling skills need some place to start. First, figure out where your customer stands in the organization. Successful managers, for example, tend to have a high need for power. If your customer is a successful manager, she may be motivated by power. On the other hand, if your customer is an entrepreneur, he may have a high achievement need. Finally, people who are motivated by relationships are usually team players. They’re often found in larger organizations because larger organizations offer so many more opportunities for relationships. 

When you see signs of one of the three types of motivation in a customer, call on your probing ability from your selling skills portfolio to bring it to the surface:

  • “How will this affect the performance of your division?” (Achievement)
  • “How will this affect your division’s standing in the company?” (Power)
  • “How will this affect the morale in the division?” (Relationship)

The enthusiasm with which a customer answers such a question may help you to understand what will likely drive her decision.

Communispond’s Socratic Selling Skills® training program teaches sales professionals to dig for the customer motivations that lead to sales success. We have taught thousands to ask the right questions of customers and leverage the answers to sell with power and flair.

Saying No Quickly


Salespeople don't like to say no to a customer - but sometimes we know we can't do what a customer asks. Here's what you don't want to do:

  • Say, "I'll look into it," then leave the customer hanging with hope, even though you'll never be able to do what he or she asks.

  • Brush the question aside as unimportant and try to bulldoze through the sale.

  • Blame someone else. "I'd love to, but you know how my company/sales manager is." The day may come when you need him or her to approve something and you don't want the customer to dread dealing with others in your organization

A far better solution is to tell the customer what you CAN do for him or her, or at least give a good reason why you can't accede to the request.

"Building" PowerPoint Visuals


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One of the questions that comes up in Communispond presentation skill classes is, "Should we use 'builds' in our PowerPoint presentations?" The answer is a resounding, "It depends."

Builds are used to present one point at a time. If you have surprise information or don't want the audience to get ahead of you, it may be a reasonable tool to use. Here are the reasons NOT to use them:

  • If you've handed out printouts of your presentation, the audience knows what the slide is going to say anyway...the surprise is lost.

  • Talking through a slide bullet-by-bullet probably means your presentation will take longer.

  • Audiences hate it...studies show that slow reveals are one of the least favorite features of PowerPoint.

If you have a good reason to build slides one point at a time, go ahead-but make sure it's a darned good reason, and use it sparingly.

Presentation Skills: Presenting "Off the Cuff"


Presentation SkillsRemember when you were first starting out, how thrilling it was the first time someone in a meeting said, "What do you think about that?" Everybody in the meeting turned to you and waited to hear what you had to say. This was an opportunity to get your point of view across to people who were actually listening. You didn’t want to blow it. Off-the-cuff remarks are where your presentation skills go beyond PowerPoint and an opening joke.

They have asked for your opinion. You may be tempted to rattle it off or to make rambling, exploratory remarks. Don’t. Your remarks may be off-the-cuff, but they need to be organized, and they need to make sense. Put your presentation skills to work. Give your opinion in a four-step process.

1. Frame the issue. Controlling the message is one of the most critical of your presentation skills. Take charge of the issue by framing it. In many cases your framing may seem obvious, but it's still important. It not only lays out the issue, but it gives you ownership of it. You are not reacting to someone else; you are discussing your own analysis. State the issue succinctly. “What I see here is that our major competitor is threatening our business by beating our prices.”

2. Present your point of view. Everything is shorter in an off-the-cuff presentation. Your whole presentation will probably last no more than a minute and will test the limits of your presentation skills. Follow your framing with your opinion. “I don’t think we should get let ourselves get drawn in. I think we should compete on product quality and reliability rather than price.”

3. Support your position. In gaining your formal presentation skills, you learned there are five types of evidence: data, expertise, cases, image, story. For an off-the-cuff presentation, however, there is only one type: your own professional experience. “I once worked at a company where we started to lose business to a competitor who cut prices. We put all our focus on quality control and delivery reliability, and customers soon learned that a cheaper product that took twice as long to be delivered wasn’t much of a saving. Our competitor, by the way, is still struggling with very thin margins.”

4. Make your recommendation and cite benefits. In learning your presentation skills, you learned to walk the audience through the evidence to your recommendation. Don’t assume now that they will make the connection between your position and your recommendation. Spell it out for them. “Here's what I think we should do. First, we should institute a zero-defects process in manufacturing, then we should do the same for shipping and delivery. Finally, we should develop a marketing campaign based on quality and reliability.” 

In presentation skills training, you probably learned to devote about 20 hours of preparation to every hour of presentation. You don’t have that luxury for an off-the-cuff presentation. That means you need to prepare yourself on any issue that’s likely to come up. Study. Know the issues that are likely to arise and outline your position on them. Mark Twain probably said it best when he said, “It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.” Invest your three weeks up front before you need to.

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