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Communication Skills

#72 - 05/01/2005

"When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece." - John Ruskin, author, art critic, and social reformer (1819-1900)

When we business people present ourselves to customers, clients, colleagues, employees, superiors, prospects, or each other we must always have three things going on: an objective, a plan and a set of communication skills. An objective is simply your goal, your desired outcome, what you want to get from the relationship; in acting terms - your motivation. The plan could be a business plan, strategy, a well thought out speech that will help you achieve that goal; again, in acting terms - a script. These elements are usually pretty clear in the minds of most business people. Business schools offer courses to help establish goals and strategies.

But what about that set of "Communication skills?" What exactly are they? Aren't they the tools we use to communicate, to relate, to express our thoughts and wishes to one another? If presentation is an art, as I believe, then what are the instruments upon which that art is played? Why, they're the same instruments the actor needs: the voice, body, face, eyes, gestures, emotions, and thoughts. All these elements and more are needed to create a performance on the stage or screen; or to create a presentation in the boardroom or on the speaker's podium.

Let's look at those instruments for a moment. How is your skill with your voice, for instance? Do you like the way you sound? Do you enunciate clearly? Is your tone pleasant, or do you drone monotonously? Can you be heard in a large room? Can you speak for an hour without getting hoarse? Have you ever actually taken a course in vocal technique, such as singing or speech? Ninety percent of Americans have never even thought about working to improve their vocal presentation - are you among them?

Now look at your body. Yes, it's best to be fit and healthy, but I mean look at it as an instrument of expression. What do your posture, gestures, the way you move, say to people? Think about your favorite teacher, politician or movie star - what is it about the way they carry themselves that you find attractive? What about your face? Have you ever exercised the muscles in your face to help them become more flexible and available for expression? Can you physically relax your face and body, and be fluid in your movements - even with your eyes?

Finally, how skilled are you with your mind? Can you focus under pressure? Can you depend on yourself to perform that most important of communication tasks - listening - even as you speak? Are you able to relax your mind even in tense and fearful situations?

These are but a few of the skills we use to communicate every day - and most of them are performed completely outside of our awareness. Most people don't even know how they come across to others. "Let the chips fall . . ." seems to be the strategy most people take. Can you imagine Tiger Woods closing his eyes when he putts?

The reason Ronald Reagan was known as "The Great Communicator" was because in his training and experience as an actor he worked on these vital skills consciously and purposefully. What would an improvement of only 10% in your communication skill level mean to your success as a business person? You could be 10% more persuasive, more compelling, more interesting, by simply becoming more conscious of your communication skills.

The first step is awareness. Videotape yourself when you make a speech and you'll shorten your learning curve on what skills you need to work on. There are all sorts of classes that will help you improve your expressiveness. Acting classes, dance classes, even drawing and flower arranging can make a difference in how you communicate. Study meditation, relaxation, yoga, singing, mime, improvisation, comedy or sumo wrestling - just about any direction you care to go will bring a mental and physical benefit to your expressiveness. Of course, I favor finding a good speaker's coach - you may find one if you read on a little further.

If you'd like a few vocal exercises to add to your daily regimen, just drop me an email and I'll be happy to send you a couple of pages. Just a little awareness and effort can make a huge difference in your presentation style.


A Thought to Ponder
A Workshop With Coach Mike

"All the world's a stage . . ." and some of us are woefully under-rehearsed! Shakespeare was right, we each play many parts in our time. For business people the roles usually take place in an office or boardroom - small, one-on-one performances - to sell something. And occasionally, big, bravura roles on the speaker's platform with everything on the line require a more heroic performance. How are your reviews? Is there any part of your performance, your presentation - large or small, that you wish was better? Why not take a day to work on it? Presentation is a skill, after all, and we can always improve a skill - all you need is the desire, a bit of time, and a good coach.

Which roles would you like to work on? Marketing? How's your elevator speech? Sales? Can you make your pitch warmer? More compelling? Leadership? How do your employees see you? Can you improve that relationship? Your PowerPoint presentation? Are you losing the battle with the screen? Maybe you just want to get over your nervousness? These are just a few of dozens of personal performance problems you could work on - if only there were a workshop somewhere.

Good news! Give me a call and we'll put together just such a workshop. If you have a group of presenters who want to ramp up their skills I'll be happy to come in and make that happen. You'll be surprised at how much fun it is! This could be a great opportunity to put your presentation skills into rehab. You'll have a chance to work with a world-class coach in a professional environment, for a full day of learning, practice and growth.

We'll work on your voice, posture, gestures, facial expression, and movement. We'll put you on video and help you overcome stage fright. And because we'll limit the class size to no more than eight people, you'll have plenty of face time with the coach. Then, we'll follow up to make sure you keep applying the things you learn.

You'll come away with new skills, more confidence and a brighter attitude toward your presentations.