Monday, November 22, 2010

How to be a great communicator?

Many readers may remember Karen Friedman, a graduate of Penn State University and Manchester University. She was a star television reporter for almost 15 years for Philadelphia’s most viewed television news station, WPVI Channel 6. Since leaving the news world over a decade ago, Ms. Friedman launched one of the top corporate communication practices in the country, Karen Friedman Enterprises. Now she has come out with a book entitled Shut Up and Say Something! published by Praeger Press where she provides advice and insights on how to be an effective communicator.
Marc Kramer: Why did you write this book?
Karen Friedman: Most books tell you what to do; I wanted to write a book that shows people how to do it and remind them to keep the end result in mind when tackling their own communication challenges. That’s why the book begins at chapter Z and ends at A. I had so many personal coaching and review notes from hundreds if not thousands of sessions, published articles, great examples and funny stories from my TV days, board rooms and a quick run for political office that I thought wouldn’t it be great to put it all in once place? When I researched, I couldn’t find any books that were loaded with try-it-this-way techniques and real hands-on examples that could be applied to their own situations. That’s why each chapter tackles a different communication challenge and offers ways to overcome it.
MK: Who should read it? KF: If you asked me this when I first wrote it, I would have said business people, but now that it’s out, readers are telling me it’s a great source for anyone who has to communicate and quite a few students have told me this should be recommended reading for college, perhaps even high school students. MK: What are the biggest mistakes business people make when trying to convey what their company does? KF: They don’t sit in the seats of their listeners so they convey too many details and don’t get to the point quickly enough. For example, if you work for a software company, the customer probably doesn’t care about what makes it work. Instead, they want to know how the software will help them solve their problems. [That is,] will it allow them to be more productive, save time, money or perhaps do more with less?’ MK: What are the biggest mistakes business people make when speaking in front of a group? KF: Here are the four most common mistakes.
    1. Eye contact. They fail to make eye contact with all parts of the room so each member of the audience does not feel as if the speaker is speaking right to them.
    2. Speed. Most people speak too quickly, but when speaking publicly or at meetings, it’s important to slow down. Yet, telling someone to slow down doesn’t work. Speakers must pause to give listeners a chance to process what is being said.
    3. Examples: Simply presenting information or data is boring. You have to help people understand how that information affects them. That means sharing examples, anecdotes, quick stories and vignettes and metaphors that help people visualize what you’re saying and make your message more relevant.
    4. Jargon. People tend to think they can use lingo when speaking to groups of peers because the peers know what the words mean. But too many numbers and acronyms get lost quickly. It is up to the speaker to facilitate understanding by providing context. If you’re going to use lingo, then tell people what it means to them.
MK: How can shy people get over their shyness to sell themselves and/or their ideas? KF: Preparation is key. So many people think they can wing it. So, for starters, prepare well. That does not mean memorize, but rather practice out-loud to get your rhythm and footing and to help you internalize your message so you can speak it conversationally. It also means learning how to condense information into bite sized nuggets and examples that are easier to explain and understand. There are many examples in the book and professional coaching is also helpful. MK: When speaking to groups do business people rely too much on PowerPoint and, if so, how can they reduce their dependence? KF: There is an entire chapter devoted to this as well called visual overload, but there are a few tips:
  • Limit text on slides so you can talk and not read.
  • Practice without the PowerPoint so your ideas and thoughts roll off your tongue in conversational manner as if you were explaining this to a friend.
  • Prepare your talk or script first and then prepare the slides. This way the slides will follow you and reinforce what you are saying instead of the other way around.
MK: If you are being interviewed by the media, how do you take control of the interview to get your points across while appearing to answer the interviewer’s questions? KF: To learn to conduct effective media interviews requires media training. We always recommend working with a seasoned media coach who is a former member of the media. While there are great public relations and corporate communications professionals out there, former reporters understand what questions a reporter will ask, how they think, how they are likely to write and produce a story and how to help them help you tell the story you want told. Aside from learning to bridge and transition to key points, we urge people to get inside a reporter’s head to make the most of an interview. Chapter 12 Owning Media Interviews details techniques. A few tips:
  • Have a roadmap. Know what you want to say before the interview and look for opportunities to weave your messages into the conversation.
  • Do not mimic the Sunday morning talk shows where politicians ignore the questions. Answer the question!
  • Frame what you want to say from the audience’s perspective. You’re not talking to the reporter; you are talking to the reporter’s audience.
MK: The British Petroleum leadership seemed to make one communication mistake after another after the Deep Water Horizon accident. What could they have done better? KF: It's the old “actions speak louder than words” approach. You can make an honest mistake with words such as the small people when inappropriately referring to victims of the oil spill as did the BP chair. But not showing up on the scene for weeks, talking about how you want your own life back and going to fancy parties on yachts in the middle of the worst disaster in our lifetime as did CEO Tony Hayward sends the wrong message. In today's world of viral communications, that non-verbal message reaches more people than ever. BP needs to start really showing empathy and meaning it by putting themselves in the real shoes of those so-called little people instead of sending out well-crafted press releases that don't match their behavior. In a sentence, come down from your ivory tower. MK: Most people are familiar with Dr. Martin Luther King and Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. What made these guys such great communicators? KF: Passion, ability to look people in the eye, speak from a listener’s perspective, use simple words and they explain, not lecture. MK: Who is the best communicator the public would be aware of and why do you consider this person a great communicator? KF: Bill Clinton, Ronald Regan, Oprah Winfrey, Winston Churchill, Steve Jobs, Guy Kawasaki for reasons stated above. If you were going to give one piece of advice to an aspiring leader on how to improve their communication skills what would that be? KF: Remember that people are human beings. You need to communicate often, clearly, compassionately and keep it real at all times. Create meaning and understanding by explaining how what you’re saying impacts or affects them. Remember, it’s not about you. If you want to stay true to yourself, start by being true to others.

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