Thursday, June 27, 2013

Tips for Great Messaging, Design and Delivery

I’ve been consulting and coaching management teams and designing their important presentations for 20+ years. Early in the process of building my business, I identified a need for specific services and pioneered a turnkey one-stop shopping for companies engaged in private equity fundraising, M&A or the IPO process.

As a result I know a little bit about working with tight deadlines, speaker preparation, and motivating and training busy executives to focus, deliver and engage a skeptical investor who may be half-listening in the midst of a chattering hostile market.

After hundreds of assignments across diverse industries such as semiconductor, software, venture capital, legal, security, gaming, agriculture, retail, cleantech and medical device, I continue to work with my clients to improve their individual delivery skills to move, inform and motivate an audience.

Sometimes all that’s required is a review and clean up of an existing slide presentation or providing coaching and video feedback for an individual speaker to brush up and dust off rusty delivery skills. But more often the assignment is a start-from-scratch, complete package that includes slide concept and design as well as personal delivery skills coaching and Q&A training for the management team.   

Whatever the speaking engagement, I’m always focused on clarity and consistency in design and pitch. And if the presentation includes visuals, I take care to ensure that the visuals enhance the spoken word and never compete with it.

Visuals are powerful and will steal the spotlight if a speaker hasn’t been taught the power of an image and the importance of crafting a message to work with it. Presentation graphics should support the speaker’s unique story, engage the audience, and not override, dilute or blur the message.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Five Tips to Improve Your Listening Skills

In 1860 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote his spellbinding poem “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” His opening line – “Listen my children and you shall hear / Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere” – dramatically calls out to pay attention to the exciting story about to unfold.

Lis Wiehl, in her book Winning Every Time: How to Use the Skills of a Lawyer in the Trials of Your Life, writes that managing your advocacy with a child takes practice, discipline, a willingness to listen, and an open heart. In fact, everyone from Shakespeare to Wadsworth has written about the need to listen carefully to gain facts or even wisdom.

Why is it we have so much difficulty listening when we certainly know the benefits of it?  My personal opinion is that it’s very hard to do and takes a lot of practice! If you’re eager to improve your listening skills, these five tips may help you succeed.

1. First, stop talking! You can't listen if you are talking.

In Shakespeare's Hamlet, Polonius (Laertes's) father cautions him about his behavior in court to "give every man thine ear, but few thy voice."

2. Look like you want to listen!

Focus, make eye contact with the speaker, and act interested. Turn off and put away your BlackBerry. Don't read your emails. Practice listening to learn and understand rather than to oppose. Really listen to the speaker without interrupting!

"The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn't being said." ~ Peter F. Drucker

3. Clear and secure the space.
Put away your Blackberry or iPhone. Don't check your email, doodle, tap, or shuffle papers. Clear the environment; shut the door!

4. Empathize with the speaker—which is much easier to do if you're not talking.

"Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you'd have preferred to talk." ~ Doug Larson

5. Be patient.

Allow plenty of time for the speaker to talk. Don't interrupt.

"I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen." ~ Ernest Hemingway.

Roger Ailes, in his book You Are the Message, offers another way to learn how to listen:

"Try going to a week of meetings and saying absolutely nothing unless you're directly asked to speak or you're required to talk. For a week, discipline yourself to go with a notepad to any meeting or interactive situation and listen. Sit quietly for a while, listen, and see what other people are saying. According to the ancient text, Sirach, 'If you love to listen, you will gain knowledge and if you incline your ear, you will become wise.'"

“In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear 
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere
 –  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow