My Sponsors

Friday, April 17, 2009

Nervous Body Language: That Kills You As Speaker

One hand gripping the other behind the back is an attempt at confidence but there is frustration, lack of self-control and the person is trying hard to seem relaxed – look for how hard the hand is gripping the wrist. If the hands are held quite high behind the back this often indicates timidity. The hand moved even further up the arm indicates tension and nervousness.

Fingers in the mouth can also show people under pressure.

Touching the face or stroking the back of the neck can signal embarrassment and rubbing, stroking or touching the nose means the person is not sure and possibly has negative thoughts; if poor or no eye contact accompanies this then he could be lying.

Touching the ear may indicate that the person doesn’t like what he/she is hearing. Watch for this in meetings and sales situations and examine what it is you have just said to get this response.

Touching the eyes could indicate that the person doesn’t like what he or she is seeing. Watch for a shifting in body language along with this and consider the situation and the dialogue.

Foot lock – this tends to be a woman-only gesture where one foot is wrapped round the other leg. It is construed as a defensive attitude.

Beware of Mannerisms: They Disclose Yourself To Others

We all form certain mannerisms like pulling the eyebrow, rubbing the nose etc. We need to be aware of these because they may be giving out the wrong signals. The best way to know if you are doing this is to watch a video recording of yourself, or get a friend to tell you each time you make a nervous mannerism.

A Senior Communication Expert told me a story, some years ago he was working with a young lady who always put her hand over her mouth when she spoke. This gave out the impression that she was lying or was uncertain of herself. He asked her why she did this and she told him that when she was younger she suffered from terrible acne, which caused her considerable distress and embarrassment so she had got into the habit of covering her face when she spoke so people couldn’t see her skin. The habit had stuck long after her skin had cleared.

Here are some further body language signals that you might like to be aware of.

Sitting down with the hands and arms clasped behind the head

This is a superior gesture or exhibits extreme confidence sometimes bordering on arrogance. It can also be accompanied by the chin held high.

Leg lock – when one ankle is crossed over the knee of the other

This denotes a dominant and competitive personality. The higher the leg is crossed over the more dominant and competitive. If the person is also holding his leg this means he is stubborn and unmoving, he’s made his mind up.

If the thumbs are on display in an upward position this shows that they are in charge! This is often a familiar stance of a barrister in a courtroom. Some speakers also adopt this posture, which can be rather intimidating towards the audience.

Another variation of this is when the thumbs protrude from the pockets, which displays dominance.

Thumbs wrapped round belt: If a man is standing with his legs firmly planted apart, thumbs in belt pose, with fingers pointing down towards crotch area this is an aggressive posture when adopted facing another man. If, however, a man adopts this posture towards a woman then it can be interpreted as a sexual gesture.

In recent years some women have also adopted this posture, in this instance it exhibits an attitude of dominance and sexual control over men.

Hands on hips: This is an aggressive and threatening gesture when used by a man or when used by a woman to another woman. If a woman adopts this posture towards a man then it can be interpreted as a sexual stance.

Body Language – Posture, Gestures and Stance

When reading body language you need to look at the whole person and the complete picture. Just because someone has his arms crossed it does not necessarily mean he is hostile. If his arms and legs are crossed and he is perhaps scowling or keeping his distance by sitting back in his seat then the complete picture tells you this person is aggressive or hostile and is not going to cooperate.

I recall a course I was running. A woman was sitting at the table with her head in her hands. Did she have a headache, or a hangover perhaps? Or was she hostile? From her body language and the situation I deemed that she was on the course under sufferance and that by withdrawing her eye contact, and her complete facial expressions, she was saying ‘I don’t want any part in this’; ‘I am not going to cooperate’.

So I started by asking her a question, which meant that she had to look up and give me eye contact. I could then begin to engage with her. After several more exchanges, and as the course progressed, she confessed that she hadn’t wanted to come on the course but that she was now enjoying it. A victory indeed!

Your Body Language During Attending Meeting

At some time we all attend meetings, whether this is work related, more of a social nature or a combination of both. For example you may be on the Parent Teacher Association of a school, or on a charitable fundraising committee. Making an impression at meetings could help you to be heard in that meeting, or you may wish to read others’ body language to find out what they really think about your views.

First, where to sit

In meetings if you want recognition always sit within good eye contact of the decision maker (who may not always be the chair). This can often be at the opposite end of the table. To lessen confrontation sit next to the challenger. It is far more difficult to attack from the side. Avoid sitting directly opposite the person.

If you are a junior or new participant wait to be told where to sit.

If you wish to avoid attention sit in a blind spot for the chair where it is physically difficult for them to see you and wear your most neutral outfit with no special accessories.

Another point about seating which I have often observed is that when both men and women enter a room together, the men will all sit together and the women will sit together. Only if someone is late and there are no empty spaces will the genders divide. In schools and sometimes at work it is a good idea to mix the genders to encourage more cross-gender communication and cooperation. For example, ask all the girls to come into the class first and tell them they must not sit together, then invite the boys to fill up the empty places.

Other ways to enhance your power at meetings

Make sure you find out the objectives of the chairperson if you can. Don’t be afraid to contribute your points but if you’re out to win or score points only important to you, you may become resented. Never expect to succeed in a meeting on a wing and a prayer. Preparation is essential. Whenever possible, without overdoing it, always try to state your views, or ask an intelligent question.

Resist the temptation to finish other people’s sentences or criticize them at a personal level.

Even if you are feeling emotional about an objection try not to show it. Your detractors will leap on you like a wounded animal if they sense weakness.

Be positive but if you disagree or have reservations say so and have reasons why you disagree to back this up. Show that you can think a thing through logically and laterally.

If you wish to speak hold up your hand and look at the chairperson. Only interrupt if the meeting has more of a casual flavor about it. Women interrupt conversations far more than men, in fact men find this rather irritating. They often wait until someone has finished speaking before having their say, unless the speaker is a waffler or droning on too much and the interrupter is an impatient man.

As chairperson if you wish to shut someone up without verbally telling them then one of the most effective ways is to look away as they are speaking to you, alternatively you can glance at your watch. You can sit forward and hold your hand up; this is the physical STOP sign. You can also accompany this by saying, ‘Hold on’, or ‘Excuse me’.

Never adopt the role of the Disruptor or the Nonentity

The Disruptor is the person who arrives late or dashes in and out to take phone calls. This is most irritating and implies superiority; either that or he can’t organize or prioritize his time effectively!

The Nonentity remains part of the furniture. If you don’t or can’t participate then you probably won’t be invited again. More involvement brings more responsibility but it also means more visibility and hence advancement.

Eye contact

During business meetings you should keep your eye contact on the eyes and forehead of the person who is speaking.

You can use direct eye contact to make a point both in a personal relationship setting and in a business setting, for example when you have a serious point to make or when reprimanding a child.

Do look interested during the meeting, lean your body forward, give good eye contact to the speaker and the chair, make occasional notes.

Don’t look bored, doodle, sigh, sniff and shift about unless you really want to give the wrong impression and not be asked back!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Ways To Keep Your Audience's Attention In Your Speech

In this blog, I am going to suggest four tactics for raising arousal and motivation here, but most of this blog is about how the speaker’s performance can be tailored to increase the interest of the audience. And interest can be equated to arousal and motivation. These four tactics are sharing interest in the listeners’ problems, giving a sense of security to the listeners, recognizing that enforced silence represses levels of arousal, and finally communicating your own enthusiasm.

Firstly, then, share your listeners’ interests. You will arouse interest and motivation if you make it clear from the outset that you have considered their needs. Thus a researcher might start a paper by mentioning the way his work provides promising analogies to the audience’s own work; a manager may open by mentioning the common need for the company’s success; a lecturer might mention examinations in his introduction. It is possible to effect the arousal of listeners by talking about things which closely concern them. In this way the speaker can build on the motivation they already possess. One way of doing this is to present trailers, in the cinema tradition, for the points which are to come, brief extracts of the information and ideas you are going to present. The best way is to spend time showing how your ideas relate to the problems, and interests, of your listeners, before launching into your own interests.

The second tactic which affects the acquisition of information, is the degree of security the audience feel in their speaker. All educationalists know that in learning, emotional stability is almost as important as intelligence. A calm and emotionally secure person will think more clearly than a highly intelligent, but emotionally disturbed person. The speaker should consciously try to calm and reassure the audience. Provide a secure atmosphere, and clearly defined physical constraints, such as the use of space, and good timing, to enable them to concentrate. If the audience feel at ease, and if they feel confident that the speaker knows his job as well as his subject, and will stop on time, they will find it refreshingly easy to listen to the presentation. If they are cramped, suspicious, anxious, and unsettled, they will day-dream more, and listen less. Providing the right emotional conditions is an important factor in effective speaking.

The third tactic which we should consider is that sitting still and listening affects the natural levels of arousal. One of the disadvantages of the spoken presentation is that it stifles two major needs of the audience, those for self-expression, and those for social interaction. They are expected to be silent and listen, and their ability to interact with others is savagely curtailed. The audience’s natural arousal is reduced by these repressions, and extra stimulation must be provided to compensate for this. Careful consideration of the way the audience’s receptivity to the message is affected by natural psychological mechanisms will be rewarded by an attentive audience.

Finally, the forth tactic, there is much evidence that the speaker’s own communicated attitude and psychological state will affect the audience’s reception of his message.

Mastin instructed lecturers to teach one topic with an ‘indifferent’ attitude and another the following week ‘enthusiastically’…Nineteen out of twenty classes did better on multiple-choice tests after the ‘enthusiastic’ lesson…In a similar experiment Coats and Smidchens found that 36% of the variance in tests of audience recall were attributable to the dynamism’ of the speaker.

The conclusion from this research is that an enthusiastic and energetic presentation is more effective than a dull and soporific one. If you are enthusiastic yourself about the subject, it will be reflected in the audience’s echoing enthusiasm.

There are a variety of ways, then, in which we can vary the levels of receptivity in an audience. Whereas no one technique for coping with this is a panacea, a good understanding of the natural operation of the listener’s mind is an enormous help in adjusting the presentation so it is as effective as possible. Of course, none of this is possible if you have not thought about the audience. Nor is it possible unless you are sensitive to the way your presentation is affecting the audience. Before dealing with feedback from the audience, though, let me explore one more component of the delicate equation between speaker and audience, the way the speaker feels about his listeners, and the way they are likely to feel about him.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Control Your Audience's Attention To Become Successful Speaker

There are a number of factors which affect attention, and can be used to control the audience's attention. These are variety, the length of time concentration is needed, the time of day, and the amount of arousal and motivation the speaker can communicate to the listeners. Motivation, in turn, is affected by the audience’s sense of security, how much their natural responses are repressed, and how much enthusiasm the speaker shows. Let me deal with each of these factors in turn, to give you some ideas about how to control the audience’s attention.

The first important fact to grasp is that attention is very little under voluntary control. The audience cannot make themselves listen—they must be interested. Psychologists tell us that attention is controlled by a deep part of the brain which operates subconsciously. Attention is automatically switched-off by repetitive stimuli:

If, for example, you are in a room with a clock that is ticking quietly you will quickly habituate to the sound so that after a short while you will no longer hear it. But the sound is still being continually monitored by the brain, and if the clock were suddenly to stop, or to change speed or volume, you would immediately notice it.

A good speaker knows this, and arouses questing interest in the audience by providing a continual variety of stimuli. He or she keeps them alert by varying the input of ideas, and gives them continual change in the pauses, speed and volume of his or her voice. A speaker should not blame the audience if they nod-off, or their attention wanders. They are responding to simple physiological mechanisms; the fault is the speaker’s for not being aware of these facts, and not negotiating around them in the techniques of his presentation.

The second factor which affects the audience’s attention is the sheer length of time they are expected to listen. In the first few minutes of a presentation everyone is listening. As time goes on the pressures from other thoughts gradually increases. It depends to some extent on the level of training and discipline in the listeners, but the speaker should always be aware of the way the demands he is making on the audience increase with time. One piece of research by MacManaway reported that 84% of students said that twenty to thirty minutes was the maximum length of time they could listen to a lecture without wandering. This means that the speaker should provide pauses, and increasing variety, as the talk gets longer. The vital points are best made early in the talk, when you can count on more attention. Gradually working up to the important point through an hour long maze of details, may gain nothing. By the time you are ready to triumphantly announce your answer, most of the audience will be thinking of something else.

If we are to be effective communicators we should understand, not blame, the audience’s natural characteristics. There is no point in battling valiantly against the natural effect of growing inattention. The solution is to provide breaks, variety and interesting changes throughout the talk. Otherwise the discomfort of sitting still will break through as interest flags; this is signaled by a rash of scratching and shifting about in the chairs.

Very high levels of discomfort are produced by forced attention to uninteresting material. Indeed, some members of the audience may develop gestures of extreme misery, such as dropping their heads into their hands, and even groaning quietly to themselves! A considerate speaker (considerate, that is, for his own success as well as for the audience’s comfort) will alleviate the misery. Variety, both in the material and in the presentation, is the best method. But variety can only be used at the right time if the speaker first learns to be sensitive to the audience’s mood. The sheer length of time listeners must pay attention is an important factor in the equation that measures their ability to listen.

The third factor which affects attention is the simple matter of the time of day when the talk is being presented. The speaker must think in advance about the effect of time of day on his audience. It is not just the personal experience of the lazy, but a psychological fact that people’s intellectual sharpness varies during the day, in response to internal biological rhythms. Both body temperature and hormone levels change in a rhythmic cycle. Most people are at their best in the morning, but some people do not reach their peak until midday, or even during the afternoon. Most people have a low in body temperature and hormone level during the mid afternoon, and are therefore likely to be sleepy, and find it difficult to concentrate.

The day of the week will also affect how easy it is for the audience to concentrate. Almost everyone is better on a Tuesday than on a Friday. Even the disciplined hard workers are feeling the effects of tiredness by the end of the week. These effects are very real, and should not be dismissed as softness. Research showed that a prolonged period of monotony interferes “with the ability to make decisions at a fairly high cortical level.” Monotony interferes just as badly with the ability to listen intelligently. The speaker must provide greater variety and stimulation for an afternoon presentation, or one at the fag-end of the week. On Tuesday morning he can afford to rely on his audience’s concentration more.

The fourth of the factors which affect attention is the psychological state of the audience while they are listening. The state of mind of listeners can be separated into their arousal, and their motivation. The speaker must be continually aware of the twin factors. Arousal is a technical term in psychology for the level of alertness, the biochemical tone and readiness. It affects the whole performance of the brain, increasing the transmission rates in the neurons, making the person more alert and more receptive. Motivation helps arousal. A highly motivated person is more prepared to understand and remember.

Levels of arousal have been compared to an inverted ‘U’ curve, where performance levels rise as arousal increases, but dissolve in chaos as arousal gets too high. Most people spend most of their life in the restricted performance, low arousal part of the curve. Speakers spend much of their time in the hyper-active, anxious and over-aroused part of the curve. The art is to get both speaker and audience on the peak performance part of the curve. For listeners, it usually means awaking their interest, arousing them, by energy and variety.

Your Audience's Receptivity Level: Important Aspect For Successful Speaker

Half the inexperienced speakers in the world think that the audience will sit listening, uncritically absorbing every word they say, like a huge sponge. The other half have never even thought about it. But does an audience uniformly listen to everything the speaker says? Do they really hear every word? The sad fact is that they do not. Attention is not the simple, conscious activity we would like to think. Everyone’s mind wanders constantly.

The novels of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf contain a surprisingly accurate portrayal of the inner mental life of ordinary people. Bloom, or Mrs. Dalloway, do not pay attention to one thing at once; their minds are a stream of ever varying ideas and impressions, where one thing after another floats to the surface with little apparent connection. While your audience’s minds may not be as interesting as Joyce or Woolf’s heroes and heroines, they will certainly be no less unreliable! Attention is simply not the steady beacon we would like to think. An audience is more like the lines of yellow warning lights on a motorway; their attention flashes on and off randomly at unpredictable intervals. Imagine unsynchronized flashes of light mingling with a background of darkness, as attention switches on and off. This may sound a harsh image, but it contains a large truth. Speakers cannot assume that everyone is listening all the time.

One of the reasons why people do not listen to every word that a speaker utters is that their minds can go much faster than the speaker’s voice. It is an obvious point, and it is confirmed by the fact that everyone’s reading speed is much higher than their talking speed. While sitting listening to a presentation, the audience’s minds have spare capacity, which they will fill by watching what else is going on, and observing the non-verbal components of the speaker’s message. They can also use this spare capacity either to pursue private thoughts, or to ponder the remoter implications of the topic. They are certainly not sitting with vacant minds, waiting for the next word.

This spare capacity is prey to being pre-empted by day-dreaming. And once a mini day dream has started, it will be more interesting that the next few words of the talk. The listener will pursue his day dream for a few seconds, before he switches his attention back to the speaker. There has been some interesting research done on attention, and how it is controlled. American neurologists argue that concentration is the result of suppressing countless nerve events which spontaneously trigger trains of thought all over the brain. Untrained mental activity is very largely random.

Training is a process of reducing (not increasing) the brain’s activity, clearing the mind so that a single chain of thought can be sustained. The longer this clearing process continues, the more the pressure builds up from other concerns wanting conscious attention. The successful speaker will recognize that this pressure will break through continually, whatever he or she does. The audience will indulge, involuntarily, in ‘micro-sleeps’ which are momentary rests, gaps in attention, when their minds plunge into a sort of dreamy semi-consciousness, before emerging refreshed to pay renewed attention. We should not blame the audience for their fickle behaviour and paucity of interest. Rather, we should be realistic, and try to be aware of who is listening and who is not.

The listeners, then, are not just passive vessels, sitting with ever open minds. They are, like everybody, full of their own concerns and interests, and prone to drift off for fantasies, day dreams, or private thoughts. Some speakers regard the idiosyncracies of the human receiver as a nuisance. George Miller remarks:

I have the impression that some communication theorists regard the human link in communication systems in much the same way as they regard random noise. Both are unfortunate disturbances in an otherwise well-behaved system and both should be reduced until they do as little harm as possible.

But such an attitude is clearly nonsense. It is not willfulness on the part of the audience which makes them imperfect receivers. It is the operation of a natural mechanism. The speaker’s job is to recognize, and plan for this fact. You cannot change it.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Prepare Before Speaking Infront Of Any Group

I have already suggested that an audience is a very different thing from a collection of individuals—it is a group, and as a speaker, your task is to manage this group, and present your material in a way which will help them. So the more knowledge of group behavior a speaker has, the better he or she can do their job. I do not propose to write a textbook of group dynamics; there are already plenty of good ones. In any case, the basics are simple enough. But a few pages about groups is a useful preparation for speaking. Thinking about group psychology will help you be more aware of group dynamics, more sensitive to feedback from the group in front of you, and more able to make effective preparations to speak. There is a great deal of research on group behaviour. Even in 1968 a writer noted that there were well over 2,000 different research studies on the topic. Knowledge about groups is now extensive. In many cases it reflects what instinct tells us, but not always, and conscious awareness of group behaviour can only help the speaker.

The first fact about groups we must remember is that they are composed of individuals. As speakers, we too easily imagine that the sea of faces in front of us belong to undifferentiated clones. Stereotyping is used by speakers to misjudge audiences, almost as much as audiences use it to misjudge speakers. Speakers tend to think that an audience from company ‘X’ will be all whizz kids, or an audience from company ‘Y’ will be old and cautious. And this enables the speaker to miss the fact that there may, or may not, be some of both these types of people, in each audience.

The mere fact that the audience are all sitting down, facing one way, tends to deprive them of individuality in the eyes of the speaker. This is a curious mistake, since when we are in the reverse position, sitting listening to someone else talking, we feel our individual identity; our own reactions contrast with the group’s. Yet when we are speaking ourselves, we tend to think of the audience as some homogeneous, and powerfully distinctive, object. We think of them as having an overpowering common identity. I suppose it is because we feel so conspicuous as the speaker, that we tend to see the audience as about as undifferentiated as a wall. Each brick may be different, but the total effect is massive. Of course, the truth is rather different, for each person in a group is an individual. They all have their own standards and motives, and many also belong to many other different groups.

The first lesson to be learned about groups, then, is that they are collections of heterogeneous individuals. Indeed, far from being repressed, individual roles and individual differences are often enhanced by the crowd effect, the stronger personalities becoming more assertive in response to group pressure. By considering the role of individuals, rather than of the group as a whole, you will be able to recognize an audience’s diverse needs. No talk is likely to satisfy everyone in the group, and an outsider will understand if the talk is angled towards the majority of the group. But it is fatal to talk solely to one sector, and appear ignorant of the needs of the rest of the audience. When analyzing the audience, assess the variety of different interests it represents, and try to devise a strategy which will speak to all of them.

One good technique is to alternate different kinds of approach, so that no one group has time to lose interest. Thus, for example, an audience including technical, and lay people, can be dealt with by alternating complex technical facts, with a few sentences of simple explanation. A mixed audience of marketing managers, and personnel managers will all enjoy a presentation which alternates between the marketing prospects of each topic, and the way it will affect production. People are surprisingly tolerant, and will listen to several minutes of information that they don’t understand, and which doesn’t concern them, as long as they know that the talk will come back to their own interests. By providing a mixture, a speaker can cater for a wide range of interests in his audience. But of course he can’t use this technique, or any other technique, if he hasn’t bothered to work out who his audience is, and what their interests are.

While considering the audience’s individuality, it is important to consider their relationships to each other, as well as their relationships to you. There may be both administrators, and researchers in the audience. Their ages may be both younger and older than yours. They may be more hostile to the departmental manager, sitting silently in the front row, than to you. There is nothing sinister in acquiring this sort of knowledge and skill in your understanding of groups. It does not represent ‘some dark power that enables them to manipulate people more easily.’ Knowledge about groups is a wise part of the effective speaker’s armory. It can be used to avoid making obvious mistakes, antagonizing people, and failing to explain the information. It can smooth an interaction, and help to make the talk a more satisfactory experience for every member of the audience.

Knowledge about groups, then, is also knowledge about individuals. You should learn to identify the assertive (and the ‘invisible’) members of a group. Talk to the quiet and self-effacing ones more than to the alert, responsive and pushy ones. Remember that the status of an individual influences a group’s norms powerfully. If there is a very senior manager, a highly respected scientist, a powerful union leader, or an ambitious local politician in the audience, the rest of the group will be aware of him or her. They will also modify their behavior so they seem typical of the kind of group he expects. Your role as speaker is to be aware of the restraining influence of high status members. The aim must be to counter the subconscious tension caused by the presence of the powerful person, and to help the group to relax. You can do this best by treating the special person as neutrally as possible. Don’t show him or her special attention, but equally don’t pointedly ignore them. Try to show by your distribution of attention that you regard the person as a normal member of the group, for the duration of the talk. By treating a powerful person without embarrassment and without pointed attentiveness you will help the whole group to feel at ease, and listen to the presentation.

Find the leader

You should try to identify the devious members of the group, and be aware who is functioning as group leader (he or she may be the boss, the manager, or simply the funniest, or most loud mouthed person present). It is worth noting that there will not necessarily be only one dominant figure in the group. Sociologists discovered, when they started studying groups, that there were usually ‘two leadership functions: the task specialist and the socio-emotional leader.’ There may be one member of the group who is the acknowledged expert, whose approval or irritation at what you say will be echoed by the whole group. A separate person may be the social leader, and if he or she laughs the whole group will laugh. Of course, you must not pander to these leaders; but they are useful indicators of the group’s reactions to the presentation. It is usually easy to identify the people who fill these roles. They are often the more attentive members of the audience, apparently taking their function as group leader responsibly. Other members of the group can often be seen glancing at them. The leaders, on the other hand, will rarely look at other members of the group.

Be aware, too, of the challengers for the leadership, who may disrupt the presentation by fighting their own battles for attention, and trying to score group approval. There will also be scapegoats, whom the group may want to assist you in discomforting. Be careful. The group will not necessarily admire you for pandering to their own prejudices. You will also need to learn to pinpoint both the narks and the nodders, and to recognize the tactics of opposition. Notice that some members of the group will be visibly secure in the situation (relaxed posture, crossed legs, and forward positions in the room). Others will be visibly insecure (tense posture, face partially covered by hands, and back-to-the-wall seating position). Try to encourage security, since it will aid the audience’s concentration. Try to unite the group, by acting on the individuals in the group to even out their differences. It is much easier to talk to a homogeneous group, and you are more likely to be able to galvanize their interest and enthusiasm.

Another factor is the way in which in larger groups, size brings pressures to bear on the individuals in the audience as well as on the speaker. The effect of size is to make individual listeners more nervous about speaking up, during question or discussion times. But ‘unhappily it is not always the right people who are silenced…the weight of the group may act like an ox sitting on the wrong tongues. The bore, alas, is seldom unnerved; that, indeed, is why he is a bore.’ The speaker’s role in such a large group is to function like a chairperson, evening out the pressures. He or she can do this, even during a presentation where the audience is silent. He can facilitate attention from the inattentive, and discourage the disruptor and bores.

The best way to do this is to look at the inattentive, smile, in passing, at the apparently reticent and withdrawn, and pay little attention to those who are nervous, or too highly charged. The enthusiastic nodder should receive only a fleeting glance, but your gaze should repeatedly stop at the bored or withdrawn person. The speaker has to perform a ‘delicate balancing act’. He or she must avoid outraging the group leaders, and the members of high status. But he must also make sure that the less conspicuous group members feel that they are important, and that their interest and attention is valued. The length of dwell of carefully distributed eye-contact is the main skill a speaker employs to unite and balance his group.

The Audience Size Influence Your Speaking

Next, think about how large the audience will be; try to write down a rough estimate of the numbers. There is a scale of sizes (and types) of audience, from a little group of three or four in a small office, through a seminar of twelve to fifteen in a meeting room, to an audience of forty or fifty (or even hundreds) in a large hall. The formality of the presentation will, of course, vary with the size. It is useless to have a largely written script, full of formal language, for the group of two or three in an office. An informal summary, followed by a discussion will be best for them. Equally, a heart-to-heart chat, with little structure and invitations for questions very early on, will fail in a lecture theater filled with two hundred experts. One interesting result from sociological research shows that as ‘group size increases, member satisfaction decreases.’ Speakers should, therefore, be aware of the effect of group size on the audience’s satisfaction, as well as on the speaker’s nerves. Both the ideas, and the voice which accompanies them, have to be bolder and more forceful in a large group.

Think next about the audience’s interest in the talk. It will depend on factors such as their age, their status, and their background, as well as their reasons for being there. Were they compelled to attend? What do they expect to gain from the presentation? Most audiences will have various layers of interest. They may have a primary interest in the subject of your talk, but they will also have a secondary interest in other matters, such as the group you work for, and they may have a passing interest in other areas which you talk about. You will also need to know whether they have power to do things as a result of hearing your talk. What can they do for you, or you for them, which forms a community of interest (in both the involvement, and the curiosity sense of that word)?

Considering these factors will not, of course, guarantee success. Indeed, so complex are human interrelationships that not even a team of sociologists could tease out the full niceties of an audience’s attitudes and expectations. But the speaker should not abandon attempts to be rational about his presentation, just because an audience is a complex entity. His analysis of the audience will always be imprecise. But this does not matter, because the audience will come half-way to meet the speaker. From their end of the communicative relationship they will be making the same allowances and adjustments as the speaker is making from his. Few audiences are malicious, and the speaker can count on a reserve of willingness and tolerance from them.

We should also realize that language is a very approximate medium. Even if an exact specification of the audience’s attitudes and needs could be written, the encoding of the message can only be approximate. So even a crude analysis is better than none. What is needed is protection from the grosser and more obvious mistakes. To plunge in, without having first thought about the audience, is like navigating over a reef without a map. The speaker may make it, and never know how close his or her hull came to the fangs of rock beneath. But it is just as likely that he or she will end up with a wrecked argument, and the cargo of ideas just so much flotsam washing uselessly around in the stormy minds of the audience! If that happens, the speaker has only him or herself to blame if he or she had not first charted the passage. Thinking first, even though it is approximate, is better than making mistakes. And thinking is only
complete if it is made explicit.

If you are serious about giving a good presentation, take the time to jot down your judgment of the audience as the first page of notes you make towards the presentation.

The Speech Context Is Important

First, you should analyze the occasion. Decide what the purpose of the meeting is. What is the audience expecting to gain from being there? Are they hoping to make a decision, or are they there simply to keep an eye on progress? Is the talk of general interest, or is it to give new information about a specific process? Will the audience use the information immediately, and if so for what purpose? Many presentations are chiefly psychological in aim. The intention of the monthly branch meeting, for instance, is often to make sure that people come together at least once a month. It helps to give them a sense of corporate identity, and to encourage their loyalty and enthusiasm. Such a meeting may be a platform for news about the company, a place to set new sales targets, for giving information about progress in meeting these targets, and for news, about colleagues.

Another type of meeting is the symposium of a learned society. Here the purpose is probably to disseminate information and to encourage other workers. Listeners may pick up ideas which apply to their own work, or they may simply expand their general knowledge. Other groups may consist of a few research managers, one or two people from head office, and the speaker’s own immediate boss, who wants a new project explaining. It may need the approval of all the audience if the company is going to be persuaded to spend money on it.

There are as many purposes as there are meetings. It is naive to imagine that the purpose is often a single one. I doubt if many presentations are purely for general interest; or indeed if many of them are to sell one particular idea only. They will also be goodwill exercises for the company or department, career-building opportunities for the speaker, and general back-patting, congratulatory sessions for the group. What people will do as a result of the talk is as diverse as their reasons for being present. Some will go back to their offices and sign cheques or requisitions; some will merely forget the whole thing; some will find that in a conversation days later they have information unexpectedly relevant to what is being discussed. The task of visualizing, quite specifically, why people are there is an important step in understanding the audience. Unless you can write down a statement of what the audience will actually do as a result of hearing your presentation, you have not really clarified the purpose of the meeting.

A next question to ask is whether the meeting is one of a series, or whether it was called to deal with the topic of the moment. Are there precedents for such a meeting? Does management ask for regular presentations on research topics? Are administrative bottlenecks always thrashed out in head-of-department meetings, with the responsible officer addressing the group? The attitudes and expectations of the audience will depend very much on what they are used to. Imagine yourself being asked to give a paper; your own knowledge of the precedents will help you to avoid obvious pitfalls. If your paper is to be given in one of a series of research colloquy, it will help to remember your impression of the other speakers you have heard. The audience will probably view you in the same way.

Perhaps the worst feature of the colleague you have attended so far has been the blind specialization of some of the speakers. They may have been wrapped up entirely in the fascination of their own techniques. The only bit of the last talk you enjoyed may have been, for instance, a short section on the translation of pure research ideas into commercial reality; the rest was irrelevant and therefore boring. From your own reaction to others, you have a model with which to design your own talk. Clearly, in the situation we are discussing, unless there are many people in the audience working on the same specialization, the speaker should keep discussion of the intricacies to a minimum. But information about the commercial hopes and pressures that fuel the research, and their effect on the direction of the work, could form a major section of the talk.

Let me take another example. Imagine a computer systems analyst, presenting technical (not specifically sales) information on a new product for a potential customer. His branch manager may also be in the audience, so it is a career opportunity as well as an information giving session, and obviously an occasion to impress the expertise and quality of his company’s professionalism. But if the presentation is one of a series given by every major computer manufacturer competing for the order, a shrewd guess at the line taken by other speakers will help greatly. To repeat the same claims, and offer the same facilities is useless. What is distinctive must be stressed.

Awareness of precedent is essential for a successful presentation. Most talks fit into a familiar context; they form part of a pattern, and the audience’s expectations are formed by this pattern. All communication depends on contrast with its context, and language operates by using the contrast between different sounds to signify meaning. For example, the difference between ‘red’ and ‘led’ lies only in the first letter. Orientals find the contrast between these sounds difficult to perceive, usually, and without it meaning is lost. Equally, unless there is a contrast between the communication medium and the context it is received in, no meaning can be transmitted.

A language which consisted of a series of humming tones might work well in the quiet plains of Mongolia where we can imagine it originating. It would be useless in a modern factory filled with machinery. Contrast between elements in a language, and between the language and its context is essential. In the same way, yet another paper read in a droning monotone in a conference filled with monotonous papers will not communicate. It will be ignored and forgotten. In considering the precedents for your presentation build on the contrasts that will make it stand out.

Think Your Audience First: The First Priority For Successful Speaker

Thinking about the audience is the first stage in preparing to give a successful talk or presentation. They are the recipients of the information; it must be selected and tailored for their needs. They are also the people whose presence will make you nervous when you speak, whose reactions will depress or encourage you, and whose judgment will measure your success or failure.

When you are thinking about this audience, you must remember, too, that they are active, not passive, participants. They are not empty jugs, sitting waiting for you to pour information into their ears. They have attitudes, interests, likes and dislikes of their own. So the speaker has a personnel management role; he or she has to deal with people and not just with facts. He must not only dole out the information, but anticipate difficulties, deal with problems, to smooth the whole process. So what does a speaker need to know about his audience?

Firstly, he or she should be aware that all audiences have some of the qualities of a crowd. An audience is a group of individuals, many of whom the speaker may know personally, yet collected together they acquire a new personality. When individuals are collected in a room, in enforced silence, all facing one other individual, the speaker, they change. For instance, it is obvious to anyone who watches an audience that their emotions, such as laughter, boredom, and enthusiasm, are both stronger and more sustained.

Every group, even a small and decorous collection of familiar colleagues, displays some of the qualities the sociologists call ‘crowd phenomenon’. W.J.H.Sprott, in his book Human Groups, writes:

‘There is general agreement that a person who is a full member of a crowd…is likely to behave differently from the way he would behave if he were by himself.’ The differences of behavior can be summed up in two ways. The first is that there is a heightening of emotionality. The man in the presence of danger feels frightened; in the presence of other people experiencing and showing the same emotion, his fear is even stronger. The second way is that people in a group have a reduced sense of responsibility, less critical sense, and weaker self-control.

There has been much research to try to determine why it should be that people in groups behave less responsibly than individuals. Miller and Dollard point out that as we grow up we are rewarded when we act in the same way as other people act, and punished for nonconformity. The result is that we are taught to accept leadership from others. People in crowds often behave in ways which they would consider reprehensible if they were alone. The crowd becomes their ‘super-ego’.

There is no doubt, then, that a group of people is different from an individual, or even two or three people. Hopefully, no speaker during his regular work as manager, administrator, or scientist is likely to encounter a lynching-mob. But he should not forget that every group is tinged with the crowd phenomenon. Collections of people must be treated with care.

The care is best expressed by spending time thinking about exactly who they are, and what they want. Most speakers have a fair idea of what sort of audience they have to face. They know, for instance, if a group is likely to be hostile or welcoming. But many speakers do not think long enough, or clearly enough, about their audience. Cumbersome though it seems, I believe strongly that thinking about the audience should be done on paper. The effort of writing explicit answers will crystallize half perceived ideas.

Speech come first: Do You Argue?

Spoken language was the first form of communication between human beings. It came long before written language, and writing is a transcript of speech, not vice versa. This more primitive form of communication still provides the most direct access to other minds. The reason why people prefer to listen to a spoken explanation is that it seems to need less effort to understand than the more formal medium of writing. Yet some speakers try to make speech as close to writing as possible, and destroy its freshness and immediacy. Speaking is the direct route from one mind to another, and is the way we usually choose when we want to ask a question, or give an explanation. Research shows that ideas and information are more easily understood and processed through speech than through writing.

Unless they are pretending to be formal, people usually speak in a style which is more direct, and easier to understand, than the style in which they write; speech makes the personal interaction more immediate. One of the reasons is that when speaking, interest and enthusiasm in the listeners are generated by non-verbal, as well as by verbal, signals. The variety and impact of the message are heightened by the presence of another person. Listeners also feel more secure when they can see the person who is giving them new information. Their judgment of the validity of the message, the competence, and the depth of knowledge of the speaker is easier if non-verbal clues, as well as verbal clues, are available. There are many reasons why speaking is the best of the communication channels. It is not always used, largely because people are afraid of their inexperience and inability to speak well. Yet practice and study can provide the skill needed to use this most direct path into the minds of others. It is worth the effort to become an effective speaker.

The Requirement for Speaking: The Broad Line Idea

If we are to improve speaking skills, we must first become more aware of ourselves, our Motivations, behavior patterns, and likely mistakes. Second, we must be aware of the audience’s psychology, and their reactions to the speaker’s faults and omissions. The first problem for all speakers is being aware of themselves, and judging correctly their own part in what is, for many, an unfamiliar interaction. Quite a bit of the advice and discussion throughout the book will be about how we achieve this useful self-knowledge. One of the difficulties, for example, is that although we are always trying to present ourselves in a favorable light to others, we have little real idea of what we sound like to them.

The main effect we have is created by the tone of our own voice. Indeed, some people are said to be very fond of this sound! But the sound we hear ourselves is very different from the sound that everyone else hears, because we hear it in a different way. Other people hear us (and we hear other people) only through sound waves in the air. But we hear our own voice mainly as the vibrations transmitted from the voice box, through the bones of the head. Only by trying shouting into a skull from a medical student’s skeleton can we judge what a difference these bone resonances make. You can perhaps appreciate what a difference this method of transmission makes by considering how often people are surprised by tape-recordings of their own voices. Psychologists have discovered that we are typically quite unaware of the emotive affects of the way we speak. We may not realize how cross we sound, for example, or how often we interrupt other people.

The second area for careful thought is diagnosing what has gone wrong when a talk fails to have a good effect. The reasons are usually in part lack of knowledge about the audience’s perceptions and expectations, and in part general disorganization. In my experience, presentations are often ineffective either because of ill-thought-out behaviour, and lack of confidence,11 or because of a failure to organize ideas and information in an easily understood way. There is a great deal of knowledge and experience about why talks fail, and this book suggests ways in which you can avoid failure. So take heart; if a talk you have just given has collapsed into disaster, there is hope. The reasons for such failures are fairly well known. If the thought of speaking fills you with cold despair, or even if you are just not very satisfied with your performances so far, there are plenty of solutions. The first problem is having the courage to recognize your mistakes and thoughtlessness. The second (and easier) problem is to correct them.

If you must give a speech tomorrow, and have no time to read the whole blog now, the best single piece of advice I can offer you is this. Practice is the best way to learn a skill like speaking, and if practice is to be effective, you need a critic. This is not just my own hunch; it is a well recognized result in research on social skills that:

A text can provide a coherent background of concepts and principles where these exist…or supply knowledge about techniques, but to teach successfully each individual must practise the skill, receiving feedback on his performance, in order to discover his own particular abilities and failings.

Practice is vital, but practice by yourself tells you very little. Who ever felt nervous in front of a bathroom mirror? And effective criticism from a spouse is more likely to result in divorce than in
better speaking. The best source of criticism is another person, and the best other person is someone you trust, but who has no axe to grind. Find a friend, and ask him or her to sit and listen to you trying out your talk, if possible in the empty room you will use for the actual talk. Believe what they say to you, for your perception of yourself is nothing like as accurate as theirs. Their advice is likely to be the best quick guide to effective speaking you can find. If they, and you, have time to go further on the quest for good speaking, then get him or her to read this blog. It aims to give the framework of ideas, evidence, and anecdote for good speaking. But in the end the substance of good speaking is acquired by intelligent awareness while speaking, and only practice will perfect the advice this blog offers.

Learn To Speak Well: Is Their Any Alternatives

Most people think a decent standard of competence in speaking to a group is part of the basic professionalism of any job; but too many professionals are nervous about speaking, and afraid that they do not speak well. The basic premise of this book, as I have said, is that such a decent standard can be learned, and this confidence is based on many years of experience in training people to speak. A first stage in building up the confidence to speak is to think about the job of speaking, what tools you will use, and what effects you aim to achieve. Language is the basic tool, and language is a mysterious phenomenon. Consider, for a moment, the basic skills in communicating that everyone possesses. Language is used by all human beings; we use it copiously and without second thought every day of our lives. Indeed, our ability and confidence in manipulating language is a central part of the personality we present to those around us. But there is nothing unalterable about these abilities.

Because language skills grew without conscious thought we imagine that our level of competence in the use of language is something unalterable. If we are hesitant, slow, unimaginative, and pedestrian we fear that this situation is foredoomed, that we cannot change what we are. But our language skills are not what we are. Because we negotiate most of our interactions with the outside world through language these skills may appear to others to represent all that we are, and we often allow ourselves to believe their view of us. But we should not. Language skills can be modified and improved by repeating the same processes we first used to acquire them. We learned our language by listening to others, and imitating what they did. We can improve our command of it in the same way; by listening to research findings and advice based on them, imitating techniques which we observe to work, and thinking.

Many people argue that speaking well is no more than the application of common sense. But in this blog the results of research in psychology and linguistics are used to support advice on effective techniques. By doing this, I aim to help the speaker become more aware of the complex interactions between speaker, message and audience. The application of thought to any activity requires us to understand it first.The common sense school will reject all such ideas on the grounds that they are either obvious, or incomprehensible. Such a Luddite approach should be foreign to an engineer or scientist, but surprisingly it is often people who apply rational thought in their jobs, who consider language skills to be in the realm of witchcraft.

I am not unaware of the fears that this approach may evoke. And I am certainly aware that not all research is useful, comprehensible, or relevant. I am not about to bombard you with a textbook of academic psychology. It is certainly true, for instance, that all too often the so-called ‘discoveries’ of the human sciences are rather obvious. One investigator warns his readers that:

Occasionally we make discoveries which fail to set the world alight with surprise and admiration. One of the more profound insights we have achieved since 1945 has been the realization that man speaks. He also listens to speech. Some men read and write as well.

But just because some research confirms the obvious, it should not necessarily be ignored. It is surprising how often speakers fail to use common sense, and surprising how often the obvious has to be repeated when training people to speak. I argue that we should pay attention to the objective, scientific, evidence about how people speak, and how they affect the audience. I agree we should avoid that excessive faith in laboratory responses which George Miller calls ‘psycholatry’. We should strike a balance between ignorance of research, and pseudoscientific over-respect for jargon. Our aim, we should not forget, is to speak better: it is not to become armchair psychologists, nor is it to give up the task as a hopeless case, to which no rules apply, and in which no knowledge can help.

So far I have discussed the role of research findings in developing practical skills as if research on people’s behavior is always a bland confirmation of familiar patterns. But sometimes the results are unexpected. The most interesting and useful results of psychological research are often the ones which are ‘counter-intuitive, that is to say surprising and quite unexpected.’ A well-known worker on social psychology, Michael Argyle, reminds us that his subject is:

full of surprises because many of the research findings could not have been anticipated by a thoughtful person sitting in an armchair and analyzing what happens when people meet.

By talking about these interactions more precisely than is common, I hope to make the speaker perform better. But this can only be done if we bring into consciousness skills which are usually unconscious. Many people fear that this will make them lose spontaneity and become painfully self-conscious. But that does not seem to happen. The increased consciousness of what we are doing is usually not noticed by others, while the improved skills most certainly are. Everyone who has been involved in training social and performance skills agrees that thinking about these skills improves them.

If the first premise of this blog, then, is that speaking skills can be improved by thinking about them, the second one is that psychology and linguistics have much to teach us. I must be careful, though, that the blog is not regarded as a manual for experts, or that I am regarded as a super-speaker who does not understand the fears of the ordinary trembling mortal. I am not. Nisbet suggests that in speaking, as in other things, there are:

three levels of proficiency: the provisional license holder, the ordinary road user and the rally driver. The first is learning the rules; the second has everyday skills, and some bad habits; the third can break many of the elementary rules—a dangerous style, but a delight to the connoisseur.

I am aiming to help the ordinary road user. I am not a rally driver myself, and have usually come a cropper when I have tried to be one. It is the decent standard of ordinary competence in speaking that this blog aims at.

E-Mail: The Evidence of Digital Communication

“There are managers so preoccupied with their e-mail messages that they never look up from their screens to see what’s happening in the non-digital world.”

Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi,
author of Flow and Creativity

For most businesspeople, e-mail has become the most common form of written communication. Because many workers spend most of the day “wired” to computers, e-mail is the only way to reach them quickly and reliably.

In general, people use e-mail to quickly exchange time-sensitive information. E-mail is easy to use and removes the headache of printing out letters and stuffing envelopes. E-mail potentially enables managers to get more done in a single day than they would by chasing down the same information via phone or fax or waiting for letters to arrive in the mail.

E-Mail, the most common thing in today's world, is the main part of Digital Communication. Throughout the following some blog, we will discuss about e-mail, its importance, technique to write e-mail professionally.


E-mail stands for electronic mail, but you don’t need a wall outlet to be plugged in to work correspondence. In this wired world, your e-mail in-box no longer resides solely in your desktop computer, but instead travels wherever you, your laptop, or your hand held device go. E-mail is as likely to be crafted on a Black Berry during a bumpy cab ride as on a laptop in a quiet home office. The ease with which people can reach others through e-mail has resulted in far more information being exchanged than in the era of typewritten letters. This volume has its advantages and disadvantages.

E-mail is the most pervasive and useful communication tool to emerge since the telephone. A 2006 survey by the staffing company Office Team found that 71 percent of executives use e-mail as their preferred method of communication, whereas only 27 percent were doing so in 2001. Employees in most businesses use e-mail internally to set up meetings, ask for information, and exchange opinions and ideas. Organizations use e-mail externally to share information with business partners, investors, or customers. E-mail enables companies to swap vital information with suppliers and vendors, and makes it possible for geographically dispersed employees to collaborate in ways never before possible. Both you and your staff have little choice but to learn to express yourself effectively via e-mail.

Future Prediction: The Big Picture

According to Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, in the future, new technologies will make communication a multi-sensory experience of sight and sound. “Unified communications technologies will eliminate the barriers between the communications modes—e-mail, voice, web conferencing and more—that we use every day. They will enable us to close the gap between the devices we use to contact people when we need information and the applications and business processes where we use that information. The impact on productivity, creativity and collaboration will be profound,” predicts Gates.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

You Can Increase Your Success By Writing With Purpose

Once you have a clear understanding of who your audience is, you need to answer the question: Why am I writing?

You may be writing an e-mail to ask an employee or coworker for information. Or you might be writing a report to convince your boss that increasing resources is necessary to complete a project on time. Figuring out the purpose of your communication will help you organize your writing, assess what kind of evidence or information you need to back up your statements, and determine the style and tone of your writing.

In general, most written business communications have one of two purposes: to request information or the resolution of an issue, or to persuade.

Writing to request or resolve. Open with a respectful greeting to the person you are addressing before quickly moving on to the purpose of the request. If you don’t know the proper contact name, make a quick telephone call to find it out, rather than using the generic “To whom it may concern.”

State the specific reason for writing in the first sentence of your document or letter. Be sure to supply identifying information of special relevance to your reader—a reference to a previous conversation or event, a document, customer order, invoice, or job number, etc. This gives context to your message and enables a reader to be reasonably assured it is valid, especially if you are contacting someone for the first time.

If you are hoping to resolve an issue, avoid sarcasm and accusations. Not only do you risk letting anger cloud your judgment, but you will not endear yourself to the very people who could solve your problem. If you do feel the need to express your dissatisfaction, use a civil tone and address the person respectfully. When sending an e-mail, keep in mind that it is a medium in which the tone of a message can be easily misinterpreted as sarcasm or disrespect.

Writing to persuade. Trying to get someone to come around to your way of thinking is never easy. It is decidedly more difficult using only the written word, which cannot communicate facial expressions or the inflections of voice that lend emphasis during a conversation. Nevertheless, crafting a convincing correspondence or report is possible. Your power of persuasion will be determined largely by your selection of words.

When crafting a persuasive message, experts say, one word is more powerful than all others: “You.” Don’t begin by talking about yourself. Instead, let the person on the receiving end take center stage. Connect your purpose in writing with the interests and needs of your reader.

For example, if you are writing to convince employees that their participation in a certain endeavor is needed, emphasize what is of value to your workforce. If overtime will be required, let them know it is a temporary situation and emphasize that it reflects positively on the company and hence on each person directly.

Let them know you sympathize, and offer some token of appreciation in return for their continued commitment.

If you are writing to customers, focus on how you or your product can help them meet their needs. Consider this letter:

Dear Mr. Expert,

Your name was provided by a colleague, Fred Smith. Fred suggested you might be interested in our digital pager, which will be unveiled at the Online Communication trade show in Chicago. If you are attending the show, I can make arrangements for you to get a trial version of the pager and determine if it meets the needs of your mobile workforce. Please let me know if I can help.

Thank you for your time.


John Doe
Marketing Manager

Although this letter does not guarantee a response, it offers Mr. Expert some compelling reasons to consider replying. First, the reference to someone he knows is a tip-off that it was sent by a credible source. Second, it spells out the reasons Mr. Chen might be interested in learning more about the product. It closes by offering him

Writing Skill To Develop In Career

Managers who write sloppy, unclear, or convoluted correspondence and documents do themselves no career favors.

Consider a 2004 survey by the Business Roundtable and the National Commission on Writing for America’s Families, Schools, and Colleges, which found that 51 percent of all companies surveyed take candidates’ writing ability into account when considering them for a higher position. Moreover, the ability to write well could prove decisive when seeking a job. “People who cannot write and communicate clearly will not be hired and are unlikely to last long enough to be considered for promotion,” according to the report.

The bottom line? If you are serious about advancing your managerial career, polish your writing skills.

You Will Write For Whom: Audience Is The Right Answer

Try putting yourself in the shoes of the readers to whom you are directing your message. How will they react to the information? What information do they care most about? What do they need from you?

Knowing your audience will also help you determine the degree of formality with which you should write. For example, though contractions such as “I’ll” or “we’ll” were once considered casual shorthand for the proper terms “I shall,” “I will,” “we shall,” or “we will,” formal business writing no longer frowns upon their use. Although there are no hard-and-fast rules on using casual contractions, knowing who you are writing for should dictate whether to use them or not. If you are unsure, always err on the side of caution and avoid contractions and other less-formal conventions. Keep the stamp of professionalism uppermost in your mind.

In today’s global economy, with more and more companies outsourcing parts of their business functions to firms in other countries, communicating with colleagues and customers outside the United States has become common. When writing to an international business audience, be mindful that they tend to prefer more formal communications. For example, refrain from addressing overseas business contacts by their first names unless instructed otherwise; always use their full names, or address them by title and last name (“Ms. Jones,”“Mr. Smith”).

Dos and Don'ts During Writing For Your Audience

Keeping your audience in mind means being aware of and addressing their particular concerns.
  • Do orient your message around the reader’s interests.
  • Do determine the level of formality based on your audience.
  • Do maintain a professional tone, even in less formal writing.
  • Don’t forget to take cultural and language differences into consideration.
  • Do invite readers to respond.

The Basics Of Communicating In Writing

The need to write clearly and thoughtfully arises in virtually every situation you face as a manager. Good writing, in fact, is one of the most highly prized competencies. An e-mail, memo, letter, or formal report each has its own special requirements, but fundamental principles apply to all business writing: planning before writing, using correct grammar, knowing your audience, understanding the purpose of your writing, striking the right tone, and revising and editing.

Research and Planning

Before you start writing, gather all the information required to craft an effective message. Consult whatever business intelligence you will need— such as sales forecasts, customer history, industry trends, and other applicable information—so you can back up your statements directly in your correspondence or report. For weighty matters, you may need to do more extensive research to buttress the points you intend to make.

“Think before you write. Nothing worthwhile yields to human effort without a plan.”

—L. E. Frailey,
author of Handbook of Business Letters

Whether research is needed depends greatly on your subject and the people to whom you are writing. Doing research at a library or performing a detailed search using the Internet is usually sufficient to back up your points with hard facts. In communications within a department or organization, such research may be unnecessary. But supporting your correspondence or sales materials to prospective customers with relevant business information helps win their confidence and can help generate new business.

Before you write, map out the information you plan to share and why you are doing so. Start by jotting down notes on paper and then highlighting the key issues you want to emphasize.

Dos and don'ts


Distilling the most important information from a mass of material is easier if you work efficiently and deliberately.

Here are some pointers:
  • Don’t frustrate yourself with excessive research.
  • Do jot down only the most pertinent information.
  • Don’t write sloppily and assume you will be able to read your handwriting later.
  • Don’t write complete sentences while taking notes (unless needed for clarification). Instead, jot down phrases.
  • Do use abbreviations, as long as you can understand them. Example:“$3K” instead of “3,000 dollars.”
  • Do write special comments in the margins for later reference.
The note-taking process is helpful in two ways. First, the act of writing itself tends to stimulate ideas or concepts you had not previously considered—scholars call this “emergent information.” Second, seeing ideas in front of you makes it easier to sort out the most essential details and organize them in a logical order. Keep similar items and ideas together. This will help you recognize repetition or determine in what form the information can best be communicated.

Grammar, Language, and Style

Regardless of the form in which you are writing—say, a casual e-mail, a formal letter, or a report—you should always aim to write with clarity and simplicity. For example, rather than writing that your company is “interested in aligning the potentialities of your company with our long-standing reputation as a global innovator,” write that your company “has a strong reputation as an innovator. We should discuss how we can benefit each other by joining forces.”

In writing, less is often more—keep it short and to the point. Always use correct grammar and accurate language.

Rules of grammar and writing were developed so that we could all understand one another. In contexts where accurate and respectful communication is important, these rules can assume greater weight than they do in day-to-day affairs. Some people are sticklers for minutiae when reading business correspondence. Here are some of the most common mistakes writers make:

Wrong use of contractions. “It’s” is a contraction for “it is.” “Its” (no apostrophe) indicates the possessive case of the impersonal pronoun. For example:

The hotline number is now operating. Its purpose is to provide better communication with our customers. It’s imperative that all messages left on the hotline be answered within one business day.

The contraction “they’re” and the plural possessive “their” are also often used incorrectly. The
following example illustrates the misuses of “it’s” and “they’re”:

The company is sending out it’s orders today. Customers should receive they’re orders next week.

Written correctly:

The company is sending out its orders today. Customers should receive their orders next week.

Overuse of commas and comma splicing. Commas can be used as pauses between major ideas in sentences. If possible, keep them to a minimum. Also, do not string or splice together complete sentences with only a comma when a logical connecting word or phrase is needed. “I think, I am” is a comma splice. The missing word makes all the difference: “I think, therefore I am.”

Failure to hyphenate properly. A “small business problem” is quite different from a “small-business problem.” Written without hyphens, the phrase would not be clear. Is the problem a small one or is it one typically found in small businesses? In general, two nouns used together to modify another noun are hyphenated (for example, time-management skills).

Less versus fewer. Use “less” for entities that are difficult or impossible to count—snow, rain, time, money. Use “fewer” for terms that can be counted—meetings, managers, machines. Keep in mind these particular correct usages: “We spent less money this month” and “the newer
machines take fewer coins.”

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is really a large matter— ’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

—Mark Twain,
American author

Which versus that. These two words introduce a clause that describes a noun. Using “that” indicates the clause is “essential”; it is vital to the sentence’s meaning, providing specific information. For example, “The memo that addresses purchase orders needs to be sent today.” But introducing the clause with “which,” offset by commas, indicates the clause is “nonessential.”

For example, “The memo, which addresses purchase orders, needs to be sent today.” In this sentence, the nonessential clause “which addresses purchase orders” could be deleted without losing the point of the sentence: “The memo needs to be sent today.”

Redundancies are redundant. All history is past history. All completions are finalized.

Some phrases make no sense when you think about them, or they mean something that was never intended. How often have you read that a “first annual” golf tournament was being held? If the event is intended to be annual, say so. Until it has actually become a yearly occurrence, however, use “first-ever,” “inaugural,”or “debut” instead. Also beware of “close proximity.” By definition, two businesses in “proximity” to each other are nearby; “close proximity” suggests that they are even closer.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Strategy To Set Your Body Language Before Entering Into Crowded Room

Nearly everyone at some time feels nervous when entering a crowded room. Even that confident-looking man or woman in the corner probably has butterflies inside them. So how can you alleviate these feelings and make new contacts and friends in this situation?

First make sure you have taken care over your appearance and that you are wearing the appropriate clothes for the occasion. Wear something that makes you feel good, that you know suits you and wear colours that enhance your confidence and not drain it. Also ensure that you are well groomed and for women, wearing make up can considerably enhance your confidence,
particularly lipstick.

Many people fear entering a crowded room because they are afraid that everyone will be looking at them. They won’t. I promise you that unless you are a famous actor, royal personage, celebrity, or Prime Minister/President then hardly anyone will even notice you arrive. For show-offs like me I find this most disappointing!

Before you enter that room ensure that your inner voice is correct:
  • I can handle this
  • I am confident
  • I am going to enjoy meeting some new people today
I know you won’t trust that inner voice to begin with but remember the body will do what the brain tells it and vice verse.

So put your shoulders back, open your chest, stand tall and ensure that your posture is upright, not too stiff but confident.

One other trick that can help you is to visualize an experience in your life where you felt extremely pleased and proud of yourself, where perhaps you had just achieved something, you’d passed an examination, or your driving test for example. How did you feel then? What was your body language like? Yes, head up, confident, smiling. By evoking this experience you can release the positive thoughts and emotions, your body language will respond accordingly and you will look and become more confident.

SILENCE that awful little negative voice that keeps creeping in saying things like ‘ I am going to hate this.’ ‘I can’t do this.’ ‘I wish the ground would swallow me up and I could disappear.’ ‘I wish I could escape.’ Can you see how this kind of inner voice will drag you down, and pull all your body language with it? If you believe you are going to hate it – you WILL hate it.

Look for the lone person

Make sure you arrive in plenty of time, neither too early or late. Stand just inside the room and look around you. Now, there are a number of things you can do, all of which I do myself. Look for someone who is standing on his or her own. They may be looking lost; they may be reading the program or standing with a cup of coffee but they are alone. Move forward and approach them. Don’t get too close but keep your personal space distance, smile and give them eye contact. You can then open the conversation by saying ‘Hello, is it all right if I join you?’

They will, believe me, be overwhelmed with gratitude. They smile and say, ‘Of course.’

Then you can introduce yourself. Here you may wish to extend your hand, ‘I’m Jane Smith.’
‘Harry Brown.’ ‘Is this your first time here, Harry?’ or ‘Have you been to one of these events before, Harry?’

You may have noticed that in my response I have repeated their name. This is an old trick and one that will help you remember their name. It works for me every time.

Don’t approach two people standing face to face or a threesome standing in a triangle as their body language is communicating that they do not wish to be interrupted. If you do need to break into a triangle stand just on the edge and wait until there is a change in body language or a natural gap in the conversation.

Join a queue

Another way of making contacts at these types of events is to join a queue. There is always a queue: for coffee, for lunch, for signing in, for looking at things on tables etc. It is then very simple to turn to the person behind you or in front of you and start a conversation with some thing along the lines of:
  • ‘I hate these queues, don’t you?’
  • ‘The food smells nice, doesn’t it?’
  • ‘I’m really looking forward to my coffee, the journey
  • here was dreadful this morning – did you get held up on the train?’
Ask questions, for example about their occupation, where they have come from, how they traveled to the venue?

Nod your head to encourage them to talk, keep eye contact relaxed and friendly, smile comfortably and tilt your head to show that you are listening to them. If you are particularly brave lightly touch them on the arm, beneath the elbow, to connect with them.

Do not overstay your welcome or hog them for the entire event but move on and try talking to someone else. As you sit down for example – ‘Is this anyone’s seat?’ ‘I’m looking forward to this seminar are you?’ ‘How far did you have to come today?’ ‘Have you been to any of these before?’ And you’re off.

What if you get stuck with the bore?

Having been brave enough to find someone to talk to, and having opened up the conversation, what happens if you then discover that you are saddled with the seminar nutcase or the complete bore? You have tried your hardest to be nice and to listen but the time has come for you to move on. How do you do this politely?

When you do need to move on you can formalize this by stretching out your hand and saying, ‘It’s been really nice meeting you/talking to you. I hope you enjoy the show/seminar, have a safe journey home.’ Or you may lightly touch them on the arm, (again below the elbow) smile and say the above without shaking hands, depending on the formality of the gathering.

Sometimes another person will enter your conversation making the group a trio. Hopefully your new contact will introduce you but if they don’t introduce yourself offer your hand and say
‘Hello I’m xxxx.’

Alternatively you may use this as the time to duck out. Make your apologies, smile and move on.

Handshake: The Formal Way To Build Rapport

The handshake is a very powerful body language gesture. You can form an instant impression of someone by the way they shake hands with you and it can also tell you a considerable amount about the person you are dealing with. Until recently the handshake was predominantly a male body language gesture and women, unless they were of a higher social class, did not shake hands. However, times have changed and there are now many more women in business and the workplace and so both men and women use the handshake.

The friendly handshake

When you greet someone you should walk forwards with your arm outstretched, not too stiff but with your elbow tucked into your waist. You should smile and hold the other person’s eye contact.

As I mentioned above, since the handshake is not the usual form of greeting for women, many men are not sure if they should shake hands with women. So, in order to eliminate this problem, women should offer their hand first.

Your handshake should be firm and dry. It is not always easy to know if you are giving a good handshake, as people won’t tell you. To find out what your handshake is like why not shake hands with someone whose opinion you trust and ask them honestly to tell you. Do you need to firm it up? Is it perhaps too strong and you need to relax it a little?

Take the whole hand and not just the fingertips. Do not pump the hand but shake it and then release it.

Building rapport through the handshake

Be attuned to the person you are shaking hands with. If they give you a firm handshake try and return the pressure, not so that you get into a wrestling match with them but just slightly. If their handshake is weaker than yours, then relax yours. This is all part of building rapport. You are in fact mirroring their body language – but more about this later.

The dominant person’s handshake

Be aware of the length of time you hold onto someone’s hand. Too long and this can be viewed as a dominant body language gesture.

I find this particularly irritating and offensive but there is little you can do about it apart from trying to wrest your hand away, which would look silly and be rather pointless. So instead force yourself to keep good steady eye contact with this person, who will also be using dominant eye contact on you – it almost becomes a battle of wills – and keep smiling, not grinning inanely, or aggressively gritting your teeth, but smiling pleasantly.

The dominant person’s handshake will be very strong, almost too strong and again, so as to avoid being cast into an inferior role in this relationship, you should return the pressure giving the non-verbal signal that you are no pushover.

The superior person’s handshake

This has many of the traits stated above. The superior (and dominant) person can offer his hand to you from a great distance away; his arm will be outstretched and stiff as he walks towards you, then he will take your hand in his vice-like grip.

He may also do the double clutch handshake, which is sometimes referred to as the Politician’s Handshake – watch newsreels to see just how many politicians use this! Here he puts his other hand on top of yours.

Your reaction? Well try putting your hand on top of his like playing ‘pat a cake’. By doing this you are effectively saying ‘Oh no you’re not in charge, I am equally superior and dominant as you ‘even if you don’t feel you are’ – it works.

A variation of this superior body language is where the person shakes your hand but also touches your shoulder.

If this is man-to-man and the other man is known to you then it can be interpreted as a friendly gesture. But if you have just met this man for the first time, or don’t know him very well, it can be interpreted as a dominant, superior gesture.

If a man touches a woman’s upper arm then it is more of an intimate gesture as is a man touching a woman’s back.

Women tend to touch each other more than men and would usually touch the lower arm.

Touching a person’s elbow, either man or woman, is a friendly gesture and usually prompts a positive response.

Greetings And Introductions: The Basic Starter for Body Language in Communication

There are many different ways of greeting people depending on the culture of the country you are visiting. It is therefore best to be aware of these if you are doing business abroad or even taking a holiday.

Here we discuss the general forms of greeting:
  • eye contact
  • smile
  • handshake.
There are others of course and here are some of them and what they mean:
  • the handshake and kiss on one cheek – formal but also more friendly, you know the other person quite well and usually like them
  • the kiss on two cheeks often holding onto the other persons shoulders- much more friendly
  • the hug – intimate and very friendly
  • the kiss on the lips – very intimate and very friendly
  • the smile but no bodily contact – we know the person but are not that close to them, or feel rather shy or uncomfortable in touching them
Eye contact

There are cultural differences in how much eye contact it is acceptable to give another person when meeting them and listening to them. In Britain, America and Canada quite a lot of eye contact is given between individuals. In Europe less so although research has shown the Greeks prefer a considerable amount of eye contact, the Swedes less so. Arabs are fairly dependent on maintaining eye contact while the Japanese tend to look downward, aiming at a person’s neck rather than directly into their eyes.

When you meet someone, you should aim to hold the eye contact while smiling and shaking hands with them and then break eye contact when the other person looks away, or when you finish shaking hands and change your body posture.

Too much eye contact can make the other person feel uncomfortable. It can be used as a dominant gesture and is an invasion of privacy.

If you give too little eye contact it can suggest boredom, disinterest or maybe shyness. Closing the eyes completely when making conversation is a negative signal.

If the person refuses to give you eye contact then try asking a direct question. Once you get eye contact, no matter how fleeting, connect with it and smile to show encouragement and to build rapport.

When flirting our eye contact tends to rove, giving quick glances accompanied by smiling and laughing. When more serious flirting is taking place the gaze will linger longer and when intimate will move from the eyes to the mouth and occasionally drop to the neck. To deal with unwanted flirting keep your gaze on the business zone, that of eyes and forehead.

The smile

Your smile should be warm and welcoming. Obviously the better you know someone and like them the warmer your smile. We all know, or have met, people who although smiling their eyes show no warmth or welcome and the gesture is an empty one. False smiles are held in place, the lips stiff and stretched and the eyes stay unsmiling. This is also often an aggressive and sometimes dominant stance and can be used as a gesture to keep people at their distance.

Smiling is good for you.

Smiling helps to ward off viruses and can alleviate stress as can laughter. If you smile more you will find that your day is brighter and easier, that people will return your smile, that you feel happier, you discover more information, you get greater cooperation from others. It’s got be worth it, hasn’t it?

The handshake

The handshake is a very powerful body language gesture. You can form an instant impression of someone by the way they shake hands with you and it can also tell you a considerable amount about the person you are dealing with. Until recently the handshake was predominantly a male body language gesture and women, unless they were of a higher social class, did not shake hands. However, times have changed and there are now many more women in business and the workplace and so both men and women use the handshake.