Communication Made Easy — Speaking, Editing, Writing, Marketing, Networking Answers

A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but words themselves are at the basis of all communication. Whether we are communicating for business or personal reasons, our spoken and written words matter. These posts will address issues and answer questions related primarily to business communications, as they affect writing, credibility, marketing, and networking.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Understanding the actual request

How often do we hear a question or receive a request and completely misunderstand or miss the point?

This happened recently in my Toastmasters club. We had a request to make a presentation to a group of employees for a local company about how the participants could improve their public speaking skills.

Understandably, our leadership saw this as a great opportunity to promote Toastmasters, an organization whose mission is precisely that — to enable individuals to practice and perfect their public speaking skills. However, the request from the company was not for us to come in and sell Toastmasters to their employees. It was to teach them some public speaking basics.

Public speaking basics include such things as:
  • Knowing your audience
  • Knowing the goals for your presentation (persuasion, entertainment, damage control, sales, motivation, etc.)
  • Writing your speech out ahead of time — but focusing primarily on the opening and conclusion — that it's OK to extemporize the middle
  • Knowing that sometimes you just have to throw out the speech you've prepared and wing it — if it's not working, the subject is not fitting the audience, you've lost them and they are falling asleep, etc.
  • Understanding how important rehearsing ahead of time is Remembering to BREATHE while you're up there
  • Mastering use of the space
  • What to do with your hands
  • The importance of vocal variety
  • How to incorporate props approriately
  • Trying to work without notes as much as possible
  • Remembering to have fun — if you're bored, scared, or nervous, your audience will sense that and you will be much less effective
In our enthusiasm to demonstrate our Toastmasterability, we came close to missing the mark entirely. Although I believe that we should not miss the opportunity to make a pitch for the attendees to think about joining a Toastmasters club — or forming their own internal club — I believe that should be only as a small segment at the END of our presentation. The thing is, if they want to know more about Toastmasters, all they have to do is visit any meeting. A Toastmasters sales pitch was not their request and it should not be our sole focus.

How often, though, do we do this in our businesses and in our lives? It's sometimes hard work to understand what people want when they ask questions or make requests — but if we want to be the best communcators we can be, we must get to the core of the actual question and answer that. To do otherwise convolutes the process and can lead to some sticky situations and, in the case of personal relationships, potential hurt feelings.

Three basic rules of communication:
  1. Say what you mean.
  2. Make sure you understand the question that is being asked.
  3. Speak your truth (with honesty and integrity, always).

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