Ideas and strategies to enhance your communication skills during team meetings and presentations.
Meetings and presentations can be nerve-wracking, and for someone who is shy, these can be even more so. The question is how can one get through a meeting or a presentation at work without losing their wits? The answer lies in communicating effectively and with influence. Communicating effectively means getting your message across so that it is understood clearly. Communicating with influence requires skill, planning, and practice. The following six-pointers and strategies will help you master the art of communicating with influence during team meetings and presentations:
Listen actively and responsively. This is crucial to effective communication. You don’t want to end up delivering a one-sided lecture. Look for non-verbal cues as well as any verbal cues that your audience gives you. Most importantly, don’t get stressed or upset if you don’t have an attentive audience. Aim for an engaged audience. That is why it is important to check in with your audience throughout the presentation or meeting. According to Gregor Jeffery, a Canadian communication thought leader, the key to communicating influentially is rooted in neuroscience. We have certain cognitive preferences that shape how we like to receive information. Jeffery highlights four main cognitive preferences:
Analytical thinkers– those who require data, evidence, and proof. They will make their own conclusions based on the information they receive.
Structural thinkers– those who require a clear sequence and order. They like to be given the next steps.
Conceptual thinkers– people who are very creative. They are engaged with new ideas and options. Conceptual thinkers can take unrelated ideas and link them together to reach conclusions.
Social thinkers– those who seek personal connections to ideas. Social thinkers can advocate for you and highlight your ideas if they believe you are authentic.
Understanding the type of thinkers our audience members are can help us increase listener engagement and interest. This also means that cognitive preferences influence how we present and share information.
Organize your ideas and structure your message before you say it. Knowing what to say and maintaining brevity is an important step. Structure your message or talk in major chunks or sections. Create a checklist to ensure you have covered all the main points. This will also help you focus on the main points of your message. Be wary of distractions at team meetings- learn how to handle distractions and circle back to your main message. In addition, it is important to structure your presentation or message keeping in mind the four types of cognitive preferences. Create a structure, outline, or meeting agenda for structural thinkers, so they know what will come next. You can connect with social thinkers by sharing a personal anecdote. For analytical thinkers provide data and evidence to support your points. Lastly, providing an effective conclusion to your message where you restate your main points is helpful for conceptual thinkers. This way you will be able to engage all the four types of thinkers.
Focus on your non-verbal cues as much as you focus on your verbal communication. Think about how you come across when communicating. Do you look and sound nervous? Are you fidgeting with your clothes or hair to hide your nervousness? Are you speaking too fast, or is your voice too low? Consider the following non-verbal cues when communicating:
Eye Contact: Look your audience in the eye as you speak. You don’t have to look at any one person in particular, but master the art of gazing around the room or table while appearing to be looking at the audience. Don’t look up or down for extended periods while speaking. Also, don’t close or roll your eyes when speaking or taking a question.
Spatial Distance: Are you too close or too far away from the audience. At what distance and length would you want your audience to be? Check this important point out before you start speaking. Sometimes, it may not be possible to select or rearrange the spatial location. In such cases, if you feel, that your communication is being impacted then acknowledge the issue first and then move on to your talk.
Posture and Body Movement: Maintain your composure and a confident and upright posture. Movement is also an important non-verbal strategy to effectively communicate. Are you moving too much? Or not at all? Are you gesturing a lot with your hands? Or are you nervously fidgeting with your hands? Some movement is good, but make sure that it is what I like to call ‘strategic movement’. Meaning, you move your body or your hands, when you want to make an important point or to highlight an idea. It is always advisable to take a few deep breathes before it is your turn to talk.
Rate, Tempo, and Volume: Make sure you are clear and audible. Don’t rush, or ramble, or speak in a low volume. Your voice and manner of speaking should emulate confidence and professionalism. Pausing after making important points when done effectively can be a useful strategy for audience engagement. Understand the difference between deliberate pausing and unnecessary hesitations.
Habitual tendencies: Make sure that you are aware of what you do to fight off nervousness. Do you fidget with your hair, clothing (such as scarf or shirt), crack your knuckles, tap your hands or feet, bite your nails or lips? If you do any of these or something else, then chances are that your habitual tendencies may take over as you are speaking. It is important to remain calm and focus on your speaking.
Summarize your presentation or talk with a succinct and concise conclusion. Check-in with your audience and be open to questions. Remain calm and take interest as the audience asks questions or provides you feedback. A strong conclusion is as important as the rest of your talk. End with a takeaway, so that the audience feels invested in hearing you out. This takeaway could be in the form of key points, some questions, or the next steps for the audience to take. A neat strategy is to ask the audience to write down a word, an idea, or a question on a sticky note and create a wall or corner of sticky notes with ideas.
Reflect on your presentation or talk afterwards. Be objective as you self-assess and don’t be too critical of your own performance. Remember, we all make mistakes. You could also ask for peer feedback or build feedback within your presentation or talk. Note down what worked well for you and this particular audience and what needs working on. As you note down areas of improvement, also think of strategies or ways to improve these areas.
Prep for your presentation, meeting, or talk. You can do this by doing the following:
Practice with a friend, record yourself, or practice in front of the mirror before the actual talk or presentation. Try practicing in front of a mirror and observe your facial expressions, eye contact, and speaking style. Make eye contact with yourself in the mirror and be sure to speak clearly. That will help you feel confident about speaking and contributing at the meeting. Time yourself as you practice and always build in time for questions.
Be flexible– this means you may have to shift gears during your presentation or talk. This takes us back to the second point of organizing your presentation. Know what is and what is not important. It is OK to skip over some parts if the situation so demands. Go prepared with a plan B in case things don’t go as planned due to unforeseen reasons, tech issues, or other disruptions. Humour is an effective tool that comes in handy at moments like these.
Create pointers, notes, or a checklist to help you stay focused and avoid nervousness. You could also write down helpful numbers or dates so that you don’t forget. This will allow you to feel more prepared and the decision to speak will feel more natural and less impromptu. However, don’t have a lot of papers or notes in your hands. Also, do not fill up your slides with too much information. Everything does not need to go on those slides.
Mastering the art of communication requires self-evaluation and practice. The good news is that like any other skill, communication skills can be learned and honed. Your oral communication will become impactful and effective and your message will be communicated with influence when you identify areas of growth through reflection, organize your ideas, and deliver these with confidence.