Persuasion – an essential tool in the 21st century workplace by John Hill

Persuasion – an essential tool in the 21st century workplaceThere are some things happening in our world which simply would not have occurred to us ten years ago. Here are three to begin with.

Farmers are now using drones to spray weed killer in places that are difficult to access. It is now possible to use a 3D printer to produce obsolete or spare parts for cars, appliances, and kitchen gadgets. Thousands of people study to gain qualifications by clicking their way through immersive online courses.

What does this mean for the world of work? It means that the work that used to be done by a farmer spraying weedkiller, the engineer who manufactured the spare part for the machine and the teacher who taught the course is now being done by a machine. The world of work is changing irreversibly. Add to that the migration of repetitive, simple jobs overseas to countries where labour is cheaper, and it’s not hard to work out that the work undertaken by those of us, at least in what we call developed countries relies more and more on a different set of skills. It calls on our interpersonal skills, our ability to adapt and innovate and our ability to persuade others.

We have become the ranks of persuaders. And this is not just the professional sales people.

Doctors persuade patients to live healthier lives, personal trainers persuade people to pursue their own fitness, parents persuade children to work hard at their schoolwork and be active, lawyers persuade juries to believe the case they are making, financial professionals persuade people to manage their finances responsibly and invest wisely and police officers persuade people to live safely and responsibly and to keep the laws of the land. Yet none of these people are categorised as salespeople.

As Daniel Pink, former White House staffer and now published author, puts it, ‘We are all in the moving business these days.’ – To Sell is Human, Canongate 2012

In research done with Qualtrics, a research and data analytics company, he discovered that 4!% of all the people surveyed counted convincing and persuading others as part of their job, and what is more they counted this aspect of their work crucial to their professional success.

We don’t just do it to meet some abstract and arbitrary sales figures, but because the work our organisations do strives to add value to the lives and businesses of those we serve, not just to take money from them but to leave them better off in the end.

Now some people are naturally better at these skills than others. We all know them, those of our friends who can get us to do things even when we feel least like it. But these skills can also be learned. And, believe it or not, it comes down to simple things that we can all do. For example, did you know that people are much more likely to listen to you and be prepared to co-operate with you if you are pleasant, if you smile at them, have a sense of humour and are encouraging and positive? Warmth and positivity disarms our automatic nervous system, helps us to relax and be prepare t consider alternatives, rather than retreat into resistance.

Did you know that people are much more likely to tell you what is important to them if you ask them? And then listen to what they have to say? Listen carefully and not just wait to speak your mind or give them your sales pitch. Did you know that people are much more likely to be persuaded if, rather than convince them that you are right or better informed, that you empathise with their point of view and as the late author and business guru, Stephen Covey, puts it ‘to seek first to understand and not to be understood’?

These are an invaluable set of skills, which can be categorised, which can be understood and which can be acquired through self-awareness, sustained effort and practice. Things like empathy, active listening, body language, the art of enquiry and trust building.

As the world of work evolves and continues to do so at ever increasing rates, these skills not only become more valuable and necessary, but they also transfer extremely well from job to job. These skills have become the new skillset of the person who stands out from the crowd, who makes a tangible difference in their workplace and who adds value to their organisation.

Emotional Intelligence

For decades the term IQ has been bandied about as a prerequisite for career and life success. You either have a high IQ which makes you an achiever, or you don’t and get by perfectly well in life as an average employee. However the newest buzz word, Emotional Intelligence (EI), is something we can all get on board with because as humans we each possess multiple emotions and these emotions can be controlled, moulded and channelled to help us evolve into more productive professionals at the workplace.

So what by definition is Emotional Intelligence? It’s the ability to identify and control your own emotions and the emotions of others through skilled manipulation of emotional awareness. This ability to harness and consequently manage emotions is what can make a powerful leader (think politician). Obviously not every profession demands a high level of people skills or a deep understanding of human behaviour. But where it is required, and where it becomes catalyst for career advancement, a mastery of emotional intelligence can contribute to a rapid climb up the corporate ladder, culminating in a successful and lucrative career.

The theory of EI was proposed in 1990 by Peter Salovey (now Provost of Yale University) and John D Mayer, Professor of Psychology at the University of New Hampshire. According to Mayer, “People with high EI, we believed, could solve a variety of emotion-related problems accurately and quickly. High EI people, for example, can accurately perceive emotions in faces. Such individuals also know how to use emotional episodes in their lives to promote specific types of thinking. They know, for example, that sadness promotes analytical thought and so they may prefer to analyze things when they are in a sad mood (given the choice). High EI people also understand the meanings that emotions convey: They know that angry people can be dangerous, that happiness means that someone wants to join with others, and that some sad people may prefer to be alone.”

Emotional intelligence skills are typically divided into four categories: Self-awareness, Self-management, Social awareness and Relationship management. These skills when mastered and used in conjunction with conflict resolution tools can prove a potent armoury for the modern day corporate warrior.

“Naturally, people with a high degree of emotional intelligence make more money—an average of $29,000 more per year than people with a low degree of emotional intelligence. The link between emotional intelligence and earnings is so direct that every point increase in emotional intelligence adds $1300 to an annual salary. These findings hold true for people in all industries, at all levels, in every region of the world. We haven’t yet been able to find a job in which performance and pay aren’t tied closely to emotional intelligence.”

FedEx Express, the world largest cargo airline with over 290,000 employees and one of Fortune’s top 20 “Most Admired” companies for a decade, has implemented EI assessment and development into a six-month on-boarding process for new managers with remarkable results. “The program is yielding an 8-11% increase in core leadership competencies, with over half the participants experiencing very large (10-50%) improvements in certain key emotional intelligence skills and leadership outcomes:  72% of the program participants experience very large increases in decision making; 60% in Quality of Life, and 58% show major improvements in Influence.”

Most companies still tend to focus their hiring process and consequent training on hard skills. Typically little attention has been placed on soft skill competencies such as stress/conflict management, assertiveness, empathy, and social aptitude. In the real world these are vital skills that build strong competency in employees and management and are reflected in a company’s success.

Conflict and stress are ever present in our lives and we learn to deal with the unpleasant and negative side effects the best way we can. Now with the availability of EI training courses the good news is that you can learn how to deal with difficult people, how not to fly off the handle at the slightest provocation, when to take a step back, how to listen and communicate with empathy and a ton of other traits you never thought you could acquire. With some guidance and practice we can reprogram ourselves to don many facial masks, with accompanying body language and tone of voice, as the situation requires.

On Sunday 26th June ISM will be conducting a Summer Short Course titled “Self-Smart, People Smart – An Introduction to Emotional Intelligence”. This is an opportunity to explore and gain insight into your own level of emotional intelligence amidst a selected group of 18 participants. Contact ISM for more details.

 

Giving a presentation can be daunting. However, whether you are presenting to the director of a car dealership in Sheikh Zayed Road, or talking to a roomful of delegates at a conference, if you avoid these common presentation mistakes, you’re more likely to succeed.

Mumbling

speech

Are you terrified of giving a presentation? Relax you are in good company….

Mumbling is a cardinal sin when giving a presentation. If you start to mumble you will quickly lose your audience’s interest. They’ll start looking around for something else to fill their time – like their smartphone, documents, staring out of the window or looking around the auditorium. If you are speaking to a large crowd in an auditorium it is too easy for an individual to stand up and walk out. And once one person has done it, others will follow.

The trick is to keep your voice interesting and loud enough for people to hear you (but don’t shout – unless it’s to make a particular point). Whether it’s a presentation to a new client, a packed university hall, or a small conference room, your voice is the strongest ally you have in making your presentation successful. Interesting speakers don’t keep the same tone or pace when giving presentations. They mix it up to keep the audience engaged.

Speeding

The opposite of mumbling is talking so quickly the audience doesn’t have time to absorb the essentials, never mind your carefully worked out nuances. Understanding how to pace yourself when talking to a group of people is a core presentation skill. If you feel yourself speeding up, take a breath, pause and then continue. Pausing is a great way of grabbing the attention of the audience. If they are beginning to lose focus, your silence will make them tune back in to what you are saying, or rather not saying. You’ll discover that pausing also gives people a moment to allow important points sink in. When practicing your presentation, consider how to use silence to drive home specific points you feel people may otherwise miss.

Drifting

Don’t drift off topic, unless you’re absolutely certain you know what you’re doing: because your audience has a finite amount of patience and if you can’t bring it back to the presentation, they’ll feel you are wasting their time and don’t know what you’re talking about.

Have some notes to keep you on track and don’t deviate too far from them. However, don’t spend your entire time looking at your notes. People like to feel a connection with a speaker, and if you are always looking down, you can’t make the all-important eye contact to people in the room.

Turn around

And while we’re thinking about looking down, don’t spend your entire time looking at the PowerPoint behind you. Remember, people don’t warm to a person’s back; they warm to a person’s face. It’s fine to turn to the screen behind you to make a particular point, but for the most of the time face forward and engage with your audience.

Winging it

For some people the thought of having to practice their presentation is daunting; so they wing it. And, unless it’s something they’ve presented frequently, the audience can tell.

You’ll commit all the mistakes listed above, and then some. You’ll drift, you’ll refer to the screen behind you too much, probably mumble when you lose sight of where you should be, and most definitely wont pace yourself properly.

Even if you’ve been landed the job the day before, spend whatever time you have available to prepare a proper presentation. Remember, you are taking up people’s time and they’ll be more open to what your are talking to them about if they feel you’ve made time to make it interesting for them.

If you’ve never given a presentation before, or are naturally quiet, ask a member of your team, or someone at home, to listen to it beforehand and give you feedback. You only get one chance to shine when presenting, so practicing beforehand is essential.

If you’re unsure of how to present, or want to improve your presentation skills, book a place on our Presentation Skills workshop today: https://www.ismdubai.com/courses/presentation-skills/index.php

 

steve jobs

His legacy may be technology but he was also a brilliant presenter...

Being a great speaker doesn’t come naturally to most people. Even the experts speaking at conferences at the Madinat Arena, Dubai or the Trade Centre, only achieved their smooth patter by following the basic tenants of presenting. These are essential whether you are presenting to a small group or a large auditorium.

Make it interesting

A great presentation can win new clients and wow audiences. Yet many people fail to consider how to make their presentation interesting – ending up with a bored and distracted audience. Not sure what makes a boring presentation? Well the shy trickle of people leaving by the side exit is a clue, or people surreptitiously texting while you’re talking.

So do your research and make your presentation compelling.

Know your facts, but don’t read them off in a list, find something engaging about each one. Another interest killer is hearing old facts rehashed. If you are presenting old ideas justify and explain why they’re still relevant, show your audience why they should re-evaluate their pre-conceptions.

The same goes for new ideas, don’t just spout off what the latest guru says about a theory, or manufacturer says about a product. Put some time into finding out why the new is necessary and give your own opinion on its relevancy to your audience.

Practice

The first time you run through your presentation should not be in front of your intended audience – because this is the time when you notice what’s wrong with your presentation.

You get a feel for whether you are using the right language, whether what you written actually makes any sense, and whether it sticks to the intended timescale – if you’ve been given ten minutes your audience wont appreciate you keeping them for twenty.

Practice is crucial for helping you develop your own style. Some people find they are innately brash and loud, some have conversational tone, and others are more scholarly in their approach. All these elements can be helpful but if you keep to one style only you are limiting how effective your presentation can be. Learn how to modulate your voice to emphasise certain points, take pauses to allow particular points sink into the minds of your audience, raise your voice to wake the crowd up, and learn how to use a smile to engage people.

If you’re having trouble visualising yourself talking in front of an audience, check out the TED talks online. Here you’ll find some of the very best speakers in the world.

Audience

It’s pointless presenting anything, whether or not it’s well researched and exhaustively practiced, if the tone and style don’t fit your target audience. Consider the type of people who are coming to watch you. Are they hoping to find out the details of new product prototype? Or are you giving an in depth analysis of current customer trends? Is the intended audience more likely to respond to high visuals and low text, or vice versa?

Knowing what will elicit the best response from your audience lies at the heart of great presentations. If your audience are mainly experts in their field, they’ll expect you to talk to their level, and will switch off if they feel you’ve dumbed it down for them. The same is true for a group of new-comers. If you fill your presentation with lots of industry jargon and ideas, they will walk away from the presentation feel no wiser, and probably dispirited.

It’s your job as a presenter to pitch your presentation perfectly to educate and excite your audience.

Relax

It’s really off-putting watching someone visibly squirming with nerves while presenting. An audience may be so involved in watching the presenter stutter and bumble, that they don’t hear a word, or watch any of the presentation itself.

If you do struggle with nerves practice taking deep breathes and slow down your presentation. Both techniques help calm to the nerves. Have a bottle of water handy as well; nerves make your mouth dry.

Presenting like a pro is something that is only accomplished through practice. To learn more about this essential sales skill, visit https://www.ismdubai.com/ and sign up for our presentation skills course.

Whether presenting to a small group of people in a boardroom, or hundreds at one of Dubai’s premier hotels, brushing up on your presentation skills is a must.

Very often a presentation can feel more like an endurance test, when it should be an informative and persuasive sales pitch. Remember your audience is there because your talk attracted them in the conference brochure, or the boss told everyone to be at the meeting. It’s your job to makes sure they don’t walk away feeling their time has been wasted.

Research who you’re talking to

If you are presenting to a large group of people at a conference, understand what their overarching concerns are. Is there a particular issue affecting their industry? What are the specific problems they are facing that your company can help solve? If you know some of the people in the audience, consider talking to them before the presentation and find out what they want to hear.

Stand up straight and smile

It’s often the little things in life that make the biggest difference. At the beginning of your presentation face the audience and look around the whole room, smile and say hello. Making people feel welcome will put them in a more receptive frame of mind. Smiling will make them more at ease.

Look the part

Depending on whom you are talking to will dictate how you dress. Think about what will make your audience have more faith in your words. Are they going to respond better to a suit, or will smart casual win them over?

Structure your presentation

Presenting is a bit like storytelling. You need a beginning, middle and an end. This gives the presentation a good flow and people are wondering why you suddenly bring up a solution to a problem you’ve not spoken of yet.

Don’t just repeat what is on the PowerPoint

Everyone has heard of death by PowerPoint. Don’t let your presentation slip into this category. If you are using slides, don’t just repeat what is shown on the screen. Have a separate script prepared that enhances what people are reading on the screen.

Practice

If you don’t practice your talk, you will fail to engage with the audience. They will be moments when you forget what you are meant to say, you’ll trip up on basic points and the audience will get the feeling you really didn’t think them important enough to prepare properly.

Knowing what you want to say will mean that you aren’t always looking down at your notes, and you can spend more time looking at the audience, hopefully creating a real connection that will make it easier for them to come and talk to you afterwards.

Don’t overrun

If you have 15 minutes with five minutes for questions, don’t talk for 30 minutes. Your audience may want to go and see another speaker, or they might have another appointment lined up straight after your talk. Keeping to the allotted time is a key presentation skill.

Keeping within the time given is one of the more important presentation skills. It keeps you focussed and audiences are happier. It also means that if someone does have a question, the whole audience will be listening, not just the ones who stayed behind out of politeness or because they had nowhere better to go.

Presentation skills are always difficult to master, they take practice. One tip is to always remember that the audience is your central focus; they are giving up valuable time so you can communicate important information. You may have a well-conceived idea of what you are verbally saying, but do you know what you are saying non-verbally? We all want an engaged audience, whether it is an audience of one or one hundred, so it is vital that you are quickly able to follow the non-verbal clues they give you and adapt your own body language to establish rapport and  engage them.

Micro-expressions, can you read them or do you need an emoticon?

One aspect that helps us to be better communicators is mastering the non-verbal clues that we are both giving and receiving. Non-verbal communication includes gestures, eye contact, facial expressions, posture, body movements, touch, space, environmental contexts, physiologic responses (e.g. reddening) and voice tone; inflection or pace . The ability to use these signs to help interpret the flow of a conversation can dramatically improve communication and understanding. When your non-verbal cues are aligned to your verbal message then communication is clearer, more open and also seen as more trustworthy- essential to building a strong business rapport. When you become aware and adept at controlling your own emotions you are able to focus on reading the signs in others. Look for inconsistencies between non-verbal and verbal communications and groupings of non-verbal clues which are all conveying the same overall message. Remember that there will be cultural and generational differences in non-verbal clues so it is difficult to interpret an isolated event and more accurate to look at a group of signals.

Practicing for example some cues that denote confidence seems like a good idea, using strong purposeful gestures, speaking slower with no more than a moderate voice and engaging eye contact with a smile. Even  if we master this, however, we might still not be in control of all of our body language. Observation of people helps, start looking around restaurants/ public spaces and interpreting relationships without hearing words. Chances are you will be able to identify defensive postures, lying, disengagement and aggressiveness as well as a myriad of other non-verbal pointers.

Eye contact is used to signal many different intentions and many of us will already know that looking up and to the left is done when recalling a memory and looking up and to the right denotes using your imagination (or possibly lying!). It is again important to establish the normal for each individual by asking base line questions and paying attention to the rest of the non-verbal clues.  Moving the feet for example ( check under the table ), over or under emphasis of voice as  well as keeping the limbs closer to the body would reinforce a sense someone is lying when appearing in a cluster of behavioural responses. Even the humble knee can give a lot away, watch where it is pointing to find out their subconscious desire, towards the door and away from your business transaction? Of course, it could just be comfort! When we recognise body language we are able to change ours to begin to dictate or steer events towards more successful conclusions. There are few people who do not respond to changes in body language, a smile from you will usually elicit one. Managing your emotions will help to shape/ manage your body language , so always pause and regroup when you are finding it difficult to keep your emotions in check otherwise you will quickly lose rapport with another.

space invadersMany of us work in a challenging environment and it seems that challenge begins when we walk into the office space. If we have reached the upper echelons it may be that we have our own clearly defined workspace but the vast majority are fixed in a cubicular world which mimics early psychological experiments. It’s a wonder we don’t implode, it’s amazing we are actually productive.

Edward Hall regarded by some as the great grandfather of Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) coined the term “proxemics”. This describes the space in which we feel comfortable in different contexts. With a large part of our lives spent at the office having space invaders  encroaching on our spatial limits can impact on our performance. With cubicle space rapidly decreasing by as much as 50% in urban areas to increase cost efficacy environmental stress can have long reaching impacts on employee health, productivity and inter-cultural relations. Overcrowding in the animal kingdom leads to aggression and territorial tension but  in the office do the polychrones inadvertently wind up the monochrones by borrowing ‘personal’ items and multitasking?

Space to think concentrate or think creatively is lacking in most office environments and whilst some are able to zone out and accept differences others can obsess on them seeking quieter spaces to perform. Personalisation of spaces, creation of physical barriers or feng shui may provide some cognitive solace against the shrinkage of personal space but ultimately we may be slaves to primal evolutionary forces. Research from Caltech shows that  the amygdaloid region of the brain may hold the key as  to why we maintain spatial distance from people, it indicates that this region is active during romantic approaches but also influences our   fear response and holds emotional memory. One subject with damage to this region had no concept of personal space.

Creation of our own ‘personal bubble’ may not translate however across inter-cultural divides. Dubai is an extremely multi-cultural work environment, in the workplace you will hear different languages and experience different smells, tastes, dress, intonations, work ethics and cultural space boundaries. The question is whether you recognise them for what they are or react with your own defences seeing intrusion as a threat.

Edward Hall wisely said : We should never denigrate any other culture but rather help people to understand the relationship between their own culture and the dominant culture. When you understand another culture or language, it does not mean that you have to lose your own culture.

“Oral delivery aims at persuasion and making the listener believe they are converted. Few persons are capable of being convinced; the majority allow themselves to be persuaded.” Goethe.

Jedi Mind trickUnless you wave your arms around and alter the tone of your voice like Obi Wan Kenobi or can control minds like Professor Xavier, it may be that you need a few tips in the art of persuasion. As with most conversations in life if you listen to your audience and understand their motivations first, then you can offer solutions and a different perspective.

We have all sat through dull presentations, slide after slide delivered with all the passion of a stuffed animal. As an audience we try in vain to signal our disinterest flicking through material, checking our messages, shifting in our chairs. We really do want to be enlightened; after all we have given up our valuable time to be there. All too often the presenter forgets that as the audience the presentation should be all about us and not about them, their accomplishments, their company or their product. Of course it is about those things but if you fail to engage and involve the audience and listen to them you might as well pack up and go home.

The skill of being able to present yourself or your company in a professional, memorable and persuasive way does not come easy to most and needs practice and refinement to achieve objectives. If you have to speak at meetings and conferences; put up a case to the board; communicate company policy; pitch to prospective customers or carry out business development responsibility then you need to be able to persuade. A persuasive presentation normally starts with a story, statistics or facts to gain our attention from the beginning, connects the content with our needs and involves us, the audience, in developing a solution. However, when developing your persuasive presentation you need to first focus on analysing the audience. Ask yourself these questions to get you started:-

  • “Why should they care?” or “What’s in it for me? (WIIFM)”
  • “What motivates the audience?”
  • “How much do they already know?”
  • “What biases might they have?”
  • “What interests do they have? Do members of the audience have conflicting interests?”

Thinking about these and embedding them into your presentation will persuade the audience you are there for them. Even Steve Jobs started somewhere, here he is persuading us to buy Mac’s in 1984 and he is still persuading us today.

If you are interested in developing your presentation skills please contact ISM Training, Dubai for further information on our public and in-house courses.