Friday, October 27, 2006

Effective presentations and communication

This journal is more a record and reference for me than anyone else and as such, I wanted to include something about effective presentations. Although it isn’t a skill that is limited to the information professional’s world, it is a skill that we need and one that is relevant to developing my Chartership portfolio.

I am regularly called upon to make presentations in my current role (and in previous ones) so I have a lot of experience but I still feel like I could improve. As a result, I will almost always read an article published on the topic. In the last few weeks, I have come across a couple that have caught my attention. One was about effective presentations and the other about effective communication. In fact, once you have read about effective communication, you’ll see that in fact, good presenters are actually good communicators.

The first article (What has Al Gore and Edward de Bono have in common?[sic]) looked at a couple of presenters who the author felt were persuasive and the commonalities between their presentation styles.
  1. They both presented facts, from memory, that meant something to the audience
  2. They both told stories and included little details that added colour
  3. They both used analogies and metaphors to convey their messages
  4. They both enjoyed themselves and used humour when the opportunity presented itself
  5. The were both relaxed and confident – something that I feel I can only be when I am talking about something that I know inside and out
The second (I Don’t Think You Get My Point: the 5 hurdles to effective communication) looked at barriers to communication and identified five obstacles, any one of which could prevent effective communication.
  1. Your point must be explainable using language
    • This seemed obvious to me at first but the more you think about it, the more limited our language appears to be for the purpose of describing things that we experience (how do you recognise a good poem?). Add to that the fact that you must share a common vocabulary with your audience and the fact within that common vocabulary, there could be differences in connotation and you have a pretty limited ‘language’ to use.
    • Suggested ways of getting around this hurdle are to use metaphors and analogies (point 3 above) or to show your audience what you mean.

  2. You must be able to articulate your point clearly and persuasively
    • Clarity can be achieved through effective explanation but the real challenge here is the persuasion element. The article refers to sermonising (talk radio, the pulpit, editorials) as reassurance not persuasion as it ignores your audiences current ‘place’ in their thinking.
    • Suggested ways around this problem fall into what I would call ‘human communication skills’ – empathy, attention, openness – and practice. I think that this roughly correlates to points 4 and 5 above regarding the presenters’ disposition.

  3. Your audience must be ready to listen
    • They need to be at an appropriate intellectual and conceptual level and have an understanding of what is urgent and important before they are ready to receive your ‘broadcast’.
    • A suggested solution to this hurdle is to choose (and invite) your audience carefully

  4. Your audience must be listening
    • In my experience, they are almost certainly not listening. They may not be playing with their Blackberries (though sometimes they are!) but they are almost certainly thinking about something they have to do on the way home, a phone conversation they’ve just had or something else that is more immediately relevant to them than what you have to say. You need to get (and hold) their attention.
    • Suggested ways of doing so include the use of stories, humour and facts (points 1,2 and 3 above)

  5. Your audience must be able to understand your point from their frame of reference
    • "Frames trump facts". If your message isn’t communicated in a way that ‘fits’ with the audience’s perspective, it isn’t going to be properly received. This isn’t the same as the audience being ready to listen; this has more to do with the personal history and experiences of the audience which will colour anything that they hear.
    • The suggested way of overcoming this hurdle is to understand your audience’s frame and to explain things in their context.
So there you are. I think that both of these lists are true and when you look at them side by side, it is apparent that good presentations are actually good communications. Not that that makes them any easier to achieve!

No comments: