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The 3 Communication Pitfalls for Technical Experts

hidingbehindscreenSome time ago, I walked into a client’s office to ask who the new CTO was:  all I could see was the top of his head behind the barricade of 2 massive computer screens.

Was he expecting a volley of fire from enemy territory or did I catch him in a game of hide and seek?

Whatever the reasons for his visual masking, one of the Directors seemed a bit concerned:  how’s he going to forge links with other departments and sell up services?  We only see him between the cracks of his fortress.

The new CTO seemed to be under the impression that for anything more than a face to half-face meeting, an email would suffice: a clear example of the challenges with which technical experts struggle, when they suddenly need to manage people, push strategy and develop business links.

Here are some of the 3 main obstacles these specialists need to overcome:

 

Over reliance on email

Sitting behind a screen shooting off emails or slugging through reports can have a pay off: firstly you don’t have to get up,  except for coffee,  the phone or the loo and secondly,  you are protected from the vagaries of pesky humans.

Unfortunately,  you can’t use an instruction manual to help you navigate their utter unpredicted lack of perceived rationale,  the proof of which lies in that email you’re replying to now.  You know as you press ‘send’  it’s like throwing a missile but sod it.  A point has to be made and you’ll be making it.

Unfortunately,  that email is not really a missile but a leaky boat –  and you’re both in it.

The best way to really ‘get’ what someone’s intention is by seeing them.  So if you want to get through those choppy little waves,  you better row yourself over to their desk and save yourself a mauling by a shark later on.

 

Too much detail

That PowerPoint with the 70 slides,  accompanied by aerial and close up photos of the processor you’re proud of is going to bore the pants off commercial when they see it.

They know you know your stuff, they just don’t know how it’ll affect them.  To know how much to tell them seems like a telepathic skills. However, all that’s necessary is that you find out what their problem is and how you can be the solution.  To do that,  ask and the way will be obvious.

 

Not communicating the bigger picture

Having mixed commercial and technical teams in workshops is always an eye opener: they realise that they’ve been working with only half a map in front of them.   Neither has the full picture and both realise how much they benefit from the missing half.

Management don’t communicate the bigger picture to tech teams: they think it either doesn’t concern them or they don’t care to know.   So,  technical teams need to be more proactive.   Ask questions such as:

  1. How does this affect the business in the long run?
  2. What difference will it make to you when this is completed?
  3. What’s  the rationale for this?

The last question could be replaced by ‘Why? But that could provoke a defensive reaction,  especially in email.

The developers and coders need this information – and want it – so it’s important to ensure that the context is filtered through the teams.

Once this information is clear,  tell everyone –  not just the decision makers.   Knowing why we do what we do and what difference it can make,  means teams can be more proactive and driven.

 

What other specific communication challenges do you think technical experts have?

Let me know right here…

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Why stories work

tell them your story

A story replaces information overload

“Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today,”

(Robert McAfee Brown)

There are two ways to share knowledge: either you can push information out or you can pull people in with a story.

Whether you need to sell a product or change behaviour, stories are vital to your success.  Here you’ll find 5 reasons why having an anecdote up your sleeve will immediately change how people perceive you.


1. Stories can simplify the complex through a metaphor.

For example, the tale of the pig farmer who realised that overnight his stock was worth half .  On the strength of the potential sale, he’d taken out loans for barn repairs and equipment.  The debts stayed the same but his income was halved, pushing him into further debt.
This story was used to explain the effect of the devaluation of oil in Russia.  A metaphor that those unfamiliar with macro economics would be able to digest.


2.  They make no claims so aren’t threatening.

So instead of saying, ‘If you don’t buy this anti-virus package for your computers, you’ll be in trouble’, you can tell the story of how using BungleBoo Anti Virus system allowed a virus into your computer like water though a sieve, destroying your client base, all your documents and forcing you to have to purchase a watertight new laptop.


3.  Want to change the way someone is doing something? 

Tell them about the time that you didn’t buy travel insurance, broke your legs in Albania and ended up paying an arm and another leg to get home .   Much better than dishing out the advice with ‘you should/shouldn’t’, which just tends to get up people’s noses.


4.  If you want to make a strong point, this becomes easier to internalize and remember by building a sense of anticipation.

When I give short seminars on cross cultural presentations, I tell half the story of Richard, who worked for a large US bank and was trying to tie up a deal in the United Arab Emirates. He had to fly to Abu Dhabi several times before he won the deal.  However, it wasn’t his PowerPoints that won the day but 3 small adjustments he made to how he communicated.  I start the story at the beginning of the presentation, and by the end, they’re dying to know what happened to him so that’s when I complete the tale.

If you make your audience want to know the outcome, they’re more likely to remember it.

Click here to see me telling the story.


5. Fires imagination and provides role models for action.

For those that need a bit of encouragement being resourceful when resources are limited, the story of Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop, could be encouraging.  The logo of the Body Shop is entirely down to the fact that when she opened her first shop in Brighton,  it was cheaper and easier to find a green colour to match the mould-riddled signage.  Purchasing new signage wasn’t in her budget.  That decision gave birth to the globally recognised Body Shop brand.

Such a story of resourcefulness can make you think  ‘Goodness, if she can do it, so can I.’


6. Potential customers can identify with an issue and are more likely to then want to buy from you

Instead of ‘selling’ a product or service you give a case study of a problem that existed before e.g. boring presentations or bullish managers.

People can relate to a commonly shared problem and will act on an issue to which they can relate.  If they empathise with it, you only need to say how you’d work with them because they have an instant picture of what you do and the challenges you can help them overcome.
By the way, the tales you tell reflect your experience, knowledge and what’s important to you, adding to your credibility.
And for those of you who say you’ve got no stories, I bet I could help you find one, even if it’s not your own…

Look on the courses page here or contact me and I’ll help you find your story.

 


One of the main reasons for couples to row – and for workplace tiffs

Such is my influence that in the following video, I’ve managed to rope in Kevin Bacon, the Hank Hill family and even Clark Gable with Vivien Leigh – even though the last two are no longer with us.

All for one purpose:  to reveal one of the most common reasons that couples argue and what to do about it.

No, I haven’t gone into relationship counselling.  This issue also pops up at work but the effects are more dramatic at home.  Either way, this behaviour can be very irritating.  

Click below and my glowing supporting cast and I will help you…

 

 

8 ways to get what you want from presentations

follow uupYou’ve just finished a fantastic presentation and people are gurgling with joy about you/your content/your services.

You get back to base expecting the phone to ring, your diary to be heaving at the seams and working out whether you need an office in New York and Hong Kong.

But it all falls flat as a pancake. Nothing. Nichts. De Nada. And you think ‘Was I imagining that enthusiasm?’

It’s very likely you weren’t but we’re goldfishes: as soon as we come away from the context of the talk, we remain with the shadow of the impact, not the full-on spirit of the moment. This means that you need to be proactive, if you want to pick up on opportunities to:

1. gather support for a plan;

2. acquire further knowledge or spread your own;

3. win business;

4. build networks of influence.

What I’ve gathered here are 8 ways you can create opportunities to get what you need.

The presentation may feel like a main course but often it’s the starter: the prelude to actually doing business. In conferences, you may have so many speakers that they all blend into each other.

Make yourself stand out and keep in the minds of your audience and influencers. Here are several ways that you can do this:

  1. use slideshare.com to post slides to them (the transcript of the slides appears underneath);
  2. post a survey.  Surveymonkey.com can do this easily and send it out to social networks;
  3. send an opt-in form to register interest in products or services. Research has shown that by getting people to indicate interest before you start ‘the sell’, sales can increase by as much as 50%;
  4. write a blog or, even better, have a member of the audience write and post one for you if you don’t have time. Sharing your knowledge with the audience, means that you can then catch it in your own blog, in the time it takes to buckle a belt;
  5. offer a follow-up webinar with a small group, individuals who want to go further into the details;
  6. arrange one to one’s with interested individuals or individuals you’re interested in meeting up with (scanning the audience list for opportunities before the presentation will allow you to catch your prey);
  7. catch names of attendees and have them on your mailing list so you can keep them as warm leads, instead of waiting for them to go ‘cold’;
  8. set up and invite attendees to a forum – online or offline – to exchange ideas and opinions about your content;

One or any combination of the above can help you to benefit from the opportunity of presenting so, no matter what happens on the day, you can still seize the moment and maintain the momentum, and who know: New York and Hong Kong may just be starting points…next, The World!

 

Breaking the Email Backlash

emailPeople do all sorts of things that can p!ss you off in emails, such as:

  • getting stroppy and obstructive;
  • being patronising and bossy;
  • ignoring you;
  • making trouble by copying in more people than necessary.

Here’s what to do:

Click here for an edited version of my workshop booklet, Breaking the Email Backlash.

The workshop you need to pay for as it’s hands on, personalised and face to face.  The download, though, is free.

Then, either pass this around through, say, HR, or use this email download as a signature for your own emails, thereby politely encouraging your recipients to polish up on their written communication skills.

Job done. Peace will reign.

Download here to get it immediately.

2 quick tips for productive meetings

Only too often, we sit in meetings, bored to tears by the tangential conversation, the conversation hoggers and the lack of relevance to the agreed agenda.

I’ve put together two magic tips you can use in your next meetings to save your time, increase engagement and maximise productivity.

547 confusing graphs – yippee!

graphThe Devil’s in the Detail

It’s so easy to get trapped in the detail when that’s how you earn your money.  So when presenting to an audience, whether you’re an entrepreneur, a financial analyst, engineer or consultant, PowerPoint can easily become an onslaught of bullet points, dry data and confusing graphs: all qualities that muddy your message.

 

When a picture says a thousands words – or numbers

Research has shown that ideas are much more likely to be remembered if they are presented as pictures instead of words or pictures paired with words.

Psychologists call this the Picture Superiority Effect (PSE), the point of which is thus:

 

If information is presented orally, people remember about 10% of the content 72 hours later. That figure goes up to 65% if you add a picture.

 

Visuals that work

A picture saves a thousand words:

rhino

Suzanne, the IT Director of a national retail organisation, knew her audience of in Marketing and Business Development where going to be challenging.  She flashed up her slide of huge white rhino.

 

“So often,” she began, “The IT department are seen like this rhino:  thick-skinned, short-sighted and charging all the time.”.

A barrage of data versus one point

If you’re presenting to those dealing with data every day, seeing more of it in a presentation, can give that audience sort of  data death.  If you’re not there to persuade your audience to act on something, then it’s a report, not a presentation.  Your audience want to see the key message, the one point.

One utilities company that I was training, needed to do a presentation to their investors.  Their point: invest in us: we’re on the up, and you’ll see returns, guarded against risk.

It was a team ‘performance’ to a very financially astute crowd.  They had this brilliantly colourful slide of a ship and lifeboats, a dynamic cartoon, which was a great metaphor for the way they were operating.

We crafted a message around this picture that had such an impact on the audience, that the share prices shot up (so it wasn’t a picture of the Titanic, that’s for sure).

Numbers were mentioned in a way they got remembered but there wasn’t a bar graph or pie chart in sight and the investors loved the refreshing and memorable way this team conveyed a message clearly, with humour and the evidence to prove their success.

There’s nothing to prove so put it away!

If you feel that you need to put so much data on your slides, ask yourself if there’s perhaps a little urge to prove that you’ve done your homework as an analyst/number cruncher?

By shoving so much detail in your audience’s face, they are not only more likely to forget what you’re talking about but why.  The information you give to your audience needs to make a difference to the world in which they function.

If people want more detail, wave your report at them, but don’t give it out until the end.  That way, they’ll know you’ve done your homework, and that they can get to the nitty gritty when they want, but you won’t be hearing the rustling of pages while you present your message.

When you give the facts that your audiences need to make the changes that will impact their world, you’ll be seen as an expert and a trusted advisor.

 

What’s the best use of visuals you’ve seen?  Comment below and we’ll swop tips!

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Does this make steam come out your ears?


Ah, the joys of email communication.

So many times, communication between people can break down simply because of how they’re using emails.

Ignoring how we use virtual communication when we look at relating to others, is like trying to run a car with a flat tyre: it’ll go but not very efficiently.

These three tips will keep that car away from the relationship breakdown garage, helping smooth the communication.

1. Irritation One: the words ‘should’:
For example, ‘You should let me know when you have authorisation for this and then I will action the request’. Similarly, replacing that with ‘have to’, which is even stronger, may start to annoy your recipient.

It could be seen as: patronising.

The Recommendation: replace ‘should’ and ‘have to’ with ‘You’ll need to’ or I’d strongly recommend that…’   This is easier to hear and act upon. It means the same without sounding like a finger-wagging parent.

 

2. Irritation Two: presumptuous wording such as ‘As you know…’ then adding totally new information that is unknown to everyone, but should have been known.

It could be seen as: someone covering their back

Recommendation: writing, ‘As you may know…’ and sticking to possibilities unless you can be certain.

 

3. Irritation Three: cc’ing in the boss, because you can’t get what you want from a colleague.
It could be seen as: trouble-making

Recommendation: if the communication is breaking down, go and see someone to get their advice. Usually, two adults should – excuse me – need – to be able to work it out between each other by saying:

a) what needs to be done and, perhaps, why the current situation could be problemetic

b) who will do it

c) finish with ‘As soon as you have this, I’ll be happy to help you’.

If the tone is constructive and respectful, there is less chance of being cold shouldered off line or email mud-slinging.

 

To know how direct you can be in English, without being rude or weak, look here:

http://www.switchvision.co.uk/your-emails-just-kill-me/

Go here for three magic ways to get people off your back or…not, if you really want to annoy them:

http://www.switchvision.co.uk/how-to-piss-people-off-in-emails/

Click on this link below, if you want to get requests acted upon quicker:

http://www.switchvision.co.uk/three-small-ways-to-write-emails-that-people-act-on/

Got any email pains you want to get out there? Share and get them out your hair!

See you in the comments below!

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How to Pitch in the Middle East

Here’s a short video I’ve put together to give you:

5 Top Tips to Win Pitches in the Middle East

…after a client of mine was struggling to win business in Abu Dhabi.

Tip no. 4 came as a shock to him:  I might as well have said, “Richard (not his real name!), take your head off and throw it down the drain.”  However, he adapted and…well, you’ll hear what happened.

So ‘Hadi!’, ‘Yellah!’, Let’s go!

See you in the comments…

Your Emails Just Kill Me!

Hi Alex,

You haven’t given me the dates yet for when we’re meeting. Let me know this week, please.

Alison ‘

This email may seem rather too direct for some people, OK for others and a few may regard this as extraordinarily polite: there is a ‘please’ there, after all!

How direct we can be with others depends on the following:

  1. culture: some nationalities are generally more direct than others;
  2. context: maybe I’ve sent you 3 emails for the dates and you still haven’t got back to me;
  3. status: am I your boss, your supplier, your colleague, a trainee?
  4. personality: there are people you know who just ‘say it as it is’, and you can let it go. That comes down to trust: trust in the fact there’s no animosity behind the words. You don’t take it as a ‘stab’. Or you simply trust that they wouldn’t be so upfront unless there was, what you consider, to be some fairness there.


All this would depend on how well you know others and this could mean some trial and a couple of ‘errors’. Regard that as feedback and modify if it’s going to make a working relationship too prickly.

The Directness Thermometer

The Anglo-Saxon culture represents an email minefield for both natives and non-natives and even us Brits need to learn the art of ‘padding’ or softening requests, making them less direct.

However, be aware that ‘padding’ could seem non-committal in other cultures, so being more direct would mean that you actually get your requests fulfilled rather than brushed aside. So here’s a padding temperature gauge, starting with the most direct and progressing to the most polite…

Oy, give me that document now.
Oy, give me that document now, please
Give me that document now, please.
Do me a favour. Give me that document.
Could you please give me that document?
Would you be able to give me that document?
Can I ask you to give me that document?
(Despite the wording, you ARE actually asking for the document, not asking if you can ask for it. This is typical of an Anglo Saxon indirect request)
May I ask you to give me that document?
Would it be possible to ask you for that document?
Please, would it be – perhaps – possible that a chance may exist at some convenient point that you may be so kind as to give me that document?
(At this point, you’re on your knees, begging to a psychopath who has electric probes pointing at your head.  Maybe you’ll need this.  Maybe you won’t.  I’d say, think about re-evaluating the need for this relationship…)

There’s much reading between the lines in certain cultures such as Anglo-Saxon and South-East Asian countries. In his book, ‘Beyond Culture’, Edward Hall defines cultures such as the Japanese and Chinese high -context cultures.  One of the characteristics of such nations is that reading between the lines needs to be a common practice. These nationalities aren’t as literal, as ‘out there’ as cultures like the U.S or Germany, which Hall would define as low context.

How to Read Between the Lines

The Anglo Saxon culture can be a particular nightmare as it straddles both the high and low so here’s a short guide as to the (possible) meanings behind the words:

1.  You’ve misunderstood/You’re wrong!
= Maybe I didn’t make myself clear

2.   How many times do I need to TELL you?!/As I’ve told you…
= I do need to emphasise/Following my email (below)

3.   Why are you sending me this? Seems useless to me.
= Interesting. How do you see me using this?

4.    The client will think you’re (an idiot/going mad…)
= This may be perceived as (risky/unusual)…

5.    What changes! I seem to have lost my crystal ball.
= I wasn’t aware of any changes.

6.    Do this now. You should have done this yesterday.
= May I request you to do this now?

7.   What a rip-off! Do I look like a mug?!
= We’ll need to revisit the costings.

8.    I can’t see you tomorrow.
= I’m not sure I can see you tomorrow.

General rules are as follows:

  1. Instead of blaming others with a finger-pointing ‘you’, the Brits would tend to use the passive form (no person).  For example: “This may be perceived…”
  2. If there’s a problem to be solved, especially in negotiations, ‘we’ would be more likely, as in number 7.
  3. We’ll pad for requests, as in ‘May I request…?”.
  4. Substitute ‘Why?’ for ‘What would be the reasons for…’ or ‘How do you…’ as in number 2.
  5. Brits may use modals of probability such as ‘may/may not’ or phrases such as ‘I’m not sure that I can…’ as in number 8 instead of saying what they mean: ‘I can’t..’

Pick up the Phone

There are those who seem very off-putting in their email communication because they can’t see the effect their style is having or they hear their words differently to how the recipient is playing them back in their heads.

I know a delightful woman who is always irritating others with her email style.  No, I’m not being sarcastic.  She really is a lovely person but because she doesn’t know how to word her requests, she sounds aggressive.  Face to face, you get a completely different impression.

Tread carefully when you need to and you’ll be able to get your point across clearly without severing the relationship (unless you want to, of course..).  Do note, though, that sometimes the easiest action to take, if you do find yourself in a battle of words and wills, is to pick up the phone.

More often than not, hearing the intonation behind the intention will help both parties realise that an over-reliance on virtual contact may not be too constructive.

 

Need some help with how you communicate across cultures?  Click here and I may well be able to help you even more.