The ability to verbalize thoughts and ideas intelligibly is the most valued of all employee skills and attributes, according to the Job Outlook 2016 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
NACE business members ranked verbal communications skills at 4.63, ahead even of the ability to analyze quantitative data (4.21) or job-related technical knowledge (3.99), on a scale of 0 to 5.
Speaking eloquently and to the point is far more of an art than science, and can be learned through practice, according to media polisher Joanne McCall. This veteran publicist has developed what she calls a “media darling” checklist that she uses to train her PR clients.
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Her sage counsel, however, applies equally well to almost anyone in business, not just those dealing with the media or in an obvious sales position. Think about it. You may not have sales in your job title, but at some point, you made a presentation to colleagues or superiors or even just offered your viewpoint during a meeting.
Chances are you were trying to persuade your bosses to fund a project or your colleagues to adopt a different way of doing things. That’s sales, pure and simple. And you need to be able to make your case eloquently.
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First, do your homework. McCall starts by telling her clients to practice the following before they ever contact reporters or editors. The same goes for you. Before trying to promote your project or viewpoint, do the following:
- Hone your message. Practice, practice, practice so that you can easily say what it is you do, how and why you do it, and how it is helpful to others.
- Be succinct. Boil it down to something short and sweet. Everyone is overwhelmed with information and things to do. You have only a few seconds to get and keep people’s attention.
- Have a great hook. Media people hear story and segment ideas over and over again every day, and your colleagues and superiors also hear many requests and proposals and have a lot to think about. Your best hope is to grab their attention in a way that sets you apart. Standing out is what a media darling does and you can achieve the same thing at work, too.
- Create sound bites. Sound bites are short, pithy, memorable phrases or summary statements that quickly make a point. Even long after the interview or presentation, a sound bite can stay with someone. Example: "When it comes to relationships, perfection = pure fiction." Summarize your proposal, project, or idea in a sound bite that sticks in people’s minds.
- What are your top three key messages? Burn them into your brain. These are the talking points that you will get across in any presentation or interview no matter what, even if you have only four minutes to speak. For situations that provide more time, develop more key messages. Try to have an example or story for each key point.
- Get media training. While such training is critical for top executives or company spokespeople, this can help you speak on your feet, too. Whenever you see or hear someone deliver a great interview, you can bet that person has practiced and practiced. Media training will help you get clear on your key messages and deliver them like a pro. Being in front of the camera is very much like being in the hot seat for a presentation. You want to come across as relaxed, confident, and as a credible professional.
- Be easy to work with. Be friendly. If for some reason an interview or presentation gets canceled, be gracious. The media will try to reschedule and your bosses or prospects may do so, too. If you are called in at the last minute, do your best to help out and say, "YES!"
During the presentation, do this...
Once you are in an interview, a presentation, or even a meeting, this is what McCall advises you to do.
- Be pleasant. If you're on camera, lean forward so that you look interested. Remain aware of the objective. For the media, it’s to provide an informative and entraining show for the audience. A presentation is to provide enough information to make a purchase decision.
- Never abuse your position. In an interview, don’t turn your performance into a sales pitch. In a sales presentation, don’t be long winded or disparage competitors. Stick to the point.
- Localize your answers. Tying your proposal or work to specific events relevant to the audience can help make your case. People more easily understand what they know already.
- Speak clearly. Don’t swallow your words or mumble. Don’t make your audience work to understand what you are saying.
- Be mindful of the time. Know how long you have for your presentation or interview and adjust the length of your talk or answers accordingly.
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Important Follow-Up Items
- Leave time for answers. The journalist, the prospect, or your colleagues may have further questions. These are a sign of interest, so you will want to answer them as completely as you can. If you don’t know, say so and tell them you will get back to them with an answer. Then do so right away. Don’t leave anyone hanging.
- Send a thank you. If you truly want to be different, take the time and effort to hand write a brief thank you note and mail it to the journalist or prospect. Few people bother to do that these days or they use email. Cursive writing on hard copy is no longer the norm.
It takes time and effort to become eloquent or a media darling, but if speaking up is critical to your business success, you will want to make the investment.