By: Carmine Gallo
An MBA from the most prestigious business school in the world will not help you overcome poor communication skills. That’s why I enjoy giving presentations to business students who have transformative ideas but need to develop their communication skills (here’s a 20-minute excerpt from a presentation I recently delivered at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley).
Poor communication skills can derail your career. In the past few months I’ve been asked by HR Directors at several large and well-known companies about what to do with individual high-performing managers or Vice Presidents who are in danger of losing their positions. “Why are you calling a communications specialist?” I asked. Here are some of the responses:
“He doesn’t inspire confidence when he speaks to board members, employees, or senior executives.
She’s meek and lacks presence, especially in meetings.
He graduated Phi Beta Kappa at Yale and has an MBA from Harvard but when he gives presentations he’s stiff, dull, boring, and really confusing.
Once I heard these comments I realized that these HR Directors don’t have problems with their people; their people have problems communicating their ideas. In other words, a person can have the most respected degrees in the world, but if they cannot communicate their ideas effectively, it doesn’t matter. And in some cases, they can lose their jobs or be passed over for higher positions.
As a business student, manager, leader or aspiring leader, you need to know what very few people will ever tell you—you are being judged by how well you speak in public and how persuasively you deliver a presentation. The purpose of these columns is to give you the tools to improve your skills as a leader and a communicator. But all the advice in the world will not help you improve if you don’t think you need it.
Just as most people rank themselves more attractive than others see them, I believe that most leaders rank themselves as better communicators than their audiences see them (an “audience” can be made up of board members, partners, investors, employees, customers, etc). How do you find out how well you communicate? It’s very simple, really. Ask people and demand the truth. Of course it helps to have created a culture of trust so people don’t feel as though they’ll lose their job if they offer an opinion. But if you ask the right question, you’ll get valuable responses.
Ask the right question. Most people who rehearse a presentation in front of a colleague, family member, or trusted adviser often conclude by asking, “How did I do?” This question makes you sound like you’re insecure and begging for compliments. Most people will say “you did great” when really they were bored to death, hated your slides, and felt you spoke way too long. Here’s where it gets tricky. You want honesty, but you don’t want people to get too personal by saying things like “I hate your tie” or “You’re incredibly dull.” Public speaking requires confidence and some comments will trash your ego, often unnecessarily so. So let’s try to avoid those responses. How? By asking this question instead:
Are there areas of the presentation where I can improve the way we communicate the vision behind our brand/product/service/program? This question elicits valuable comments that involve the content and the way the content is presented and delivered. It also opens the door for more specific suggestions regarding the way you come across as a speaker. You can adapt the question for the circumstance as well. For example, if you’re preparing to ask for a bigger budget at a meeting, you might ask a peer to watch your presentation. Once the presentation is over, ask the question: Are there areas of the presentation where I can improve the way I communicate the benefits of funding this program?
Presentation skills are not taught in many b-schools. I recall speaking to a large corporate audience of marketing professionals at one of the largest medical device makers in the world. This particular company recruits from the top business schools in America. Several people approached me after the presentation and said exactly the same thing— “I never learned this in business school.” How to deliver a persuasive presentation is not a required class in most business schools. But don’t make the mistake of thinking communication skills don’t count. They do count in a big way. Your Harvard degree might get you in the door but starting on day one you’ll be judged by how effectively you communicate your ideas.
Please return to these columns every week for fresh insights on to improve your leadership and communication skills and by all means, if you have story suggestions, email me directly. I would love to hear from you.
Carmine Gallo is the communications coach for the world’s most admired brands. He is a popular keynote speaker and author of several books including the bestsellers, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs and The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs. His new book, The Power of Foursquare, will be released by McGraw-Hill in October, 2011 Follow him on Twitter: carminegallo