Speak easy

by Aldric Chau

How to achieve success by conveying ideas effectively and powerfully

Wallance Ma, director
Triton Development Limited
Photos: Wallace Chan

Career success depends on a mix of factors, including academic qualifications, practical knowledge and experience. Perhaps most important to thrive in the fiercely competitive marketplace is the ability to communicate successfully.

Addressing a recent Career Times seminar on communicating with confidence, Wallance Ma, director, Triton Development Limited, pointed out that perceptions and ways of interpreting messages vary from person to person.

Mr Ma, a training and development expert and consultant, demonstrated this concept by asking audience members to point to the north. Responses differed widely, proving his point.

Be well prepared

A person wanting to present his ideas effectively to others should pay attention to two issues: personal psychological factors and focused interaction, Mr Ma remarked.

The internal dialogue that people use to communicate to themselves, known as "self-talk", is an important facet of managing a person's own mental state, as it provides essential psychological support, he added.

Self-talk is a particularly useful tool for marketing professionals or athletes needing a confidence boost before big events such as sales presentations or sports contests. Using a presentation as an example, Mr Ma said a degree of stage fright was inevitable, but there are ways to minimise it, for example by using every opportunity ahead of the event to "mentally rehearse" through self-talk.

"In the shower, on the train or at a coffee shop — anywhere is a good place to go over the content you'll be covering during your talk," he said.

Since speakers should try to maintain natural and constant eye contact, Mr Ma advised against the use of cue cards. The right posture while talking is crucial, he added. Standing up straight, walking a step here or there, or leaning against the lectern are tricks that make a speaker look confident. Crossing arms and fidgeting are signs of nervousness or defensiveness and should be avoided, he warned.

He advised seminar-goers to critically review their presentation material beforehand to make sure that it is free of errors of logic. This can also help them to anticipate questions from the floor afterwards.

Communication tactics

Presentations are not the only occasions where people's communication skills are scrutinised, Mr Ma stressed. "An interactive approach to dealing with colleagues and clients is of the utmost importance," he said, sharing three useful tactics to become a champion communicator.

Firstly, since every conversation can be broadly broken down into "facts" (the factual information provided) and "feelings" (emotional attachments), it is important to become an "active listener". If a subordinate objects about a heavy workload, the supervisor has to interpret whether the complaint relates to a factual statement or whether it is simply an emotional outburst. Using sound judgement, the supervisor then needs to respond appropriately, addressing the fact or the feeling.

The second tactic is "sharing". Employees preparing to share their perspectives in a meeting with their boss need to organise their thoughts and present their ideas accurately. Top managers are often pressed for time, so their staff should share only key points to aid their decision making.

Thirdly, "reframing" is a useful technique to turn around the situation when one is rejected from the outset. If a client turns down a request by saying "we can't do that", a good communicator may ask "what prevents you from doing so?", rather than simply accepting the outcome, said Mr Ma. He advised audience members to always find ways to identify problems and rectify them. Communication skills are most important during such a problem-solving process.

The right balance

Sophisticated communication skills are particularly vital in a business context. Being overly submissive leaves the door open for others to take advantage and is sometimes seen as a sign of incompetence, while confidence provides the assertiveness necessary to convince and influence people.

However, Mr Ma cautioned seminar-goers to observe the fine line between assertiveness and aggressiveness, which can provoke an unfavourable response. As there are degrees of forcefulness, it is important for people to use sound judgement based on the situation and past experience.

"Building confidence takes time," Mr Ma said, encouraging his audience to grab every opportunity to practise their skills. "Resilience distinguishes a top salesperson from less competent colleagues in any organisation or call centre," he concluded.

Taken from Career Times 02 October 2009, p. B6
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