Photo credit: Yuri Arcurs

How you communicate with others is a key to your professional success

Article published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on June 2, 2024.

This week, I write about how to be a better communicator. You must put yourself in the place of the people with whom you are communicating, and ask yourself, “Is my communication effective?”

Having attended more meetings, listened to more PowerPoint presentations and presented to others more times than I can count during my career—in positions from individual contributor to CEO and to board member—I offer the following advice.

Ensure you prepare in advance for meetings. Read all advance materials. There is nothing more embarrassing than asking a question and having the answer addressed in the materials that you should have read.

Ask questions for understanding. Other meeting participants may not understand the point being discussed, but don’t want to look bad by showing what they don’t know. By asking questions for understanding, you are helping the presenter get their point across more effectively and you will be quietly thanked by other participants.

Speak up if you have a contrary point of view. Not speaking up may cause the meeting participants to decide to “go to Abilene.” No one wants to go there, but to avoid conflict, no one speaks up. Disagree in a way that respects the views of others.

Be the lone wolf, if necessary. Having a contrary view when everyone else is leaning in another direction on an issue is difficult, but necessary to arrive at the best decision.

Don’t dominate the discussion. Put yourself in the position of other meeting participants and think about how they will receive your comments. Don’t pontificate. Don’t be dismissive of other participants’ opinions. That doesn’t build good working relationships.

If you are a senior leader, wait until others have expressed their opinions before expressing yours. Speaking too soon might influence attendees who are junior to you. You also want to hear what others have to say rather than chill further discussion.

Photo credit: Yuri Arcurs

I have sat through PowerPoint presentations in person and on Zoom by experts in their field where I could not read their slides due to the following reasons:

  • The fonts were too small, even though there was ample room on the slide to increase the font size.
  • The color of the fonts blended into the slide background.
  • Paragraph after paragraph of information was presented on the slides, rather than with bullet points or graphical images that got the points across.
  • Abbreviations and acronyms populated the slide, the meanings of which were not familiar to most of the audience. These should be spelled out instead.

If your slides can’t be read or the information presented can’t be understood, you have damaged your credibility. The audience shuts down and you have lost the opportunity to effectively communicate with them. If you have an assistant prepare your slides, ensure they avoid the above issues. They may have prepared the slides, but you own the product.

Why do presenters and those who prepare the slides do this? They are not thinking about the audience!

As a board member, I have received documents that run multiple pages with no executive summary. An executive summary is necessary to introduce the subject and give context to what is being presented.

If the document is asking for a decision, the executive summary should state what approval is being asked for, along with the financial or other benefits to the company. Present what the decision makers need to know up front, not deep within the presentation. Decision makers are busy people. They want to rapidly grasp the information you are presenting. If you have non-critical information that you want to make available to them, put it in the appendix.

I have received documents where the font size was 8, making the document nearly unreadable. Obviously, the author didn’t put themselves in the position of the reader. Since you have spent time crafting a document, ensure to use a font size that your audience can easily read.

Learn all forms of effective communication. It will differentiate you from your peers and help you advance in your career.

Stan Silverman is a former CEO and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and widely read columnist on leadership. He can be reached at stan@silvermanleadership.com.

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