Preparing for Public Speaking Challenges

by Mark Leonard

One of the most important skills a manager possesses is the ability to speak in public.  Some managers don’t have to work at it, they just naturally have a knack for communicating.  Other managers are not so lucky, but the good news is that, like many things in life, it is possible to overcome lack of natural ability with a little bit of hard work.  I fall into the latter category, and am constantly seeking to improve my public speaking.  I’ve developed a strategy, based on over preparation, that has allowed me to give well received speeches despite my high level of speech anxiety.

  1. I create a power point presentation with 3-4 bullets per slide and 1-3 sub-bullets per bullet.  The PowerPoint lists main concepts and I try to rattle off 2-3 sentences per bullet.  When I limit the text on the slide, the audience focuses more attention on me, the speaker.  This also shows the audience that I am a subject matter expert, capable of speaking on the subject rather than reading off a slide.
  2. I run through the presentation 10-15 times with a timer on.  This allows me to deliver the speech from muscle memory.  Every word, articulation, and gesture becomes automatic.  Even when my body fails me due to the anxiety, the words just keep coming because I’ve practiced so much.  No ums, no uhs, no unknowns, I just get up there and let it loose!
  3. I keep a bottle of water on hand.  If I lose my voice, get too nervous, or need to reset, I reach for the bottle.

If you, like me, experience high levels of speech anxiety, you know what I’m talking about when I say there is a tangible, physiological change in your body when you are about to give a speech.  Your heartbeat increases (up to 120 bpm for me every time), your throat tightens, you may begin to sweat, and you may experience a number of other physiological changes.  Next time, embrace these physiological changes; you know they’re coming so you can anticipate them.  Overcome your anxiety by over preparing and you will own your next public speaking challenge!

By mandybowling
Aside

By Justin Bigger

In Chapter Eight of Management Communication, O’Rourke tackles listening and lists several tips in order to improve your listening skills in such a way as to be more successful in the workplace. Listening is such a vital ingredient to our success and yet we focus so little on it, especially in education. Think about it for a minute. When we are in school, we a required to make presentations, write essays, and absorb written information in such a way as to be successful taking a exam. So little is actually focused on the art of listening, and its contribution to communication.

In high school, I was very active in debate. My personality is such that I often seek debate for the sake of debate, and I don’t think that my social needs could be completely met without some form of debate just for the sake of debate. It’s fun to me and it’s a great exercise in listening. In fact, if I think back to my successes and failures in debate, the common denominator was always active listening. If I focus on the times I was unsuccessful, it was always a situation where I was too passionate about my position that I completely shut out my opponent’s position. The key to success in a debating is yielding certain points, much like you would feel out your opponent in a boxing match. You actively listen to such a degree that you are able to ask the right questions and solicit the right kind of responses from your competitor that they unwittingly lose the argument. This constant feedback loop of receiving key information and responding to it is integral to success in a debating atmosphere, and it’s one of the best ways to increase your skills at listening.

The ability to actively listen to others is paramount to any kind of true success in the workplace, and the best way to achieve this is to train your mind in such a way that you unconsciously do it all the time. In my experience, a fantastic way to improve your listening skills is to debate. I understand that some may not naturally seek debate and maybe are even opposed to it, but the benefit of putting yourself in situations where you have to absorb information actively and immediately respond it is one of the best ways to improve your skills at listening.

Active Listening and Debate

By mandybowling

Personal Email Usage in The Workplace: Avoid At All Cost

By Jazzmine Davis

In Management Communication: A Case Analysis Approach, chapter 7 analyzes the fact that an Electronic Communication Privacy Act is in place to protect the individual rights of the employee. The Act clearly prohibits employers from sharing any emails to a third party, unless ordered by the court. The real issue here is that employers usually set policies that give expectations to employees to not use emails system for any personal use. Do they get followed? Of course not.

I have received emails from friends and family that are addressed from their company’s emails, and I have never witnessed anyone get into trouble for their actions. Most companies now have a monitoring system, which watches the activities that employees are engaging in daily. Some people may be prosecuted for their wrongdoings, and will not be able to defend their privacy with the Act. Some may be confused on why the Act is even in place.

Making sure that no conflict will arise comes along with employees ceasing the use of personal communication in the workplace. Some ways that can make this goal achievable is to sign up for a personal account, like Gmail, yahoo, or Hotmail. These accounts are free of charge and have all the email capabilities just as a work email system. Also, employees can stop this risk by not giving out their business email to family and friends. Keeping your work email only accessible to colleagues can make sure that all inbox messages are business-related.

Many employees have had monitoring systems find non business related emails, and fired because of it. Don’t put your job in jeopardy over personal communications. The Privacy Act does not defend your rights as you think it can so avoid this problem at all cost.

By mandybowling
Aside

By: Mandy Bowling

Whether you think you are a good listener or not, which a lot of people are, but there are always things we do… bad habits… that affect our listening skills. In chapter 8, O’Rourke does a good job discussing feedback and listening, but one thing I saw that really caught my eye was how great of a job he did pointing out the poor habits that we have, whether we recognize them or not, when it comes to listening.

According to the text, the first step in becoming a more effective listener, in the workplace or in our personal lives, is to identify the poor listening habits we’ve developed over a lifetime and replace them with effective, productive habits. There are simple things we do that we may not even realize WE are doing, but the people we are listening to, do realize it. A few things, that in my opinion are very common, are talking, not listening. Sometimes people just want to vent, not hear us talk and we think that giving advice is the way to go, when really all we need to do is wait till our comments and opinions are asked for. Another common habit is faking attention to the speaker. Yes, there are times we are sitting in the work place and feel that the lecture you are hearing can put you asleep. Trust me, the speaker(s) can tell. Just smile and nod, it’s what we were taught since high school. There are many more habits that O’Rourke points out and it is important that we recognize them. 

Just recently, we had a meeting for a promotion we were doing in the spring, and the man who was sponsoring the promotion we ON AND ON about the same thing OVER AND OVER again. Yes, it was quite repetitive and annoying, but my job was to sit there, listen to him, and give him my opinions and comments on how I think the promotion should run. Another assistant in the room thought other wise. Instead of being professional, he got bored and stopped listening and gave a bit of an attitude towards the man, because in his mind “we had all the facts we needed so it was time to move on and go home”. When the sponsor continued to speak, he asked him a question, and unfortunately, the assistant had been staring off into space and answered the man with a attitude and the wrong answer. It was funny, because it was about something we had discussed earlier, but then changed our minds on how to run it and so he was caught off guard and the sponsor knew he wasn’t listening in the meeting.

Listening isn’t just about getting the facts right, even thought at is VERY important, but it is always a sign of respect. Listen to what people have to say and good things come out of it. We are always put in situations we don;t want to be in, but whether you like it or not, you are there for a reason, so listen to what is being said. 

 

Poor Listening Habits? It’s true… we ALL have them!

By mandybowling

Listening: It’s a Skill? (Yes.)

By Nathan Beavers

 

In Chapter 8, O’Rourke breaks down the skill of listening. He argues that listening is a skill that many have, yet is severely underdeveloped in most people. This is odd especially for a skill that one uses almost half the time that they are communicating (O’Rourke, 221). O’Rourke also argues that listening is important, as it can prevent confusion and disasters. Other benefits include things such as demonstrating acceptance, promoting problem-solving abilities, increasing the self-esteem of the other person and various other benefits. Listening helps everyone who communicates.

 

At a company I had worked for we had meetings every period (four weeks) to discuss strategies that the company was using to increase sales, train employees, and several other things that the company felt that the employees needed to know. This was also chance for employees to voice any concerns that they had about anything going on in the store. These meetings were often held with a maximum of four or five people, and with the company having a few dozen employees, everyone knew each other well enough to feel comfortable around everyone else. These meetings were often moderated by our assistant manager, who was by far the most well-liked of our management team, making people even more comfortable about talking what they did or did not like about what the company was doing.

 

At one point one of the team leaders voiced their concern about how they thought their team and themselves were being treated unfairly by management. They stated that they were not being given enough time to properly do their job and were lacking enough people on their team to even be able to complete the job if they had enough time. The more they talked about it, the more angry and irate they became. All credit to the assistant manager, she stayed calm throughout the team leader’s tirade. The manager let the team leader finish her piece before saying a word. When the manager spoke she started off with saying she knew how the team leader felt, having dealt with the same issues only a few years before, empathizing with her. She asked technical questions about how the team leader was currently handling the situation, how many team members she had, and what she was doing as a part of this. The team leader explained that essentially, she had enough team members working for her and enough hours, but she was refusing to do the work that was her responsibility and giving that work to her team members. By listening to the team leader and having gone through the experiences herself, the assistant manager was able to determine what was happening with the team leader’s team and how things could be fixed.

 

Even with someone who is determined to be heard rather than listened to, listening can make a huge difference. It can go from someone being furious and venting at one of their superiors about a self-made problem, to the superior calmly explaining that everything could be taken care of if instead of looking for problems, they could do something about it themselves. Practicing adept listening can avoid potentially terrible situations and even stop them right in their tracks.

By mandybowling

Management Apologies 101

By Jazzmine Davis

In Our Management Communication text, chapter 5 talks about the writing style of managers, and improvements that could be made to become more effective to their readers. I am particularly interested in the portion of the chapter that discussed when managers are required to apologize. After reading this, I began to search for an apology letter from a manager that fit all the qualifications described by O’Rourke. After looking for awhile, I found none that fit the bill. All of the letters had one or more things missing that would complete a perfect apology letter. I decided to post an example of a bad apology letter, to show everyone the mistakes that I found, and I am sure there are plenty more mistakes that I have overlooked. I have highlighted the things that do not go along with O’Rourke’s guidelines. Fairly, there are some good points in this apology letter also. The four things I looked for included taking the complaint seriously, explanation of what happened and why, not shifting the blame on others, and management doing something to fix the problem. This letter comes from a manager at CableNet Company, apologizing for not honoring a service change in a timely manner.

June 28, 2003

Dear Ms. Winston:

The purpose of this is to convey to you my sincere apologies for any inconvenience you may have experienced last month with respect to the installation
of your Internet high speed service.
I just returned from vacation this week and found your file in my in-basket. As soon as I reviewed your case it was clear that somehow your May 20th request for a change in service had somehow slipped through the cracks. The only possible explanation I can give is that we have recently had a number of key staff changes which might have resulted in your letter being overlooked.
Consequently, I have directed our Installation Group to contact you by the end of this week to set up a time convenient to you when they could go to your house and install your new router and make the necessary adjustments to your software.
Because of this serious oversight, and as a testament to our appreciation of you as our customer, we are going to provide you with your first three months of high speed service free of charge. Therefore, your account will not be billed until October of this year.
Ms. Quinlan, let me assure you that what happened in your case is not typical of CableNet’s level of customer service. We continue to be committed to providing you and all of our customers with the highest standards of service in the industry.

If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to call me at 754-9785.

Yours in service,

Paul Cordero
Manager, Customer Solutions

The manager of CableNet did the right thing by taking the complaint seriously. The downfall that did make this letter unacceptable is that he did not respond in a timely fashion. The customer put in a request for service change on May 20th, and the letter is dated for June 28th. If a manager could not handle something for being out on vacation, someone else should have took the responsibility, and avoided the month delay before a apology was given to the customer. Also, the manager did a great job of explaining what happened, but he threw the blame on their staff changes and new employees. He could have easily just took accountability for the blame, offered his solution to the problem, and never mentioned the internal problems faced by CableNet.

I feel that posting an example of what not to do can improve the writing of others and provide a guide to help decrease the common mistakes made by managers that write their own letters and memos.

By mandybowling

Ethical Conduct and Leadership: The Recalcitrant Employee (Part 2 of 2)

by Mark Leonard

As a leader you have to enforce standards for quality of work and conduct.  If you have a good team, you can make judgment calls to let some of the official company policies slide as long as you are meeting your requirement as a department.  You can allow some flexibility with things like dress code or work hours as long as you are getting the job done.  For instance, KBR required that all office employees wear a collared shirt tucked in.  We were working in a warzone, so as long as employees looked professional, I wouldn’t reprimand a female employee for wearing a nice shirt un-tucked.  However, if you have one employee who is constantly pushing past the limits of acceptable standards of conduct and work ethic relative to the rest of the department, it creates discord within the department.  In order to reprimand the employee, you have to strictly apply all standards across the board or else the employee will simply cite instances where others in the department violated policies, even though these violations are small and do not have a tangible impact on operations.

After struggling with Bo G. over the course of a month to get him to shape up and fall in line, I issued expectations counseling to all of my employees.  They had to sign a document stating that they would follow all conduct policies and adhere to my expectations of their work.  It was rough on the other employees because they couldn’t get away with some of the little things anymore, but I knew I needed to start building a case and citing instances where Bo G. was breaking the rules.  If I was going to issue a counseling statement against him, I would need to present a clear case showing that he was breaking the rules and no one else was.

Bo G. never quite got it, and I started documenting his recalcitrant behavior and communicating with HR and my area manager in preparation for filing and HR case against him.  Before I could take action, the regional office called and told me they needed another employee to fill a vacant slot.  I told them all about Bo G. and his faults but they really just needed someone to monitor the phones at night, so they weren’t overly worried about his insubordination issues.  I put Bo G. on a helicopter the next day.  Before he left I called him into my office and pulled out my log of his behavior issues.  I went down the list, explaining how the hardcore disciplinarians at regional would deal with such recalcitrance.  He left my office wide eyed and I found out later that day that when he arrived at regional, he went straight to HR and turned in his resignation.  Ultimately, I guess he decided that he would rather go home than follow the rules, which was much easier than me or my colleagues at regional making that decision for him!

By mandybowling

Think Before You Write

By: Mandy Bowling

Everyone always says… think before you speak. Well, something we also need to think about is think before we write.  In our textbook, in chapter five, O’Rourke gives and explains information about writing and preparing yourself. I think writing is something that is so overlooked because while something is seen on paper, we can’t always tell what how the person is saying what we are reading, so misinterpretation can happen… big time…. and it can cause problems. 

It’s important to speak when we write, just as O’Rourke says on page 135 in the textbook. Make your writing how you speak and make sure you get the point you are trying to say across. Make it personal so people can try to see how you are saying what you are saying. Also, make it clear what you are trying to say. Don’t just plot it down and except people to proofread it right when they receive it. Think about what you are trying to get across and check before you send.

I do a lot with promotions and during football season there are a lot of promotions for games that have to get done ahead of time. To make a long story short, I had got a sponsor of the game and on top of that our athletic department was going to donate money to their program for future promotions. Basically, participating in a group that can help us and participate with us in the future. So, when it came time for the event, last minute details were sent back and forth to make sure things were on track. The email from the sponsor was a cluster. They repeated themselves over and over again saying different things and really just not making any sense. It was clear that they wrote the email very fast and were either in a hurry or flustered that they didn’t get their thoughts straight before they sent the email. This is a clear example of thinking before you write because, in this case, the sponsors didn’t check their writing and didn’t think before they wrote and it caused somethings to delay and go wrong when it could have been handled much easier. 

Writing is something often used in the working world. We send emails, faxes and texts all the time. So it’s important for us to check what we write and to think about what we write before we even write it and especially before we send it. 

Chapter five is a good example of how to become a good and better writer. I suggest people read it because it takes writing to a step by step process. 

By mandybowling

Is Technology Worth It?

By Nathan Beavers

 

Technology has now become possibly the single most important element of doing business. Those who can’t use the technology available to them or simply won’t use it, suffer a distinct disadvantage compared to those companies that do use the technology they have. Not only can technology help a company become more streamlined in their operating process, but it can also help the company communicate more effectively and efficiently.

In high school, I worked over the summers for my uncle’s small office. I was hired as an office assistant, essentially it was a minimum wage “do whatever no one else wants to do,” job. He had over a dozen employees who worked for him. He made money, but would not spend it on anything “big” for his office. This included copiers, computers, and anything else that a normal modern-day office would have. There was a skeleton system of computers that would handle records for purchases, shipping and everything else, but personal computers for each employee were out of the question. “This is how your grandfather ran this business, and this is how I’m going to run it,” he would often tell me when I complained about doing something that could easily be automated with a computer. One such memorable instance was he had me write a memo to give everyone in the office. The memo was a summary of the major changes to the health care they provided. I had to type the same memo around fifteen times. Then, if any employee had any questions they would take time out of their workday to come see about something the memo didn’t cover. I could not stop thinking about how much time was wasted by myself, for typing the same memo over a dozen times, and others, for taking time to find someone to explain to them what the memo meant. This all could have been handled much more easily with a simple word processing program and email system.

Not surprisingly, my uncle changed his ways a few years after. He now has all the common pieces of equipment you would normally find in an office: computers for each employee and a surprisingly nice copier and a decent network throughout the office. He learned the hard way; technology needs to be embraced. It is not something that is going away any time soon. The best bet should be to be ahead of the curve, rather than behind it.

By mandybowling