By Amy C. Baker, a professional speaker and consultant, for PINK magazine and Divine Caroline
You’ve seen them, heard them, and watched them. They are comfortable around anyone. They can move through a crowded conference room or engage a meeting of high-level muckety-mucks with the credibility of an Ivy League MBA (regardless of where they went to school). What’s their secret? How can you get yourself noticed up the business food chain because of your stellar communication skills?
Here are some practical strategies to help you converse more effectively with decision-makers, senior leaders, board members, and other important and influential individuals -- inside or outside of your organization.
1.) Learn from the pros you know. Who are the individuals you know who always seem to get selected to present at the quarterly meeting or local event? With a Rolodex full of business cards gleaned at networking events and business conferences, whom do you make a special point to reach out to?
You’re not necessarily narrowing down your list by title or position, but rather identifying contacts with outstanding communication skills – both in front of a crowd and in an intimate meeting. In fact, if an individual has not yet been graced with a fancy title and she’s still asked to present to the top echelon of decision-makers that says even more.
Ask the best communicators you know to coffee or lunch. Tell them you have noticed how well they speak in important meetings and that you’d like to learn from their expertise. Ask how they prepare for critical presentations. Do they have an outline they always use or questions they always ask themselves as they get ready to speak? How do they make notes and structure their presentation -- or do they speak off the cuff? What do they do to combat nervousness or insecurity? And what about individual meetings with influencers? How do these successful communicators prepare to build relationships with their superiors and get their point across? What kind of “pre-work” do they do before an important business meeting? What have they learned from countless meetings with the influential and the important?
And learn from others’ mistakes. In upcoming meetings, try to really observe the dynamics happening within a meeting. Is there someone who repeatedly gets cut off mid-sentence, or whose ideas typically get shot down more often than those of co-workers? Where did she go wrong? Was the topic relevant? Did she say it with conviction and confidence? What did she do that you should avoid doing?
2.) Do your homework. Before meeting a critical decision-maker for the first time, find out key facts about this individual -- family, university affiliation, where they grew up. Knowing something about a person’s background can help you make effective small talk and build a rapport. Consider what you might have in common with this individual. Did you go to the same college, or does her kid play soccer just like yours?