Of the two primary means of communication covered in this chapter, basic writing is the simplest to master. Verbal communication is much more difficult. The reasons are obvious:
- Verbal communication is live— There is little chance for mistake and revision. You cannot move or edit the spoken word.
- Public speaking of any type is ranked by many Americans as a fear greater than death— Many are, in fact, more afraid of being asked to give a public presentation than they are of dying. This is remarkable but true. And the fear manifests itself in ways that are damaging to a career.
However, verbal communication is much more than public speaking. Certainly, that is an aspect that should be addressed. Ultimately, if you really want to see your perceived value at a company skyrocket, become effective at giving presentations. The simple truth is that an audience defers a great amount of respect to the person at the podium.
Before entering the public speaking arena, this section covers the more mundane, everyday verbal communications.
It might sound trite that I've included a section on conversation. However, for all of us, this is the most used form of verbal communication. Conversation is as natural to us as breathing. We've been doing it since we were toddlers. But in business, we cannot overlook certain guidelines for conversation.
The following are not rigid rules but general guidelines I've found to be effective:
- Never joke at another's expense— This seems natural, but I have witnessed some extremely poor judgment calls on this one. Your relationship with an individual might warrant an extremely relaxed attitude. However, you do not necessarily know the relationship that person has with others in the group. If you must express humor, self-effacing humor is best. You are seldom considered insensitive for making a joke at your own expense.
- Use a person's name in conversation— People like few things more than hearing their name. In conversation, speaking someone's name shows that you recognize him. Be careful on this one, though; if you have just met an individual, you should refer to him or her as as Mr. or Ms. last name until he or she gives you permission to do otherwise.
- Look people in the eye —Don't become the "all-seeing" eye of Sauron. Don't stare or make someone uncomfortable, but it's rude to look away or act distracted—even if you are.
- Ask for input— In general conversation, you become a bore and appear arrogant if the other person cannot express his ideas or opinions.
- Stick to the primary point— This is more critical for meetings. You can waste a considerable amount of time pursuing topics that yield little or no positive result. This is particularly true in group meetings. If information that you need to make a decision is unavailable, don't continue discussing the various theoretical possibilities. Instead, assign investigation/research to one or two individuals with a time frame for reporting back to the group.
This last point is a particularly important one. I attended one meeting in which the color of a flyer was discussed and debated for almost 30 minutes. Eventually, I asked two members to make a decision out of the meeting and let everyone know via e-mail.
Time is critical in business, and your effective use of time greatly enhances your ability to move your career along.