Smoke Signals:Are you reading them correctly?
What do ancient Chinese soldiers, American Indians, the Cardinals in Rome, and our clients all have in common? They all send smoke signals. Ok, our clients may not actually send smoke signals, but they send lots of messages. The question is, are we picking up on what they’re telling us?
What signals are our clients sending? What about our boss? Are we able to read signs of satisfaction or disappointment with our work? Deciphering these cues is not always easy.
Signals can be subtle, so when you’re in a meeting or making a presentation, read your audience. Notice their body language. Are they leaning in and listening or leaning back and tuning out? Are they looking at you or gazing out the window? Are they continually checking their smartphones?
These may signal that they’ve lost interest. Or as interesting as you think you are, maybe your audience is preoccupied with business outside the room. So what can you do?
- Take control of the meeting (before they do) and draw them back in. Manage their expectations. Restate the objective and main point of the meeting to keep people focused.
- Give them back their time. Everyone—especially senior managers—have one eye on the clock. To get them to pay attention, say, “This meeting is slated for an hour, but I’ll try to cover everything in 45 minutes.” If you give them their time back, they’ll be more attentive.
- Make eye contact and engage your audience. When you look at them, they’ll eventually look at you. Concerned about the after-lunch coma? Modulate the volume and tone of your voice. This creates more energy in the room and focuses attention on you.
- Ask “rip-cord” questions. Just as a rip cord opens up a parachute, open-ended questions open up a two-way conversation. Begin questions with, Tell me, Explain, Why, Describe….
- Beware of “Yep…mm-hmm…got it…sure….” It’s probably a signal that they’ve heard enough. If you’ve made your key points, it may be time to end the meeting. If not, shift gears. Get to the point quickly and hit on the highlights. Underscore the benefits of what you’re proposing and how it will impact them. Give specific reasons why they should care.
Conversely, whether we intend to or not, we also send signals that others can pick up on.
- Didn’t get a chance to prepare properly for meeting? Don’t broadcast it by coming across as timid. Work with what you’ve got and exude confidence.
- Don’t use tentative or fuzzy language that can demonstrate lack of confidence. (Avoid the words and phrases in the brackets.)
- [Hopefully]/We’re confident that what we’re presenting today will make your staff more efficient.
- This [has the potential to] will increase your sales.
- Our new product [could/should] will solve your problem.
- Our research [suggests] proves that our system works.
- [We’ll try to do whatever we can]/We assure you that you’ll be happy.
All good communication is two way. If you do all the talking, you may come across as talking “at” your audience, which is a sure turn-off. Turn them on with confidence, assertiveness, and energy and let them know that you’re reading them loud and clear!