For today’s article, I’m handing over to guest blogger Simon Raybould. Simon is one of the UK’s leading presentations trainers and designers.
Admit it – one of the things that you like about being in ICT is that you don’t have to do much of that pesky ‘human’ stuff. Most of the time when you do have to talk to people it’s just to point out that the error they’ve reported lies between the chair and the keyboard.
But it’s not like that in the real world, is it? In the real world you’ve got to do things like selling yourself; pitch at networking meetings; report to boards; meeting with prospective clients… you get the idea. Wouldn’t life be easier if people were as easy to predict as IT systems?
To push the metaphor past the breaking point, they are. It’s just that it’s a very complicated IT system and no one has given you the User Guide. I’ll admit the full document is long, boring and a work-in-progress, so how about a TL;DR version for making a brief explanation of something… for example the answer to the question “what do you do?”
Would you like a cup of tea?
It’s not a hard question and the answer is pretty much always yes. I run on tea the same way other people run on air. So when my wife says “Would you like a cup of tea, Simon” does it take me about ten seconds to reply?
(A better question might be why she just doesn’t make me one without asking but that’s a different blog!)
The answer is pretty obvious. It’s because I’m busy doing something else and it’s not until I register my name (what psychologists call the Cocktail Party Effect) that I realise I’m supposed to have been paying attention and then I have to mentally replay the background recording of my environment that I’ve buffered. Then and only then, can I decide on my answer.
Audiences are like that. They need to know that they’re supposed to be paying attention before they can. Not ‘will’ but ‘can’.
So what’s the problem?
Well, the problem is this. Almost everyone tells people the answer to a question in a way that pretty much replicates the order in which they answered that question for themselves. At risk of oversimplifying, the process looks a bit like this…
- Initial ignorance (there I was, happily coding in FORTRAN 77)
- Shocking realisation (when I realised that there were other, possibly better languages available)
- Learning process (So I decided to learn them all… … … … … including details about all the various languages… … … … their comparative strengths and weaknesses… … and what books or websites you used to learn them … … )
- The final choice of the new language (until I mastered Powershell)
- Happy ending (and I can now code up to 43.65% faster than I did before.)
- Application and transfer (Here’s how you can do it too!)
But remember the cup of tea question? It’s not until point five or six that the audience needs to know about all the other stuff that came before it.
What they need is point five first, then point six. (Sometimes they need points one to four as a follow-on but not often. I’d just dump them if I was you!) By the time they get to the point where you tell them that your company can make their company make widgets faster, they’re not able to listen any more and they’re probably making a mental bee-line for either the exit or the drinks.
Okay, smart-arse Simon… what’s the solution?
It’s pretty simple. Don’t give them your learning process. Just give them their solution. Or to put it another way, when you’re at a networking meeting and someone says “What do you do?” don’t answer it the way I’ve structured this blog post! 😉
I recently described this to Richard as The Ikea Idea. Remember how long it takes to wander around Ikea? But the staff don’t do that, do they? Hell no – they know the single unmarked, shortcut door that gets them from A to Z without all that tedious B, C, D, E, etc. Be like Ikea staff for the people you’re talking to – not the poor shoppers. Be their shortcut!
I know it’s bloody obvious as you read this, but trust me, you probably don’t do it – because it’s built into your subconscious to do it the process way. It makes logical sense, it makes a satisfying emotional sense and it’s what your teachers needed you to do at school, so it’s a habit.
But they needed you to do it to prove you understood things, not because they cared.
Yes, I’m glad you asked.
To make it even more effective, wait until you know what their need is first. There’s absolutely no point in trying to offer phone systems to a company of only two people! This trick is called the Colon Technique and it goes like this “Pain: Pleasure”. In short, you find out their pain and then give them the solution, which just by coincidence (not!) happens to be what you do.
It’s pretty obvious, really, isn’t it?
Note from Richard:- I wrote a blog post on How to be a good listener that backs Simon’s point up well!
And yet all too many of us geeks don’t do that. We figure that if we know it, it must be important. After all, our brains are a very limited-capacity thing, so we’d not have bothered learning it if it wasn’t important. And if it’s important the other person needs to know it, right?
Real people need to know the outcome, not the process.
If I ask a Microsoft Developer to talk to me about the sort function in Excel what I need is for him to tell me “Random data in… magic happens… Sorted data out”. He cares about the magic but I only care about the effects of the magic. It could be pixies for all I care!
To wrap up
Be the shortcut, not the route you took.
Don’t tell try to give people what you do before they know they need it.
Offer me a cup of tea whenever we meet.
How will this method change the way you communicate? Leave a comment below!
You Might Also Be Interested In
- Why Taking your Meetings Outdoors Can Help You Be More Creative
- It’s All About Communication
- Why Using Email Could be Killing Your Business Relationships
About the author
Dr Simon Raybould spent two and half decades as a research scientist and has also worked as an actor, lighting designer, teacher and fire-eater! He ’s the author of three books on presenting, one of which became a best seller and two of which sank without trace.
He’s now one of the UK’s leading presentations trainers and designers. See more at presentationgenius.info and if you want some training by him see presentationgenius.eventbrite.co.uk for his only public UK training this year.
- Twitter: @presentations
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/simon-raybould/
- Facebook: http://facebook.com/presentationgenius
- Youtube: http://youtube.com/presentationgeniusinfo