June was an exciting month. Russmeister, Michael and I spent it commuting from our various homes to the Cotswolds to deliver sessions on Pitching (R), Relationship Building (M) and Confidence, Assertiveness & Listening (me).
Between us we were working with three groups. Russell worked with one of them for four hours, while Michael and I had two hours each with the other two groups. We were just a tiny part of a three-day conference, the logistical challenges for the client events teams were immense but they were incredible and the whole thing went off really smoothly.
Group sizes for me and Michael were in the region of 150 for one group and 100 for the other. When you’re dealing with a group of this size, you need to remember the following things:
- It’s critical to make the emotional connection with your audience. You don’t have much time over two hours to cover the subject matter, let alone get to know the people in the room! Talk to as many of them beforehand as you can, smile and remember that eye contact is critical: looking over people’s heads and addressing the back wall is a huge turnoff.
- You’re going to have to be assertive with your group, whatever the subject matter! This means being clear about the amount of time they have for a discussion point or exercise, who you want them to do this with eg a neighbour or with the table as a whole, and how long they’ve got – and how you’re going to call them back to the main session for debrief.
- Some people won’t be at all interested in the subject matter (“Why is this important for me at this stage of my career?” or “I can do this all already”) In my introduction, I explained why these “softer” skills ie emotional intelligence competencies matter – to individuals’ reputation, to their clients’ decisions to work with them on an ongoing basis (or not) and to their bottom line. We’re all interested in making our businesses profitable; these skills are critical in doing so. What’s the hook that you can use in your presentations?
- Even after that, some people still won’t be interested and will demonstrate that in their behaviour. That’s ok. That’s their decision – albeit a short-sighted one. Amongst their peers they’ll have the future top people of the business sitting with them. Play the long game and remember that manners maketh the man. Every time we’re with our colleagues or our clients is an opportunity to make a lasting impression. Are you making the right one?
To go back to the subject matter at hand for this particular client (Confidence, Assertiveness and Listening), let me just say a bit about each one:
- Confidence: if you’ve got it, it can be a real challenge to empathise with those who don’t. Consider how you might help someone who’s not to adapt their words, tone and body language to situations that challenge them – and explore the underlying thinking that prevents them being confidence. Also, if you are confident, do you understand the impact that you’re having on the people round about you? Confidence is great but be sure that it’s not so full-on that it’s interpreted as arrogance. Equally, as The Smiths said “Shyness is nice, but shyness can stop you, from doing all the things in life you’d like to”. So – how can you build your confidence in order to get out of your own way?
- Assertiveness: this is a relatively new behaviour for humans (emerging in the last 100,000 years or so). When we feel under threat, we’ll default to fight, flight or freeze Under normal circumstances, we don’t all default to assertiveness automatically, although many people are very good at getting there quickly. Do you need to be more assertive, more often? Do you go one way towards preserving the relationship at all costs, or the other way towards getting your own way? Assertiveness is not about getting your own way all the time, but it is about knowing it’s ok to ask for what you want, say no (and of course offer alternatives) and express your thoughts and feelings clearly but respectfully.
- Listening: many of us think that we’re much better listeners than we are. Proper, engaged listening is about an awful lot more than simply nodding, smiling and waiting for our turn to speak. It’s about putting our own agenda to the side, concentrating properly on the other person and letting them know we’re doing that by asking appropriate questions and reflecting key themes as they emerge. Counter-intuitively, by giving the other person the floor we build rapport and trust much more quickly and through that win the privilege of coming forward with our own views.
These are skills that we could all get better at. My big thing at the moment is resilience – remaining confident in the face of setbacks – and planning for what to do differently/better/more of rather than going into my usual Doomsday scenario meltdown. What’s yours?
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about the author
Nicky Denegri is our Senior Consultant. If you would like to know more about this subject, drop her an email and we will be in touch.