Communication Skills in Business
A lot has been said about communicating your message successfully, especially during presentations. Blog posts have been written, debating the ‘right’ look for your deck (AKA “every time you use bullet points a kitten dies”), your tone, the data you should use, your pose, body language and what not.
That’s all fine and dandy, but will becoming a polished speaker really help your message get through? According to an experiment carried at Stanford University, the answer is – NO.
Results show “almost no correlation between ‘speaking talent’ and the ability to make ideas stick.” (Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die)
Eric Barker summarized this on Barking Up The Wrong Tree: What’s the secret to communicating memorably?:
Polished [presentation] wasn’t memorable. It was the students who used stories in their presentations that were best remembered.
I’ve seen this phenomenon first-handed two years ago. The company I worked for sent me to develop a system for a call centre of a large Israeli mobile network provider.
The system was much more intelligent than the industry’s standards, and could recognize ineffective behavior/actions of agents within seconds. Suspicious incidents where pushed to the supervisor, who was monitoring the data for anything unusual. Data highlighted in yellow meant “an event developing” and data highlighted in red meant “an event that is losing money to the company right now”. It was an awesome project! 🙂
We launched on October. By the end of the same year, my system saved our customer over $200,000. This surpassed all expectations by a mile. But when I came back next year and analyzed the logs, I realizes that the power of our system was no where near being fully utilized. This meant our customer could save even more money, if we could figure out what causes the underutilization.
“You can triple the results you’ve been seeing”, I told him. “Let me observe your supervisors’s work for a week, and I’ll tell you how.” The deal was made.
A lot of data was collected during the observation period, as every single action that supervisors took was logged. After analysis, I sat down with the call centre (CC) manager. “You have good supervisors. They are very professional and mostly doing the best they can”, I told her. “But, they have too many tasks happening at the same time, the prioritization is wrong in my opinion. A lot of their protocols are outdated or missing, and they really need some new hardware over there”
“I know all of that” she answered. “But many of these tasks root from company policies or direct requests from my boss or the GM. I’ve been asking for new hardware and more manpower for months already” she explained in despair. No one got her message.
Let Me Tell You A Story
Presenting my findings to the GM, he grilled me immediately.
“I’ve seen these STATISTICS before and I’m not buying it. Our current manpower should be able to handle this, why aren’t they? Find the real problem!” he said, suggesting an early end to our meeting. “Let me tell you a story”, I replied.
I described a typical work day of a supervisor at the company. I told him about the constant interruptions, the “urgent” reports that had to be prepared, hundreds of little emergencies that had to be attended. And on the top of everything, tens of alerts beeping from our new high-tech monitoring system, screens full of flashing red and yellow notifications….I shared their despair of the workload, the time consumed in switching between the tasks, the amount of stuff they missed while not being able to concentrate.
“STOP!” He exclaimed. “But why are the doing all these tasks? They should be looking at the monitoring system and proactively handling events, not be running like headless chickens!!”
Before I knew it, we were going through each and every task a supervisor has, and he was canceling many of them. “This is not worth their time. This can be done once a week instead of twice a day. This should be done by X, not by them”. Next came my recommendations. They all accepted, effective immediately. He sent the needed emails while I was still talking.
Would that have happened if I kept focusing on number, reports and data? No. Only when he listened to a story and was taken through “a day in their life”, he understood the size of the shoes they had to fill.
Tell stories, not statistics.
Photo: © Ilike – Fotolia.com