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As mentioned previously, the College Board identified these communication skills as “frequently” or “almost always” necessary in the workplace:College Board, “Writing: A Ticket to Work…or a Ticket Out: A Survey of Business Leaders,” Report of the National Commission on Writing, September 2004, http://www.writingcommission.org/prod_downloads/writingcom/writing-ticket-to-work.pdf (accessed August 10, 2008). e-mail, presentation with visuals, technical reports, formal reports, memos, and presentations without visuals. The skill ranked highest in importance was the use of e-mails, including the ability to adapt messages to different receivers or compose persuasive messages when necessary. The ability to make presentations (with visuals) ranked second in importance. Report writing came next. Given the complexity of report writing, we will not cover this topic here. Instead, we will look at the remaining three forms of communication: e-mail, presentations with visuals, and memos.
Here are some tips for writing effective e-mail messages:
For some, the thought of making a presentation is traumatic. If you’re one of those people, the best way to get over your fear is to get up and make a presentation. With time, it will get easier, and you might even start enjoying it. As you progress through college, you will have a number of opportunities to make presentations. This is good news—it gives you practice, lets you make your mistakes in a protected environment (before you hit the business world), and allows you to get fairly good at it. Your opportunities to talk in front of a group will multiply once you enter the business world. Throughout your business career, you’ll likely be called on to present reports, address groups at all levels in the organization, represent your company at various events, run committee meetings, lead teams, or make a sales pitch.Paul W. Barada, “Confront Your Fears and Communicate,” Monster.com,http://career-advice.monster.com/business-communication/Confront-Your-Fears-and-Communicate/home.aspx (accessed August 11, 2008). In preparing and delivering your presentation, you can follow a four-step process (plan, prepare, practice, and present) designed by Dale Carnegie, a global training company named after its famed founder.“Presentation Tips from Dale Carnegie Training,” Dale Carnegie, http://www.erinhoops.ca/LobbyingHandbook/Presentation_Tips.htm (accessed August 13, 2008).
Plan your presentation based on your purpose and the knowledge level and interest of your audience. Use words and concepts your audience can understand, and stay focused. If your audience is knowledgeable about your topic, you can skim over the generalities and delve into the details. On the other hand, if the topic is new to them, you need to move through it slowly. As you plan your presentation, ask yourself these questions: What am I trying to accomplish? Am I trying to educate, inform, motivate, or persuade my audience? What does my audience know about the topic? What do I want them to know? How can I best convey this information to them?
Once you have planned your presentation, you’re ready to prepare. It might be easier to write your presentation if you divide it into three sections: opening, body, close. Your opening should grab your audience’s attention. You can do this by asking a question, telling a relevant story, or even announcing a surprising piece of information. About 5 to 10 percent of your time can be spent on the opening. The body covers the bulk of the material and consumes about 80 to 85 percent of your time. Cover your key points, stay focused, but do not overload your audience. It has been found that an audience can absorb only about four to six points. Your close, which uses about 5 to 10 percent of your time, should leave the audience with a positive impression of you and your presentation. You have lots of choices for your close: You can either summarize your message, or relate your closing remarks to your opening remarks, or do both.
This section should really be called “Practice, Practice, Practice” (and maybe another Practice for emphasis). The saying “practice makes perfect” is definitely true with presentations, especially for beginners. You might want to start off practicing your presentation by yourself, perhaps in front of a mirror. You could even videotape yourself and play it back (that should be fun). As you get the hang of it, ask a friend or a group of friends to listen to and critique your talk. When you rehearse, check your time to see whether it’s what you want. Avoid memorizing your talk, but know it well.
Preparation is key to a successful presentation.
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Now you’re ready for the big day—it’s time to present. Dress for the part—if it’s a professional talk, dress like a professional. Go early to the location where you’ll present, check out the room, and be sure any equipment you’ll need is there and works. Try to connect with your audience as soon as you start your presentation. Take your time delivering your opening. Act as natural as you can, and try to relax. Slow your speech down, as you’ll likely have a tendency to speed up if you get nervous. Pause before and after your main point for emphasis. If you put brief notes on index cards, avoid reading from the cards. Glance down at them when needed, but then look up at your audience as you speak. Involve your audience in your presentation by asking them questions. Not only will they feel included, but it will help you relax. When you’re close to finishing, let your audience know this (but don’t announce it too early in the talk or your audience might start packing up prematurely). Remember to leave some time for questions and answers.
It’s very common to use visual aids (generally PowerPoint slides) in business presentations. The use of visual aids helps your audience remember your main points and keeps you focused. If you do use PowerPoint slides, follow some simple (but important) rules:“Making PowerPoint Slides—Avoiding the Pitfalls of Bad Slides,” http://www.iasted.org/conferences/formatting/Presentations-Tips.ppt (accessed August 13, 2008).
And most important: The PowerPoint slides are background, but you are the show. Avoid turning around and reading the slides. The audience wants to see you talk; they are not interested in seeing the back of your head.
Memos are effective at conveying fairly detailed information. To help you understand how to write a memo, read the following sample memorandum.
As college students, you’ll be expected to analyze real-world situations, research issues, form opinions, and provide support for the conclusions that you reach. In addition to engaging in classroom discussions of business issues, you’ll be asked to complete a number of written assignments. For these assignments, we’ll give you a business situation and ask you to analyze the issues, form conclusions, and provide support for your opinions.
In each assignment, you’ll use the memo format, which is the typical form of written communication used in business. Writing in memo format means providing a complete but concise response to the issues at hand. Good memo writing demands time and effort. Because the business world expects you to possess this skill, we want to give you an opportunity to learn it now.
Here are a few helpful hints to get you started on the right track:
Now that you’ve read our memo, we expect you to follow the simple guidelines presented in it. This form of communication is widely practiced in business, so take advantage of this opportunity to practice your memo-writing skills.
Sometimes it’s not what you say or how you say it that matters, but what your body language communicates about you and how you feel. When a good friend who’s in a bad mood walks into a room, you don’t need to hear a word from her to know she’s having an awful day. You can read her expression. In doing this, you’re picking up on her nonverbal communication“Nonword” messages communicated through facial expressions, posture, gestures, and tone of voice.—“nonword” messages communicated through facial expressions, posture, gestures, and tone of voice. People give off nonverbal cues all the time. So what effect do these cues have in the business setting? Quite a bit—these cues are often better at telling you what’s on a person’s mind than what the person actually says. If an employee is meeting with his supervisor and frowns when she makes a statement, the supervisor will conclude that he disapproved of the statement (regardless of what he claims). If two employees are discussing a work-related problem and one starts to fidget, the other will pick this up as disinterest.
Given the possible negative effect that nonverbal cues can have in business situations, how can you improve your body language? The best approach is to become aware of any nonverbal cues you give out, and then work to eliminate them. For example, if you have a habit of frowning when you disapprove of something, recognize this and stop doing it. If the tone of your voice changes when you are angry, try to maintain your voice at a lower pitch.
Here are ten tips for writing an e-mail:
In preparing your presentation, it helps to divide it into three sections: opening, body and close.
When you present, dress professionally, connect with your audience, try to relax and pause before and after your main points for emphasis.
Memos are effective at conveying fairly detailed information. Here are some tips: