Why your audience is critical to your success

No matter which workshop I’m teaching, we always talk about ‘the audience’ of your communication. Because the audience is relevant, whether you’re delivering a presentation, crafting a report, giving an update in a meeting, or writing an email.

In fact, if you’re communicating anything – to anyone – you have an audience, which is fantastic: It’s an opportunity for you to share, connect and add value to others.

And when you do that, you can create positive change and growth: for your audience, for you, for your company, for the world.

Take advantage of the opportunity

Your audience wants something from you. They want you to give them wisdom, insight, facts and figures, results of research, a recommendation, details on the new process, etc. And they want you not to waste their time, because they are all busy.

In business, your audience might be a set of stakeholders that you communicate with regularly. Do you know exactly who they are and what they need from you?

A real-life stakeholder conundrum

In a recent presentation I gave to a group of audit executives at the Audit Challenge in Frankfurt, we talked about audit report stakeholders, and how knowing their needs drives audit’s success in an organization.

Case in point: There were 12 participants in one my audit report writing workshops earlier in the year. I asked two questions at the beginning of the first day of the workshop:

  1. Who are your stakeholders?
  2. What do they need from your audit reports?

I got eight different opinions, not just on stakeholder needs, but on who those main stakeholders were. (Nope, not kidding!)

Why were there so many different opinions, especially since all of the participants worked for the same company?

Blame it on poor communication

I believe it was a communication issue, or to be more precise, a ‘lack of communication’ issue.

This team couldn’t agree on who their main stakeholders were because they had never discussed it before. They had assumed it was clear within the team, but that wasn’t the reality.

Not having agreement on who their main stakeholders were created the follow-on challenge of trying to identify the most critical information to include in the audit reports.

As a result, this team’s reports were not as effective as audit management wanted. Their department was not adding the desired value to the organization. And that can spell disaster for long-term trust, confidence and growth.

The lesson learned

This team learned that they needed to regroup and ask some questions, both internally within their department and externally within the company.

  • Who are the potential stakeholders of their reports?
  • Of those, who are the main stakeholders?

Then they put themselves in the shoes of those main stakeholders and asked:

  • What would I need from the audit reports to do my job better?

The department then took a very important step:

  • They asked these stakeholders what they wanted from the audit reports.

Finally, the department compared this information to their own ideas, and made minor modifications to the audit report template and guidance to ensure their stakeholder needs were being met – and ideally, exceeded.

Applying these lessons to your communication

You may not be an auditor, but there may be takeaways for you, too, in this tale.

Every time you communicate with an audience, learn who they are and what they need and want from you. Then make sure you give it to them.

You may want to give them more, but don’t give more without giving what’s truly needed. And don’t give them so much that they can’t find what they need because of excess information.

And remember: Your stakeholders’ needs can change over time. So if you have an audience you communicate with regularly, make sure to build in a mechanism to find out if their needs and wants have changed. The information you provide will stay relevant, and so will you!

Wishing you every success in your communication!

All the best,

Tracie Marquardt

Quality Assurance Communication

How to Prepare and Deliver a Powerful Presentation: Hosted by the IHK Rhein-Neckar

preparing-delivering-powerful-presentations

October 9 & 10, 2017, in Mannheim, Germany

Change the way you think about, design and deliver presentations to international audiences. Presentation of best practices, discussion, individual and group work, practice delivery of your presentation with trainer and peer feedback.

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Writing Efficiently Is An Art, Not Rocket Science

 

Writing efficiently is a concept that sometimes seems unachievable. We write, and then we edit. And then our bosses comment and edit. Then we rewrite. Then our boss comments and edits again. This can go round and round, especially when multiple stakeholders have a say in the final document that is released.

The question becomes, how do we minimize everyone’s time invested in writing a quality document that achieves the desired result?

It’s not rocket science. It’s an art. And it all hinges on planning.

This might seem counter-intuitive, but the more time we spend up front planning, the less time it will take to create the desired final document. As Mark Twain says, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

Here are my top 5 techniques and strategies for writing efficiently:

1. Know your purpose

Why are you writing this particular document? What are you trying to achieve? Try writing the purpose of your report in 140 characters or less. The clearer you are on your purpose, the more efficient you will be when you write. Because everything you include should support that purpose, no more and no less.

2. Know your reader

Who will read the report? What information do they need from you to do their jobs better, make a decision, or approve your recommendation? Understanding what your reader needs means you don’t have to include what they don’t need.

3. Plan the content

Start with your template. What are the sections you need to include, and what is the main point(s) for each section? If you’re old school like me, scribble your notes on a pad of paper or use small cards, one for each main point. If you prefer using technology, use your tablet to draw a diagram of concepts or some other program to record your ideas – without starting to write the full document.

4. Cut, cut, cut

Forget about writing everything you know about the topic, or everything you did to come to your conclusions and recommendation. Granted, sometimes this is necessary, e.g. in a research report, but most business documents are not research reports. Include only what you need to support your conclusions and recommendations. That means facts, figures and surrounding context. You’re not writing a book; you’re writing with a specific purpose.

5. Put yourself in the readers’ shoes

As you finish up with your document, think back to your planning stage. What do your readers need from this document? Read the report as if you are your reader, whether it’s your boss or five other people in the organization. Would you need all of the information included in the report? Many times we feel like we must include all of the extra information because it shows the amount of effort we put into the research, it shows how well we understand the topic, and sometimes, that it justifies our being on the payroll. My response to that? Leave it out.

The end result

By spending up-front time planning what should be in the document, you’ll end up writing less. This means less writing time, and less editing time when you send it to your boss or other stakeholders for their input.

Over time, you’ll see your report writing efficiency increase. It’s like exercising and creating muscle memory. The more you practice these efficiency techniques, the faster you’ll get, and the more time savings you’ll realize. Your reports will be short, clear and concise. And your readers will thank you.

We all have our own techniques and strategies for writing efficiently. What are yours? Share them in the comments below. Because by sharing, we create more value for those around us who have the same interests and needs.

All the best,

Tracie Marquardt

Quality Assurance Communication

International Audit Report Writing Workshop

international-audit-report-writing

September 25 & 26, 2017, in Frankfurt, Germany

A two-day workshop where participants will learn audit report writing best practices and will apply these tools, techniques and strategies to write stakeholder-focused, action-oriented audit reports that achieve better results.

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A small shift in learning philosophy can increase your ultimate success

Recently, I asked one of my clients how often they present. The answer: twice a year, maybe. My client was referring to how often they stand in front of a roomful of people with a slide presentation behind them. Hmmm… Really? Is that all?

I would like to broaden the definition of ‘presenting’ to any time we have to speak to someone and persuade them to take action, support a project, sign a contract, give up the old way for the new way of doing something, etc. With slides or without slides behind us.

That means you are presenting every day: in meetings, on telephone calls, on video calls, in elevators or sometimes, even in a bathroom. (A wee anecdote comes to mind about convincing a female Head of IT of the importance of certain system functionality while we were washing our hands at the same time – she was really hard to tie down for a meeting!)

What does it take to be successful if we use the new definition of presenting?

  • Topic expertise
  • Well thought-out arguments and logic
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Confidence
  • Excellent communication skills: questioning, listening, negotiating, speaking, influencing, etc.

Yes indeed, the same skills you need when you present with slides behind you twice a year. That’s why it’s so important to work on improving our ‘presentation’ skills every day, not just in spurts twice a year to get us ready for the official presentation to a roomful of people.

I can imagine the moans and groans now: I don’t have time to worry about my communication skills every day! Of course I am emotionally intelligent – that’s just a buzzword anyway! I’m right brained so naturally, I’m logical!

I believe there is always something we can learn from others at meetings, in presentations and on calls. The learning might be acquiring new information and knowledge. It might also be learning communication strategy and techniques.

We can learn what NOT to do by watching or listening to others. (You know what I’m talking about. Remember that time you were sitting in a meeting, watching and listening, and then something went wrong. You thought “Note to self: Don’t ever … “)

Or we can learn what TO do by watching or listening to presenting ‘greats’, from skilled colleagues to Steve Jobs and Martin Luther King Jr.

Here are 10 ways you can learn and improve your communication skills every day without much effort:

  1. Ask for feedback from someone you trust to be honest with you after a business interaction.
  2. Assess the outcome you got from a business interaction against the outcome you wanted, taking into account mood and tone at the conclusion of the interaction.
  3. Sign up for internal seminars on communication strategy and techniques – they are often less expensive than external seminars.
  4. Read/listen to online resources like LinkedIn, podcasts, etc., on your ride to/from work.
  5. Organize a brown-bag lunch series at work to share expertise and experience.
  6. Read a non-fiction book for 30 minutes a day. (I’ve just started The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, M.D.)
  7. Do something you’re scared of every day, like making that call you have been avoiding or calling someone and sharing with them how you can help them be more successful.
  8. Join Toastmasters to improve your public speaking skills. (I’m the Vice President of Education at the Heidelberg International Toastmasters Club at the time of writing – I highly recommend Toastmasters to improve your speaking skills within a safe community.)
  9. Call someone in your network to catch up: ask questions, listen to answers, share insights, offer help and share successes.
  10. Consistently ask for and volunteer for opportunities where you have to speak in front of others, whether it’s one person, three people or 60 people.

Learn by listening. Learn by watching. Learn by doing. If you consciously build this philosophy into your life, you’ll improve your communication skills and your success before you know it.

And number 11: Find a communication skills trainer or coach. We’re here to help.

Wishing you every success in your journey to excellent communication skills and success.

All the best,

Tracie Marquardt

Quality Assurance Communication