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

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

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

The ABCs You Were Never Taught at School

  • A scientist who loves research but hates presenting his results to management because speaking in public is out of his comfort zone.
  • An American project manager living in Germany who has realized the hard way that working internationally means that shifts in style, tone and language are required when communicating across cultures.
  • An auditor struggling during international audit missions because he is perceived as being very direct and sometimes demanding, putting off audit clients and even causing escalations.

These are three of the people I met at a recent networking event, where attendees were asked about the challenges they face in their professional lives. Every story I heard was unique, but there was a common thread: A gap in communication competence and comfort.

So while it was a great networking event, I felt there was something missing from the discussion: WHY are these successful international professionals experiencing these challenges?

What’s missing might be those things most of us never learned at school. I call them the ABCs of communication success: Assertiveness, Behaviour and Competence. So let’s get back to the basics:

A: Assertiveness

Being assertive means you are confident in expressing your thoughts and ideas while respecting those of others. You can stand up for yourself without being aggressive. It’s the best way to communicate to ensure your messages are heard and acted on.

If you are overly passive, people may use you as a doormat if you aren’t careful. You might take on too much work or not give your opinion in a meeting… and your opinion might just be the voice of reason that carries a great idea forward.

The good news: You CAN learn to be assertive rather than aggressive or passive.

B: Behaviour

Your behaviour, or your response to someone else’s behaviour, can make or break your success. There’s good news here, too: You are free to CHOOSE your behaviour, and you are free to choose how you REACT to someone else’s behaviour.

Helping others, avoiding overly emotional reactions, and avoiding overtly competitive behaviour when it’s not appropriate in the situation – these will help you communicate effectively. Doing the opposite can prevent you from being successful.

C: Competence

When I was at university, there wasn’t any guidance on HOW to communicate well. And I never knew what I was missing until I started working in the real world.

Writing an action-oriented report, delivering a dynamic presentation, facilitating meetings, motivating a team to success – these are all skills we need to master. And if you’re like me, a little practice goes along way.

A Strategy to Strengthen Your Communication Skills

If you are not sure why your messages aren’t being appreciated or acted on, or why you are constantly having issues with clients and colleagues, it’s time to find out.

  1. Make your own observations about where YOU feel you aren’t succeeding or communicating well.
  2. Ask for feedback from your boss, colleagues, clients and other business associates.
  3. Analyze all of the feedback together, looking for patterns, repeated observations or common situations.
  4. Prioritize the communication skills you want to tackle first, so you get further, faster.
  5. Identify resources to help you fill the gap, including books, workshops, and finding a mentor.
  6. Take advantage of every opportunity to practice: Volunteer to run meetings, ask to lead a project group, offer to give the monthly departmental presentation, write the next report due to the Board, etc.
  7. Keep a journal of communication goals, successes and challenges. Track what works, what doesn’t, and write down your ideas of how to change it next time.

The scientist, the project manager and the auditor are all educated, intelligent and considered successful by their peers. By identifying their communication skills gaps and executing a plan to fill them, they can reach their ultimate potential. And you can, too!

Which of these ABCs do you need to work on? Let me know in the comments below.

All the best,

Tracie Marquardt

Quality Assurance Communication

Stop Paying Lip Service and Start Empowering Your Team

Coaching. In most companies, we sit down with our manager once a year to discuss past performance. If we’re lucky, it’s twice a year. Part of the process is setting a few goals, some of which we can influence, and some (or most) of which we cannot.

Is that really the best way to help your team grow and develop into (even more) valuable employees that actively and measurably contribute to the success of your organization?

For the last four months, I’ve been teaching and working with an international team of internal auditors in the financial industry on the topic of coaching. So far, 120 auditors have been through the training program here in Europe, the US, and in Asia.

This team of auditors is being empowered by senior management, through the training, to improve their communication skills. Perhaps not unusual in itself.

What is unusual is that the new annual performance goals of training participants will include using the coaching methodology in their roles as managers. These participants are senior auditor managers within their teams, and after the training, are required to implement the coaching methodology in their discussions with their direct reports. (Yeah!)

The coaching method we worked with is GROW, which is co-created by Sir John Whitmore. Find out more from his best-selling book Coaching for Performance.

GROW is much more ‘ask’ than ‘tell’. It relies on the strategy, questioning and listening skills of the coach.

The beauty of GROW is that it enables a coach to empower their staff to identify the desired goal and the steps necessary to achieve that goal. Your staff is then accountable and responsible for the resulting transformation. And that is empowering!

Empower YOUR team to achieve next-level results. Focus on their communication skills. Focus on transformational coaching. Focus on transforming results from good to great.

To find out more, contact me here on my website or through LinkedIn.

All the best,

Tracie Marquardt

Quality Assurance Communication

Want to Be More Successful? Start Here.

When I write about getting better results from your business reports, I usually write about knowing your audience, having a structure, linking your argumentation, and writing value-added, action-oriented recommendations. Those are some of the main ingredients for sure. But they aren’t the only ingredients.

The truth is, getting better results from your business reports starts way before the research, analysis and writing. It begins with successful business relationships.

I haven’t lost my mind. You see, I work with two truths every day:

  1. Your report is your business card.
  2. Relationships are a cornerstone to success.

So what does one have to do with the other?

I believe that to be successful in business (and in life), you must build and nurture relationships. I’m talking about all relationships. Relationships with clients, colleagues, senior management in your organization, within your network, and with those you come into contact with every day in your professional life.

Yes, I’m including the person who empties your trash at work, the guy who hands you your coffee in the coffee shop, and the IT Hotline representative who keeps your printer functioning long after the warranty has run out.

Every single person we interact with, every conversation, email, call or meeting is a reflection of and on us. It’s an opportunity to listen, to help, to learn and to create.

Build relationships, and you will build bridges to:

  • Knowledge, because we can ask people for opinions, references, sources, ideas and feedback.
  • Agreement, because when we understand, trust and respect each other, we place more value on each other and our work products.
  • Action, because when we present our results, we have the opportunity to create positive impact, to influence outcomes, and to inspire others.

Building strong business relationships starts with you: your communication skills, your behavior and your reactions to situations. It means sharing knowledge and helping others willingly, with little or no expectation of something directly in return. It means engaging, caring, trusting and respecting.

Success in relationships is the foundation. Business reports are the work product. Better results are the outcome.

All the best,

Tracie Marquardt

This post originally appeared on Quality Assurance Communication.

The Fastest Way to Destroy a Budding Business Partnership

When we meet with business partners face-to-face, we have the best opportunity to communicate our key messages clearly and concisely. We can communicate with our bodies, with our voices and with our words. But even then, sometimes misinterpretations arise that can seriously block the way forward.

Case in point: I recently met with a potential training partner. We were to agree on co-training a two-day seminar. I would deliver half of the material and he would deliver the other half. Within 30 minutes, I felt that this potential training partner had seriously misunderstood the message I was conveying.

How was I going to turn this situation around so we could make sure we came to a win-win arrangement on content and commercial terms?

The Four Sides

I realized that to communicate better, we would have been better off intentionally applying the “four sides” method to our communication, as put forward by Schulz von Thun. In this model, the sender “speaks” the message on four levels and the receiver “hears” the message on four levels.

These levels are:

  • The Fact level: data, dates and other situational information;
  • The Self level: information the sender reveals about himself;
  • The Appeal level: what the sender wants the receiver to do or not do;
  • The Relationship level: what the sender is saying about their relationship.

So when my potential training partner asked me to share all of the tools and techniques necessary for report writing success in one training day, and I responded, “I’ll do the workshop but I’ll have to limit the number of tools and techniques I teach”, what message did he actually hear?

If we apply the four-sides method, the possibilities are:

  • Fact: I will teach the seminar but I won’t teach every tool and technique I know.
  • Self: I am the expert and can decide which tools and techniques are most appropriate.
  • Appeal: Don’t expect that every possible topic can be included in the day. There are too many!
  • Relationship: I am conducting this part of the training and so am ultimately responsible for the content.

His actual reaction to my statement was, “But I want you to teach ALL of the tools and techniques available. Why is there a problem with this?” The voice and body language he used made it seem as though I was creating a block by limiting the topics. In fact, the block was the length of the training. I felt that the Appeal level of my message was not being heard.

After a quick assessment of what was happening in our communication, I went on to explain that there were simply too many tools and techniques to include them all in a one-day training session. Therefore, I needed to choose the most appropriate topics and tailor them to our specific group of participants. Because every topic requires both theory and practice, which makes for a very full day of interactive training.

Take aways from this experience

The simplest of statements can be misinterpreted and prevent or block you from building mutually beneficial business relationships. It doesn’t matter whether you are a controller, an auditor, a manager or a lead buyer for your company. If you listen for all four levels of the message, and try to respond to those different levels, you will be much more successful in your communication.

It’s not easy to do, and it’s a challenge “on the fly”, as the conversation is happening, but it can be very rewarding if you can put this model into practice.

A happy ending

Once we achieved a common understanding of the point in question, my new training partner and I were able to shake hands on the project and walk away with a well-defined path forward to mutual success.

All the best,

Tracie Marquardt

This post originally appeared on Quality Assurance Communication.