This is the first installment of a partnership we've formed with Fortune 100 executive coach, Forbes contributor, and psychology professor Melody Wilding. In the coming months, she will be presenting several free online courses that explore the brain science behind great communication at work; insights that will empower you to deliver your message in a better, more successful way. We are thrilled to learn from her, and we hope you are too. Pssst: Prefer watching to reading? Click to view the video webinar of this course instead.
You’re probably reading this post because either A) you’ve tried to improve your work communication skills in the past and not been successful; or B) you feel you're doing ok, but there's always room for improvement — and a promotion (yes, please!). You may have thought things like:
- “Clear, straightforward communication of ideas and information is a challenge for me.”
- “I’m growing into a leadership role and need to level up in my communication.”
- “I run on my own business which involves a lot of presentations. But I have fear around that.”
If this sounds like you, then you’re not alone. Maybe you lack the know-how, or perhaps you have many concerns that hold you back from making meaningful progress. Whatever it is–you’re probably wondering why you should be focusing on learning to communicate better if you’ve already tried and failed?
The truth is, no matter who you are, powerful communication matters. If you have great ideas, you have to know how to articulate and share them in order to get ahead. That goes for whether you’re selling a product or service, or trying to get your boss and colleagues to buy into a new idea. Communication is an indispensable skill that can make you more money in the form of sales or getting a promotion at work. It’s also one of the best ways to broaden your influence and make a bigger impact in the workplace.
But perhaps most importantly, it improves your self esteem. Learning to master the skills were going to talk about today can help you feel more confident in your capabilities and help you truly believe in yourself more. Conquering your fears and speaking up for your ideas is massively self-empowering.
In this post, I’m going to share with you three key components for presenting your ideas powerfully and inspiring your audience to action.
You’re going to discover:
- How to communicate your ideas effectively, including how to organize your information and make your ideas memorable.
- Next, we’ll talk how to present for results and get people to take action, whether you’re presenting to one person or 100.
- And last, we’ll discuss strategies for getting buy-in for your ideas. Meaning, how to influence and persuade your audience to say yes to your ideas or bounce back, even if you hear “no”.
By the end of this article, you will:
- Know how to leverage the power of psychology to improve your communication.
- Feel more confident presenting your ideas to influential decision makers like your boss, clients and customers, investors or executive teams.
- Be armed with actionable strategies you can implement today that will help you engage, motivate, and inspire your audience to take action more quickly and with better results.
WE’VE ALL BEEN THERE
We’ve all felt the pain of trying to present complex ideas in a clear, concise, professional way. Tell me if this situation sounds familiar:
You’re in front of a packed conference room delivering a presentation that could make-or-break your career. You spent days meticulously designing your deck. You memorized every last word you want to say. And now, the pressure is on. There’s only one problem…No one is listening to you. They’re too busy reading all the text on your slides to follow what you’re saying. Your heart begins to pounds when notice you only have 10 minutes left on the clock, but you’re barely halfway through your talk. You end up skipping over chunks of your content and rushing ahead, which disrupts the entire flow of the meeting and just leaves your colleagues and boss confused.
Or, consider another scenario:
You finally nailed down a meeting with a big investor. In an effort to impress them, you create an hour-long talk, all about your background and why they should invest in you. When you get a few minutes in the investor interrupts you and abruptly says, “can you please cut to the chase? I already know all about this”. You realize you failed to understand what she was really there for — not to hear your life story, but to understand the product you have to offer.
In both of these situations, it’s easy to feel foolish, demoralized, and even embarrassed that you potentially blew a big opportunity. Which is why communicating effectively and presenting yourself in a professional way should be one of your top priorities.
THERE’S A BETTER SOLUTION
If you want to be successful, then you need to present for impact, persuade, and get buy in for your ideas. You can do that by better leveraging what we know about how humans process information and make decisions. There’s actually a psychology behind understanding what motivates people to buy, say yes, or engage –– and it’s one that you can learn.
If you’re thinking that you’re not good at communicating then don’t worry. The truth is that most of us are never taught the principles of masterful communication in any course or class. What I also know from coaching hundreds of high achievers is that effective communication and influence are skills––not inborn traits. And like any skill, they can learned, which is what you’ll discover today.
Now, these skills do take time and practice to perfect, but you’re going to learn strategies you can walk away and implement today so that you get better results whether you’re selling a product, pitching a business idea, or trying to convince your team to take a new direction.
COMMUNICATING YOUR IDEAS EFFECTIVELY
First, let’s talk about five steps you need to follow to ensure you’re connecting with your listeners.
1. Put your audience first. To connect with your listeners, you need to understand why your topic is important to them. You don’t want the information you’re sharing to just be about why you’re great or to focus only on what you need from them. If you want to break through, your message needs to convey what’s in it for the audience. Why should they care? Why does your topic matter to them? It’s vital to understand what motivates your listeners — their goals, most pressing pains, problems, and desires.
You can understand these motivations by researching your audience in advance. Know the level of knowledge they have about your topic, so you can present the information using the right tone to keep them interested and engaged. There is nothing more insulting than sharing basic information to a highly knowledgeable audience, or on the other hand, speaking at too high a level to a beginner audience. Understanding your audience and their expectations can make the difference between a run-of-the-mill presentation and an unforgettable one.
Be mindful to avoid becoming a talking head. Don’t hog the conversation by doing all the talking. Build opportunities for interaction into how you present. Some simple ways to do this may be starting out with a poll like we did today or asking a question and taking a simple show of hands. Invite feedback and pausing periodically throughout your talk to give others a chance to speak.
When it comes to sharing important ideas, many of us get in our own heads. We worry about looking intelligent enough and get hung up on how people are judging or perceiving us. In reality, people really want is the opportunity to interact and connect with you. They want to have a conversation with a normal human being and an authentic person.
Think about the best talks you’ve been to: I’m willing to bet that they had more of a conversational feel that allowed you as an audience member to feel involved and engaged. Recreate this feeling by showing up as yourself. Set the expectation up front with your audience that you want your time together to be more like a conversation. Don’t be afraid to show up as you truly are.
2. Be concise. There’s nothing worse than a presentation that seems like it’ll never end or a person who just drones on and on. People already get hundreds of emails, phone calls, and messages each week. You don’t want your information contributing to that feeling of overload, or simply cast aside because it’s too much to process. People get impatient and annoyed when you waste their valuable time or force them to work mental overtime to grasp your point. You don’t want this happening to you!
That’s why mastering the art of brevity in your communication is one of the most important 21st century skills to embrace. Simple and concise is always better than complicated and confusing. Taking a “less is more” approach when presenting may feel counterintuitive at first. You may be concerned that it will seem like you don’t know what you’re doing or that don’t have enough to say. But in actuality, being concise with your informations shows you have command over your knowledge — it proves you don’t have to rely on slides to do the explaining for you. It makes a powerful impression that you are the expert. It also shows that you respect your audience, their attentions spans, and their time.
When you’re crafting slides, it’s critical to be succinct. Great communicators know how to get to the point quickly. They cut out superfluous details and know what not to tell their audience, just as much as what to tell them.
3. Be memorable. To make sure your information sticks, you want to focus on two facets of human psychology. The first is called the primary and recency effect. Research shows that we remember the information at the beginning and end of a presentation nearly 2x more than the information in the middle. Take this webinar for example– are you paying attention to me? It’s okay to be honest – I bet that since we’re in the middle of the training, your attention has faded a little bit. It’s okay and it’s natural, but you want to aware of this tendency when building a talk.
When structuring your information, be mindful to place your most important details at the beginning and then to reinforce them again at end. If your presentation is long, you want to break it into smaller sections and so that each section has its own beginning and ending for maximum effectiveness.
You should also focus on repetition, because repeating information is shown to helps us retain it in our long-term memory. Consider this: Within 20 minutes we forget 40% of what we learned. After another 40 minutes, we forget half of it. One day later, we will have lost more than 70%.
This is exactly why repetition is a classic technique in advertising, sales, and influential communication of all kinds. If there’s an important message you truly want your audience to remember and take away, saying it once is likely not enough. Think about speeches designed to inspire and galvanize an audience, repetition of key emotionally charged phrases can be deeply effective. Experts point to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech as one of the best examples of using repetition to emotional connect.
Put simply, repetition makes your message stick — it emphasizes your main points and creates the strongest learning. You can do this by picking a powerful quote, image, or statement and repeating 3-5 times throughout your talk. Using the structure of “telling them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them” is another good example of using repetition without being annoying in a way that will help reinforce your main ideas.
4. Avoid clutter to provide visual clarity. We discussed a few ways to connect with your listeners through your words, so now let’s talk a little about your visually presenting your information. 99% of the time you’ll be sharing your material in the form of a slide deck. It’s important to remember that your slides are there to aid your presentation, not to be a teleprompter. Many people make the mistake of using slides as a crutch and reading off of them verbatim. There’s a few reasons this is a bad move:
- It detracts from your authority as the presenter. Your audience might make the assumption that you don’t know your content well enough or that you failed to prepare which can leave a bad impression. Do not fill your slides with everything you need to say. That only makes the audience question what value you, the speaker, actually adds.
- It’s distracting. Instead of listening to you, your audience will try to read whats on the slides. A wall of text also bores people and will make their eyes gloss over.
- It’s self-centered. When you give your slides attention instead of your audience, you make a clear statement: my message and ego matter more than the audience. You eliminate eye contact and other nonverbal cues that show you are just as responsive to the listening audience as they are to you. The slides are for the audience, not you.
If something is on a slide, it’s because it’s needed to clarify a point you’re making or visually amplify your words.
Use text sparingly and leave plenty of white space to let your content breathe. It’s easier on the eyes and makes it more mentally pleasing and digestible for others. Presentation expert Nancy Duarte put it this way by saying, “whitespace drives focus because it frames your content. It also feels like oxygen for a slide. If all of our slides are filled with extra 'stuff', it feels very claustrophobic.”
5. Choose quality photography. They say “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and it’s proven (psychologically) to be true. Visuals do a lot to add interest to otherwise dull information. The human brain actually processes visuals more quickly than words and prefers photos to text. Over 65% of people in the population are visual learners.
Great photos are important because they help engage the imagination and bring your storytelling to life with greater meaning and depth. The right image has the power to inspire and move people, so use that to your advantage.
Photography can also set you (as a personal brand, or a company representative) apart. Just make sure you’re smart with your photo selection. If you use low quality graphics like images that are blurry or have pixelation, then the audience may assume your information is low quality too. This is thanks to something known as the halo effect –– we assume that attractive things are good while unattractive things are bad. So while you may think that grabbing images off of a google is saving you time, it could cost you in terms of credibility in the long run. Today, there's really no excuse for not having amazing images to complement your presentation. There are lots of excellent stock photography sites out there where you can get high quality photography for free.
You also want to make sure your visuals match the emotion you want to convey. For example, using the image of an open sky may convey possibility, freedom, or freshness. Use bright colors to convey happiness or joy. You want to be careful not to send the wrong the wrong message with they photos you use.
One big mistake I often see people make is using cartoon images in business presentations. It may seem like a fun choice to lighten things up, but it could give your material a childish, immature feel, which equates to amateurish in many people’s minds. You don’t want this during a time when you’re trying to convey professionalism.
PRESENTING FOR RESULTS
Next we’re going to cover how to present for results and talk about three tips that will help you get you audience to take action!
1. Start with an agenda. Psychologically speaking, we find structure soothing. Structure lowers our anxiety because we know what to expect and can prepare for it. Agendas have the same effect. They put attendees at ease. People feel assured and more comfortable knowing that you have things under control.
Providing an agenda places you in a position of authority — you’re taking leadership in the interaction, which helps people trust you more. Think of it like a roadmap; your agenda helps inform your audience about where they’re going and where they’ll ultimately end up. It primes them to get excited about what they’re going to learn and the transformation they’ll undergo. And it positions you as the experienced guide who will help them get there.
2. Structure your talk for success. A good, productive conversation doesn’t just happen. You have to drive it. Even if you have an agenda, you still need to deliver you talk in a structured way that leads to success. Your structure should have 4 key elements:
- An introduction – You want to start by thanking the audience for their time, introduce what you want to talk about, and what to they can expect (ex. “Thanks for joining me today. I want to show you the latest product designs we have. We’ll spend about 30 mins there and then open it up for questions. How does that sound?)
- An objective – What do you want to accomplish by the end of the meeting? (ex. “By the end of the hour, I’d like to have your decision about which two designs we’re going to move forward with” or “My hope for our meeting today is to share with you our latest product offerings and decide which is the best fit for your business.)
- The body – This is the bulk of your talk where you’re sharing your information in a compelling way using the tips we’ve already mentioned. You want to be concise and to the point as we mentioned earlier. Acknowledging your audience’s issues, anticipating audience objections, and delivering a message about your solution should all be included here.
- Questions – Every conversation should have room for soliciting feedback and engaging your listeners in conversation, even if it’s just 3-5 minutes. For reasons we’ll discuss coming up, this is important for getting buy-in.
3. Close by committing to next. Finally, before you wrap up, you need to get confirmation about what’s happening next. Who is responsible for what? What are next steps? What has been agreed? Always define next steps, roles and responsibilities before closing. That’s how you prevent things from going nowhere and ensure things move forward.
Research finds that when people commit to next steps, they’re more likely to follow through because we have a human need to be consistent with our actions. In fact, The American Society of Training and Development (ATD) did a study and found that you have a 65% of completing a goal if you commit to someone else that you will. And if you have a specific accountability date that you plan to check in, that chance of success goes up to 95%.
GETTING BUY-IN FOR YOUR IDEAS
It’s critical to work on your persuasion and influence skills if you want to get buy-in on your ideas. In this section, we’ll talk about using psychology to your advantage to get to a “yes” and how to bounce back if you do get a “no.”
1. Make psychology work for you. Over the last sixty years, psychologists and behavioral economists have discovered several insights about human behavior that we can use to positively influence people.
The first technique I want to mention today is social proof. In the book, “Influence,” psychologist Robert Cialdini describes social proof as “the tendency to see an action as more appropriate when others are doing it.” In other words, we’re more likely to say “yes,” buy something, or take an action if we know other people are doing it.
To drive home how important social proof can be, consider that 70% of people look at product reviews before making a buying decision. But product reviews are just one example of social proof. You can use customer testimonials, case studies, Yelp ratings, or expert endorsements to reinforce trust and help someone be more confident in their decision to work with you. This goes back to “the halo effect”, if your product or solution comes “highly recommended” from another source, people are more apt to judge it more favorably.
Another technique is closing the empathy gap. We have a tendency to underestimate how emotions affect people’s mental states. We assume that logic persuades people the most. We think objective facts, stats, and data will change people’s minds, but the truth is, humans aren’t rational creatures. At the point of decision, emotions are very important for choosing.
You need to get inside your audience’s head. Exercise your empathy muscle by understanding their needs, fears, and deepest desires. Your goal in closing the empathy gap isn’t to tell your audience what to think or what’s best. Your goal is to help them discover for themselves what feels right and what’s most advantageous to their self-interest. Appealing to emotions is all about making them see that what’s good for them and their side, then positioning yourself as a solution to their problems and pains.
2. Listen well. Another way to practice empathy is through active listening. This requires that you listen non-judgmentally and leave your assumptions at the door. Instead, you want to gain insight into the other person’s thinking.
To show you’re hearing them, every so often you want to reflect back what you’re hearing, using statements like “It sounds to me like…” and checking for understanding. For example, “What I’m hearing you say is…is that right?” or “Is this what you mean?”
You can also use active listening to expose potential objections that they might have. That way you can work to overcome them. To do this, I suggest posing questions like:
- What’s your biggest concern?
- What potential roadblocks do you anticipate?
- What’s the best possible outcome here? The worst? How can we plan for that?
Why is asking questions so important? Because your personal credibility and the viability of your ideas depends on acknowledging your audience’s issues and proving you understand through genuine empathy. That’s how you build connection and trust.
3. Bounce back from rejection. Finally, even with all these strategies, it’s possible that you may hear “no.” What do you do then? You open for the door for compromise. I teach my clients an assertive communication technique that they can use to bounce back from rejection which is called “workable compromise”. Put simply, this means that if your request is denied or rejected, then you want to propose an alternative solution — one that you both can live with and get some benefit from.
To reach a workable compromise, you start by opening the door for dialogue. Encourage people to reiterate their concerns and bring their objections to light. By doing so, you create an opportunity to smooth over disagreements. You can only meet them halfway if you understand what they’d like to be different. Finding a workable compromise is all about building relationships and working things out together.
Here are some examples of this might look like.
- If you get push back on price, you can say…. “My goal is to find a number that works for both of us. How can we get there?”
- Or if you get push back on timing, you might mention … “I hear that Monday is too early to make a decision. What if we check in again next month?”
If you can forge a bond with your audience and show you’re on their side, that is the ultimate way to get buy-in.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Let’s do a quick review of what we covered.
First, you discovered how to communicate your ideas effectively by making your information concise and memorable. You also learned about the importance of connecting with your audience and the psychological power of visuals to reinforce your message.
Next, we talked about how to present for results, namely how you should structure the conversation and drive it to position yourself as the authority. You discovered how to get firm commitments that lead to next steps and keep things moving forward.
And finally, we looked at influence and persuasion strategies to gain buy-in for your ideas. You now know how leveraging social proof, empathy, and active listening skills help you get to Yes. And you now have the workable compromise tool to help you rebound from a rejection and get back on your feet — valuable skills that will help not only your immediate business goals and immediate team, but your career at large. Happy presenting!
Prefer to view Melody Wilding's training as a webinar? Click below to watch the video.