SMITH BRAIN TRUST — MBA students at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business practice their verbal, nonverbal and visual presentation skills in the new Smith Executive Communication Program. The one-year curriculum includes workshops, one-on-one coaching and creation of personalized development plans. Tricia Homer, the executive communication coach who launched the program through the school's Office of Transformational Learning, shares five tips that can help anyone deliver a powerful message.
1. Know your audience
Effective communication is not one size fits all. Before delivering a message, take note of who you are addressing. Assess the age, gender, education level and cultural background of your audience. Teens, entry level employees and executives do not think the same. Using language your audience is unfamiliar with will isolate you from them. You must meet your audience at its level to have an impact.
2. Watch your posture
Having the right posture conveys confidence. It portrays to your listener that you know what you are talking about. This encourages your audience to accept you as a credible source and trust your judgement. So pull yourself up and stand as if you were on a puppet string. Legs should be planted parallel to each other with body weight distributed equally between the two legs. Shifting body weight back and forth is distracting and gives the impression of being unsure or indecisive. Closed gestures, such as crossed arms or hands, imply disinterest and intimidation. While open gestures, such as maintaining eye contact, implies confidence and friendliness.
3. Monitor your breathing
Using filler words, talking too fast and making other communication mistakes could be avoided by taking the time to breathe. "One reason people use filler words is to hold their audience's attention while they are thinking of what to say next," Homer says. However, taking time to breathe can make a delivery more powerful. Pauses might also give the audience time to process a message. This technique can be used to emphasize a joke's punchline, an interesting detail or an important statistic.
4. Listen to your audience
Great communicators are great listeners. Many times, people get so consumed in what they are saying that they forget to listen to the other person. The purpose of communication is lost during such interactions. Practice active listening. This means giving the speaker your undivided attention, not interrupting, and using nonverbal ques to signal your mindfulness. After others are done speaking, paraphrase their message to ensure that you interpreted it correctly. "Leave space for silence to give others the chance to speak," Homer says. "And remember to maintain eye contact when you are listening." She says active listening is important even while giving a presentation. "Think of it as a conversation," she says. "Leave space for your audience to follow, nod their heads and be a part of the conversation."
5. Adjust for different cultures
The communication rules discussed in the MBA Executive Communication program are applicable to most regions in the United States. In other countries the same communication styles might fall flat. When visiting certain regions in the Middle East, for example, making eye contact might be considered offensive. It is imperative to do research on a country's culture and what they deem appropriate. Finding out how people of the opposite sex interact, how business cards are exchanged and how dignitaries are addressed will increase your ability to effectively communicate.
Learn more about the Smith Executive Communication Program.
— Mamayaa Opoku, Smith School communications writer
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