Business and technology managers and executives succeed or fail in large measure based on their ability to communicate effectively—and also to make enough time for themselves to get everything done. That’s why it’s shocking how little effort is often placed on mastering the art of business communication and keeping up with communication trends and technologies.
I’ve seen managers and executives fail and—far too rarely—succeed based on how they communicate. I’ve also seen high-level people get stuck in the past in the ways they communicate, sticking with habits that worked a decade ago, but which are now antiquated.
Here are my guidelines for how to communicate for maximum success in 2015.
1. PHONE CALLS
Before the world of texting, messaging and social media, people used to answer their phones. Never answer your phone. Phone calls interrupt you. They enable people to “catch you” and drag you into conversations you either don’t want to waste your time on or aren’t prepared to handle.
Instead, turn your ringer off. Let people leave a message. And invite people in your voice mail message to contact you in the written medium of your choice: email, texts, etc. Then call people back, clustering the calls together to waste a minimum of time.
2. REAL-TIME CONVERSATIONS
Whether you communicate in phone calls, meetings, hallway conversations or video chat, always follow up via email with a clear summary of what was discussed or agreed upon, if anything. The email serves as a searchable log of the conversation, and gets all parties on the same page, so there are no time-wasting, deadline-busting misunderstandings later.
Avoid meetings. They’re by far the biggest time suck ever invented in the history of business. Never participate in a meeting—and definitely never lead one—that doesn’t have a clear, concise agenda.
If you’re leading a meeting, make sure nobody strays from the agenda, and insist that every decision or action item has an owner and a deadline. Then set a reminder to follow up in order to hold that person to account.
Always prepare for every meeting. There’s always some beneficial prep work to be done.
The vast majority of business presentations with slides—possibly more than 99 percent—violate the most basic and widely known rules of good presentation-making. As a result, everybody hates them and nobody gets much out of them.
Every presentation has three parts: your slides, the words you speak and the handout you give afterward.
Slides: The first error is trying to convey information in the slides. The second error is using the slides as notes. Never make either of these mistakes. The purpose of slides is the fabrication of mental images, so use slides to give people brain pictures to carry around in their minds. That means they should be simple, memorable and high-impact. Nothing is more forgettable than a diagram, chart or list of bullet points.
Most people will not mentally process the data or words in your slides, but they will hang on to the pictures. Show photography. Show absurdly clear and simple slides—for example, ones that clearly show massive success or huge differences—and never show complex, vague data that has to be mentally processed.
The words you speak: There are two winning approaches to creating and using notes while speaking in a presentation. The first is to have very minimal notes: a simple list of topics to jog your memory and make sure you don’t forget a major topic. Then speak off the top of your head, using simple, active language. The second winning approach is to write the whole thing verbatim and practically memorize it in advance.
Most presenters do something in between, and that approach is the death of presentations. In the pressure of public speaking, the mind clings to fact-filled notes, preventing you from remembering and speaking naturally about what you know, and also preventing you from being articulate. Instead, tell stories, keep words to a minimum and drive home only focused high-level points. Create emotion, including humor, because only emotion is memorable.