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Effective Listening and Presenting in Business

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1. Introduction

Achieving success in workplace is closely associated with the ability to communicate effectively, both in workplace and with outsiders. Unlike in the past, today we face a high volatile world where everything is in a state of flux. Most of the changes associated with this transformation revolve around the processing and communication of information. A number of communication challengers exist at workplaces. All these challengers call for effectiveness and efficiency in communication (Raman & Singh, 2006).

Communication can be defined as a function of express, impress and intention. Communication is the process of exchanging information, usually through a common system of symbols.

According to Henry Mintzberg (as cited in Locker, 1998), managers have three basic jobs: to collect and convey information, to make decisions and to promote interpersonal unity. Every one of those jobs is carried out through communication. Effective managers are able to use a wide variety of media and strategies to communicate.

Speaking and listening are the communication skills we use most (Nanayakkara, 1996). In oral presentations, the audience comprises individual listeners and also to address people effectively, the presenter needs to know the requirements of the audience and it is a must to listen to the audience. Therefore, being a good listener and an effective presenter are two key talents a manager must sharpen as they can be treated as twin skills.

2. Being a Good ListenerListening is an extremely important and surprisingly difficult communication skill in business. Various studies show that business people spend from 45 to 63percent of their time listening. Listening is crucial to building trust (Locker, 1998). Managers need to be effective listeners in various situations.

Listening is the communication channel we use most frequently, yet surveys show that listening skills are the least developed.

The good managers are good listeners. Managers can achieve lots of benefits
from effective listening. They will be able to gather more detailed information to facilitate the decision making or problem solving.

They will learn new ideas or concepts and they will understand people better. That will enhance employee or customer relations and even increase cooperation.

Being a good communicator is about more than being a good talker. It’s about being a good listener. Listening empowers us to build and maintain relationships, discover the needs and concerns of clients and co-workers, and understand another person’s point of view. We listen more than we read, write, or speak. In fact, more than 60% of our time is spent listening, yet only 25% of that information is retained (Adubato, 1998).

In a business setting particularly, miscommunication can be very costly, and nothing contributes more to miscommunication than poor listening skills. Those costs can manifest themselves in lost contracts, or even lost jobs. Look at it this way: you can only be wrong so many times about what the client or the boss asked you to do before they just decide to start asking somebody else.

Most managers take their listening skills for granted. They generally think that they are good listeners. They assume further that it is easier to listen than it is to talk (Andrews & Baird, 1995).

Listening is difficult in most of the situations due to various internal blocks and external blocks. Therefore it requires positive effort.

3. Keys to Effective ListeningKeys to effective listening can be identified as positive guidelines to better listening and they are at the heart of developing better listening habits that could last a lifetime.

Raman and Singh (2006) have classified keys to effective listening in the following manner.

•Find areas of interest•Judge content, not delivery•Hold your fire•Listen for ideas•Be flexible•Work at listening•Resist distractions•Exercise your mind•Keep your mind open•Capitalize on the fact that thought is faster than speechTo overcome the blocks to good listening, you should consider enhancing your listening ability by improving how you look, how you think and what you say.

First let us see how to look interested. As a good listener one can show his interest in a variety of ways. Primarily the listener should stand or sit with an open posture. Secondly, open and expressive gestures will tend to make the speaker comfortable. Facial expressions are also important. The most important signal of attentive listening is the eye contact. Altogether, the important thing to keep in mind about nonverbal signals of listening is how they make the speaker feel.

Just looking interested is not enough. Good listening must be sincere. That is, you can not fake good listening by merely mechanically nodding and maintaining eye contact. The listener must control his feelings and thoughts. He should think non-judgmentally until the speaker has finished.

Obviously, most of the time you are listening you are not saying anything. In fact, the most important step toward becoming a good listener is to stop talking yourself. Even though, most of us naturally prefer talking to listening, we must at times be silent. A key to good listening is learning to tolerate silence. Instead of being uncomfortable with silence, think of it as a chance to let the other person be heard.

Woolcott and Unwin (1983) state that the first requisite for listening is a willingness to make an effort and there are techniques depending upon this.

•Positive interest•Preparation•Silence•Listening to the message•Allow the speaker to finish•Avoid prejudice•Time and place•IntegrityAccordingly, we can identify seven key elements needed for a good listener. Willingness, preparation or background knowledge, attentiveness, concentration, an open mind, patience and courtesy and integrity.

Sykes (2008) has presented five keys for effective listening.

•Decide that the encounter is about your listening to what the other person is going to say.

•Invite the other person to express what he or she has to say while you do nothing but listen. “Listen from the heart”.

•Let the person know what you think they were trying to say.

•Invite the other person to correct your impression or to elaborate on your point of view-the point is not to make them repeat themselves, but to extend the conversation.

•Postpone, whenever possible, discussing your own point of view, particularly in contentious situations. By refraining, you enable the speaker to feel that he or she is being heard and acknowledged. And this may make him or her more open to listening to your point of view.

According to Adubato (1998) there are ten keys to effective listening•Focus on what the speaker is saying rather than jumping ahead and anticipating what you think is going to be said. You’re apt to miss important information.

•Don’t listen defensively. By this I mean don’t be planning your rebuttal instead of listening to the person who is speaking. Before you can actually formulate an intelligent response, you must hear the speaker’s entire message.

•Concentrate on understanding and remembering what is said, not just on hearing what someone is saying.

•Paraphrase and ask questions such as: “So what you’re saying is…” or “After all you’ve said, what is the one thing you would change about the situation?” Active listening is about showing empathy: “How did it make you feel?”•Listen more actively. Be empathetic and supportive, not negative and judgmental. Phrase questions in a positive way.

•Use eye contact and body language to let a speaker know that you’re listening. Look at the speaker instead of looking around the room for the next-possibly more interesting prospect.

•Use animated facial expressions and gestures to indicate that you understand or need clarification. Smile at happy endings, laugh at jokes, and show genuine concern when listening to problems.

•Show your interest. A truly interested listener is open and leans toward a speaker rather than slouching back in a chair with folded arms.

•Be sincere. Being a good listener is about having a genuine interest in other people. Really self-centered people are usually terrible listeners. You know the type who says, “Enough about me, let’s talk about you. So, what do you think of me?”•The final tip is from Richard Carlson’s best-selling book, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.” Carlson says, “Not only will becoming a better listener make you a more patient person, it will also enhance the quality of your relationships. Everyone loves to talk to someone who truly listens to what they are saying.”4. Being an Effective PresenterThe ability to speak effectively in public is important. As a managers career progresses, his presentation skills become even more important because, at the entry level, executives may require mostly technical skills but as they rise in management, they are required to rely less on technical training and more on their ability to sell their ideas and plans to their next level of management. Failure to professionally present work or ideas may significantly affect the organization’s reputation as well as the individual’s career goals (Raman & Singh, 2006).

Therefore, speaking effectively and powerfully is a skill that is really worth learning.

Presentations are equally important to express and impress. Also they are essential to gather an exposure. Presentations are powerful means to create self confidence, personality and self worth.

5. Keys to Effective PresentingIn order to make an effective presentation, first of all, one should structure the presentation well in advance. There should be a clear structure for the whole presentation. Clarity in mind leads to the clarity of words. Nanayakkara (1996) advises think about the purpose, the main idea and the audience before you speak. He also says to organize thoughts in a logical way and to decide on a style that suits the occasion. Then it is necessary to edit remarks mentally. As one speaks, one should watch the other person to see whether the message is making the desired impression.

One of the keys to effective oral presentations is to be yourself, and thereby communicate personally to your audience. Of course, this is easier said than done, especially if you are feeling tense or frightened (Locker, 1998).

Dealing with fear is a key to effective presenting. Locker (1998) further state that feeling nervous is normal but one can harness that nervous energy to help one do his best work. As Reidy (2008) said, you don’t need to get rid of your butterflies. All you need to do is make them fly in formation. Brophy (2008) presented ten tips for presentation battlefield in his article and those include apologies for nothing, start with a chunk and look at the audience.

Another key to make an effective presentation is to be prepared. In order to get ready, one should analyze the audience, prepare visual aids, practice the opener and close, and check out the arrangements well in advance. Audiences really appreciate having relevant background information about speakers. It helps them more realistically define their responses to presenters (Beaver, 2008).Using eye contact is another aspect of an effective presentation. The point in making eye contact is to establish one-on-one contact with the individual members of your audience. People want to feel that the presenter is talking to them.

Looking directly at individuals also enables one to be more conscious of feedback from the audience, so that one can modify his approach if necessary.

Developing a good speaking voice is crucial in order to make it easy for people to listen and enjoy. Varying the volume, pitch and speed to sound energetic and enthusiastic is useful for an excellent presentation. Moreover, the standing position and gestures are also important. Gren (1983) provides basic guidelines to presenters regarding the areas of attitude, clothes, physical movements, voice and language.

The use of notes and visuals should be in the proper manner. Listening is difficult. Our minds drift away from even the most exciting speaker because we can think faster than a speaker can talk. In addition, using only our ears to absorb information is not easy. Using other senses help. Helping people retain information is one reason for using visuals. Another reason for using them is to clarify our message. The presenter must choose visuals that are appropriate for the message (Tierhey, 2001).

Finally, the presenter should be prepared for questions by listing every possible fact or opinion that challenges his position. The key to giving a good presentation and to help get rid of nerves is to put in lots of preparation beforehand. Rehearsing two or three times in front of a colleague can help. It is also wise to rehearse your presentation so that it runs a few minutes shorter than the expected length (Reidy, 2008).

Tierhey (2001) states that feedback provides opportunities for us to develop and enhance our abilities and therefore welcome feedback.

6. Action PlanAfter analyzing the key elements of effective listening and presenting, it is necessary to take measures to enhance our skills. As both listening and presenting go hand in hand, it is necessary to under take corrective measures at the same time.

6.1. Sharpening Listening SkillsGood listeners are active not passive. They are interested, prepare themselves and demonstrate interest by the quality of their silence. They are neither distracted nor prejudiced, allow the speaker to finish, plan ahead and have integrity.

To sharpen the listening skills one must become a good listener. Hereafter, I would not tune out from dry subjects rather I would be opportunistic and ask what’s in it for me. Basically, I would find areas of interest in every possible opening.

I will never judge the delivery of a presenter. I will always try to concentrate on the content. Also I would not enter in to arguments or judgments until the comprehension is complete and try my best to listen for the central theme rather than for facts.

I use to take intensive notes at every presentation and it tends to distract me from the central idea of the speaker. Within next few months I try to be more flexible and will adopt new ways of note taking depending on the nature of the speaker.

At the next opportunity that I have to listen for a while, I would keep my mind open and I would concentrate hardly on the matter by fighting and avoiding distractions.

Finally and essentially, I will capitalize on the fact that thought is faster than speech. Rather than daydreaming with slow speakers I would challenge, anticipate, summarize and listen between the lines to tone of voice.

As Andrews (1995) described, I would espouse the HEAR formula when possible to enhance my listening skills. HEAR is the acronym formed by the first letter of the four words one should remember when trying to listen to someone: helpful, empathic, attentive and responsive.

Moreover, the good manager encourages others to express views that differ from his or her view. Hence, I will always accept criticisms offered by others.

Listening is crucial to building trust. Listening is essential and more difficult at the workplace. In the listening process, there are possibilities to make errors and I would try to minimize these errors as much as possible. Some listening errors happen because the hearer was not paying enough attention to a key point. To avoid error caused by inattention, I will make a list of questions as early as possible and at the end of the conversation, I will check my understanding with the other person. Afterwards, I will write down the key points that affect deadlines.

Many listening errors are errors in interpretation. To reduce listening errors caused by misinterpretation, I will not ignore instructions that I think are unnecessary. Always I will consider the other person’s background and experiences in order to have an understanding of his or her position.

6.2. Sharpening Presenting SkillsRegarding presentations I never go in front of the audience without getting prepared. Even after practicing and arranging presentations, most people have experienced the quivering, fidgeting, shaking, trembling, sweating, stammering and fluttering associated with stage fright.

In order to deliver an effective presentation, I would keep control of the presentation, but do so in a relaxed way. Different people relax in different ways. So I would find the best way to relax my body, mind and voice before my next presentation.

I will rehearse the presentation well in advance in front of my closest colleagues and adjust it according to there feedback.

According to the appropriateness, I will develop clear notes and visuals for my next presentation and make sure it all work properly.

During the presentation, I will seek feedback, confirmation and agreement as to the relevance of what I am saying. Essentially, I would try my best to constantly maintain the eye contact with the audience and to show them the enthusiasm of the subject matter.

As I always have invited questions at the end of a presentation, I would try to invite questions at any time in order to make the audience more involved. To do so, I should be well prepared and comfortable regarding the subject matter.

All of the actions discussed so far are interrelated. No one can become a good presenter if he is not a good listener. Therefore, I will try my best to develop these skills within the limited timeline of next three months in order to make myself competent.

7. ConclusionListening and presenting are two twin communication skills that a manager must essentially develop in order to function well in an organization. Bambacas (2008) found that senior HR managers expected managers to be effective in interpersonal communication focusing mainly on the clarity and frequency of the messages, their ability to actively listen and the ability to make presentations in a collaborative way. However, these skills were also the ones found most lacking.

With the emergent of the information technology these processes have become much different. Communication in business teams continues to be essential for effective teamwork, technical excellence and customer responsiveness. Technology has increased the speed and ease of much communication, and the reliable stand-by of the team briefing remains a core component. Yet perhaps the most effective ways of improving communication are also the simplest – taking the time to really notice your colleagues, listening to how they speak as well as what they say, and remembering that what happens inside of us, in particular how we feel, will have a profound influence on what we do (Reidy, 2008).

The need for effective communication does not exist in isolation from day-to-day work demands; neither should the development of communication skills be isolated from the development of technical skill. More companies are now recognizing the advantages of integrating these “people skills” with technical training to maximize their return on training investment (Connolly, 1996).

A series of books and journal articles have concentrated on key elements of effective listening and presenting. Accordingly, keys to effective listening can be summarized as willingness, preparation, attentiveness, concentration, having an open mind, patience, courtesy, objectivity and integrity. Dealing with fear, keeping eye contact, managing voice, language, proper standing and gesturing, handling questions and knowing the venue and the audience are keys to effective presenting. Moreover, some authors pointed out tips for effective listening and presenting as those skills are identified as skills that could be learnt.

Accordingly, an action plan has been set for the next three months and it will be exercised in order to make sure the advancement of the skills.

Conclusively, it is indispensable to state that listening and presenting are vital skills that are in need for any profession. Hence, sharpening it would make any person competent and valuable.


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