In a blog post last November, I advised you to stand while giving a presentation, even if you’re expected to be seated at a table with your audience. My reason for this advice is that standing makes your presentation into an event, and it also infuses it with energy and excitement.
But there may be times when it would seem out of line for you to stand. Often, you find yourself at a conference table with an audience of one, and you may not even have a PowerPoint to share. Standing may seem rude in this context. How do you manage the situation when you’re not presenting so much as having a conversation? My advice is go ahead and treat it like a conversation.
- First, ask questions, but take care not to elicit short answers. Form your questions with one of these five open interrogatories: What… Why… How… Describe… or Tell me more… When you ask, mean it. Question in order to learn rather than to fill up the time until it’s your turn to talk. Know that it’s more important to get the viewpoint of the other person than to offer your own, both for relationship building and information gathering.
- Listen actively to what the other person says. Active listening is a set of techniques you use to keep yourself focused on the other person. It consists of 1) playing back, which is restating in your own words what was said to you, 2) summarizing, which is recapitulating at appropriate points what you have heard, 3) reflecting emotion, which is listening for the emotional component of whatever is said and highlighting it (e.g., “It sounds like that makes you angry.”). Take notes.
- While listening, try to hold the other person’s gaze even a little beyond what you feel comfortable with. Most people won’t hold eye contact more than about 2/3 of the time during a conversation. Push a little beyond that, and you will demonstrate more sincerity of interest.
- Use nonverbal cues to increase trust. Take note of the other person’s body language and voice tone and try to match them. Be careful with this if the person has a very distinctive tone, posture, or way of gesturing, as they may recognize what you're doing and become suspicious. But most gestures, stances, and expressions are fairly ordinary. When you mimic those, you usually put a person at ease and raise their trust.
- Cultivate a large vocabulary. The larger your vocabulary, the more likely you can find the precise word you need in any situation. Work on your vocabulary daily. Don’t just memorize new words, use them. I don’t mean you should pepper your conversation with obscure or elaborate words; that can be off-putting. But try to avoid clichés and try to use newly learned words to speak with precision.
Learn the skills that will let you use conversation to accomplish your goals. Consider Communispond’s Persuasive Dialogue™, which will help you master a 6-step process for guiding productive dialogue and gaining commitment from others.