Training on Communication and Presentation Skills

Most results presentations follow the rule of tradition: We do what we’ve seen others do and hope it works. If our organization traditionally writes 200-page reports, we write 200-page reports. If most presentations are verbal, to small groups, we follow this organizational family formula as well. In reality, a two-day presentation and a 200-page report may be too little for some groups and studies; a two-hour presentation and a 20-page report too much for other circumstances.

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The trick is to tailor. If your report is to be made to six people, find out as much as you can about the communication and organizational needs of those six people. What issues are sensitive to them? What vested interests do they have that relate to your study? What are their communication styles? What outcomes do they expect, and what unexpected results might be rejected out of hand?

Regardless of what you deduce about your client’s needs expectations and communications comfort zone, here are some overriding style points or tips and tricks for effective client communication.

• If you find you must prepare a written report, do so in English, not thesis. The objective is to communicate, not to overpower.

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• In both written and oral communications to mixed audiences of decision makers and technical people, use a Wall Street Journal or pyramidal format. Basically, that means begin the report with a brief statement of the problem under investigation, findings and, if appropriate, conclusions and recommendations. In written form this Executive Over¬view, as it is sometimes dubbed, will take two to five pages tops. In oral presentation it should take less than an hour to establish rapport, set a workable climate and get to the punch line.

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The subsequent parts of the report simply elucidate the executive overview and, if necessary, explain study methods, data reduction procedures and the like.

• Most audiences prefer a descriptive results report to correlational or complex tabular presentations. If you are an in-house or trusted investigator, you are probably respected as an expert and expected to be competent. Spare your audience the details of your design and analysis steps if you can. Keep your computer runs to yourself.

• Clearly separate findings, interpretations, conclusions and recommendations. Dr. Darwin Hendle, University of Minnesota measure¬ment services center, suggests that clients do want to hear your ideas on possible problem solutions, but they need to know what is supportable fact or finding and what is conjecture. After all, you’ll probably never know as much as the client about the fit of your finding with the area under study.

• Accuracy is another key to credibility. Spelling and title errors, tables that don’t total 100%, wrong dates and misattributions interfere with the building of credibility. When in doubt, use phrases such as “It is our understanding” or “It is our percep¬tion of the situation” rather than “The problem is” or “Since the goal of your division is to.” Being wrong but aware that you might be inaccurate is forgivable; cocksureness is not.

• Think your way through the media use and choreography of the presentation. Use the same media-method savvy you use when designing training, a sales presentation or a media show of any sort. “Why,” Anderson asks provocatively, “do we assume that a report is a written minithesis or that an oral presentation requires an armful of unreadable tables on mylar sheets? How about presenting results in skit form, or poetic, or cartoon or a straight slide show? People somehow have gotten the idea that an evaluation results report must be dull and dry.”

Source : Training Magazine

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