The Mechanics of Communications

    By Thomas Goebel, Volunteer Content Writer

    In Project Management, you don’t have to be an inspirational speaker like Zig Ziglar to be an effective communicator.  Don’t worry if you’re not a born storyteller.  Rather than weaving a narrative that will keep your audience enthralled, your immediate focus should be on delivering pertinent information about the project to the stakeholders.

    So, how do you shake the feeling of inevitable communication collapse?

    Who Gets the Information?

    The first order of business is to determine which stakeholders are to receive the information.  The project manager in not just a focal point; he or she is also a router.  In an ideal project environment, all information related to the project passes through the PM, and it is the PM who ultimately bears the responsibility of ensuring that valuable information reaches the right ears.

    Familiarity with the various project phases and components will help a lot here.  The better the PM’s grasp on the technical, sourcing, and financial aspects of the project, the more targeted his/her information delivery will be.  And it’s best to limit recipients.  No one enjoys receiving an email where the address list is longer than the message body!

    WHOA!  Easy on that info, Pardner!

    Believe it or not, there are things that annoy your stakeholders more than being included in a mass mailer.  When emails arrive at a rate of one per minute (okay, this may be a slight exaggeration), for instance.  Minimizing email frequency gives your emails a better chance of being read and allows them to pack more punch.  Readability is also affected by the amount of content.  Emails are more easily digested when they are short, to the point, and contain a lot of white space – just like web sites and resumes.  Pizzas and hot dogs are best when they come loaded with everything.  Emails?  Not so much.

    Delivering the Verbal Goods

    Once you’ve gotten over your paralyzing glossophobia (fear of public speaking), giving presentations is easy!  The hard part is getting people to listen and interact.  Here are some tips to help you achieve this.

    1)      Practice, practice, practice!  You may think that just by preparing your presentation, you’re ready to go.  No, my friend.  Only by practicing, whether in front of the mirror or a few co-workers, can you really develop your rhythm and find out which words and phrases deliver the connection you want.  Your timing will improve, and you’ll thank yourself afterward for having put in the extra effort.

    2)      Humor is one of the best ways to connect with your audience.  But humor requires a sense of timing and restraint.  See the previous point for how to overcome the timing issue.  The restraint part comes in when you learn to recognize how not to overplay your hand and to develop an instinct for recognizing when a humorous aside isn’t delivering.

    3)      Know your main points so that you don’t have to read your presentation verbatim or, worse, memorize it to the letter.  Reading your presentation makes it sound like somebody else wrote it, and memorizing it makes you sound like a robot.  Neither comes off as natural.

    4)      Smile and talk to everyone in the room.  Remember: your audience wants you to succeed so that everybody gets something out of the exercise!

    Avoiding the Solitary Death of the Bad PowerPoint Presentation

    What can I say about PowerPoint presentations that hasn’t been said before?  Only that, if you’re like me, you have to make every mistake once before you learn to recognize them for what they are – distractions from the points you’re trying to get across to your audience.  So keep them simple, uncluttered and engaging.  Limit analogies to avoid confusion.  The more you practice delivering your PowerPoint presentation, the less you’ll have to put on the slide and the more you’ll be able to directly convey to your audience.

    The Final Product

    These pointers on the mechanics of communication should help you stitch together an informative and useful written or oral presentation.  They really apply to all scenarios where information is exchanged.  You know your subject.  Now make your stakeholders know your subject.