Public speaking skills are becoming increasingly more important for professionals nowadays, especially when persuasion is involved, since having the ability to persuade leads to convincing other people to undertake actions of the speaker¿½s interest.
This is true even for careers in which public speaking has been historically neglected, such as Information Technology. Therefore, IT professionals must adapt and enhance their communication skills in order to have a better performance at work and to achieve higher results.
There are many techniques and methods that can be used to improve one¿½s public speaking abilities. This study is a research on the importance of public speaking for IT professionals and the main techniques that can be used by them to improve their persuasive skills.
Introduction ¿½ Public Speaking in IT
Information has become an organization¿½s most important asset nowadays. The world¿½s economy is currently based on knowledge and information, as opposed to being based on capital and energy, as it had been for decades before the technological developments of the late 20th century.
There has been a dramatic increase in the importance of Information Technology (IT) for businesses, which has caused most companies in the world to either have their own IT department or rely on outsourced IT services to maintain their businesses. This was an effect of the globalization and other market forces, which have caused technology to become a key differentiator of success and effectiveness for companies.
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In the past, Information Technology was often seen as a career without need for strong interpersonal skills, requiring focus on logic and creative thinking instead. Nowadays, the IT professional has much more direct contact with other important business stakeholders than before, such as end-users, customers or even managers, since IT departments are becoming intrinsic to the core business of companies.
Having evolved according to this trend, the IT professional¿½s role has changed sensibly. Nowadays, the IT workforce finds itself in the need of developing a new mindset, skill set and tool set in order to achieve success. These new abilities include communicating, building relationships, collaborating, marketing, negotiating, among many similar others (Ouellette and Associates Consulting Inc., 2008). Many of those abilities are directly related to Public Speaking, and so it becomes an essential motivation for IT professionals to have a better understanding of Public Speaking skills and techniques.
Most IT degree curricula do not include any Communication subjects on them. Since Information Technology is an Exact Science, those curricula are focused on analytical and logical subjects instead. This is a potential problem for future professionals, since they are graduating and entering the workforce without essential Public Speaking skills which would lead them to thrive much more effectively on the new corporate scenario. In my personal experience, I was glad to find that, against the global trend, Bond University includes ¿½Speaking Persuasively in the Corporate World¿½ is a mandatory subject for the Master of Information Technology, which I have undertaken and has proven to be very productive for me.
Persuasion is one of the aspects of Public Speaking which is most strongly related to the corporate world. In essence, Persuasion is attempting to convince a person or a group of people to undertake a given course of action or to change their mindset, even if the persuasive point initially stands against their values or beliefs. The goal of persuasion is changing one¿½s attitude or behaviour. To increase the likelihood that a persuasive message will be successful, the structure of persuasion must be fully understood. It is important to be reminded that persuasion is an ethically acceptable alternative to coercion and apathy.
Effective persuasion works through the use of messages to influence an audience. The messages that make up persuasive discourse are means to ends or goals of the persuader. During a speech, the speaker is in the position of power in relation to the audience. In the persuasive speech, it is the speaker¿½s responsibility to seize this position and perform suitably, so as to achieve his goal of persuasion. The speaker should adjust the tone on his persuasive speech according to the obviousness of the benefit to the persuaded entity.
The elements that lead a listener to be persuaded by a speaker are pathos, logos and ethos. Pathos refers to the emotional appeal of the argument to the audience. Logos is related to the logic reasoning that is presented. Ethos is related to the credibility established by the speaker and the way it¿½s perceived by the audience. A speaker should attempt to address each of those elements in order to achieve effective persuasion.
In the corporate world, persuasion can be found in many different situations. Companies use persuasion in the form of advertising to convince consumers to buy their products or services. Persuasion is a natural part of business. So, in order to prosper, a businessman has to be able to persuade his clients, his suppliers, his sponsors, his associates, his colleagues, so as to arrange better conditions for him and for his business.
Other persuasive situations are also quite common in the corporate environment. The first step in any career is doing a job interview. A job interview can be faced as a persuasive speech, in which the speaker¿½s goal is persuading the employer to hire him. Furthermore, it becomes important to maintain public speaking skills in order to achieve promotions, so as to acquire better positions and better salaries.
Negotiations with customers and suppliers are also fairly common in the corporate world, and in these cases, the aim of the speech may be persuading those entities to comply with, accept or offer better business conditions.
Many careers, such as commerce, politics, and law, are essentially about persuading others. Marketing, for instance, is intrinsically about persuading customers to choose a certain company¿½s package of products and/or services.
Persuasion in IT
Persuasion has become a vital role-player in IT nowadays, due to several reasons. The organizational structure of an IT company or an IT department has evolved in such a way that teamwork and communication are now key factors to an effective work environment. Before grasping further into the ramifications of public speaking and persuasion in IT, it is important to understand the hierarchical structure of IT professionals.
An example of an IT company organizational structure is pictured below:
Fig. 1 – Example of an IT company Organizational Structure (Bauer & Erdogan, 2009)
Every single IT-related job benefits from Public Speaking in one way or in another. There are several corporate situations for each position in which presenting effective speech can lead to a rewarding outcome.
It is important to note that the higher in the hierarchy, the most important it becomes to have Public Speaking skills, even though all positions benefit from it.
Leadership roles in IT, such as Product Managers, Project Managers, Team Leaders, among many others, rely on Public Speaking skills to be able to motivate their co-workers, to achieve common objectives.
One of the jobs in which public speaking is most important is the Project Manager, since this occupation has the responsibility of being in constant communication with high-level managers, customers and developers. Thus, the Project Manager may need to persuade those three different entities in order to achieve his goal, which is concluding projects in the most suitable way. For instance, the Project Manager may need to persuade the developers under him to motivate them and keep morale up, in order to get tasks done within the expected deadlines. It might also be the Project Manager¿½s role to persuade his high-level managers to increase his project¿½s budget or to hire more people for the project. And finally, in the cases in which the project manager has direct contact with the customer, he may need to persuade the customer to change the scope of the project or to get a deadline extension.
One possible assumption is that for lower positions in the IT hierarchy, such as Technician, Tester or Developer, public speaking skills are not especially relevant. This is not particularly true, since even those bottom-end professionals may need to negotiate and persuade their superiors or colleagues in order to achieve goals such as convincing supervisors that they are doing a good job or persuading team leaders to be selected to do tasks which whey have more affinity and disposition with.
Recently, some careers have merged with IT, establishing common grounds. One example of this is E-Marketing, which is the online marketing of products and services through the Internet, which has been growing savagely in the past few years. So, it has become extremely important to be able to market products or services effectively through the Internet. Since Marketing is directly related to persuasion, the IT professionals involved in fields such as E-Marketing can achieve more effective outcomes by having a prior understanding of how persuasion works.
Influence of Personality Types on Speech
One of the most widely accepted schools of thought in Psychology regarding the analysis of personality types is the ¿½Big 5 Factor¿½. According to the ¿½Big 5 Factor¿½, there are countless personality traits, but each one of them is derived from one or more of 5 main categories, which are:
Openness, which is the appreciation for new experiences; Conscientiousness, which is the tendency to show self-discipline, to be goal oriented and to act responsibly; Extraversion, which is the tendency to seek the company of others and feel positive energy and emotions from it; Agreeableness, which is the tendency to be cooperative and compassionate towards others; and Neuroticism, which is the tendency to experience negative emotions easily.
The personality trait categories that are more closely related to Public Speaking are Conscientiousness and Openness, since they lead to more flexibility during a speech, and a better understanding of the difference between each member of the audience, which can improve a speech¿½s delivery greatly, since one quality of a good speaker is understanding the audience and adapting the speech to their beliefs and interests (Lucas, 2009).
A study made in 1985 concluded that 75% of the information systems developers are introverts (Schwalbe, 2007). In spite of this research, IT professionals usually display a high level of openness (Lounsbury, Studham, Steel, Gibson, & Drost,. 2010).
This leads to the historical image of developers who are hard to communicate with, since, for example, in the case of the majority of the team members being introverts, there will be difficulty in effectively working with other important business stakeholders who are extroverts.
Naturally, there are workarounds to these situations. Even though it¿½s impossible to change one¿½s personality type, by putting effort on improving communication skills, IT professionals can diminish issues of this kind and thus achieve more success in their workplaces. Although some people may have natural Public Speaking skills, those who do not can choose to study it and apply its principles on their professional lives. Due to the high level of openness shown by IT professionals, they have the potential to become excellent public speakers.
Glossophobia, or speech anxiety, is the fear of public speaking. It is a subject of high importance regarding public speaking in the corporate world, due to the high levels of responsibility that may be involved in business speech situations. The symptoms of Glossophobia can directly affect the outcome of the speech, and they may lead to disastrous results if not handled properly.
Anxiety can be a barrier for speakers, but it is at some level beneficial, since it can be channeled into good, positive feelings, in order to make a speech more passionate and engaging. The figure below shows the correlation between the speaker¿½s level of arousal and the quality of his performance.
Fig 2 ¿½ The Yerkes Dodson curve, showing the correlation between the level of arousal and the quality of performance (Cronbach & Snow, 2010).
There are tricks and techniques to reduce Glossophobia, which can be classified into short term solutions and long term solutions. Ideally, it would be more suitable for a professional to work on long term solutions, but due to possible time constraints, short term solutions become appealing.
Usually, short term Glossophobia solutions are related to the physical aspect of the human body. There are many physical tricks and exercises that release adrenalin, a hormone that has direct stimulant effects that can assist a better performance. One example of a short term solution is the iconic bashing of a barstool.
Long term Glossophobia solutions are ideal for professionals, since they also help to develop certain character traits which are desirable in business profiles, such as leadership and confidence. One example of a long term solution is taking part on activities or hobbies outside of one¿½s comfort zone that rely heavily on communicating with others, usually in positions of power, such as doing volunteer work or working as a tour guide.
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A professional can also reduce the impact of Glossophobia by changing his mindset so as to always seek self-improvement in communication skills. There are many speech opportunities that are presented in day-to-day life, and by facing each of those opportunities as a learning experience, instead of as a pitfall in exposing weaknesses, many valuable lessons can be learned. Self-motivation and ambition also play an important role regarding this topic.
Effective preparation also plays an important role in overcoming Glossophobia. By being ready for eventual misfortunes that might happen, the speaker¿½s sense of security is raised, which leads to an increase in confidence.
One of the most vital steps to produce a good presentation is preparation. Each minute of speaking time requires one to two hours of preparation time-perhaps even more (Lucas, 2009).
When it comes to persuasive speech, it becomes even more important to prepare effectively, since the speaker will only get a small fraction of time to change opinions and attitudes towards his topic.
There are two different possible types of preparation. One of them is the general organizing of the overall presentation¿½s contents. The other is the tailoring of individual performances according to the expected audience¿½s characteristics and expectations. It is the speaker role to foresee this aspect and tailor each of his performances to optimize the effect of his speech on them.
Knowledge about the material is vital to the speaker. The more knowledge the speaker has about his speech¿½s topic, the more relaxed and confident he¿½ll feel which will then lead to a better speech delivery. The sources of information from where he can acquire knowledge are personal experiences, books, the Internet, asking and interviewing other people, among many others.
Establishing credibility is an important step towards making the audience more susceptible to be convinced. Thus, the speaker should have a plan to establish his credibility beforehand.
In persuasive speech, the material is even more important because it¿½s used as evidence to convince skeptical listeners. The speaker must keep in mind that the sources that back up his material are strongly relevant, which means that to increase the reliability and credibility of his arguments, the sources and evidences must be shown and cited accordingly. It¿½s relevant to note that evidence is more likely to be persuasive if it¿½s new to the audience (2009, p.359).
The reasoning structure is a vital aspect to an effective persuasive presentation. To improve the structure, the speaker has to make sure that his evidence is connected to the main points of his reasoning body, so as to sculpt a clear logical structure to be presented to the audience.
Audiovisual aids are a way of creating interest, making the speaker feel less self-conscious and drawing attention away from him (Lucas, 2009). Hence, it is particularly effective for good corporate persuasive presentations to have effective visual aids. One problem is that the over usage of PowerPoint has become a trap in corporate scenarios. So, presentations which are too much over the top in attracting attention are considered inadequate and unprofessional. A balanced point of view is to keep the material simple, clear, clean and straight to the point.
It¿½s also part of the preparation to have a backup plan in case of technical difficulties such as power shortages, non-functioning Internet, malfunctioning projection equipment, among others. The solution becomes having the visual aids for a presentation stored in many different ways: USB-drives, CDs, flip-charts, handouts, and folders. This way, even if things go wrong, the speaker will have a way to resort to his visual aids.
Having a good understanding of the setting and adjusting to it also fits into the preparation stage of a presentation. A good practice is visiting the presentation place and figuring out the logistics beforehand. Whenever it is possible, it should even be done days in advance.
In addition to understanding the setting, it is necessary to understand the target audience and to be able to relate the presentation¿½s subject to them accordingly. The speaker must understand that people are egotistical and will only be interested in what they are being told if they are shown why they should be interested in it. The speaker must keep in mind the audience¿½s motivations, needs, interests and desires. A good way to figure out the audience is arriving early to the setting. Usually, breakfasts or coffee breaks take place before such presentations, so the speaker can get to know some of the people who will be in his audience and then learn more about their profiles and their expectations, so he can tailor his presentation accordingly.
Most common pitfalls can be avoided with proper preparation. It is the responsibility of the speaker to prepare for the most commonly asked questions, so as not to be surprised. Even in some cases in which the audience asks questions that the speaker is not prepared to answer, there are a few techniques which can help buy time and deliver convincing answers. One of these possible techniques is restating the question using different words to the person who asked it, buying time to come up with a consistent answer in the process. One other technique is having extra points to bring up during this time, as well as having results slides to show, to work as a distraction.
According to a recent survey, business presenters consider ¿½developing audience involvement¿½ to be one of the most important persuasive strategies nowadays, alongside ¿½sharing facts¿½ and ¿½offering solutions¿½ (Gordon, 2005). In spite of this fact, not many presenters make use of audience involvement techniques. The same survey has shown that less than half of these presenters use audience involvement activities to persuade their audiences (Gordon, 2005).
The objective of audience involvement is establishing a connection between the speaker and the audience. This can be a vital step towards effective persuasion, since it helps getting the audience more actively involved with the presented subject.
There are many different ways in which the speaker can achieve audience involvement. Each way is more suitable for a particular occasion, but the point is that the speaker should aim to include at least one of them to make his presentation more interactive. Some of these ways include providing relevant entertainment, generating emotional appeal, encouraging dialogue between audience members, presenting an award to a fellow speaker or even to an audience member, issuing a challenge to the audience or appealing to audience member¿½s egos.
One way to connect deeply with the audience is by establishing a kinesthetic connection with them. This can be done by the speaker by proper care regarding his personal appearance, movement, posture, facial expression, gestures and eye contact. After establishing this kind of connection, the audience will respond more actively to his actions and will be more prone to accept the speaker¿½s information. The speaker can also use his own body as a visual aid. This is know as dramatics, and usually generates strong responses in demonstration speeches.
The usage of audiovisual aids is encouraged and useful not only to divert the focus from the speaker, but also to reinforce the main ideas and, in the case of persuasive speeches, provide tangible evidence. They can also be used to set the mood and entertain the audience. The main sources of audiovisual aids that can be used in public speaking are objects, models, photographs, drawings, graphs, charts, transparencies, videos, multimedia presentations, background music and sound effects.
In spite of the historical neglecting of communication and public speaking skills in the IT world by universities, IT professionals can still benefit from acquiring those skills at some stage on their lives. In particular, by acquiring persuasive speaking skills, those professionals will be more prepared to face not only useful situations in their corporate life, but also in their personal lives.
A brief introduction to the preparation and delivery of a persuasive speech has been demonstrated in this paper. The tools, skills and techniques which have been discussed can be useful for professionals looking forward to improve their persuasive speaking skills to great advantage.
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