Book Review – How to speak so people really listen

I must confess that I was not a big fan of management books or those books that help you to improve your soft skills, but I reached a point in my career where I realize potentially miss out on progressing and promotions due to the lack of these soft skills.  Nonetheless, primarily I saw myself struggling and delivering projects in a successful way, I have to clarify that this affirmation is based on the feedback of the customers, no delays in the delivery time, and the solution was adjusted to the requirements. However, I could identify as a remarked weakness the way I was delivering my messages during my communication through the project. 

What exactly I mean by my message?  Simple, the benefits and impact for the company of every new project that I developed and bring a realistic snapshot through the different stages of the project, including the risks, possible changes, and amend to some software architecture assumptions.   Effective communication is beyond having regular meetings or even reach agreements and fulfill them, and after a reflection period, and recalling a few frustrations accumulated during the years, I decided to bring the place that effective communication must have as part of my professional career.

The first thing that you must do for solving a problem is identified it.  Simple, but complex at the same time especially if you want to do it for yourself and without the help of anybody.  My experience proof me how much important is to taking account the opinion of teammates and if you have good luck if a mentor if you count on one, remember, the trust and sincere relationship with them is key, especially when you are looking for identifying your weakness and aim overcome it.  In my personal experience, I could identify a real need for improving my communication skills, especially in the way of delivering my message in a concise and sticky way.

How we should overcome the blocker in our life is not an easy task, but it is not impossible, in my personal case and due to my character, I must reflect and analyze the situations before taking actions, I know that probably many of you consider yourself more resolutive and instinctively, nonetheless is part of the challenge to know ourselves and take the proper path and using the right resources. 

Personally, I belong to the kind of people who really love to read and enjoy taking notes and think about them.  My first challenge was to find the right book for starting this new resolution, as always, the internet was a great friend but not without after removing the tons of garbage, diving and reviewing the different opinions and possibility in terms of my level and my real possibilities which depends on my time and sense of urgency.  Finally, I got the book titled “How to speak so people really listen” by Paul McGee.

My first impression of the book was positive mainly for his simplicity; however, I could understand through reading the first chapters the interesting strategy applied through the book.  In my opinion, the first chapter is an anchor that allows us to stay in the book for the rest of the chapters, especially because explains to us a basic and non-always understood reality about how important our communication skills are for our future.  The book is centered on the best strategy to follow for preparing a presentation, it is not necessary though for addressing our daily communication (with our mates, managers, and directors) including meetings, however, the content of the book can be perfectly adapted to our daily life, keeping in mind that every simple conversation represent a presentation and we are always trying to send a message.

How many of us have suffered the absence of promotions and see how other people taking advantage or steal us the merit of some projects only for our incapacity of managing our communication effectively, therefore people not listen to us, and our message vanished.  Here, the key is to know that communication skill is not a luxury or a privileged that only a few have received at born, it is the outcome of several years of learning, and perseverance, but always we are prepared to change and improve it.

There is a key message through the book which the author said: “Good people with a great message are not guaranteed a captive audience”.   As I said before, the first step to improve something is to recognize that we could not do in the right way, so Part 1 of the book consists of a detailed explanation about a series of sins or common mistakes, the title is “The seven great sins of speaking”, it is possible that any speaker could commit one or many of the sins presented in the book, therefore, impact negatively on the performance of their speech.

We can feel identified with any or all the following sins:

  1. A failure to make your message sticky or memorable
  2. Drowning people in detail
  3. A failure to consider or understand your audience needs
  4. Focusing on features rather than selling benefits
  5. Winging it
  6. Showing slides that suck .. the life out of your audience
  7. Taking people on a pointless ramble

In my personal case I feel plenty identified with three sins, not necessarily we have to be great sinner, I mean, sometimes is possible that we commit some specific mistakes or bad practices, and there are some situations where we are recurrent to a specific sin, so once that we have identified them, we can start to work on improving it.  My review on this part is positive, probably are a few sins that in my opinion was not so much stick and the examples could be better, for instance, the winging it sin, on the other hand, I was so impressed with the great explanation related to drowning people in detail and focusing on features rather than selling benefits.

It is important to be honest through the reading of the book and analyze ourselves, accepting the points where we could improve and trying to set priorities, and defining a strategy for improving.  Remember many books that we read do not represent the solution or magic antidote for our problems, but sometimes they would put a mirror in front of us is a great advance, this book belongs to this book category.

With respect to the second part of the book, the author starts to give us a series of elements and strategies to overcome the sins presented in the first part.  There is a highlighted focus on the importance of being authentic, probably could sound trivial, but it is the key to delivering our message in a way that our audience is able to listen to it, remember that your audience will observe you in detail and any signal of fake will invalidate your message, simple and hard, the conveyor and his attitude is so important as the message that he is trying to deliver.

Our attitude is the result of our thoughts and our head is the battlefield, so it is so important to face our fears and get real, it means that we should look to establish a connection with our audience, so the honesty and show us as we are, no fakes, no pretentious.  The passion must be the gasoline of our presentation, and this is a point remarked in the book.  We should put ourselves in the shoes of our audience and we would never forget how much important the time and attention of our audience is.

The attention of our audience is the key factor that will incline the balance of our presentation in our favor, however, the first two minutes of our session represent the most important asset that we have, for this reason, we must try to grab it at the beginning.  It is possible to lose the attention of the audience or even could not get it from the beginning, it does mean that you cannot recover the attention of the audience, but it is key to have built a consistent structure that gives us the opportunity to do it, keeping in mind that a good story is always a perfect way to connect (or reconnect) with our audience.  Through the chapter dedicated to stories, the author brings us perfect examples about historic characters who used the stories (or fables) as the perfect hook for explaining complex concepts and facts, and many of their stories after several centuries still being with us.

The importance of the humor during a presentation is other aspect explained in the book, nonetheless I think that the author is much benevolent with the humor capacity of the speaker, I have been a witness about many sessions impacted negatively for speakers who has not the star for making the audience laugh, simple, but apparently the feedback form normally does not include a section to evaluate the quality of the speaker’s jokes, but I coincide with the author about use of the humor with caution.

Through the book, we can find a series of advices and strategies to deal with our nerves and the importance of our body language.  A very important aspect of this book is his clear language, this is something that I enjoy and specially because English is not my native language.  The other aspect that I want to remarks is the way in which the book has been designed, because the first part is an honest invitation to evaluate ourselves and discover where we are, so in this way we can have realistic expectations about where we want to go. 

Obviously, read a book about effective speaking will not convert you into a master speaker, but I really believe that this book would represent a great opportunity for starting to adopt changes in the way that we speak with other people and our message be delivered in a simple and clear way because something simple like this can change our life.