The following are approximately the first 1000 words from Chapter 9 of Jonar Nader’s book,
How to Lose Friends and Infuriate Your Boss.
The enemy within
First impressions last
In the previous chapter, it was pointed out that it is natural for humans to discriminate against each other. Rather than fight the forces of nature, we would do well to understand how racism and discrimination work so that we do not trigger emotions in others that might cause them to distance themselves from us. In the work environment, what we do and what we say, and how we interact and communicate, all contribute to how others might judge us. Below are seven aspects on which to reflect. The list focuses on some of the factors that contribute to discrimination during the early stages of meeting people.
After you have grasped the language and polished your accent to suit the local market, consider the extent of your vocabulary. Those with a limited vocabulary reduce their chances of a promotion, not because people in power want to hear impressive words, but because they want to hear impressive ideas. If you are unable to vocalise your thoughts, how can you show your level of understanding of a subject? An expanded vocabulary is not meant to equip you with a ‘social tool’, but with a ‘thinking tool’.
Other than vocabulary, grammar and spelling are important. It is harder to keep climbing the corporate ladder if you lack competency in these areas. A weak handle on these, presupposes deficiency of intellect and education. For example, there are groups of professionals who cringe at people who say ‘haitch’ when referring to the eighth letter of the alphabet. They also discriminate against those who say things like ‘everythink’ instead of ‘everything’.
Regardless of how competent you might be at your profession, you are judged and ranked by what people can see, hear, and read. These are the external factors that help to paint a picture about you.
If you do not take care of your written and spoken skills, and improve these if required, you might not be given a second chance to prove your capabilities.
2. Public speaking
Ranked as one of the most uncomfortable things that an executive has to do, public speaking is seen as a terrifying obligation. Public speaking also refers to general presentations that are made to the media, staff, shareholders, and the members of the public via seminars or television.
The most successful of industry leaders are those who can stand behind a microphone and project their personality with confidence. It is not a skill that can be honed after one reaches an office of power. Rather, it is rare to reach an office of power without it.
Do not think that public speaking is reserved for high-flyers. To be able to present well to large and small groups is one of the most important personal qualities that an employee needs. Remember that the purpose is to get your message across without unnecessary interruptions and distractions. Those who cannot present their ideas confidently and succinctly are holding themselves back. It is difficult to rally support if you cannot communicate your ideas.
Presentation skills include how you present your ideas and how you use the tools to do so. Computers, microphones, lighting, projection systems, and other devices, form part of the picture. For example, a presenter who thumps the lectern with every sentence might not realise that the microphone is amplifying those thumps into irritating noises that fill the room and distract the audience.
Anyone who gets up to present and is nervous behind a microphone must immediately work to overcome that anxiety. I have often heard executives say, ‘I’m hopeless at it, I just can’t do it.’ Unless they deal with this, it would be like saying ‘I can’t play the piano’. If playing the piano is an important part of your profession, and you never take lessons, you will look a fool when someone forces you on stage and asks you to perform. Imagine being asked to play an instrument that you know nothing about. Imagine being introduced by an enthusiastic master of ceremonies who builds you up as the next presenter and says, ‘Now, would you please put your hands together and welcome our next speaker!’ What would you do? I can tell you what ninety-nine percent of executives do. They walk on stage to take the microphone and they proceed painfully through their unrehearsed performance, using equipment that is out of tune, with no showmanship whatsoever, no content, and a dry presentation that would bore the socks off anyone. You would not contemplate a piano recital if you could not play the piano, so why would you ever get up to present if you are ill-prepared?
There is no point in ignoring your weaknesses. Do something constructive to overcome these difficulties. There is no escaping that requirement. If you lack the ability to present, you will find yourself in awkward positions where your future employers will feel uncomfortable about you. That is not a feeling you want to trigger in them. Mind you, there are many presenters who think that they do a good job. Do not fall into that trap. Wherever possible, record yourself so that you can scrutinise your performance.
3. Written presentations
Remember that anything about you that ‘speaks for you’ can influence how people see you, and can therefore lead them to form impressions about you. Your behaviour, your telephone manner, and your dress can be the source of a positive or negative effect.
Communicating through written means is far more prevalent and informal nowadays than in the last century. Take care to understand what signals you send when you submit your written presentations to people who do not know you well. Everything about your work must be to a standard that would avoid distractions.
Not everything you send out has to be on the finest paper, but it must be suitable for the reader. For that reason, every effort has to be made to impress the person with whom you are communicating. Do not try to use a word-processor to submit a job-application if you are not proficient at using the software, or if you are unfamiliar with what constitutes ‘good layout’. There are ample courses that you can take to assist you in this regard. Do not overlook typography, layout, colour, and written presentation skills if you wish to communicate clearly. Look at design as being parallel to music. If you did not know how to compose a symphony, you would not contemplate recording one. Written presentations are like symphonies. To the trained observer, they can be inappropriate or pleasing. To make your mark, engage professionals to guide you as to how to present yourself.