6 Tips To Remember When Evaluating Feedback

What do these three examples have in common?

• A young woman was told by an instructor that her giggle during her presentation was cute, and fit her personality.

 â€¢ A woman’s husband, after she asked him if her skirt was too short for an important business meeting, responded “No, your legs look great. Keep it short!”

ʉۢ A young man was told by a colleague to chew gum to help him overcome his nervousness when presenting.

I believe the above business professionals all received feedback that was flawed.

It is important to receive feedback, because it helps us to grow. After numerous years of giving seminars, I still pay attention to the comments I receive from my participants. But how do you decide which suggestions really can help you to grow as a professional, and which ones to ignore? I suggest asking yourself these 6 questions:

1. Who is giving the feedback? Is the person an expert? If so, the feedback is a gift, and I would seriously consider following the person’s suggestions. If the person is not an expert, I would put the comments on the back burner. But remember, when customers make suggestions, it is a good idea to implement them where appropriate.

2. Do you perceive a pattern in the feedback you get? A solitary criticism or observation may be just one person’s opinion, but if you notice a lot of similar comments, chances are there is some truth to the feedback – positive or negative.

3. Have you learned as much as you can about the comment? Engage with the person giving the feedback. You could say, “Tell me more” to gain additional information. Or, you can paraphrase what you have heard. Saying something like, “You’re suggesting that…” and putting the feedback into your own words will ensure that you have grasped the person’s points. The woman who was told it was okay to giggle could have asked, “Are you saying that it will be professional for me to giggle in the business world?” (The answer is no.)

4. Is the feedback emphasizing your sexuality? Workplace feedback should address your competency, not your sexuality. The woman’s husband in my example was flattering his wife, but not taking into consideration her corporate environment. He didn’t understand that “sexy is not a corporate look.” He’s not alone. Based on the attire of some newscasters, or the actors portraying professionals on television shows, it’s not surprising that many people come to believe that it is okay to dress provocatively in business situations. It isn’t.

5. Have you checked with other seasoned and successful professionals? The young man who was told to chew gum did check with another professional, who pointed out that the gum chewing would create another problem – his audience would be distracted. She then gave him other suggestions to overcome his nervousness, such as practicing out loud and telling yourself positive things. (Additional suggestions on presentation skills can be found in my book: The Communication Clinic.

6. Have you done research on your own? Read books on the topic. Read articles on the web. The internet makes it very easy to research any topic. Just make sure the authors of the articles are experts in whatever topic you are researching.

Pachter & Associates provides training and coaching on business etiquette, presentation skills and communication. For more information, contact Joyce Hoff at joyce@pachter.com or 856.751.6141.

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Women are being interrupted … again!

Yet another study shows women are interrupted more than men.  

A recent article in The New York Times, For Women in Economics, the Hostility Is Out in the Open, discusses a study reported last month that found when female economists presented their research findings, they were interrupted by audience members asking questions. The women received 12 percent more questions than men, and they were more likely to get questions that were patronizing or hostile.

Other examples of women being interrupted more than men include:

–A few years ago an article in the Harvard Business Review,  Female Supreme Court Justices are interrupted more by male justices and advocates, found that male justices interrupted female justices about three times as often as they interrupted each other during oral arguments. The research also found that “there is no point at which a woman is high-status enough not to be interrupted.”

–During a women’s communication seminar in Kuwait some years ago I commented that men interrupt women more than they interrupt other men. One of my students said, “Barbara, you’re right. You can see the American men interrupt the American women on your TV shows that we get here.” I was surprised that this gender bias was so obvious – but I really shouldn’t have been. 

When a woman is interrupted regularly with questions or comments (anyone can be interrupted occasionally), her credibility is being challenged, and her influence can certainly be minimized as a result.

The following suggestions can help women – and men – to manage interruptions assertively, whether people are asking unsolicited questions or interjecting unwanted comments during small meetings or large group presentations: 

Let people know when you will be taking questions. Either the speaker or the meeting organizer can tell people how the Q&A will be handled. Often the audience is asked to hold questions until the end – though this doesn’t mean everyone will do so! The Times article mentioned that “several universities have instituted rules meant to cut down on bad behavior, such as banning questions for the first 10 or 15 minutes of a talk so that speakers [economists] can get through at least the beginning of their presentations uninterrupted.”

Continue speaking. If you do so, the person trying to interrupt you often will stop talking. You may need to raise your volume a little to make sure the person hears you, but don’t shout.

Ask yourself: Are you making it easy for people to interrupt you?  Don’t underestimate the power of your nonverbal communication skills. Appear assertive – keep your body language open, and don’t cross your arms. Look at the audience. When you avoid looking at your audience, some members may feel emboldened to interrupt. Make sure you don’t move back when interrupted – it can make you appear fearful. Move towards audience members when you can. Check your rate of speech: Are you speaking too slowly, which allows others to jump in? Check your volume: Are you speaking loudly enough to have what you say come across authoritatively?

Defer answering, if the answer to the question will be explained later in your talk. Often, you can say, “I am going to hold off answering that question as I will be discussing that topic in a few minutes.” Of course, if the CEO asked the question, you may want to answer it right away!

Don’t be a puppet on your audience’s string. If the audience is shouting questions at you, make sure you repeat the question you are about to answer. If you don’t, you are being controlled by the audience as you try to field one question after another. When you take the time to repeat the question, you gain control – you decide which questions to address, and in what order. 

After you have answered someone’s question, do not ask, “Did that answer your question?” You could be setting yourself up, as the person may respond, “No.” And then what do you do? If the questioner wants more information, he or she will let you know – or seek you out later.

Additional information on how to make powerful presentations can be found in my book, The Communication Clinic: 99 Proven Cures for the Most Common Business Mistakes.    

Pachter & Associates provides seminars and coaching on communication, business writing, professional presence, and presentation skills. Contact Joyce Hoff at joyce@pachter.com for more information. (www.pachter.com) 

 

6 Tips To Enhance Your Presentation Skills…And Build Your Confidence

“I just spoke to 200 people; I can do anything!”

This comment was from a woman I had coached on presentation skills. She had been nervous about speaking during a fund-raising luncheon for her favorite charity, but felt “on top of the world” after giving the presentation.
                                             
She was experiencing one of the positive consequences of giving an effective speech – her confidence level increased considerably, and she felt good about herself.

This woman was an accomplished professional and needed only a few suggestions to fine-tune her skills. But anyone can benefit from some of the tips that I gave her. Why not try them out before your next presentation? You may be surprised at how good you feel about yourself as a result.   

1. Practice out loud. You want to hear how your presentation sounds. Saying it in your head isn’t good enough. Is it structured logically? Are you using transitions between points? Are the stories complete? Does the presentation make sense? Saying it aloud, and hearing the speech as your audience will hear it, helps to clarify any areas that need work.

2. Mingle before the presentation. When you can, go up to people, shake hands, introduce yourself, and welcome individuals to the presentation. This rapport-building helps people connect with you, and allows you to feel more comfortable with them once you are in front of the group.

3. Ask yourself: Does the audience know I am nervous? If you are not verbally or nonverbally conveying your nervousness to the audience, the people you are addressing will not know. And if the audience doesn’t know you’re nervous, why waste your energy being nervous? Interesting concept… and it has helped a lot of people overcome their nervousness.

4. Look at people. When you make eye contact with members of your audience, you appear confident and in control of the presentation and your audience. Presenters get nervous and tend to avoid looking at the people they are addressing. Make sure you look at everyone. People have a tendency to look only at the people who smile at them (and we do love these people!), but you don’t want to miss connecting with anyone. 
                                       
5. Manage the questions. In the beginning of your talk, let people know when you will be taking questions. You can often direct people to ask questions on a specific topic by saying, “What questions do you have about X?” Repeat each question before you answer it. This gives you a few seconds to compose your thoughts before you speak. You can also rephrase the question to eliminate any negativity in it. 

6. Take the applause. I am sure you have seen speakers who have almost run off the stage at the conclusion of a presentation, or they may say something like, “Whew, glad that is over!” Do not do this. You should acknowledge the applause, then walk off the stage or go back to your seat with your head held high.

Additional suggestions on presentation skills can be found in my book, The Communication Clinic: 99 Proven Cures for the Most Common Business Mistakes.

Pachter & Associates provides training and coaching on presentation skills and communication. For more information contact Joyce Hoff at joyce@pachter.com or 856.751.6141.

What’s in a title? A lot — especially for women

Why are female doctors introduced by first name while men are called ‘Doctor’?

This provocative headline was on a Washington Post article a few years ago that featured two women physicians at the Mayo Clinic who had noticed that their male colleagues were usually introduced at conferences as “Doctor So-and-so.” But the two women and other female doctors were often introduced by their first names, when the person introducing them was a man.

Last year, I heard the pilot of my flight introduce himself using his title of captain, but then introduce his co-pilot by her first name only.

And most recently a Wall Street Journal opinion piece by Joseph Epstein made minimizing remarks about Jill Biden’s use of her title “Dr.”, including the comment: Any chance you might drop the “Dr.” before your name? “Dr. Jill Biden” sounds and feels fraudulent, not to say a touch comic.

Is the use of titles a big deal? Yes. I believe it is. 

How people address you and what you call yourself really do matter. Names – and titles – have power. Names and titles may confer dignity, or take it away. They influence how you are perceived, and whether people take you seriously.

Though the problem of unequal introductions may not be on the same level as eliminating sexual harassment or the gender pay-gap, it is a communication concern with negative implications for women.

Denying professionals the prestige that a title conveys is a subtle way of undermining them.

Whom would you take more seriously, or believe was more competent: “Dr. Tom Jones” or “Sally Smith”? It seems obvious that it would be the person with the title, because that testifies to his training and professionalism.

The following six suggestions on use of titles and names will help you stop negatively influencing others’ perception of women, even inadvertently. These tips apply for both men and women, and to writing emails.  

1. Be consistent with your use of titles. Use professional titles equally for both men and women. If you are mentioning a man by his title, such as Doctor Jones or Professor Smith, refer to a woman the same way. This is valid whether you are giving a speaker introduction, introducing someone to other people at the office or in social situations, or simply mentioning people in informal discussions.

2. Use a woman’s title. Some organizations are very informal with names, but if professional titles are typically used in your organization, refer to women by theirs, such as Dr. (Sally) Jones.

3. Refer to friends/colleagues by their titles when in business settings. You may have a great relationship with Dr. Jones and use her first name when you are together. When you are with other people, however, you should refer to her by her title. You are recognizing her achievement in front of others. If you do not do this, you are establishing a norm that tells people it’s okay for them to call her by her first name. And that may not be the case. (This also applies to men.)

4. Be consistent with the honorific ‘Mr.’ and ‘Ms.’ This is similar to the first item. If you say or write, “Mr. Williams,” do the same for the woman, “Ms. Jones.” This conveys a level of respect for both parties. You do not want to say something like, “Mr. Williams and Karen went to the meeting.” In an informal setting you might also use first names for both, such as “Tom and Karen went to the meeting.”  

5. Refer to women in the workplace as ‘women.’ Businessmen aren’t referred to as boys; businesswomen shouldn’t be referred to as girls. The words “girls” and “boys” indicate children. I know, I know, you are going to say that it’s intended as a compliment, or it’s a way of expressing camaraderie, as in “girls’ night out” or “the girls I work with in the office.” But ultimately it fosters a less-professional image for women.  

6. Don’t use a woman’s nickname or shorter form of her first name —unless you know it is okay to do so or are asked to do so. Children are often called by nicknames. And many shortened names do not have the same standing as full names. My name is Barbara. Do not call me “Barb,” and definitely not “Barbie.” This situation can be tricky. Sometimes people, especially high-power people, will use their nicknames to seem friendly and more approachable. Christine Todd Whitman, the first woman governor of New Jersey and former head of the EPA, will often refer to herself as Christie Whitman. (Her current website is www.christiewhitman.com.)

Men also can be influenced by shortened names. According to a story about basketball legend Michael Jordan on the CBS show 60 Minutes a few years ago, he went from being called “Mike Jordan” to “Michael Jordan” after he scored the winning basket in the 1982 NCAA championship game.

(Note: At the beginning of my blog I didn’t refer to the author of the WSJ article as Joe or Joey Epstein. I used Joseph Epstein–giving him some measure of respect, which he seemingly didn’t want to give the First Lady-elect.)

Start paying attention to your word choices. You may be surprised at how you have been referring to women. Additional information on communication can be found in my book, The Communication Clinic: 99 Proven Cures for the Most Common Business Mistakes.

 

*This is a repost of a previous blog. It has been updated.

Pachter & Associates provides seminars and coaching on communication, business writing, professional presence, and presentation skills. Contact Joyce Hoff at joyce@pachter.com for more information (www.pachter.com)