Have you ever wondered how individuals in key executive positions have ascended to such influential roles? If you want to get to the top of the accounting and finance profession, you’ll need to improve your business communication skills. How you communicate determines your ultimate career success.
You must first realize that you’re “on stage” during every encounter you have at work. We’re always performing. From a recurring staff meeting to an executive briefing, there are those within the organization who are always evaluating your credibility and who will greatly influence your next role. I’ve seen countless employees fail to recognize this important concept and be passed over for promotions and receive lower performance bonuses. Don’t let this happen to you! The earlier you adopt a power communicator mind-set, the better. You must always clearly articulate your technical knowledge and professional judgment in all meetings, on conference calls, and through e-mail.
Trust your convictions, and speak your mind. These are advanced building blocks for developing your executive presence. The intangible asset that will expedite an increase in your influence and authority is confidence. The most successful professionals exude this characteristic in every communication. So what does that mean for you? Developing powerful presentation and communication techniques will instantly raise your communication value. You can achieve that in five steps.
1. Track Your Performance
Compile a complete list of all your current interactions (i.e., departmental meetings and presentations). Describe your specific role in each interaction, the extent of attendee input, number of attendees, and their levels within the organization. Evaluating these details and aligning your message with the critical needs of your audience is only the beginning, but it will set the foundation for strengthening your presentation skills. Individuals with a high level of career intelligence understand the significance of tailoring their message to their audience. Also rate the level of difficulty of each interaction to determine how to prioritize the ones that need more preparation.
2. Know Your Audience
Understanding your audience is absolutely critical. Many people experience significant stress when they speak because of the increased nervousness and self-doubt when communicating with executives. The level of detail and time spent expressing your views will vary tremendously depending on who is in the meeting. Will your boss be there, your boss’s boss, or even the CFO? Most executives require a clear and concise analysis that articulates the problem and the best approach to resolve it.
I had a very important meeting with my CFO where I needed to explain an upcoming complex accounting change and its impact on the company. I was very concerned about how my communication would influence his future decision making because the change was extraordinarily technical. As I prepared, I kept thinking about the CFO’s main concerns and what was important to him. I expected to have 30 minutes to cover my material but was only given five. So I discussed the material at a high level and didn’t discuss the details. He appreciated this approach, and I increased his level of trust in my technical expertise.
3. Articulate Your Message
During your communication, it’s most important to focus on the message and proceed with the end in mind. Specifically, ask yourself what action you want your audience to take. Spending too much time on the background or irrelevant information may limit your communication effectiveness and damage your credibility.
The best tried-and-true technique is to get to the point. Maintain focus during your preparation and delivery, and address only the few items that are critical to the discussion. Your ability to reduce rambling about irrelevant information will enhance your value. I recall presenting at a Disclosure Committee meeting where I had a handful of important issues to discuss. As the meeting began, my original time allotment was reduced significantly, and I had to alter my presentation. I began by communicating my main action requests. I received approval for certain items and only was queried by the CFO and vice president of finance on a subset of my material to explain further.
4. Practice Makes Perfect
Take personal responsibility for your career. No one will care more about your personal and professional development than you, so seek every opportunity to gain experience presenting to your team, department, and other leaders in your organization. Join or create internal work groups to address specific and timely issues facing your organization. If these options aren’t immediately available to you, then join and be an active contributor to organizations that have leadership opportunities. If you’re already an expert in this area, I suggest seeking a career coach or joining a private coaching group focused specifically on advanced business presentations. These valuable resources can increase your communication effectiveness, elevate your personal authority, and help you get your next promotion faster.
Over the course of my career, I’ve identified a personal weakness in my public speaking ability and turned it into a strategic asset. I attribute my success to being an active member of Toastmasters, a nonprofit that helps its members improve their communication, public speaking, and leadership skills. I’ve given more than 60 speeches through the organization.
5. Get Feedback Often
Obtain immediate feedback in your high-profile encounters. Most people believe they get their message across successfully, but this often isn’t the case. Most interactions are left unfulfilled, with your coworkers not understanding your message or instructions for next steps. Our views of our own performance often are substantially different from those of others involved in the meeting, so it’s good to request feedback after every meeting. You should get a 360-degree view as frequently as possible because each attendee might interpret your message(s) differently depending on his or her level in the organization.
Time is also a crucial factor. The earlier you become aware of gaps in or misunderstandings of your message, the faster you can remedy them. The old sales aphorism, “A confused buyer takes no action,” can be tweaked to “A confused colleague takes no action.” This is a recipe for disaster if your project success depends on your colleagues’ involvement and input.
I’ve implemented my own upward feedback review, which I provide to my staff to help me better understand how effective my leadership approach is. With this feedback, I’m able to better focus on specific tactics to improve how I motivate and mentor my staff in order to improve overall department performance.
A special bonus tip that can prevent irreparable damage to your professional credibility is to read, reread, and then read again all of your e-mails to ensure you eliminate wordiness, unnecessary biases, and any potentially damaging tones. I can’t reiterate this critical piece of advice enough. You must take personal responsibility for communicating professionally.
I once had a high-level executive call me shortly after I sent him an e-mail. He apologized for mistakenly forwarding my e-mail to other employees. If I had sent the original version of my e-mail, I would’ve been embarrassed because the tone wasn’t appropriate to achieving increased collaboration. Luckily, I have adopted the approach in all of my e-mails to always, always, always ask myself if this e-mail message is something I’d be comfortable seeing on the front page of a newspaper.
IMA LEADERSHIP ACADEMY
The IMA® Leadership Academy provides leadership opportunities for all members. From leadership assessment to leadership courses offered in person as well as through WebEx to participation opportunities in mentoring, be it reverse or traditional, the IMA Leadership Academy can help you meet your leadership goals and improve your leadership skills. For more information, please visit the Leadership Academy website at www.imanet.org/programs_events/ima_leadership_academy.