The lights go down. The speaker strides confidently towards the podium, pauses and makes eye contact with the audience. And from the very first moment you know, instinctively, that it's going to be an excellent presentation. An experience like this reinforces your desire to create your own unique aura of self-confidence. What can you do to make this happen?
Reference Checking for Everyone demystifies this part of the hiring process. It clarifies the difference between a reference check and a background check, who should be checked, who should do the checking, how to lawfully check references and respond to questions about former employees, and what questions should not be asked or answered. You'll learn ways to find a candidate's credit report, drivers' license status, academic credentials and professional licenses, and whether any criminal record is on file. Such information can be valuable, but in the end, there is absolutely no substitute for actually checking references.
One thing you can do, right away, is to get a copy of Dr. Phyllis Mindell's book, How to Say It for Executives: The Complete Guide to Communication for Leaders. It's an excellent guide for acquiring and practicing the communication skills you'll need to get ahead and stay there, complete with exercises, charts, lists, examples, and a simple format that makes it all easy to digest.
Primary among those skills is something obvious but often overlooked: listening. When you pay close attention when others are talking, instead of interrupting or jumping to conclusions without hearing the entire story, it will be noticed and appreciated. Of course, a favorite chapter for us here at the library is "Reading Like a Leader," in which the author doesn't tell what to read, but rather how to read - both speedily and deeply - in ways that will build skills in analysis, synthesis, and argument. A chapter on nonverbal leadership breaks down the powerful code spoken by gesture, dress, and body placement.
Preparing a presentation is the centerpiece of How To Say It For Executives, and Dr. Mindell meticulously lays out each step of the process. Before you begin, gather some information about the audience. The speech should be written out, using an absolute minimum of sentences that begin with "I", and rehearsed. The most objective way to find out how you really look and sound in front of an audience is to videotape the speech. After viewing it, turn off the sound and watch it again. Now that you know where improvement is needed, complete the assignments in each chapter that target problems commonly faced by public speakers.
You never know when hostile or difficult people will be in the audience. One individual can spoil an entire presentation by monopolizing the floor or asking inappropriate questions. The author offers several techniques for tactfully handling a variety of problems and disruptions that can occur in an open forum.
Perhaps the most valuable lesson in How to Say It for Executives is this: Make a concerted effort to stop using weak words like "I feel", "sort of", "I guess" and "I think" in everyday conversations as well as presentations. Instead of coming across as tentative and unsure, practice substituting phrases that will make your sentences strong and persuasive. Although the advice in this book is directed primarily to those in leadership positions, anyone but a hermit will find life is made much easier by becoming a better communicator.
Restoring Trust in American Business
edited by Jay W. Lorsch, Leslie Berlowitz, and Andy Zelleke. American Academy of Arts and Sciences: MIT Press, 2005.
Undue Influence: How the Wall Street Elite Put the Financial System at Risk
by Charles Geisst. John Wiley & Sons, 2005.
Contact the business librarians, who also answer questions about business, money, and work, at (412) 281-7141 or at www.carnegielibrary.org/locations/downtown/contact.cfm.