A Bi-Monthly Newsletter
Volume 6, Issue 3, May 2003
Careers & Education
Business Communication Skills Workshop Summary
The Columbia River Section of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) hosted a Business Communication Skills Workshop on March 8, 2003. The workshop was led by Dr. Janet Sanders of the Clayton Consulting Group. Three topics were addressed in the workshop:
The three sessions in the workshop were fun and interactive, and contained a wealth of research-backed information on how to effectively communicate in a variety of business settings. The 35 participants learned and practiced verbal and nonverbal techniques to convey poise and self-confidence, draw people into conversation, and look comfortable while speaking in public. Following is a summary of each session.
Most professionals find themselves spending some of their time at business/social functions throughout their careers. Networking lunches, company-sponsored sporting events, professional society dinners, civic committee meetings, golf tournament fundraisers – all can be entertaining social events, but many also have a little (or a lot) of business mixed in. These business/social events can serve as an opportunity to prospect, pursue leads, create positive visibility for an organization, share qualifications, strengthen client connections and enhance civic relationships.
Business/social events can be marketing opportunities to give and get information that will be of value to your company. But to be effective, you must know and practice appropriate techniques that balance business savvy with social expectations. In this session of the workshop, participants learned how to gracefully “work the room.” This included learning how to enter a conversation, how to make comfortable small talk and get information without interrogating, and how to close the interaction without awkwardness (e.g. without giving an abrupt excuse like “Well, I’ve got to go to the bathroom now… or refresh my drink… or go say hello to Bob”).
This session featured an opportunity to do a “mix and mingle” practice session in which participants practiced the techniques they learned in a fun exercise that involved the entire group. Some of the techniques that participants learned during this session were difficult to practice because they flew in the face of conventional wisdom or past behaviors that many of us have practiced, such as techniques for getting to know someone (it turns out that asking a lot of questions isn’t the most effective way to do this). However, as the participants practiced the techniques on each other they experienced how useful they could be.
One small but important tip the speaker gave to the participants was to always put your nametag on your right shoulder, so that it is easier for people to read when you are shaking hands. Most right-handed people put their nametags on their left shoulder without thinking of the ease with which someone can read it. It may seem like a silly little detail, but the details are what give people their impression of you!
Grace Under Fire
It can be difficult to gather your thoughts, create a focused message, and deliver it clearly and concisely off the top of your head when you are faced with a tough question in an impromptu setting. In this session, participants learned a message structure that gave them the confidence necessary to successfully respond to the kind of “zingers” that can leave even the most poised professionals speechless or stumbling over their words.
The message structure presented in this session focused on giving the questioner what he or she wants – which is an immediate answer. Rather than using stalling techniques or listing a lot of reasons before getting to the answer, Dr. Sanders taught the participants to follow a deductive message structure (answer followed by reasons and examples). This structure is generally more effective in situations where you are “under fire” than an inductive message structure (reasons and examples followed by answer).
The credibility, authoritativeness, leadership, intelligence and attitude of a professional are often judged primarily based on impressions drawn from nonverbal factors. In this session, Dr. Sanders presented research to the participants that showed how important our nonverbal communication skills are to our overall success as communicators.
Most people are not aware of what their bodies and voices are saying about them and how those messages signal others whether to believe, respect, like, or value them. Participants learned the importance of being aware of their nonverbal messages and how to control those messages.
Drawing from academic research and business applications, Dr. Sanders taught the participants cues that immediately communicate competence, confidence, credibility and commitment in the business setting. In an interactive session participants learned how to: control nervousness; project presence, poise and professionalism in formal and informal settings; read others’ body language messages; and use nonverbal communication to add impact to their image. This session included an illustrative before-and-after videotaping and coaching of volunteers in the audience.
Toward Better Communication
Technical professionals are increasingly aware of the need to demonstrate effective communication skills to be successful. Whether our jobs involve giving presentations, meeting clients, answering questions during public meetings or other forms of communication, we benefit by learning from experts in the field and working toward better communication.
The Columbia River Section of SWE received excellent feedback from the participants in this workshop. It was a lively, informative event that featured wonderful opportunities to practice the techniques that were taught. Participants indicated that they felt that they had learned more about their personal communication styles, gained an increased awareness of communication pitfalls to avoid, and received a great deal of practical advice for verbal and nonverbal communication techniques to be used in a variety of situations.
More information about the Columbia River Section of the Society of Women Engineers and our upcoming events is available on our web site: www.swe-columbia-river.org. The Society of Women Engineers seeks to:
Dr. Sanders has over 25 years of research, teaching and consulting experience in communication. Her B.A. and M.A. degrees are from the University of Maryland and her Ph.D. in Speech Communication and Human Relations is from the University of Kansas. For information on The Clayton Consulting Group in Innsbrook, Missouri and Dr. Janet Sanders, please contact Dr. Sanders at DocSanders@aol.com or 636-745-3961.
Jennifer Belknap is the Vice President of Professional Development for the Columbia River Section of the Society of Women Engineers. She is in the Water Resources Engineering group at URS Corporation, a worldwide civil and environmental engineering consulting firm. She enjoys working on watershed assessment and planning projects, stream restoration projects, and other water quality and quantity issues. Ms. Belknap graduated Magna Cum Laude with a B.S. in Civil Engineering in 2001 from the University of Portland School of Engineering. She can be reached at Jennifer_Belknap@urscorp.com.
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