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Last Friday, I had the opportunity to attend a day course at the School of Government entitled “Getting Your Message Across.” It was all about communicating effectively, and it was both fun and informative.

After an opening session, we broke out into smaller groups. We were required to had the opportunity to give a two- to three-minute speech in front of a group of our colleagues and an instructor, who gave us feedback on our performance. I volunteered to go first because I like to get nerve-y tasks behind me as quickly as possible. As is usually the case, I didn’t perish, and I received some good feedback. A couple of my takeaways were to plant my feet and avoid pacing or “dancing around” as I talk, to insert human interest into the narrative when possible, and to hold my hands slightly up and clasped in a cup shape to give me something to do with them that looks natural.

My second breakout session was on Fielding Questions. I hoped to get some good tips to use when dealing with on-the-spot customer service issues as well as for media interactions in the future. I did get tips applicable to those scenarios, but much of what we learned can be used in everyday situations. There is a basic strategy for all question and answer interactions, which includes listening to the entire question, repeating the question back to the asker, responding clearly and concisely to only the question asked, checking in to make sure you answered the question, and moving on to the next question. The format can be adapted to so many situations; I’m glad to know it and am ready to practice it.

My third breakout session was about Talking to Groups. This session gave three tips for speaking to a group: master the context, own your expertise, and give something back. In other words, know your audience, believe in your competence, and give back to your audience, who has taken time to listen. Another pointer was to move down the abstraction ladder. I had never heard this before, but it means to bring generalities into concrete terms. Rather than stating, “natural disasters have a devastating impact on our community,” you might instead tell a story about a particular person and how a natural disaster affected him.

My final breakout was on feedback. The primary goals of giving feedback are to focus on the situation, behavior, and implication involved. Also very important is to make feedback about the process or behavior, not the character of the person, and to give feedback immediately and frequently rather than leaning on an annual evaluation model.

The day was packed with moments of realization and useful, real-world feedback and tips for being a better communicator. It was a great day at the SoG!


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