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Friday, June 10, 2011

More thoughts on formal verbal interaction

One of my blog followers was kind enough to mention to me that my inaugural post had helped someone to execute telephone based communication more effectively (in the context of charity fundraising). Which is why I've decided to make a few more observations about communicating with others in a formal setting (be they virtual or in person).

While in school, which was now long enough ago that I'm hoping many of my then-teachers have retired and forgotten about me and thus wouldn't seek this blog out, I began to implement a "planted questions" technique. I chose peers who were typically quieter in the classroom, and requested that they ask me pre-defined questions whenever I had a presentation to make. Since I had control over these questions and thus my responses, this technique killed several proverbial birds with one stone: I would seem better prepared to handle the Q&A part of the work, my classmates would speak up and improve their participation rating, and I could cover slightly extraneous topics that didn't quite fit into the main work by creating leading questions.

Many years later, I continue to present information to others, albeit primarily via desktop sharing and phone. Unfortunately I've found that retaining my audience's attention is a constant challenge. Specifically, I suspect that most attendees of teleconferences allow themselves to be distracted by a multitude of things, as I myself am tempted at times. Usually, instant messages from other colleagues and incoming cell phone calls are the culprits. If participants go on "mute" the likelihood increases that they're typing to others. This practice also creates delays in the agenda if people forget to come off of mute mode when trying to speak, so I only encourage muting if I'm focussed on broadcasting information, rather than trying to moderate discussions.

Since lacking visual cues, in particular body language and eye contact, sometimes leads to my suddenly insertion of confirmatory questions mid-way through an explanatory speech, prompting action by my audience. Also, I don't fear silence (perhaps a cultural trait that stems from the Eastern mindset of "silence is golden; don't break it unless you can improve upon it") so sometimes I'll take a pause. A break in the rhythm of speech can return the participants' attention to the call.

Most of my readers probably know this already, but I don't especially enjoy teleconferences. In fact, I have long harboured an aversion to using the phone for personal communication, which was instilled in me from an early age (and exacerbated by "bad language days", which I may expound on in a subsequent post). I only arrange calls as moderator when absolutely necessary, although I do conscientiously attend others' calls. I sometimes wish that more people would be responsive via email and group IM chats, because in that case the need for both speaking and taking minutes would be greatly reduced.

As this is quite a long post already, I'll promise a separate post (or more), on minute taking tips.

About Mayo

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Professional: As "Senior Enterprise SEO Strategist" in IBM's Digital Marketing division, I provide consulting and training services for both internal and external clients. Formerly I was involved in Natural Language Processing, software localization, quality assurance and documentation authoring.
Personal: INTJ Nikkei Nisei ex-patriated Canadian who takes photographs and enjoys Baroque through late Classical music. The G+ page shares some of the "best of" photos.