Susan Ferrier (national managing partner of people, performance and culture for KPMG) believes that soft skills “are the new hard skills”. Because the internet provides a great storehouse of easily accessible knowledge, “having big parts of your brain storing technical stuff is going to be less valuable in the world of the future”, she says. “How you collaborate, solve problems creatively and authentically lead people will matter more.” from ‘The Rise of Soft Skills; Why Top Marks No Longer Get the Best Jobs’ by John Elder, The Age, March 15, 2015
If soft skills are the new hard skills, how do we develop them? How can we tell the truth from the baloney?
Every industry has myths that seem to hold more sway than the truth. Often they arise from a relevant statistic or study that is so compelling it creates a life of its own. Here are the top three in the presentation world, and some tips on how you might grow your skill set from an informed perspective.
You either have charisma/great people skills, or you don’t.
This myth is an excellent excuse to not have to do any work. It is an excellent way to abdicate responsibility for improving. When you think about people who have that ‘star quality’, it’s possible to break down all the elements that contribute towards how they communicate. The strangest part of working as a coach is hearing people talk about individuals I’ve coached as being a ‘natural’, and they just have that special ‘star quality/X-factor’ and yes, I also hear ‘you can’t teach that.’
- The secret is deliberate practise. In a cross disciplinary study on expertise across domains from music, sports and medicine to software design, Anders Ericsson et al found that deliberate practise was the key to improvement. The often misquoted number of hours for mastery is ten thousand. That’s the number of hours if you want to reach a world-class level. Think about twenty hours, and you’re more on the mark for communication. It’s the first twenty hours that we have the steepest learning curve, and we get the biggest return on our investment for time.
- If you chose one area of your presentation skills to work on each month, but the end of a year, you could have improved in twelve areas- that would be at least twenty hours. Five areas could be: Networking, Appearance (wardrobe and grooming), Voice, Body-language/Nonverbals and Volunteering for presentations.
97% of your communication is nonverbal.
55% facial expressions 38% from tone of voice. We’ve all heard this at some time or another from communications professionals. This is one of those statistics that you don’t question, but if you think about it, it doesn’t make any sense. If ninety-seven percent of our communication was nonverbal we would immediately understand people having a conversation across the room in a foreign language. Being a spy would be the easiest job in the entire world. Listening devices? No need. This is a misquoted study. If you hear a communications specialist quote this statistic to you, it might be a good idea to critically examine the other information they quote as being based on science.
The Mehrabian Myth
Professor Albert Mehrabian’s experiments looked at the impact of inconsistent messaging, where someone means something different from the content they are communicating. Think of an argument with a friend when you ask, “Is everything ok?’ and they spit out between gritted teeth, ‘Fine!’Mehrabian made clear that these statistics were relevant to feelings or attitudes. Check out this video ‘Busting the Mehrabian Myth’ and you will be a step ahead of the crowd. What can you do? Think ‘scriptwriter and actor.’ Even the best actor with a terrible script will bomb. Most likely, the audience will think it is the fault of the actor. Pay attention to polishing both your content and delivery. Check that they are congruent with each other, and congruent with you for the best presentation possible.
If you work on it, you’ll be fake.
There is some truth to this one. We’ve all seen someone so plastic they would melt near a naked flame. But experts in any field continually work on improving their game. It is vitally important to be present for your audience as well as understanding your content. You will sound more natural if you talk from prompts than if you read notes verbatim.
If soft-skills are the new hard-skills it pays to get informed, and put a little bit of work in to improve. The great part about this is that we don’t need any special equipment, as we communicate all the time.
What communication skill will you practise this week?