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16 Tips for Improvisational and Listening Skills

by PowerSpeaking, Inc.     Jul 26, 2015 2:00:00 PM

We continue our series of proven tips for Speaking to Decision Makers. 

You're prepared. Your data is scrubbed. You've done your homework and aligned with your sponsor. Are you all set? Not unless you have superb improvisational and listening skills. Speaking to executives requires dialogue, handling rapid fire questions, responding when your time gets cut, and meeting the needs of company leaders steering the course for good decisions.

  1. Be ready for improvisation.

    • Expect questions and energetic discussions to occur throughout your talk. Respond to questions when they come up. Use facilitation skills to refocus the discussion after a topic change.
  2. Read the room.

    • Notice the process of the discussion as well as the content. When there is cross talk, interruptions, and rapid-fire questions, you can observe first, and then choose an appropriate intervention.
  3. Use the PREP template to answer opinion questions.

    • P is your Position or your opinion. Try to state it in one sentence.
    • R is your Reason. Why do you have this opinion?
    • E is your Evidence or your Example. Evidence explains or justifies your reasoning, and can be analytical or anecdotal.
    • P is your Position, stated again, just as it was in the beginning.
  4. Paraphrase complex questions to gain clarity.

    • Listen for key words, and then use similar words to reflect back what you heard the questioner say. Check to see if your reflection was accurate. If it wasn’t, try again. This process gets to agreement on what the questioner needs to know.
  5. For skeptical or challenging questions, paraphrase the feeling.

    • Often when someone is upset, a deeper level of listening is required. Reflect back both the content and the feeling tone (skeptical, concerned, frustrated, etc.) and answer the question as best you can. Always check back to see if you got it right. Never say, “I know how you feel” because you don’t, actually.
  6. Rely on the “notice and ask” strategy to refocus the discussion.

    • You are not in a position to tell the executives what to do. But you can say, “I notice our discussion is now focused on x. May I get your guidance? Would you like to keep going in this direction or would you like to go back to our topic?”
  7. Listen for the QBQ, the Question Behind the Question.

    • If you get resistance or objections to your ideas, often executives are concerned with key business drivers such as topline and bottom line impact, competitive positioning, and risk management. When you paraphrase their questions, check for these concerns and be ready to address them directly.
  8. Paraphrase to get clarity, but don’t parrot.

    • Instead of restating an executive’s question verbatim, use synonyms when you paraphrase. Remember, you don’t know what is on someone’s mind.
    • ParaphraseCheck for accuracy by paraphrasing, “Did I get that right?” or simply, “Right?” The questioner gets the the chance to agree — or disagree. At least you then know if you’re on the right track of thinking.
  9. Consider the risk associated with any meeting intervention.

    • Just waiting for an off-topic discussion to play out is low risk. Saying something to stop or redirect it is higher risk.
  10. Use names, with finesse, to re-engage a disengaged executive.

    • You don’t want to catch anyone off guard, so give a little context when you ask someone directly for their thoughts (as a re-engagement strategy).
    • For example, “Jaime, given that we are trying to reduce response time, in your experience, will this new approach work in the field?”
  11. Be ready with an elevator pitch in case your time gets cut.

    • Adapt the PREP Model. P (Position) is your Bottom Line statement. R (Reason) is your business reason for the proposal. E (Evidence) provides an essential data point to support your proposal. P (Position) is a repeat of your Bottom Line to close out.
  12. If there is an argument between two executives, wait it out.

    • You may look to your sponsor to help calm things down, but don’t intervene.
  13. Notice and ask (Don’t tell).

    • To redirect a discussion that’s gone off topic, make an observation about the process, (with no judgement, just taking notice) and then ask how the executives would like to proceed.
  14. Directly confirm any agreement or decision.

    • As you end, summarize and check to be certain you are clear on what decisions or agreements have been made and what your next steps will be.
  15. Email slide prep.

    • Management often requires that our deck be sent prior to a project update or a planned presentation. Many leaders will be prepared with questions on specific slides. To ensure that the slides aren’t misinterpreted, introduce your deck in an email by simply mirroring the PREP model:
      • Position (Bottom Line): Here is what I’m asking for… (Refer to Slide 1)
      • Reason (Value/Benefit): The reason is… (Slide 2)
      • Evidence (Data): The major points I support that include both the logistics and costs… (Slides 3-4)
      • Position (Bottom Line): In summary, here is what I’m asking for…
  16. Presenting bad news.

    • There are four steps to presenting bad news: 1. Get it right out at the beginning; 2. Be candid about what happened; 3. Explain how you are going to fix it; 4. Offer options and recommendations.


Download 16 tips on improvisational and listening skills


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About the Author

PowerSpeaking, Inc.

Topics: Improvisation, Executive Presence, Presentation Tips, Presentation Skills, Listening

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