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Issue # 34 April 2011

Pow'Rful Presentations Newsletter


April 2011 - Communication

Pow'Rful Presentations is a relatively monthly investigation of ideas, strategies and techniques to assist readers be more present in life, better project managers and make effective presentations (in all senses of the word).
Disclaimer - depending on your background, and my South African origins, you may find some of my spelling and grammar to be "imaginative".


© Wayne Botha 2011


Project Management = Communication Management

Projects succeed, meet timelines and remain within budgets, through your relationships with your stakeholders, team members, and peers. You build and manage relationships by communicating. Master the art of communicating effectively with different people and you are well on the way to project success.


This is easier said than done. Humans act inconsistently and don't respond to the same communication in the same way. We assign different meanings to words and the intent behind the words. For example, I worked on a project where the project plan was clearly the script for a crises management reality show. From what I could tell, there was about three months of work scheduled to take place in the following three weeks. I assessed the plan and reported "This is a very aggressive timeline." Translated, it means "You have got to be kidding - there is no way this plan will work!"


The resource manager, who thrives in crisis management mode, heard "This project will be fun as we do stretch ourselves and achieve aggressive timelines."


The same words have different meaning to different people, depending on your frame of reference and background.


(On a side note, the project manager revised and extended the timeline shortly after this incident.)


If you have worked with people for longer than ten minutes, then you know all about miscommunication. "I said x, you heard y." The question is, as a project leader, how do you overcome the communication challenges and ensure that the message is conveyed correctly?


People generally fall into three categories of communication preferences.  


1. "Tell me what you need, let's move." They want just enough information to make a decision, and then want to move onto the next thing.

2. "Give me all the specifics, let me absorb it, then we can discuss and decide." (I fall into the category).

3. "What is the impact to people involved?" This category is primarily concerned with their own feelings, and the feelings of others. They typically don't want to offend anyone.


We all fall somewhat into all three categories. However, we prefer to receive and send communications in one main category.


How can you use this information, as you manage projects? People don't have signs on their foreheads stating "I want action / specifics / human impact". Glad you asked the question, because the answer is below.


1. Pay attention to the words that your project sponsor and team members use most frequently. Do they say "I do" or "I think" or "I feel"? These words help you to categorize each person on your project into one of the three categories above, in the sequence above.


2. Pay attention to the style of speaking and writing. Is it "Short and action oriented" or "Deep dive into data and specifics" or "Nurturing and caring"? Again, this helps you to categorize the person into one of the three categories above in the sequence listed.


Now, pay attention to your own communications. Do you speak in terms of short directives, focus on the details and specifics, or concern yourself with the impact to other people when decisions are made? It is critical to categorize yourself first, before categorizing others.


Remember: These categories above are simply a means to help you improve your communications. Don't go off the deep end to become an amateur psychologist and assign nonsensical attributes to people based on what you observe. "Joe said the word 'think' a lot, therefore he is a deep thinker, must be a brilliant scientist, and drags his heels on decisions."


Now that you know your own preferred communication style and have formed an idea of the preferred communication styles of people that you frequently interact with, you can use this information to bridge communication style differences. In other words, tailor your communications to speak in the other person's language.


For example, my preferred communication style is to gather the facts, assess them and then take a decision. I follow this style when communicating with people in category two above. When I communicate with people in category one and three, I tailor my communications to their style.


For category one, I lead with the action-oriented portion of the communication. "What do I need to tell you, what decision do I need from you, when do I need it?" Details are available, on request.


For category three, I lead with the human side of the communication. "Hello Jane, Project XYZ is developing a new system to help people become self-reliant. Your contribution will assist 397 people to help themselves. I need you to sign the project charter by June 1, in order for us to help these clients."


It sounds simple. The theory is easy enough. It takes some work and thought on your part. You need to listen carefully to the words people use to communicate and consciously try to place people into one of the three categories above. Don't worry if anyone doesn't fit neatly into a category. We all span multiple categories, although some of us fall more into one category than the others.


When you communicate to people that you identified fit into a category, tailor your communication to help them get the message, the first time around. Make it easy for them to understand what you are saying and your communication will improve. 




Titles - Who are you? 

Last week I called a company, seeking to engage their services. The answering system guided me through "Press 1 for English, press 2 for whatever and press 3 to call our competitor."


I chose option 1, and was informed that the call was directed to the receptionist. I thought "This works for me".


The voice mail message was "You have reached Cindy, the Customer Support Specialist, please leave your message...."

If Cindy is a Customer Support Specialist, but not able to take my call, what does this mean? I am not special? Cindy is only a specialist, not a Senior Specialist? Does it require a full-blown Super-Senior-Specialist to answer my call?


Exaggerated titles make no sense. If a receptionist is on the Customer Support Specialist career path, then where does this put the professional project manager? I suggest the following titles, feel free to add your own.


1. Fearless Leader - Ultra Black Belt (FLUBB)

2. Professional Babysitter and Judge  (PB&J)

3. Dead On Arrival Project Scapegoat (DOAPS)


What would you choose for your title, if your life depended on creating the most exaggerated title ever?



Do you need a speaker for your IT or Project Management association chapter meeting? Contact me and lets see if we can work together for a win/win/win outcome.


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