The email that popped up in my inbox read: ‘I left you a frantic message but perhaps I dialed wrong if you didn’t get it. I had scheduled time with our spokesperson for you to do training but realized that I hadn’t actually communicated with you about that.’ Fast forward to the end of the story, the spokesperson showed, the public relations person showed and the brand manager came. The only person not present was me, the coach! Whoops!
An honest error. My client apologized for and explained he’s been juggling so many projects with so little support that he’s having a hard time keeping it all straight. I asked when we could briefly chat so I could start to prepare to which he responded he doesn’t have time.
Are we so overloaded that we can no longer afford to prepare? Are we winging it at our meetings, hoping that our knowledge or personality will win the day? Mark Wahlberg moaned to Matt Lauer on TV, that actors frequently show up unprepared. “Not only do they phone it in, but they learn their lines as they go along,” he said. Something that Wahlberg doesn’t respect. “You know, you’re paid — most people very handsomely — to show up and be prepared.”
The same holds true in the noncelebrity workplace. Just like it is my obligation to prepare for a speech or coaching session before I arrive, isn’t it your responsibility to prepare for an interview, presentation, meeting or task? What if your doctor never bothered to look at your chart before treating you? Or what if your builder didn’t bring the right tools ? We’ve all seen the results when our favorite sports team doesn’t bother to show up on game day. When it happens too many times, it can be a costly absence.
Imagine how much an unprepared sales person might cost your company. Or what about losing that big account to another firm? You may have been told the other firm was more qualified when perhaps the truth is that other firm wowed them because they spent considerable time understanding the prospects needs and then preparing and practicing their pitch in advance.
According to a report by Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and consulting firm, and StudentAdvisor.com, a learning resource, the tough economy isn’t the only reason why graduates are having a hard time securing jobs. The report says they’re struggling because they’re “not aggressively preparing” enough. Dan Schawbel, career expert and founder of Millennial Branding said, “Young people don’t understand the importance of personal branding.”
Let’s take Schawbel’s remarks further. Showing up unprepared becomes part of your personal brand and how you want to be perceived by others. Everything about you from the pen you use to the clothes you wear to the coffee you drink speaks volumes about who you are and what you value. It’s what some have dubbed executive presence. If you’re unprepared, you’re telling others they’re not important and you don’t care enough to make the extra effort. If you under-deliver, you may erode others confidence in your ability to get the job done and perhaps ruin your chances of being promoted.
According to a year- long study by the Center for Talent Innovation, leadership potential is indicated through communication skills, appearance and gravitas. Great speaking skills in front of groups, individuals and the media were identified as the most important communication requirement. Add an ability to command the room, assertiveness, making others feel good, a sense of humor and good non-verbal language including strong eye contact and you signal that you’ve got what it takes. Rambling, taking too long to get to the point and the inability to be silent will not help you advance. While the study indicated you don’t get bonus points for having the great skills, you will get demerits for inappropriate communication or mistakes.
Aside from professional coaching, there are some quick fixes.
1. When you make an important point, stop and pause. It gives importance to what you’re saying and allows listeners to process the information.
2. Instead of trying to over-explain or focus solely on your agenda, read your audience to assess tone and mood. Only then can you speak to their concerns and make your message personal.
3. If you want to have presence, then be present. That’s more than confidence and standing tall. It’s conveying that you believe in what you are saying whether they agree or not.
The next time you have to explain a mistake, apologize, pitch business, walk down the hallway or speak at a meeting, remember that you can be the person you want others to see. Isn’t that worth sparing a few extra minutes to show off your unique personal brand?