You may be thinking, "How can I get organized when this is such an impromptu environment?" It may be impromptu, but the subject is seldom a surprise. At least it shouldn't be. You should know the subject of any meeting you are asked to attend. If you don't, you should take steps to find out. How do you find out? Simply by asking the person who called the meeting. Why are you asking? So that you can be better prepared to contribute.
Will you always be smiled upon for asking? Yes, unless it's an announcement meeting where the information is intended to be a surprise, with no interaction expected.
But you'll know when that kind of meeting is in the offing. The scuttlebutt and rumors will probably run up and down the halls, days in advance, making the ultimate announcement somewhat anticlimactic.
We have a responsibility to ourselves (probably to our company as well) to consider the information, decide where we come out on the subject, why we feel that way, and what should be done about it. And that simple little format is what "Speak on the spot" is all about. So let's explore the format and see how well it works.
1. Issue. Identify the issue that is at the core of the subject being discussed. There are probably fifteen possible issues contained in the customer satisfaction report. Marie hasn't told you which one to speak to. You can't speak to the general subject of the survey and have an impact. Your message should focus on one core issue, and it can't do that unless you take ownership of the subject by rephrasing it so that it is focused for you. By doing so, you focus the audience's attention on the issue you will speak to. You also position the audience for your viewpoint, which will follow.
You might think that you should start with your point of view because that's what Marie is asking you for. Don't do it. Own the subject first by reframing it in terms of the core issue. That way everyone knows what you are talking about. You will feel much more in control, and your listeners will be much better able to follow your line of thinking.
Let's go back to our example. When Marie asks you,
"What do you make of this, Barbara?"
"I see the issue as being customer dissatisfaction with our employees' service whenever they interact with them."
2. Point of View. Your point of view should be concise. It should be simple, easy to understand, and hard to misunderstand. Use simple words. If you can say it in one sentence, that's great. Two sentences are OK. Three is too many.
Use a lead-in such as "My point of view on the subject is ._._." Or, "The way I see it is ._._." The lead-in is a natural segue to the viewpoint. It helps carry the audience to the next step in your thought process.
To continue with our example, Barbara says,
"My point of view is that we should work to improve our satisfaction rating at every point where our employees interact with the customer. We cannot compete in the marketplace with that critical measure lagging."
3. Evidence. Now Barbara needs to support her viewpoint. That's what evidence is all about. It supports or substantiates a viewpoint or a claim or an idea or a recommendation. It adds weight. It increases the credibility of the presenter and significantly increases the impact of the presentation. If we leave evidence out of the mix, our viewpoint is only an opinion. And opinions are a dime a dozen.
As discussed in Chapter 2, there are five forms of evidence you can select from: Personal Experience, Analogy, Judgment of Experts, Example, Statistics/Facts. In a more formal presentation we might use three, four, or even all five of these forms of evidence to support your viewpoint.
But when we speak at a meeting, that would be too much. The audience would be put off by it. We should talk for thirty to sixty seconds. No more. We are not trying to conclude. We are trying to contribute. One piece of evidence is enough.
Barbara uses another segue to lead into her evidence, "The reason I feel this way is . . ." The role of the segue is to make the transition between thoughts natural and conversational.
"The reason I feel this way is that I worked for a small bank in Lima, Ohio, fifteen years ago. We had conducted customer satisfaction surveys regularly over the years. On the subject of satisfaction with our employees, the trend was a declining one. In my last year the number had slipped to 68 percent. A new bank, First National, opened up in town. Within three months we lost 30 percent of our customers. It seemed that they were unhappy and only habit was keeping them with us. When the new bank came in that was the catalyst. Boom! They were gone. Incidentally, First National still exists in Lima. The bank I worked for doesn't."
Barbara has used the personal experience form of evidence. It's a good choice. Most of our viewpoints are based upon our experiences. So why not reach into that personal inventory and use them as evidence?
But Barbara isn't finished with the evidence step. She needs to tie it back to the viewpoint so that it will have maximum impact on the listeners. She adds the "tie back."
"What this experience tells me is that once a customer satisfaction rating gets really low—and 72 percent is really low—we are in grave danger and must take immediate steps to improve that rating."
Notice that the "tie back" answers the question, "What is the significance of your evidence?" or "How does that apply?" It is a reaffirmation of the viewpoint in light of the evidence. It reinforces the viewpoint and helps the evidence hit home.
4. Suggested action. You can't leave your audience up in the air. You were asked initially, "What do you make of this, Barbara?" In response, you've narrowed the subject to the core issue, stated your viewpoint, shared a personal experience as evidence, and tied that back to your viewpoint. All that's left is for you to suggest a course of action.
The lead-in should be simple and natural, such as, "Here's what I think we should do . . ." or "The action I think we should take is . . ."
Let's follow Barbara through this step:
"What I think we should do is, first, share these research results with every service person in the bank and let them know how serious we think this is. Second, I think we should establish some sort of goal like ‘We must get the rating from 72 percent to 85 percent within three months.' And, third, we should create a new customer service training program and make attendance mandatory for everyone who has contact with the customer. I know this may sound heavy-handed to some of you, but we must reverse this customer satisfaction trend."
Now put yourself in the shoes of the president or senior VP attending this meeting. They see in Barbara a person who obviously cares about the welfare of the bank. She is a contributor, and management loves contributors. She is not afraid to speak out. Her thinking is organized. She looks impressive. She speaks in an impressive way. She handles herself well in a challenging environment. She has ideas and is willing to put them out there. A pretty solid and positive reaction.
And how do you, Barbara, feel about what you have done? Well, you stepped forward and spoke your mind on a critical issue the company faces. You didn't do it off-the-cuff, though the other attendees will be impressed with the fact that it appears you did. You were able to present a thoughtful perspective because you did some homework before the meeting. You also used a simple format, which enabled you to structure your response to Marie's question in an impressive way. The end result is that you took advantage of an opportunity to contribute to the company and to gain recognition for yourself.
That's how careers are advanced in this world we live in. Nice going, Barbara.