Negotiation Training – Improving a Common Activity

People negotiate every day. Whether it is a banker over the terms of a loan, a computer sales person about the delivery time, an advertisement buyer over the Cost Per Thousand, or a government official about the compliance of specific regulations. It is a common and essential activity that cannot be avoided.

While many believe great negotiators are born as such, there is significant evidence that training can drastically improve one’s abilities. It is also commonly believed that successful negotiators are good talkers, when in fact, it is just the opposite, successful negotiators are good listeners.

Negotiation training should involve a significant focus on preparation. Preparation is the only aspect of a negotiation which one can completely control. Proper preparation includes understanding both side’s precedents, alternatives, interests, and deadlines before sitting at the “negotiation table.” Negotiation training should also include probing and listening. Asking the right questions and actively listening are critical factors in understanding the other side’s interests and what they really want. Finally, all negotiation training should discuss the art of proposing. This portion of the negotiation process is only as good as the previous two, preparation and probing, but it receives most of the attention. Against common belief, one should allow the other side to make the first offer, and always aim high when eventually forced to make a proposal.

Negotiation training can use different instructional methods to cover the skills above. Live front-of-the-room negotiation training is the most common method. It allows an instructor to lead a classroom setting through the material, giving participants the ability to instantly ask questions to, and receive feedback from, the instructor. This method also facilitates interaction amongst participants. This method often involves the most cost as it requires classroom space, an uninterrupted block of time, and potentially, travel costs.

As a result of technology’s dramatic improvements, negotiation training can also be conducted online. Within this medium, there are several sub-methods. The first is internet-based asynchronous training done through platforms that allow users to navigate through a course on their own time. The information is very easy to access – this method is by far the most convenient. The second is through live internet-based platforms that require an instructor to lead the negotiation training, but in using simple quasi-interactive technology. The third and final sub-method is to use 3D virtual platforms that allow participants to use computer generated characters known as avatars. Using this method, the live front-of-the-room can almost fully be recreated. Avatars can attend the negotiation training, participate in group exercises, and collaborate with one another.

In conclusion, the instructional method should be chosen based on the needs of the people participating in the negotiation training. However, regardless of the method, negotiation training is an effective way to improve a common activity.

Better Presentation Skills: 5 Tips To Avoid Snore-Filled Meetings

People complain about all the time wasted in meetings. Just add up all the time you spend in various meetings, then think about how much time others spend in YOUR meetings. Knowing how to run a meeting is an important part of leadership, and a skill that can be learned. Here are my five tips for improving your meetings.

Improve your Planning. This is the first and most important skill in conducting a meeting, because if you don’t get this one right, following the other four tips can still produce a time-guzzling, snore-filled meeting. Planning covers a lot of areas. What is the purpose of the meeting? (To inform? To persuade? To gather information? To decide on a policy?) The purpose will determine a lot of your subsequent activities.

Another bit of planning involves deciding who should attend: only those who really need to be there, and leave out those you just want to impress. Also, you need to figure out if participants need to do some homework (bring sales figures, budget reports, etc.) before attending.

Communicate these decisions in advance, particularly if attendees have homework to do.

Prepare an Agenda. This creates a record, and lets people know what to expect in advance and during the meeting. You can use it to get the meeting back on track if it goes off the rails, as meetings sometimes do.

Some think it’s good enough to just distribute it as people arrive. I suggest sending it out in advance with your notice of the meeting. This gives participants a chance to suggest other topics you might have forgotten. (Like stuff that’s important to them!)

Keep track of Timing. People should know when the meeting is going to start, when it’s going to end, and when breaks will be. You shouldn’t go any longer than 90 minutes without some sort of break, even if it’s just taking a minute or two (5 at the most) to get up and stretch. People start to drift off mentally (and sometimes physically!) after about 90 minutes.

Timing also involves starting on time and ending on time. Waiting for latecomers annoys the people who arrived on time, and sends the message that your meetings never start on time. All this does is encourage tardiness. Ending on time is just as important.

So is the timing of your activities. If the meeting consists of two presentations and a Q&A session, consider having a brief Q&A after each session to break the monotony. (And, now that I think of it, do we really need both presentations?)

Develop the art of Facilitation, a skill that is essential for anyone leading a meeting. This means making people feel welcome, encouraging participation, making sure all functions (information gathering or dissemination, brainstorming, etc.) of the meeting are met.

It also requires the abilities to move the meeting along, bring discussions to closure, and deal with the ever-present obnoxious, know-it-all, love-to-hear-themselves-talk, difficult participants. (When the latter include your bosses, you’d better know facilitation.)

Facilitation isn’t as easy as you think, and yet it’s critical to the meeting’s success.

Follow-up. Lack of this causes lots of problems for leaders. Follow-up includes making sure that assignments (if any) are made, and that you hold people responsible for completing their assignments.

It also means sending out a meeting summary that captures what was agreed upon at the meeting. This eliminates any confusion, such as, did we really agree to fire Joe? Or was it Tom? If your summary is wrong, people will let you know.

There you have it – 5 tips to avoid snore-filled meetings.

Meetings may not be the most glamorous topic in the world of public speaking, but it’s a darned important one. After all, you don’t want people complaining about YOUR meetings. And what if you agree with everything I’ve said, but someone else is running the meeting in question? Send a copy of this article, and simply suggest that these are ideas that might improve that person’s meetings.

Presenting for People Starting out in Business

In some ways, the time when you’re setting up your business is just like any other point in the life-cycle: what you want to do is concentrate upon your ‘core’ activity (making widgets) but what you’ve got to do is spend half your time on irrelevant fripperies (selling widgets). Once your company is up and running you’ll be dealing with actual widgets; up until that point you’ll be selling the just the idea of the widget factory… that means you’ll be making presentations. Like it or not, at some point you’ll be doing at least one or two of this list:

  • outright competitive pitches to Venture Capitalists or Business Angels
  • presentations to bank managers
  • meetings with business partners (or potential business partners)
  • selling the concept to organisations like Business Link
  • doing a one-minute ‘elevator pitch’ at networking meetings
  • talking to colleagues, superiors and subordinates.

    In short, presenting yourself and your idea is a basic fact of business life and setting up a business, so you’ll need to be good enough at it. The words are carefully chosen there – you don’t need to be “good”, just “good enough”. That’s a useful thing to remember because it makes the job of training yourself that much easier. So the story so far is that you’ve got to make presentations but that they’re not as difficult as you might suppose – we’re not looking for great orators here, just people with enough about them for the audience (think of whoever you’re talking to as an audience and you won’t go far wrong) to get the picture.

    I’m going to break down the process of making the presentation into three parts: the first is the obvious one of what you say. The second is the corollary of that – how you say it. The third part is what’s referred to as the meta-language of how you look (and dress and so on) while you say it.

    To be honest, the first is outside the scope of an article like this: there are other articles on this site that should help you with that.

    The second part, how you say it, is absolutely critical. The last one is also important (but not as important as you’ll be told by many NLP trainers who base their work on a mis-understanding of some good, experimental psychology).

    So, back to business.

    It’s likely that when you’re making some kind of pitch for your business you’re likely to be nervous. I know I always am. When you’re under stress, the body has a set of physiological responses designed to deal with the emergency: it’s called the “fight or flight syndrome” and you’ve probably heard of it. It’s very good at what it does, but unfortunately ‘what it does’ is designed to work in a much more primitive environment than today’s business one – one where you were literally going to have to fight for your life or run away. One of the things your body does is start to use your upper chest for breathing with, in order to get oxygen into your lungs faster, which is great for fighting but no good for talking. To talk you need to try and remember to use your diaphragm to breathe in (and therefore breathe out). The diaphragm is the big sheath of muscle underneath your lungs and above your stomach area. If you can use that when you’re making your pitch lots of good things will happen.

    The first, and most important is that your voice will firm up. It might go deeper, but it might not. Generally though, what it will do is sound richer and fuller – in short, you’ll sound more interesting and more credible. When you’re making a pitch, credibility is important. The second thing it will do is begin to calm your nerves. This is because there’s a part of your brain that is fooled into thinking that, because you’re breathing like there’s no threat, there really is no threat. The consequence is that your body chemistry is altered towards a relaxed, almost sleepy state. Don’t worry about becoming too drowsy, there’s no chance of that, but it should make your whole voice and demeanour a lot more relaxed and confident. The third thing that will happen is that you’ll actually have more stamina and a better oxygen flow over the longer term. That in turn means that you’ll be more tuned in to what’s going on around you: basically, you’re likely to start thinking faster.

    Moving up from your lungs, the next part of your “speaking system” is your throat. This is where the actual sounds of your voice are made, as airflows between your vocal folds. Again, when your body is under stress, you’ll probably react like the vast majority of the population and tense up your shoulders and your throat. That’s bad. This constricts your throat and stops the vibrations of your voice being made so easily – or so well. The consequence is that horrible “nervous voice” sound that everyone has heard (coming from other people as well as themselves, usually). The solution is pretty straight-forward. Breathing from your diaphragm is going to help but you’ll need also to make sure that your shoulders, head and body are positioned in the right relationship to each other.

    If your neck (and hence your throat) is twisted you’re reducing the amount of vibration your vocal folds can achieve, so make sure that you’re facing forwards when you speak. If that means you’ve got to turn slightly, in order to face whoever you’re talking to, then do so. What’s more, once we’re stressed we all have an instinct to tip our heads back – to raise our eyes – but once again this constricts the throat and makes your voice sound thinner and less mature. It’s important to make sure that you’re not tipping back: it’ll probably feel awkward difficult at first because most people are accustomed to raising their head too far, but once you’ve got the hang of it you should find it becomes second nature.

    The balance point for your head that you’re looking for is the position where your head is resting on your neck in as “effort free” way as it can possibly be. Stand for a few minutes checking out your head position, making a conscious note of how much effort you’re putting into holding it in one particular position compared to others. I want to give you a word of warning here – be careful not to get confused between the position in which you’re actually doing the minimum amount of work and the position where it feels like you’re doing the minimum; this position is almost certainly related to having become habituated to standing in a certain way, and so your muscles are used to doing that particular amount of work.

    Keep at it – little and often – because it’s quite a subtle thing.

    Make sure that while you’re doing this a few other things are also taken care off. For a start, make a point of remembering to breathe: you’d be amazed at the number of people who concentrate so hard on the position of their heads that they hold their breath. Secondly, drop your shoulders. Now drop them again, because almost no one drops them fully the first time: make very sure that no tension creeps back into them (or your arms, or your hands) while you’re working. Don’t assume that you’re relaxed, check. Thirdly, make sure your breathing is from your diaphragm, not your upper chest. (I actually put my hands on my diaphragm and my chest to make sure when I’m doing this.)

    Lastly, relax the muscles of your bottom. It’s impossible to relax your body if your bottom is tight. It might make you feel like you’re slouching, but it’s worth it in terms of how much better you’ll sound.

    The last part of your “talking system” I want to mention here is where the sounds you make in your throat are converted into words – your mouth.

    The key thing to remember is to warm up your muscles here. Almost everyone lets these muscles atrophy a little, and under-uses them. What you think of as you doing an over-the-top impression of Noel Coward or the Queen is probably just clear speaking to someone else. Make very sure that your lips are working very hard as you talk.

    The key to warming them up, by the way, is a simple one. There are lots of exercises I give people to get them doing this when I’m giving courses and classes, but the key things to do are to yawn and to rub your face.

    When you yawn make sure it’s not a polite, behind-the-hand, stifled thing. I’m talking about the kind of thing your cat does that looks like it’s going to dislocate it’s jaw. This has the added advantage, by the way, of clearing out build-ups of carbon dioxide from the lower parts of your lungs and thus making you feel more awake. When you rub your face, use the same kind of motion you use when you’re giving yourself a vigorous wash in the morning. The area to cover is the area of your beard (if you’re a man) or the area where you would be rubbing a beard if you had one (if you’re a woman smile ).

    Pay particular attention to the top lip. This isn’t because it needs more warming up than the other parts but simply because it’s very easily overlooked as people put their hands to their faces.

    Put all this together and you should have a much, much better chance of making your pitch sounding cool, collected, mature, credible and relaxed. You never know, you might even end up enjoying it!

    The things that go with how you sound are pretty straight-forward, common sense type things. The basic rule is to be ever so slightly more formal than you need to be (how formal you “need” to be is taken here as meaning “as the other person expects you to be”). Don’t over do it – and tend towards the conservative.

    Things to avoid are gimmicks such as dangly ear-rings, picture ties, plunge neck-lines and so on. The focus of what you’re trying to do is get your audience listening to what you’re saying, not seeing how far up your skirt they can see (consciously or sub-consciously) or watching the flashes from your gold watch as it catches the light or whatever. Patterns are generally a no-no.

    Colours are a matter of personal style but a few tips to bear in mind are that black looks severe and robust (but few people suit it) while red is generally interpreted as a physical colour; blue as an intellectual one and green as a balancing one (and few people suit green either!). Golden-yellow is often interpreted as a power colour. One combination I particularly favour when I’m making a pitch therefore is: black trousers, mid-blue (corporate) shirt and a rich, deep yellow tie.

    And that’s it!

    I’ve simplified and skipped things, but you should have got a reasonable idea about the basics from this article. If so, I’m pleased; why not drop me a line and say so. If you’ve not got anything out of it, why not drop me a line in any case and I’ll try and help. Enquiries should be to me by email at [email protected]

    Above all, remember that your voice is unique to you and that the most important thing is to have fun. No one will be as critical of you as you are of yourself, ever, so just enjoy!