Basic Black for Communication Success

Today is Thursday, so this post is on communication skills.

  1. Good communicators are excellent conversationalists.
  2. Good communicators write in a clear, concise easily readable manner.
  3. Good communicators are excellent presenters – to groups of two or 100.

I have just finished reading a great book, full of common sense advice for career and life success.  It’s called Basic Black: The Essential Guide for Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life).  Cathie Black, President of Hearst Magazines, is the author.

I really like this book.  If you’re serious about career and life success, you need to read it.  Ms. Black shares the story of her amazing life and career.  She tells you what she’s learned along the way.  Savvy readers will read with a highlighter to take advantage of the common sense wisdom she imparts.

The book starts strong with a great story about her first job, where she inadvertently left the original of her resume on the copier machine at work and got a call from a senior executive at the company who found it.  It ends strong too.  The last paragraph reads:

·        “And that’s the final piece of advice I’d like to leave you with.  Opportunities will come – they always do.  Trust yourself enough to jump at them.  Never be afraid to go for it.  And remember, you deserve to have the best life, and the best career, that you can have.”

In between, Ms. Black shares her thoughts on such important topics as: Drive, Risk, People, Fear, Power, Passion, Attitude and Leadership.  I like this book so much, I am going to blog about it every day this week.

In a section of the book that begins on page 167 and is called “The Devil Is In the Details,” Ms. Black offers some great advice on a number of things: meetings, presentations, receptions, office parties, traveling, hiring and firing.

I’d like to focus on what she has to say about presentations, an important communication skill.  As you know, all successful people have well developed communication skills in three areas:

  1. Conversational skills
  2. Writing skills
  3. Presentation skills

Ms. Black offers two pieces of advice on presentations that really resonate with me.

  1. Make sure you’re AV is A-OK.
  2. Hold on to your handouts.

In a presentation, AV equipment can be your best friend, or worst enemy.  Recently, I conducted a full day workshop for a local client.  It were scheduled to begin at 8:00.  I was at the meeting location at 7:15, as I promised.  The doors were locked, and no one was around.  At 7:50, my contact arrived to open the doors, make coffee and allow me to set up for my talk.  Most of the participants were already there. 

My client arrived at 7:55.  He wanted to talk to me as I was setting up my computer and the projector.  Even though I wasn’t quite ready, he began promptly at 8:00.  I was still fumbling with the projector.  Fortunately, the computer – projector connection worked.  I was ready by the time he finished his introduction. 

However, I didn’t have a few minutes for last minute preparation.  I felt off kilter all day.  I got pretty good reviews, but I was disappointed in my performance – all because of too hurried AV preparation.

Always arrive early for a talk.  Make sure the AV equipment is working.  Get comfortable with the equipment, so you don’t have to worry about it once you begin your presentation.

Handouts are great for helping people remember what you say.  However, they can be distracting.  Sometimes people pay more attention to them than they do you.  I handle this problem by making my handouts interactive.  I give them to people at the beginning of my talk, but I make them incomplete.  To get the full value from my talk, people have to listen and fill in the blanks as they go.  I find this works well for my educational and motivational talks.

On the other hand, sometimes it is best to hold on to your handouts until the end of your talk.  If you are giving a budget presentation, you don’t want the bean counters in the audience to be going over your numbers in such detail, looking for small errors, that they miss what you say.  Either way, use your handouts to enhance, not detract, from what you are saying.

Managing your handouts and AV equipment are two common sense pieces of advice that can really help you become a master presenter.  And, top notch presentation skills are necessary if you want to succeed in your career and life.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading.  Log on to my website for more common sense.  Check out my other blog: for common sense advice on leading people and running a small business.

I’ll see you around the web, and at Alex’s Lemonade Stand.


PS: Speaking of Alex’s Lemonade Stand – my fundraising page is still open.  Please go to to read Alex’s inspiring story and to donate if you can.

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