The wonderful part about being a Product Manager is the passion you feel for your product and the benefits that it brings to your customers. In fact, I’ve had small children and managed newly minted products at the same time. Embarrassingly, I showed off products shots just as proudly as I did cute kid pictures. So why do you sometimes feel that by the time you get to the point in a conversation your audience has lost interest?
Well, when we talk about our products, ahem, we tend to go on (and on) a bit! And this does not make us as effective communicators as we should be. How do we hold onto the passion and still get our point across? Here are 5 ways Product Managers can cut to the chase, be heard and move on with clearer understanding on both sides.
1. What are you talking about – and why?
Any business conversation has a point. What is yours? Who are you talking to? What are their key interests? What are your goals? Know the answer to all of these before you start talking. And yes, usually, as a Product Leader, you will be starting the conversation. Pause to clarify your goals and their points of view before you start talking.
2. What’s interesting?
We’ve all been in conversations which lack a clear point. However, the person speaking is fascinating, and often, funny. Plan to entertain your audience of 1 or 2 with an anecdote or illustration, or even a simple phrase that you repeat at any opportunity. People retain the information related in stories much better than just facts.
I once used the term “Lego” to refer to a group of products where I wanted different components to be interchangeable. One day, I was talking to the CFO whose understanding of our core technology was sketchy at best – and he asked me if this was part of the “Lego” effort. Even he remembered the term. What is your interesting story or catch phrase to build the rest of your information on?
3. Keep it short
Aim for 30 second conversations. Why focus so much on time? Next time you hear someone make a memorable point, notice how short and succinct the arguments and points were. And by paring your comments down, you’ll have to focus on what’s truly critical in your communication.
4. Follow a winning format
There are many, many concepts that you can remember. My wall has snippets of ones that I use often and I refer to them as I need to, whether it’s adopting a coaching stance in a conversation or when I’m dealing with a difficult situation or person. However, this one is worth committing to memory. It will make you appear wise and in control in virtually any situation.
Briefly summarize the situation
A simply constructed sentence or two is all that you need.
- “We’ve recently discovered a new legal requirement in the growing Chinese market that will come into force in the next 12 months”
State a few selected facts
3-5 facts. No more than that
- “Without meeting this new requirement, our Chinese sales will drop by 75%. That represents a 20% hit to company revenues.”
- “We believe that our competition is already working on a solution to this requirement.”
- “There are a lot of features in our current product backlog and engineering is very focused on completing these for our next release.”
- “We’re having a meeting on Friday to go over the product backlog.”
State what you need, want or demand
Again, simple sentence structure.
- “At the meeting, I’d like your team to support my inclusion of this feature in the upcoming release. This will mean making some hard product decisions as to what we’ll have to leave out. Can you support me at the meeting?”
Let the person digest what has been said and wait for their questions as they seek clarification.
Yes, try using these condensed communication skills it in front of the mirror at home, in the car driving to work, in front of unsuspecting flowers in the garden, or even a colleague at work. It does get easier. I promise. Even the bit where you have to be quiet.
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This post was written by Pamela Schure, Director of Products and Services for the 280 Group. Pamela recently ran a webinar on this topic which can be viewed here if you are an AIPMM member: Earning Influence And Authority To Be A More Effective Product Manager. The slides are also available on slideshare at the previous link.