A little more conversation

Everyone has to work at communication but IT pros have to work harder than most. This is the experience of Professor Khalid Aziz, head of communications consultancy the Aziz Corporation, which advises industry leaders on how to present themselves in business.


"It’s a feature of the IT profession that it is siloed – in the same way that finance is. A lot of IT people are sent to us because they’ve hit the glass ceiling and can’t move on until they have learned to communicate outwards."

Khalid's top tips

-Before you open your mouth, think about who your audience is.

-Work out what is uppermost in their mind, and then make sure it is the first thing you talk about.

-Keep it simple You should assume intelligence in your audience, but beware of confusing this with a high level of specific knowledge. Use technical data where appropriate to support your point, rather than explaining the technicalities at length.

-Employ some rhetoric Rhetorical questions are stock speech tools for a good reason – they prompt the audience to consider what you are saying. Inclusive language – ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ – will also engage the attention of your listeners, as will phrases like ‘I’d be interested to hear your views on that’.

People under the age of 45 are particularly vulnerable to being siloed observes Aziz. A large part of their life has been spent glued to their screens which, coupled with changes in family life, means they’re not good at talking to people from other walks of business.

"Families no longer sit down together at mealtimes and other insular behaviour is now mainstream. The think tank, DEMOS, found that homes with more than one television in them were more likely than not tuned into the same channel. Watching TV as an individual means even this opportunity for social discourse is removed,"
says Aziz.

Change your behaviour, not your personality

One of the biggest worries CIOs and IT managers have is communication training will change their personality. In fact, it’s more a case of having to change their behaviour, explains Aziz. "The majority of IT pros have progressed through a powerful command of logic and it’s hardly surprising they rely on this when trying to communicate with colleagues."

However the assumption contains a fundamental flaw. "IT managers think they should use a presentation to lay out logic and expect people to take it on board. They might just as well send an email," he contends. Instead, the reason people attend colleagues’ presentations is to be reassured on questions such as: ‘Do I trust this guy?’ Does he know his stuff?

From system designer to CEO

Fortunately, learning about more subtle modes of communication is just another craft and is, he reckons, far easier than learning about IT. Aziz points to the success of (Lord) Sandy Leitch, former UK CEO of Zurich Financial Services and author of the Leitch report, a state-of-the-nation review of UK skills.

The miner’s son from Dunfermline began working life as a systems designer at Allied Dunbar – then called Hambro Life - and within 10 years was sitting on the board. Leitch has always had a reputation of being a grafter but knew he had to finesse his communication as well when he started his tenure as CEO of Zurich Financial Services.

Chuck away the script

"His biggest fear was motivational event when he had to speak to a stadium of two and a half thousand top salesman," reveals Aziz. Leitch’s mission was to motivate them but it was a tough call by any standards. Throwing away the script and formal speech was part of the technique and he achieved a seven minute ovation from an audience of red-meat-eating salesmen.

As Aziz emphasises: "Getting your message across is not our definition of communication. A successful outcome is rather influencing someone to take a course of action."

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