PowerSpeaking on How Professionals Can Become Powerful Communicators During the Era of AI


PUBLISHED: December 14, 2023
Carrie Beckstrom, CEO of PowerSpeaking, Inc.

“Wow, great content—but we need to edit it and put it in our own voice.”

It’s a common refrain after a clever prompt inputted into a generative AI tool produces huge volumes of amazing content, isn’t it?

This is just one timely example of how important it is to remember that tools are only tools. At the heart of all meaningful, effective communication are human beings with unique voices trying to connect—to an idea, a shared goal or just to each other.

That focus on authentic human connection is important to remember when communicating. According to Carrie Beckstrom, CEO of PowerSpeaking, Inc., a global presentation and communication skills training company based in Silicon Valley, powerful communication that makes a difference is the result of two things: learned practical skills, like analyzing your audience and creating a clear message, and a human-centered mindset.

“When you learn and continually practice communication skills aiming to connect to people’s hearts and minds, you become a better listener and better at collaborating on complex projects, helping leaders make informed decisions, persuading people to embrace a new idea or change and empathizing with them when they struggle to adapt,” she says. “Plus, becoming a more powerful communicator increases your confidence and your value to any organization or community.”

Beckstrom has seen firsthand how a human-centered approach helps teams at all levels of an organization take their communication skills to the next level—sometimes along with the smart use of AI.

Presenting to executives

The team at PowerSpeaking says senior leaders have told them that more than 60% of the presentations people make to them fail. A lot of good ideas go nowhere and critical business decisions are stalled because presenters don’t know what works—and what doesn’t—with this kind of unique audience.

So, what ensures success? “It starts with understanding the executive mindset,” Beckstrom explains. “These are time-pressed, impatient 10,000-foot thinkers who need you to get to the point quickly—or as we say, ‘first line, bottom line.’”

To help people communicate effectively to executives, PowerSpeaking has a tailored training program—Speaking Up: Presenting to Decision Makers®—in which participants learn the importance of first setting the context and leading with exactly what they want from executives. It might look like this: “The sales team has told us that prospective clients don’t choose our XYZ product because it doesn’t have the compatibility features our competition provides. So, I’m here today to discuss a high-level proposal for designing and taking to market our own next-level version of those features.”

In other words, begin with a human connection by thinking like senior leaders do, respecting their time and always making the big-picture business case for a pitch. Presenters who do that are more likely to drive decisions through the pipeline faster, sell a business-critical idea or gain budget approval for more resources, according to PowerSpeaking.

Communicating technical information

Being able to clearly communicate complex technical data is a critical skill in many businesses today. To do it well, it’s important to not just deliver data but also make it clear what that data means to the audience.

PowerSpeaking has found that many technical people unfortunately aren’t effective communicators because they tend to not take their audience into consideration, spend too much time on technical details without giving people context or meaning and not use powerful devices like metaphors and anecdotes to make complex concepts more clear.

Along with the strategies and tools PowerSpeaking offers in its targeted technical communication program HighTechSpeaking®, it also sees opportunities for the inclusion of generative AI. For example, when explaining how a new medical device works, you could use an AI tool to find a good metaphor. But to choose the perfect time to use a metaphor or anecdote and tell it in an engaging way, you need a real human who has been trained to communicate well.

The power of storytelling

In recent years, the business world has realized that effective storytelling is a powerful communication tool.

Participants in PowerSpeaking’s Powerful Storytelling™ program are trained to tap into the power of storytelling. They first learn how and why stories are so meaningful and memorable. Then, they practice using the company’s storytelling framework and other strategies to succeed more often while launching ideas and moving projects forward, inspiring people to buy in and take action, creating a shared sense of purpose and being a more effective leader or project manager.

However, not everyone is a natural storyteller. So, PowerSpeaking sees another opportunity to use a tool like AI—either to craft the story itself or to generate visuals that illustrate a personal anecdote.

“There are some amazing image generators out there, which you can customize in ways you might not be able to with, say, stock photos,” Beckstrom says. “And more personalized, relevant images are always going to be more high-impact in illustrating a story.”

Moving forward, PowerSpeaking will continue to help teams become more powerful human-centered communicators, while at the same time encouraging strategic use of AI tools. However, along with the potential tools offer, they also come with limits, Beckstrom points out, using PowerPoint as an example. Though the slide-design software is an effective visual-aid tool for presenters, there are people—especially those who aren’t comfortable in front of an audience—who think of it as a stand-in for effective communication and genuine human connection.

“And, of course, that’s not the case,” Beckstrom says. “In time, we’ve learned that the most effective speakers and presenters balance slide decks and other tools with authentic, engaging content and a delivery style that invites people in and creates genuine connections.

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