More inspiration with fewer words

09.10.2017
Arja-Leena Paavola

Every one of us can develop into a performer who is capable of inspiring others. The significance of this ability is emphasised in today’s world, where competition for attention is constant.

Christa Uusi-Rauva says everyone can learn to inspire with communication. Photo: Aalto University

Chance steered business communication lecturer Christa Uusi-Rauva’s path to becoming a presentation skills teacher. During the early stages of her studies, she didn’t like speaking in front of others at all, and could not have imagined that she would one day begin to teach – with her subject being presentation skills, no less. But later, during her MBA studies in Canada in the late 1990s, she started teaching introductory accounting exercise groups to finance her studies.

“To my surprise, I discovered that I liked teaching. It was the first job to inspire me. Later, in 2006, the Helsinki School of Economics and Business Administration was looking for a lecturer in English business communication and I got the job,” Christa Uusi-Rauva says.

Gradually, she noticed that teaching presentation skills was becoming her passion. 
“Perhaps it is rooted in my own discovery of an ability to inspire and excite. I want to help others discover these same skills.” 

People like fast information

The significance of interaction skills is emphasised these days, and an ability to be incisive, sell your idea and inspire listeners can help you succeed internationally as well. Just a few years back, individual speaking slots at international conferences might have lasted 20 minutes, but the time reserved for each speaker has often been cut to ten minutes nowadays.

“This is a good thing for listeners because it forces the speaker to focus on the essential,” says Uusi-Rauva.

“An inexperienced speaker may, however, find it difficult to present their message in a form that is easy for the audience to digest. It is important to start preparing your presentation by considering who the audience consists of and what they want to find out. You must convey your message in a targeted and concise manner.”

The Internet is full of good presentations from a variety of sectors, so audiences often have high expectations regarding performances. Accordingly, the young are well aware of the significance of presentation skills, while older generations may still harbour the idea that your status as an expert should be enough.

“In order to succeed internationally, you need to practice presentation and interaction skills. These can be learned just like any other skills,” Uusi-Rauva says encouragingly.

Silence speaks volumes

In her own teaching, Christa Uusi-Rauva employs various improvisation methods, which are also utilised by, for example, actors. She uses a lot of time to teach her students to establish a presence when performing in front of an audience.

“Taking advantage of pauses is a good way to do this. It is good to relax and establish a connection through eye contact with the audience when entering a setting. A pause like this can last between five and ten seconds, depending on the number of listeners. The audience will be willing to listen as silence descends. You can usually sense the right time to start, although this can be difficult if the speaker is very nervous and anxious about performing.”

The importance of interaction skills and proficiency in English are emphasised as digital techniques proliferate.

“Digitalisation is introducing a lot of good tools for teaching. It’s great that, for example, the materials teachers use are available in electronic format. On the other hand, working on the computer is not the best solution for everything. It is known that many students will better remember notes made by putting pen to paper, for example. This has to do with cooperation between the hand and the brains,” Uusi-Rauva says. 

Clear and gripping

Companies nowadays communicate through numerous different channels. They have to constantly consider which channels are of strategic significance and what they should focus on.

“Business communications call for a compact message because the environment is so competitive. The opening words of an e-mail, for example, must be able to stand out and grip the reader,” Uusi-Rauva points out.

She stresses the importance of a clear objective in the case of both written and oral presentations. It is a good idea to think of the three main points of your message and design a totality with a clear, interesting beginning and a closing that brings the whole together.

“You need to construct an unambiguous package whose constituent messages support one another. A good presentation moves forward like a train, all of its carriages going along the same tracks towards a shared destination. This is surprisingly difficult for a lot of people.”

Everyone learns

Christa Uusi-Rauva says it especially rewarding to observe that everyone can learn. Furthermore, everyone can also be inspiring.

In a university, researchers and other experts are often so deep in their own special area of expertise that they may be unable to talk about their subject in a way that is understandable to the so-called general public. It is, however, the responsibility of the communicator to ensure that the audience comprehends.

“It doesn’t mean that you are smart if you can explain a difficult matter in a complicated way. Smart people can explain these difficult matters simply, so that others understand” Uusi-Rauva underlines.

“In my vision for the future, our graduates are precisely the people who serve as sources of inspiration in business life. We are making an increasing effort to give students feedback about their communication skills also in conjunction with other courses. Our students have a lot of potential, and it is worthwhile to lure it out into the open.”