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On the front line


HR professionals spend most of their time developing their personnel. But they can’t afford to forget about their own progression. Professor Khalid Aziz, chairman of The Aziz Corporation explains that HR directors need to share good and bad news, communicate change and implement strategies amongst seniors and staff. In short, their communication skills must be second to none.


So how can senior HR professionals develop their skills? Formal training programmes can be very helpful, but there are plenty of other proactive ways to improve. Even experienced presenters often feel they could develop their skills further. One of our clients, Matthew Brearley, found himself in this situation. As director of HR at Vodafone and a regular presenter to the Board and at external meetings, he wanted to demonstrate exemplary skills. If this sounds like you – or if you’re not yet comfortable presenting – don’t worry. Whatever your experience, a bit of preparation can make a huge difference.


There are two key considerations when planning a presentation: who the audience is, and what your message will be. What a lot of people don’t appreciate is that the second consideration should be guided by the first. Think about your audience’s concerns, and find a common ground between what you want to say, and what they want to hear. Start your presentation here to be sure of getting your audience’s buy-in – you can then move on as necessary.


Typically, you should tell your audience what you plan to say, say it, and then remind them what you have said. Also, audiences generally assimilate only three main points during a presentation. Identify your three key messages, mention them in your opening, devote time to them during the speech and return to them at the end. Attaching buzz-words to these points will keep them in the audience’s mind and help establish a common theme.


Content is important, but it’s not everything, so find low-stress opportunities to hone your delivery skills. A lot of the work we did with Matthew Brearley focused not on what he was saying, but on how he said it – including voice projection, body language and use of space. Next time you speak at an informal company meeting, take extra time to rehearse your opening, making some notes on a card to prompt you. Get a couple of colleagues to give feedback, and take this on board for next time.


Finally, remember that when people are nervous, they often speak too fast. Consciously slow down, and don’t be afraid to pause between points – as well as giving you a breather, this adds weight to what you’re saying and gives the audience time to catch up. HR directors need to demonstrate good communication skills in everyday working life, too. Luckily, many skills needed to present effectively can be easily applied to communications of all types.

Silent signals

Presenters need to watch their audience’s body language and make sure they are on board. The same technique is effective during conversations. Be alive to the silent messages you are receiving, and steer the conversation accordingly – remembering to establish that ‘common ground’.


As HR professionals are used to fire-fighting personnel issues, they often feel under pressure to solve problems immediately. In fact, taking your time to respond during a conversation will make your answer seem more considered. If you don’t know the answer, say that you will work on it, and then return with a solution. This will help foster your reputation as an engaged and thoughtful leader.  

Work the look

The icing on the cake for the HR director is his or her image. For a pulled-together, polished look to complete your ‘people-person’ persona, put some care into your overall appearance, including hair and make-up if applicable. But don’t go overboard in the smart stakes unless that’s the norm – go for professional, not unapproachable.  

Investing some time in the development of your own communication skills and image will not only calm your nerves but will tangibly improve your performance and work – and leave you more time in the long run to go on optimising the potential of your workforce.  


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