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We need to talk: how to have winning conversations

by Samantha Bury

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A producer must be a master of many skills to achieve the ultimate project glory. But conversation’s key when you want to get the most out of a diverse team.

As a producer, I work with people who posses an array of skill-sets and come in all personality types. And, because the scope, deadline and deliverables can change on a project multiple times in an afternoon, managing them is integral to what I do. 

This variety can leave some in a cold sweat, but having the right approach to people can help limit the anxiety. Being open and adaptable to change is essential for getting the best out of a team. 

The communication skills I’ve learned in this role have helped me understand the value of flexibility when it comes to tone, emotion and word selection. No two exchanges are the same, and the way I approach each varies depending on who I’m speaking to. 

So here's my how-to for the conversations I have most often:

For digital developers…

Be empathetic: Approach the conversation in a way that shows you want to learn and you want to understand their perspective. You’ll find the results much more fruitful.

Understand the lingo: Devs often talk in what feels like a completely different language, so fundamental to understand the information on a technical level, decode and then distill. Getting your head around the jargon makes sure everyone’s doing what they should be. 

Keep it broad, before digging deeper: Asking open ended questions initially can help you guide the conversation. If you don’t fully understand the technical nature of a situation, this can help you get your head around things and give you an indication of where to dig deeper as your knowledge evolves.

Never feel stupid asking questions: Technology can be complicated. Genuinely trying to understand technology goes a long way in showing your colleagues that their contribution is valued and ultimately leads to more a more knowledgeable you! 

For designers and creatives…

Try to understand their vision: Their main focus is creativity and turning the brief into an idea that resonates. As such, the reasoning behind their creative choices might not be immediately apparent. Understanding their rationale will help you confidently explain it to account service and the client. 

Ask them for their interpretation of the objectives: Ask the designer or creative how the solution they’ve provided answers the brief’s objectives and insights. It’s important to be able to validate the work from different perspectives. 

Know the lingo: Like devs, designers have their own language to describe the work. Having the right terminology helps relate to designers more fluidly, as well as giving you the confidence to talk the talk in front of clients.

For senior management…

Focus on the bigger picture: Don’t get into the nitty gritty: give them an overview of the whole picture. For them it’s a need to know type of situation, so focus on the things that are going to have the biggest impact.  

Be mindful of their time – be prepared: Senior management are generally time poor so be succinct and get straight to the point. Have your questions for them ready (as well as the answers to potential questions). Being prepared will also give you the confidence you need to sell them on the vision.

Be armed with a solution to any problem: This is all about being a radiator not a drain. Don’t just drop a problem at their feet, present a potential solution. Even if it’s not quite right, they’ll appreciate it. 

When it comes down to it, the most important thing is going into a conversation thinking about what the other person needs: the five minute version or the 50 minute, the costs or the creative. In my experience, the secret to good producing is making everyone feel heard – and the result is a successful project.

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