THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT SKILL YOU’LL EVER LEARN.
On average, a human can comfortably comprehend the spoken word at 150 words per minute (many professional speakers and professors give presentations at this speed). On the other hand, our brains can process information (the written word) at 400 words per minute and more.
Can you see the problem? From the minute you sit down in your investigator’s office, you are competing with anything that beeps or hums, and any available screen. And without uttering a word, your investigator is thinking “is this meeting worth my time?”
400 WPM – 150 WPM = POTENTIAL FOR DISASTER
The gap between the information we can hear in conversation, and the information we process in our brain is large. This introduces the potential that the person we are meeting with will “turn off” their attention or be drawn away from the meeting by a distraction within minutes if we fail to make our case effectively.
THE SOLUTION: GET TO THE POINT. FAST.
This is a skill, and it requires knowledge, time and practice. When you do, you’ll find out that the less you say, the more you’ll be heard.
INVESTIGATORS ARE VERY BUSY.
The time and attention of an average investigator is pulled in many different directions – even on the best days.
A Phase 1 study reported in March 2014 by anthropologist John Ziker at Boise State University updates, in small part, our understanding of how faculty spend their time. A convenience sample of 30 faculty reported in the Time Allocation Workload Knowledge Study reported they work 61 hours per week, after analyzing 24-hour recall diaries on their activities.
Of the 24 activities these professors tracked, the activity they spent least time on was research administration. They spent more time on housekeeping and marketing/PR. Research administration registered a fraction of 1%.
These results are not generalizable – but it is a fact that investigators often spend 50-60 hours a week covering a variety of teaching, research, administrative and clinical responsibilities.
GETTING YOUR INVESTIGATOR’S ATTENTION IS NOT IMPOSSIBLE.
The average professional will receive 126 e-mails in 2015. That’s not counting instant messages, phone-based e-mails, and social media network messaging. We are surrounded by devices which provide us with constant updates that sap our ability to focus on the task at hand. The busier the person, the shorter the attention span.
YOUR KEYS TO SUCCESS: PREPARATION AND THE POWER OF 3
Capturing the attention of your investigator, whether on e-mail, by phone or in person, comes first through preparation. In his book, Brief, Joseph McCormack describes a method to prepare for a call or meeting, which includes the following elements: (note the brief acronym)
- What is the background that has generated the reason for the meeting?
- What information will be needed to answer questions or prepare for decisions to be discussed?
- How do I want the meeting to end?
- What questions do I anticipate? (What follow up will I have to do?)
Using these guidelines will help you focus on your investigator’s needs and concerns.
- Present information using language that is clear and concise – no jargon.
- Outline the most essential information and items to be discussed. Provide supporting information as the investigator asks.
- Ask questions, allow the investigator to drive the conversation; allow the investigator to process the information you’re presenting.
- Start and end on time.
- Work to keep your emails short, (5 lines or less, with the idea in mind that they are often read on a device).
- Use clear and concise language, providing essential information.
- Provide your contact information on all e-mails to encourage the investigator to call you with questions.
- Do not assume the investigator will scroll down or remember prior conversations.
PHONE CALL TIPS
- Schedule all phone calls, and send a meeting invite to the investigator’s calendar with the purpose of the meeting.
- Remind the investigator in advance, and confirm the meeting purpose. Be prepared to discuss something else that may be on his/her mind. (Say you can follow up and redirect to the topic that needs to be addressed if needed.)
- If the investigator is confused or distracted during your phone call, don’t persist. Say you need to meet in person and schedule it.
- Be sure to document your conversation with the investigator if needed, especially if you decided something important.
- Start and end on time!