Communicating effectively is not rocket science (maybe this is why rocket scientists are not known to be great communicators?). It’s rarely considered something that’s terribly complicated or difficult, yet I have spent the better part of a decade and a half “dumbing it down” so that professionals of all types can be more clear, more concise, and more successful at getting their points across to other busy (read: busy-minded) people.
The reality is, I’m not actually making it dumber, I’m making it simpler. Less work. Less time. Easier for the speaker (to remember, deliver). Easier for the audience (to pay attention, retain). And the simpler I make it, the more accessible it is to everyone regardless of their level in an organization, and therefore the more widely utilized it is.
On more than a few occasions in the past few months, when I’ve been invited to share my simple framework for communicating effectively, the CEO has been in the room with his or her team for the session. My approach and the SmartMouth methodology have been met with sighs of relief and exclamations of “this is what I have been trying to tell all of you!” In one case, I was met with what could only be described as excitement and joy – clearly, this executive has spent a good bit of time being frustrated with his team’s communication skills.
Since there are a lot of rocket scientists out there – i.e. a lot of smart people with a lot of dense technical knowledge in a variety of fields – I want to share my top 3 pieces of advice for any communicator. You could be a keynote speaker or you could be a participant in a meeting. It doesn’t matter. These 3 are game changers.
1. TMI is the #1 killer.
If I could fix only one thing about how people speak or present, I would attack the “too-much-information syndrome.” In fact, I do attack it, and pretty regularly. Here are some root causes of the problem, see if they sound familiar: presenters who feel the need to prove how smart they are, presenters who love their detail because it fascinates them, presenters who don’t (or can’t?) prioritize their brain dumps, thereby leaving it to their audiences to figure out what’s important.
Information is only valuable and, arguably, relevant when it supports a point. So identify your point first and then pick the information that best supports it (a point is a statement that captures significance or value as a main thought or idea does, or one that summarizes a collection of information). The amount and type of information a speaker chooses to use should be based on the audience – their appetite, their needs/interests, their level of sophistication – not based on what floats the speaker’s boat. If you are sitting with a pile of information that you need to present, ask yourself how you might capture the importance or benefit of all that detail in once sentence and deliver that first, followed by the info.
Finally, less is more. If you can eliminate some information, even better!
2. Serve dessert first.
Life is short, and so are attention spans. Serve dessert, or the point, first. Everything else, like information, is a side dish. Audiences don’t have endless attention to give you, and there are lots of distractions in any given room (some, like devices, give instant gratification when you don’t!). Audiences need a reason, and some context, to hang in there with you.
You can serve dessert first in two ways: First, think about telling your audience upfront what you want them to think, know, do or feel by the end of your talk. And when I say upfront, I mean it’s okay to make this one of your first few sentences – while audience attention is still fresh and on you. You literally can spoon-feed them the impression you hope they’ll take away or the action you hope they’ll take when they leave the room. Second, per the above section on TMI, don’t deliver a truckload of information and then serve up the conclusion; instead, figure out what your conclusion or point is, deliver that first, and then unload your information.
3. It’s not all about you, it’s about them.
Have empathy! For your audience, that is. Consider the experience you are about to give an audience based on your own experiences. You know what it’s like to sit through a presentation or a talk. You know how often you check out, what you like/don’t like when someone else is at the front of the room, or what visuals you find helpful or enjoyable. Use your own experiences to inform the kind of experience you want to give your audience(s).
No matter how much you love your topic, or no matter how urgent it is that you share your content, think about them – who they are, what they really care about, where they are on the learning curve of your topic, why they’re in the room, and how you might impress them – and then adjust your content accordingly. Their needs and interests are more important than yours. I always say, there’s an unspoken agreement between speaker and audience that, in exchange for their time and attention, you will give them something useful or valuable – which you can determine based on the who, what, where, why and how listed above.
Putting these 3 pieces of advice into practice may take some time, but even just the awareness will help you make some advances in your communication skills and style.