You’ve probably heard the lament many times, how the digital age has ruined communication between people. The fact is, effective communication has never been easy electronically or face-to-face. It’s both art and science.
Think of how you speak to your mother compared to how you speak to your brother, compared to your spouse or the person you’re dating, your best friend, your coworker, the guy at the pizza place, the garbage collector, your boss, and so on. There’s a difference, however slight, in how you approach them all. Now, consider the difference in how you communicate with those people when one of you is, or both of you are angry, versus when you are both happy, and when you haven’t seen each other in a long time versus when you’ve been seeing each other daily for months.
Now, consider these individuals in your life, and contrast how you communicate with the ones you like vs the ones you dislike. Even in that small circle of individuals, you change your style of communication repeatedly according to the person, the mood, the physical circumstance, the topic, the urgency of the topic, if you both agree on the urgency of the topic, and so on. You have to do this because each situation requires a different approach. Your words, your tone of voice, your style of speaking, even your body language must change from one circumstance to another.
Did you realize this was going on every day of your life? Now, throw customers into the mix, and you’ve got a situation that makes heads spin. It’s no wonder that we often talk past each other.
My homiletics professor in seminary is one of the best communicators I’ve ever met, and he gave us some tremendous wisdom regarding clear and effective communication. I’d like to share two pieces of that wisdom with you in this post. The first and simplest is; There are always three messages in any presentation you give; 1. What you intend to say 2. What you do say, and 3. What your listener(s) heard. You’ve got to tie these together or face muddying your message.
You see this daily on social media. If I tweet that sautéing in butter produces good chicken breasts, I’m not saying the original breast shouldn’t have been carefully selected, the chicken raised humanely, trimmed of fat, cooked to proper temperature, isn’t good with other ingredients, that raw poultry juice shouldn’t be cleaned up immediately, or that chicken is inherently better than turkey, but those types of off-topic comments tend to follow because people are where they are, not where you want them to be.
All I can think of in those moments is that I only wanted to say, “good chicken”. Your audience is somewhere; bring them to you by how you present yourself and your idea.
Take the time to formulate your thoughts and presentation clearly and concisely. Consider your audience and how they need to hear your message to grasp it. Consider your own personality and how it affects your presentation. Ask afterward “have I been clear?” Always give room for the distinct possibility that you have not expressed yourself as well as you intended, and be ready to elucidate from an entirely different direction. Then, don’t feel bad that some people are only ever going to want the chance to speak their thoughts.
The second piece of wisdom is this; have 1 point, and make it clear.
Whether your conversation is personal or business, electronic or in person, there’s some point you want to make; don’t let it get lost in the clutter of a dozen other points that don’t support your one main point.
If you want to plan a presentation aimed at garnering a new client, decide what your main point is to them, which should be why doing business with you will be the best resolution to their problem. As you plan your presentation, set out a list of bullet points that need to be expressed, and if any of them don’t serve the purpose of directly showing the client why they would benefit from this business arrangement, ruthlessly purge your presentation of that point.
Practice your presentation, and if you find yourself wandering into points that don’t serve the immediate goal (e.g., “last year we won an award for shiniest widget”), brutally redirect your thinking on that bullet point until your every word serves the purpose.
I know I heard a lot of words, but what did he say?
Have you ever listened to a speaker, and at some stage found yourself counting the ceiling tiles or wondering if you have enough lettuce at home to make a salad? While that might be your fault (did you have breakfast?), there’s also a very good chance that the speaker wasn’t seizing your attention. Don’t be the cause of disinterest in your audience. Seize their attention with clearly presented points, active language, and pertinent illustrations.
Try this; strive to condense your throughline into a clear, compelling, memorable sentence, and this will help ensure that you have a point, a goal, and help you map out the journey to that goal.
As I highlighted at the beginning of this article, communication takes on different forms depending on its goal at the moment, but if you intentionally train yourself to focus on the topic at hand, both your professional and personal communications will benefit. People will understand you better, get your point of view more quickly, be able to respond sooner, and your time will be spent more wisely than before.
I highly suggest for anyone who does presentations (including pastors), a book by my homiletics professor, Dr. Denny Prutow, “So Pastor, What’s Your Point?” In it, his goal is to help preachers become excellent communicators, and the strategies are sound communication tools which have passed the test of time in a wide variety of fields, and hold true from the pulpit to the boardroom to the sales presentation.
So…have I been clear? If not, just let me know!