Not everyone is naturally a great communicator. In fact, almost all successful communication — persuasive, engaging, inspiring — is made, not born. It requires preparation, skill and practice. And of course, it takes time… and we all know how little we have of that.
If we are going to build a successful communication foundation, let’s start with two important concepts: clarity and brevity. In order to become a great communicator, we need to start with these two concepts, build our foundation there, and then we can evolve with additional skills over time. Is there more required to be successful? Of course there is. But the foundation is the ability to get to the point, clearly and quickly. Once we have that skill, we can add in the others.
One of the several complicating factors in our pursuit of clarity and brevity, however, is that in today’s business world, we all have endless ‘stuff’ coming at us, all day, every day. Most people (and nearly everyone I know) is drowning on some level from ‘too much.’ Too much information… too much data… too many emails… too many interruptions… too many news blasts… too many meetings. Sound familiar? For most of us, this is the daily reality.
This has two implications: one for us, and one for the people we are speaking to. For us, this means that we have limited time to prepare and hone this skill. And for our audience, this means that if we don’t create clarity and brevity, then we are simply adding to an already significant problem for them, and making ourselves part of the noise.
So, how do we battle this?
Here are a few tried and true strategies that will accelerate your growth:
Ask yourself simple preparation questions. “What is my goal?” “What am I recommending?” “Why should my audience agree with my solution?” “What do I need from my audience?” Start there.
Answer those questions in simple language. As you think through your answers to your simple questions, try to make your answers as simple as possible. Challenge yourself, and keep iterating until you make it simpler and simpler. The longer your answers, the less clear it will be for your audience.
Remind yourself of the big picture. At every juncture of your preparation, think about what you really want to accomplish. Don’t get lost in your own weeds. Keep reminding yourself of your own big picture.
Make your ending the beginning. Don’t leave us in suspense — this isn’t a novel or a movie. Be prepared to lead with the punch line. That’s what everyone is listening for anyway! (Hint: If you’ve ever noticed an audience flipping to the final slide in a presentation, it’s likely because they want to know the point of the meeting. Don’t make them flip. Make your point clear in your very first slide.)
And most importantly, think CONSTANTLY about who you are speaking to. As you build your message plan, think about the recipients. What might their perspective be? What are their goals? What will they like, hate or not care about with your topic or message? Great communication, at its core, is about human connection. And to connect with another human being, we need to understand at least a little bit about that human being.
Working towards clarity and brevity has short-term benefits: for starters you will be easier to listen to and more likely to get to a good outcome. But this practice has other long-term benefits, too. People will notice that you respect their time and their needs. You’ll build credibility and be seen as someone who is able to make information easy to understand and quick to absorb.
There are no shortcuts to success. But investing in clear, concise communication always offers a high return.