Originally published with the Forbes Coaches Council, October 2018.
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. Of course, it takes time, and we all know how little we have of that.
What helps is to keep some key concepts in mind that can guide you through constructing any persuasive communication: clarity, brevity, context, impact and value. On the surface, these are all self-evident. But each one has some particular qualities and techniques that make putting them into practice easier, more effective and efficient. With practice, these will often become semiautomatic.
Let’s start today with clarity and brevity. How do you make sure that what you say is absolutely clear and that you don’t lose your audience with a long-winded description or an overabundance of detail?
In today’s business world, we all have endless data at our fingertips. We can all drown in information if we want to. So gathering data is no longer a valuable skill, but summarizing it clearly and quickly is an invaluable one.
The most important strategy to be both clear and brief is preparation. If we don’t know what we want to say, and when we want to say it, our ability to convey information is extremely compromised.
How do we prepare?
• Ask yourself simple questions. “What is my goal?” “What am I recommending?” “Why should my audience agree with my solution?” “What do I need from my audience?”
• Answer them in simple language. Be direct and concise. Make sure that you use these simple sentences in your presentation.
• Remind yourself of the big picture. At every juncture of your presentation, think about what you really want to accomplish. Don’t get lost in the weeds. Have enough detail to support your argument, but save the nitty-gritty for a handout or backup slides, and be prepared to get into relevant details for your audience during a Q&A.
• Make your ending the beginning. Don’t leave us in suspense — this isn’t a novel or a movie. 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.
Once you’ve nailed your message — you’ve defined your goal, you’ve identified your key points and you’ve whittled down your details to only the most pertinent — there are some helpful ways to approach how you deliver that message.
• Slow down and pause. Let your audience absorb the information you are giving them. If you are moving too quickly from one point to the next, your listeners will either be thinking ahead or still stuck on the last thought. Don’t make them choose!
• Keep your sentences short and simple. Use periods, not commas. When a listener has to parse a complicated sentence structure, they’ll lose track of your point. Of course, you don’t want every sentence to follow a simple noun-verb-subject structure, but your key points should.
• Use bullet points. Short lists of important points not only highlight information, they also encourage note-taking.
Practicing clarity and brevity have short-term benefits: They will make you easier to listen to and more persuasive. 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 a leader and 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 almost always offers a high return.