“Communicate” originally meant “sharing”, “imparting” “to make common” in Latin. We all learn to speak, to converse, even to exchange information in our earliest years, but these days, in the workplace, communication signifies something much more.
Top talkers – what’s their secret?
A good “communicator” imparts information and meaning in a skilful, crafted form. Highly regarded communicators have a talent for conveying their ideas vividly, expressively; the intent of what they are saying is clear.
TED talks are a great medium for skilled communicators. No matter what their topic, the best TED speakers quickly set the tone for their presentation, leaving their audiences eager for more. What is their secret?
Mostly it is their enthusiasm for their topic or area of specialisation. Good speakers are never obtuse and are seldom verbose. They rarely “um” and “er”, they are fluent and practised, they speak in an idiom to which their audience relates completely, even if they are unfamiliar with the topic. They nevertheless grasp how not to drown an audience in superfluous information or anecdotes that ramble. They seem to punctuate their talks with great examples, and they appreciate that the knowledge and responses in their audience will vary. They reach out to all likely points of view, drawing a warm invisible arm around everyone present. They are able to engage, rather than alienate, those who have high knowledge and skill in the area
Not all great speakers are necessarily “charismatic”; some may be matter of fact, even low key in their style. Yet listeners have no difficulty following their line of argument or persuasion. So can we all improve our communication styles? In a word, yes.
Knowledge is the first step
An effective communicator really researches and understands their topic, not just its inner workings, but how it may appear to people who know little or nothing about it. You are in effect both repository and translator when conveying information – this makes sharing possible.
Genuine interest in what you’re imparting or discussing
Interest doesn’t always signify “passion” for the topic – passions can sometimes be overwhelming for listeners, even irritating, even off-putting. Don’t buy into the notion that to be effective, you have to be “passionate”. You do need to be interested, however – in the same way that a journalist behaves like a pointer dog that’s located a game bird – wanting to know more, relaying the salient and often unexpected aspects of an issue, asking yourself why this is worth discussing.
Gauge your audience
Find out as much as you can; watch them so as to ascertain interest, engagement, uncertainty, disdain. Don’t make assumptions about your audience, or force them to engage with you too soon (a common mistake made by street performers and comedians – many try to enforce participation before spectators are ready). Never patronise. Your tone is a giveaway for what you are feeling. There’s something to be said, too, for not being too slick and rehearsed. People detect that very quickly.
Scrutinise effective speakers
Start regularly watching Q&A, TED Talks, popular speeches on YouTube, parliamentary debates, attend rallies and event speeches and see what you respond to, and why. You might discover that you prefer some speakers because they actually have traits in common with you. That’s an excellent place to commence improving your communication style. You should be true to who you are as a speaker; authenticity is really important.
Assess, practice and review
Before and after you begin honing your communication approach, involve family, friends, suppliers, clients, trusted co-workers, even management. Ask them about your presentation style. Be ready to take feedback and criticism. What’s good? What isn’t? Where can you improve?
Please give me some examples.
Please attend a talk I am giving and give me feedback.
Will you please mentor me?
List areas of strength and how you can go from good to vastly better. Try recording yourself – even videoing on your phone. Take every opportunity that presents itself to offer yourself as speaker at events.
Don’t be too harsh
You’ll have days when words and ideas flow, and people will be immediately enthused; then those days when nothing comes out right, and others get frustrated with you. Don’t scream (silently). It’s experience. Highly effective speakers do not experience eloquence on tap (though they get lots of practice and can therefore whip up surprising eloquence during their lesser moments).
Decide to improve NOW
By making the decision NOW to improve your communication style, you are actually already on the path to potential new careers, vocations or at the very least valuable new relationships. Sooner or later you will be hearing a lot of WOW remarks.
Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace.