Sometimes all that stands in the way of winning support for a brilliant idea is the lack of a powerful communicator. Whether we need to make a pitch to an executive, collaborate with a co-worker, or market to potential clients, we must communicate our message effectively … and quickly.
It may come as no surprise that it’s getting harder to capture and hold our audience’s attention. According to an article in Time, over the last 20 years, the average human attention span has shortened from twelve to eight seconds. We live in a fast-paced world. While it’s certainly convenient to be able to instantly communicate with people all around the world, it also means that we need to make a bigger impact using fewer words.
Powerful communication relies on three key components:
- Having a definite point
- Using clear language
- Being brief
Overcoming Bad Habits
To communicate more effectively, start by identifying where you need to improve. Ask friends and colleagues for their feedback. Once you recognize the habits that hinder your ability to connect with your audience, you can begin improving your speaking skills. (And while we’re focusing on spoken communication, many of these tips apply equally to writing.)
Know Your Audience
Whether speaking with an individual or a group, keep their needs and expectations in mind as you craft your message. For example, if you’re sharing a new plan with co-workers, give them a little history to show how the proposed solution developed and how it addresses the group’s needs.
When sharing the same idea with a top executive, however, you might limit the history and focus more on the end goal and its benefits for the company as a whole.
Keep It Short
Busy businesspeople value efficiency and appreciate a speaker who respects their time. Keep it short and on-point. Not only will brevity help hold your audience’s attention as you speak, but it also helps them to remember it. That makes it more likely that they will remember, act on, and most importantly share your ideas.
Lose the Crutches
Once you’ve crafted your message, give it extra impact by speaking clearly. Pay attention to pacing. Many of us talk faster when we are nervous or excited by an idea. Often, however, this can cause awkward pauses as our brains race to catch up with our tongues. Many of us fill these gaps with words such as “like” or “uh.” These filler words can create an impression of uncertainty and reduce our effectiveness as speakers.
Know Your Stuff
Obviously, there’s a lot to pay attention to when we speak. Why add to that pressure by struggling to recall key facts? Speakers who have a clear understanding of the information they want to communicate are usually more succinct in their delivery than someone trying to piece together information as they go. Know your content before you start!
Additionally, don’t feel that you must share everything you know about a particular topic in one go in order to impress your audience. Choose your ideas and supporting facts wisely for maximum impact.
Practice, Practice, Practice
If you recognize that you have a tendency to ramble, mumble, or otherwise communicate ineffectively, practice what you want to say ahead of time. Write down what you want to say, and then edit to help you be more concise. (Don’t fall into the trap of reading your statement word for word from a script, though.) You can also record yourself speaking and listen to it to see where you may need to improve.
Use the voice function on your smartphone to record your presentation. This technology relies on clear articulation to identify words. You can immediately see where you may need to improve. Additionally, having speech translated to text provides visual proof of where you may wander off-topic or use filler words.
One of the benefits of having the world at our fingertips is the huge range of professional development resources available — many of them free. For example, check out the seven-part YouTube series Effective Communication Skills Training: Concise, Clear, Confident. LinkedIn also provides many training videos such as this one on communicating with confidence. Don’t overlook more traditional resources such as Toastmasters, either.
Being a powerful communicator has benefits in and out of the workplace, so there’s no reason not to sharpen these skills. Reaching your audience in this age of information overload can be daunting, but you can achieve the mastery needed to stand out from the crowd.