Six steps to effective communication
In last month’s article, ‘Communication: better than normal,’ I promised to post the six steps to effective communication I had discussed at the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business. Here they are.
1. Prepare thoroughly
They tell us we only get one opportunity to make a first impression. The same is true of communication. We only get one chance at a first sentence, or an opening statement. The more time we invest in preparation, the better chance we have of getting the response we want.
Especially, make time for your opening paragraph. How will you grab attention?
Martin Luther King Jnr, said, ‘I have a dream’, and inspired a nation. Barak Obama said, ‘Yes we can!’ and swept into office. Words like that don’t come by accident, even to the greatest of orators. The right words can mean the difference between success and failure.
Communication is not something to get done with as soon as possible. It is something to spend time on because it is the only way we will motivate people to act.
2. Focus and order
What is it you want to say? What are you trying to get across? Start with that, and keep referring back to it. Is each paragraph or sentence necessary to get that message across? Is everything focussed on your message, on what you want your audience to know, do, think or feel?
And how will you order your thoughts?
Some say it is best to explain your reasons before you hit your audience with your proposal. But we often lose them in the explanation. Rather tell them what you want (‘I want to propose a new sick-leave policy.’ ‘We need to discuss your telephone use.’ ‘Unfortunately, we will not be able to afford a bonus this year.’)
Then their response, either verbal or silent, will be ‘Why?’ They will be demanding your explanation rather than have you force it on them.
3. One issue at a time
You know what it’s like. Your spouse asks you to do three things while she’s out.
‘And, by the way,” she adds, “please take out the garbage.’ At the end of the day, you are grilled on the three things, which of course you’d forgotten. ‘But I did take out the garbage,’ you cry feebly.
It’s very tempting: while I’m sending this email, let me just add. . . ; while I’ve got the troops together, let me also. . . .
The risk is that the ‘troops’ will only hear the last point, or they’ll wonder how it fits in with the rest, and forget the lot.
Wherever possible, stick to one thing at a time, or at the most one group of things, even in written communication. And remember, the one controversial item is the only one that will be remembered. Countless politicians have fallen against this inflexible rule.
The old preacher when asked about his craft said, ‘I tell them what I’m gonna tell them, then I tell them, and then I tell them what I told them.’ Not bad advice.
4. Cut, cut, cut
Blaise Pascal wrote to a friend: ‘I’m sorry for the long letter; I didn’t have enough time to write a shorter one.’
When you have written your email, or prepared your speech, go back and cut it in half. Don’t lose your audience in your words. The more you have in there, the more chance there is that they will be distracted from your main issue, and you will lose them.
And don’t utilise lengthy words when truncated ones will suffice. Sorry: don’t use long words when short ones will do.
5. Check (and check again)
If you have the luxury of time, leave your final draft overnight or even a couple of days, and come back to it. At the very least, print it out and check the hardcopy. Wherever possible, give it to a colleague or a friend to check (or call Simply Communicate to check it for you).
Charles Duncombe, of the Just Say Please Group, found that sales on a website doubled when a spelling mistake was corrected. Customers link poor spelling to a company’s credibility.
6. Make sure your actions back up your words
What you do must be consistent with your words and your stated beliefs, because it’s what you do or fail to do that is remembered and spoken about.
Your words matter. Make them count.