Every time you communicate, you have an audience – which means you either enhance or dilute your reputation as a communicator. Effective communicators inject ongoing meaning and impact into their communications. Part of the reason is because they follow these five crucial principles.
1. Know why you’re communicating
Strong communicators know their purpose. Think of the most entertaining storytellers you know; they know why they’re telling the story. Poor communicators, by contrast, often slide into tangents or lose their own trail. Their communications are often characterized by phrases like “Where was I?” or “Why was I telling this again?” Effective communicators are in control of the story from beginning to end. That’s why their audiences stay interested.
2. Resist the hype
If there is only one communications rule to remember, it’s this: practice understatement. We all have a friend who routinely starts anecdotes with, “You will NEVER believe this story,” “The weirdest thing EVER happened to me yesterday” or “I saw a guy who was like a THOUSAND years old.” When this friend begins one of his hyperbolic stories, are you filled with anticipation or annoyance? The more excited you are to relate a certain thought or idea, the more you ought to scale it back. Seasoned communicators employ restraint. They understand that exaggeration does nothing other than distract or obscure.
3. Stick to what matters
Wearying an audience with unnecessary detail is as harmful as resorting to puffed-up communication. The person who promises the weirdest story ever might also be the one whose narration goes: “So it was Tuesday, around 3:30 … no, maybe Wednesday. No, Tuesday. Anyway, I run into Steve. On Elm and Jefferson. You know Steve? Dark hair, kind of short … his hair, I mean, not him. He actually looks like Tom Hanks a bit, which is so funny. Did I ever tell you about when that guy driving the car called him Forrest Gump? It was so hilarious, the guy’s car was like a million years old. Anyway, that’s not the point.” No kidding. By the time the million-year-old car rolls around, we’ve ceased to care. Effective communicators stay focused on information that moves things forward, creating the sense in their audience that they are leading them efficiently to a destination of interest.
4. Be specific
Precise, not generic, descriptions get an audience engaged. They don’t want to hear that your product is “going to revolutionize the industry”; they want specific evidence. Don’t tell them it has “an innovative design”; explain the unique response mechanism made from an exact quotient of graphene, consisting of a layer of carbon just a single atom thick. Bypass broad-stroke ideas like “widening your customer base” and speak the plain truth: you’re going to conduct focus groups in two dozen cities across the Midwest, which will allow you to learn more about a segment the company hasn’t paid much attention to before.
5. Don’t be satisfied
Poor communicators are like bands whose songs all sound the same: they have a predictable tempo and use a repetitive style. There’s that certain anecdote your father likes to tell over and over, even though it last got a response from you when you were five. Don’t you wish he’d change it up a bit, or maybe just discard the thing already? At least take out the part about Aunt Marilyn? The best communicators, like the best performers in any field, scrutinize themselves constantly, examine their habits relentlessly and strive to improve always.