Communication: A Golden Opportunity

Prague Leaders Magazine, November 2009

Have you ever attended a boring corporate presentation and wondered when the speaker will actually get to the point and stop wasting time; received an email that led you to believe that the sender wasn’t thinking about nor telling what you needed to know; or delivered a speech yourself and realized, in retrospect, that your message didn’t get the measure of your audience’s needs and expectations?

Situations like these, at best, are frustrating. At worst, they are missed opportunities that can produce the exact opposite of what was intended, with long-lasting negative consequences.

Ineffective communication can be avoided. The process and techniques for achieving effective communication are easy to implement. Whether you want to communicate day-to-day information or important news about major changes in your organization, before sending an email, moderating a meeting, delivering a presentation or communicating in any other way, just ask yourself three basic questions:

  • Is my communication focused; what is my core message and can it be expressed in one short sentence?
  • Is my communication relevant; is what I am saying or writing useful and pertinent to my audience?
  • Is my communication compelling; will the delivery of my message grab and keep my audience’s attention?

Communication is the primary tool we use to interact with others. However unless we start by thinking about the meaning of our communications, what we want to say, who we want to say it to and what is the most productive way to deliver our message, we miss golden opportunities to achieve our goals.

Focused Communication

Focused communication can be likened to marketing. You have a message (product) that you need to ‘sell’ to your audience (customers). If they are going to ‘buy’ it, you must make sure that your message is heard and understood.

To do that, you must make your message clear and concise. A short and simple message is easier to grasp and understand than one that is long-winded or rhetorical. You must also make sure the value and benefit outweigh any downsides (the ‘price’ you are asking your listeners to pay).

Then you must reach your audience through the right communication channels and, following the communication (promotion), you must be able to measure the effectiveness and how well the message was ‘bought’ (perceived and accepted by your listeners).

Most marketing messages are very short, because marketers know that they have a very short time to capture the attention of people who are constantly busy or whose attention is easily diverted. Advertising headlines, sound bites, slogans, roadside billboards and even television ads try to get messages across in as few as five to ten words.

Of course, we can rarely communicate everything we need to in a business environment in five to ten words, but there are communication tools, e.g. Twitter and SMS messaging, available to us all today that, by their nature, require that we focus on the core message. Both allow just 140 characters per message, forcing us to think about the most effective way to communicate clearly and concisely.

Communication formats without limits make it more challenging to communicate effectively and efficiently. Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which many cite as the most memorable speech in history, was only ten sentences long and took barely two minutes to deliver. To increase your communication performance, start distilling your messages down to their essential elements.

Relevant Communication

Too often, instead of focusing on the listeners’ needs and expectations we focus on ourselves and what is important to us versus what is important and relevant to them.

Communicating to others isn’t about how smart we are or would like to be perceived or how important and impressive we are or wish to be. It is about making sure that the audience understands that our message carries a benefit for them, and that we are genuinely interested in connecting with them.

To make sure that our communication is relevant to our listeners, we need to think about the information we want to share and ‘customize’ our messages to the specific people we are addressing. And instead of worrying about what they think of us or if they like us, we need to think about what the people receiving our email, hearing our speech or sitting through our presentation want to know, need to hear, and what would be most interesting and persuasive to them. If we concentrate on informing them in a way that is relevant to their needs, we have no reason to worry that there will be anything less than a positive reaction.

The ultimate success of our communication also depends on our ability to identify both the people we are communicating with and their expectations. For example, when we are communicating to a European audience, it useful to keep our communication in line with some general European cultural expectations. A German audience would expect some very specific and detailed information. The English members of an audience would certainly expect a well written and presented speech, whereas the French would appreciate a sign of intellectual understanding and a little bit of flair. Catering to the expectations our audience is not always easy, but if we pay attention to it, we can craft our communication appropriately.

Compelling Communication

Having a clear message customized to the targeted audience is critical to compelling communication. How we deliver this message, whether written or spoken, requires some thinking to make sure it is tailored to the audience. Effective communication is taking place when what the listeners have understood is aligned with what we meant to say and communicate.

In times of crisis, uncertainty and change, compelling communication is required more than ever to unite people behind a common goal. In today’s challenging business environment, many people are looking for a clear sense of direction that will help them make sense of what they do at work and why they do it. Inspiring business leaders who are able to harness their communication to convey a simple, compelling message and connect people to the journey the business is on, both rationally and emotionally, will improve productivity and efficiency and strengthen their team involvement, participation and commitment. If Martin Luther King had said, “I have a vision and strategy to execute that vision,” there is a good chance that nothing would have changed in the United States for many years. But with “I have a dream,” he set in motion events that contributed to last year’s election of a black president in America’s White House.

Communication explains, shapes, and defines the world(s) in which we live. For thousands of years, scholars have studied the art and science of communication, but a large chasm remains between what we expect our communication to achieve and how we actually communicate with others. When we have a sense of our goals (what we want to say and why), a sense of our audiences’ goals (what do they want and need to know) and the capacity to deliver our messages in a way that meets everyone’s expectations, then we have truly maximized our opportunity.