Seven tips for powering up your communication skills
Most people don't spend too much time thinking about improving their communication skills. I speak, they should listen, is the attitude. That's a pity, because effectively getting your message across is a hot-button for success in most fields.
Here are my seven tips for powering up your communication skills.
Keep it simple
Good communication is as simple and clear as possible. People are drawn to what's easy to understand. Ruthlessly strip the concept of your message down to its most basic component. Make sure the core of what you're trying to get across is understood before adding more detail. If your message is a particularly complex one, over-simplify to begin with until you can see that your audience understands. Then build up the detail to give them the full picture.
If I say "A pen is a writing instrument for making ink marks on a surface", that is a simple way of describing the concept I'm trying to get across. If I say "A pen is a tool that can be used for writing, drawing, and doodling that comes in any number of colors such as green, blue, red, or black and uses ink which can be applied with a ball-point system, a felt tip, a nib, or a fountain", I'm giving more information, but creating less understanding.
The most powerful messages are often the simplest ones.
Realize the person you're communicating with doesn't necessarily know what you know
Many people just fire away with their message, without thinking too much about the person who's going to be receiving it. They just assume that person has all the needed background information to interpret the message and if they don't, well they must be stupid.
If I say to you - "The building's on fire!" - the first question likely to pop into your head is - "Which building?" Just because I know, doesn't mean you should be expected to.
This seems like a silly example, but it reflects a big problem many people have with their communications. They don't think about what their audience likely does and doesn't know, so the message isn't understood. Of course, there's a balance to this and you shouldn't bore people by telling them every tiny detail. Just take a reasonable guess about what they probably do and don't know, and fill in the gaps for them.
When one person is sending a message to another, noise is anything that interferes with the clarity of that communication. It could be an ambulance siren when I'm trying to speak to you in the street; it could be static on a phone line; or it could be a poor print-job that means you can't properly read what I've written.
But it goes deeper than that. If I think you're trying to patronize me, I'm less likely to listen. The same goes if I'm angry with you, I believe you have a hidden agenda, or I think you're a liar.
Try to remove these obstacles to getting your message across. Let people see that you're sincerely trying to communicate with them.
Don't use bells and whistles to try and make your message seem more important
This follows on from the last point. If what you're trying to say is genuinely important, you don't need to dress it up by using big words, jargon, pointless graphs and so on. The concept you're trying to get across should be powerful enough on its own not to need such window-dressing. If it isn't, you have to ask yourself why you're bothering in the first place.
Businesspeople are particularly prone to this problem. They don't "fix" something they "remediate" it; they don't "help" they "facilitate"; it's not an "idea" it's a "paradigm". If something needs to be made sound important to impress, it's a good bet it wasn't that impressive to begin with.
New writers also often fall into this trap. They think "Shakespeare was the greatest writer who ever lived, and he was difficult to understand, therefore I need to be too". But much of the best of Shakespeare is clear and simple.Think: "To be or not to be".
Make it one-to-one
If you're writing or speaking to an audience, don't make your message seem as if it was written with that in mind. Speak to each member of the audience as an individual. All successful communication is one to one: whether it's an instruction booklet, a television show, a speech, a blog post, or a newspaper report. Let the person see that you're speaking directly to them, and your message will come across much more powerfully.
Use as few words as possible
Become ruthless at killing off unnecessary words in your communications. They often add nothing to the message and can reduce your audience's understanding. If I say "He was a very ruthless, evil, cold-blooded, twice-convicted, unrepentant killer", my message isn't as potent as if I simply say "He was a killer".
Respect your audience
One thing that's almost guaranteed to turn your audience off is if they believe you don't respect them. Anybody people feel is talking down to them or communicating for their own benefit is unlikely to be listened to. Design your communications for the benefit of their intended audience, not for yourself. Be thinking about what they're going to hear and the impression it's going to make on them.
So there they are, my seven tips for more powerful communication. I hope they help you in getting your message across.
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