Recently, one of my clients said that he wanted to communicate better with his team. Not the kind of “every day” communication to listen and understand, or to set clear goals and objectives – but to get his team energized by his message. He said, “It seems like other people know how to find just the right YouTube video, or thing to say so that people leave the meeting feeling excited about our work. What do they know that I don’t? How do I develop that same ability?”
Use the right format. I give a lot of presentations. I’ve had to learn the hard way (i.e., reading the reaction of glazed-over audience members) that lots of slides full of text help me remember what I want to say but are plain boring to my audience. Boring means people tune out and don’t listen to what you are saying. Instead of text, base your communication on images, videos, or a demo. We retain 80% of what we see but only 20% of what we read. And according to the Social Science Research Network, 65% of people are visual learners. So moving away from a presentation filled with bullets can help ensure your audience retains your message.
Boil it down. You can’t wait to share your message, and there’s so much you want to say. I get it – my natural tendency is to explain, explain, explain, maybe never being entirely clear on the main points of my presentation. One of the most important things I’ve learned is to focus on a few select thoughts. It’s the classic idea of the “elevator speech.” If you only had an elevator ride to make your case with a top executive, what would you say? It’s likely that you have more than 30 seconds to speak with your team. But it’s good practice to think through, what are my key ideas, and how do I state them concisely?
Use examples. Dan and Chip Heath, authors of Made To Stick, say that the number one mistake they see when people present is that the message is too abstract when it needs instead to be concrete, something we can relate to. I asked my client, who works at a large pharmaceutical company, what he appreciated most about his job. He showed me a picture on his phone of a woman standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon. He said, “This person used to need chemo three days a week, making her too ill to do much of anything. She now takes our drug instead. She sent me this picture to show me that she’s back to her favorite hobby, traveling.” We naturally love stories – take advantage of it.
Get out of your head. My client wanted “tips and tricks” on powerful communication, and I gave him (and you) some of those. But I told him that, more important than anything else, he needed to stop thinking and start feeling. The most powerful messages connect with us, and engage us, not in our heads but in our hearts. What are your values and your inspirations? What makes you come to work each day? What is it that invigorates you? It could be providing great customer service, or building efficient software code, or the opportunity to work with your specific team members. Figure out what makes your heart sing, and be vulnerable enough to share it openly.
Compelling communication is not just about choosing “the right words.” It’s also about framing ideas in ways that stay with your audience, and about being willing to let your passion shine through. Use this powerful combination to truly connect with, inspire, and energize your team.