I spent some time recently with the amazing Allan Parker – outstanding speaker, linguist and behaviour expert - who skilfully weaves diverse elements of communication into one powerful package.
It was a great reminder that even with the technology we can now access, getting the basics of human interaction right has never been more important. The more we hone these skills, the better we’ll perform as managers, team members, business owners and people.
Have a structure
Many people feel nervous about speaking in public or having an important conversation with their boss, a client or someone in their circle. Having a simple structure for your words can make all the difference. Structure equals credibility, and your credibility (or lack thereof) will, to a large degree, determine your success as a communicator.
You might know what you want to say, but having a framework will help you sort your ideas into a logical flow. It’s amazing how your mind produces the right information once you give it signposts along the way.
The structure of your conversation or presentation could be as simple as the three-point rule (I’m using exactly that in this post): delivering three key points and arranging your information around those points. You’ll be far more effective than if you go in with a loose bunch of ideas and a vague notion of what you’re seeking to achieve.
Before you start, get clarity about the three main headings you want to cover. Also consider how you want the other person or the group to feel, and what you want them to take away.
If you don’t connect with the person or people you’re talking to, the best structure in the world will sound like dry waffle. Do whatever you can to build rapport.
Notice their body language, and see if you can mirror their behaviour. I don’t mean ridiculous, exaggerated copycat movements – be subtle and discreet. If it’s a conversation and the other person is seated, sit down so you’re at a similar level. If they’re speaking in a quiet voice, match their tone and volume. Make sure you’re positioned for direct eye contact, but don’t give them a robot-like stare – blink! Use the direction of your body and your eyes to show that you’re interested in what they think and say.
Listen closely to the nouns and verbs being used, and repeat back key phrases to reinforce that you’re listening and get their message. If you’re not sure what the other person means, ask questions using phrases like “Help me understand…”. How many conversations come unstuck because we assume we know what’s in someone else’s head – and it all goes pear-shape from there?
Use your body
Most of us are aware that how you think affects how your body performs, but that principle also works in reverse. The way you hold your body, how you stand or sit or move, has a strong influence on your thoughts, feelings and mood and how you come across. So, if you’re not feeling confident, sit or stand like you are confident. Before you go into the meeting or presentation room, go somewhere private and make confident gestures. You might feel ridiculous behind closed doors, but you’re also sending strong messages to your brain about the way you’re going to convey your information.
You probably know someone who claims to be terrified of speaking in public but never looks at all nervous. That’s because they’ve managed to control their physiology, which then influences the effectiveness of their communication. You can do the same.
You can improve any crucial conversation or presentation by having a sound structure, focusing on connecting with the audience, and making a conscious effort to hold your body in a way that conveys confidence, warmth and rapport. In every moment, you are a reputation ambassador for your business or organization, and yourself. Whatever your role, being an outstanding communicator will deliver results.
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