Get better results by looking at communication in a different way

You’re a communicator. Communicating is what you do every moment, with every fibre of your being.

If you manage a team or run a business, every person in that group is also communicating in every moment.

Communication happens inside people, between people, and with the outside world - and it can be easy to get hung up on how those different types of communication fit together.

Many organisations create a distinction between internal and external communication, as if some magic wall separates the two. And if you’re like me, you might have spent countless hours exploring your inner communication - the thoughts in your own head that impact your business and personal life.

 I find it helpful to consider that communication happens in three realms.

The Personal Realm

Put simply, this is the communication you have with yourself, and this is where it all starts. Your thoughts and beliefs are the engine room of every other interaction in your life.

Often this school of thought is put, slightly disparagingly, under the "personal development" heading. Some might consider your inner dialogue has little to do with business and professional communication. On the other hand, I believe it's critical.

The communication you have with yourself is the most telling factor for how you communicate with everyone else. This is where your confidence (or lack of it) lies. It determines your level of self-belief. It impacts your tone of voice, how you carry yourself, the firmness of your handshake and the authenticity of your eye contact.

You might already subscribe to the concept your thoughts are all-powerful and create your reality - or perhaps you’ve never recognised the direct link between what goes on inside you and how you relate to the outside world. If you want to be a better communicator, start here.

The personal communication realm is the place of self-reflection, where you can become quiet and tune in to your intuition. If this sounds a bit too woo-woo for your comfort, I’d like you to entertain the notion - even for a day - that the communication within you has a profound impact on how you interact with others on a personal and professional level.

This is also significant for anyone managing a team or organisation. Any time you need buy-in, it starts one mind at a time.

And, the personal communication realm is where you get clarity on your own vision. That's not the same as the vision of your business or organisational (although it needs to fit snugly with it or you might be working in the wrong place). Being clear on what gets you out of bed in the morning (your why as Simon Sinek puts it) powers up your actions every day.

A dysfunctional personal communication realm means lack of clarity, flailing confidence, poor interactions and relationships - and lost opportunities.

The Tribal Realm

Many organisations refer to this realm as internal communication. I prefer to see it as communicating with those who have the greatest potential to impact or be impacted by your actions or those of your organisation.

In a business sense. this is likely to mean your staff, suppliers and other key stakeholders. For a solo entrepreneur it’s the key circle of people around your business that matter most. For all of us, it also means family and close friends.

In the tribal realm of communication, we can take shortcuts in our language because the people in our tribe generally understand who we are and what we do. We can make some assumptions about previous knowledge, we're able to get away with some jargon, and our style is generally more familiar.

Our tribal realm is where we get to harness the power of our own reputation ambassadors. The people closest to you and your organisation have high credibility when talking about you to others. In this age of digital message saturation, you can talk all you like about how wonderful your organisation is - but everyone’s heard it all before and everybody else is saying the same thing about what they do. What cuts through more is the quiet endorsement of those with a genuine knowledge of what you do - especially those who are highly relatable to your audience.

The downside is, the interactions of your tribe also directly reflect on you. If they’re saying and doing things that aren’t so positive, that will come back to hurt you. Your tribal communication needs to be constant, transparent and early.

Monitoring the communication in your tribal realm provides invaluable intelligence about your broader reputation. And while your reputation is out of your control, you can at least take steps - through authentic words and actions that match - to build reputation capital. 

The Global Realm

This realm represents your communication with the rest of the world; what scholars describe as the public sphere. Of course, these days we are each a 24/7 broadcasting channel and it's easy to get fixated on the opportunities that presents. I’m called in to work with many organisations that focus solely on what they’re saying in this public realm, but neglect the communication happening within their own walls, between and within their people.

Outstanding communicators - and those few businesses that communicate at the top of their game - understand the link between the three realms. What they say to the world at large is directly aligned with the messages inside their organisation and with those who matter most to their results. Their people are deeply committed to their values, and this is reflected in the personal realm of those individuals. 

Today, we have glorious opportunities to communicate with anyone, with relative ease. We’ve also never been at more risk of having our shortcomings exposed to a global audience. The global realm is rich in both potential and danger, and it's imperative to approach it with a clear strategy. Otherwise your days will be filled with time-consuming, reactive behaviour, often referred to as firefighting.

Are you putting enough focus on all three realms - or do you spend most of your time in one or two at the expense of another?

As technology continues to march forward, career opportunities will disappear as new ones arise. Communicators of excellence will continue to have an advantage. Build your expertise across all three realms and your communication will be unstoppable.

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The two tools you need in every conversation, right now

We’ve all had them - those tricky conversations or business meetings where things didn’t go to plan.

Maybe someone got hot under the collar; perhaps there were harsh words exchanged and feelings trampled. 

Whenever people bring different opinions to the table, tension will be on the rise. Poorly addressed, that can boil out of control and get a less-than-ideal result. 

The outstanding communicators of this world - who can negotiate their way through those situations and bring things to a positive conclusion without killing relationships in the process  - have a significant edge.

Wouldn’t it be great to have a magic wand - or maybe a remote control - that gave you the power to bring others around to your way of thinking! Of course, along the way you'd lose the richness of differing opinions that help create great decisions. The discussion might be easier, but you'd lose out in the result.

It occurs to me that, rather than an instrument to control others in a discussion, two other types of gadgets would help.

The magnifying glass

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One of my mentors, the incredible Allan Parker, has taught me the value and power of professional curiosity.

Just when things are at their hottest - with hackles rising and tempers boiling - it can be very helpful to pick up an imaginary magnifying glass and, Sherlock Holmes-style, look at the situation though a curious lens. Say to yourself, “Isn’t that interesting!” and consider what might be going on for that person, or the others in the room, to prompt a hostile reaction.

Shifting into a space of curiosity achieves several purposes. It takes you out of your own perspective, which is where you’re at most risk of being overtaken by your emotions. It changes your energy so you're fully present and attentive to the needs of the other person or people.

It can move you from making only  “I” statements - which won’t get you far if everyone else in the room is doing the same thing - to asking open ended questions. These can help get the discussion back on track and away from a shout-fest.

Being curious also helps you view others with empathy, rather than criticism. If they're reacting more strongly than usual, maybe something else has happened - not connected with you - to put them under stress.

The shift from “me, me, me” to empathy and curiosity can profoundly affect a conversation or debate. The key is, remember to do it at the time when it matters most.

The mirror

It would be nice to leave the interaction there; focusing on what's going on for the other person. But that's only half the process.

Another handy imaginary implement is your mirror. This involves the sometimes confronting task of reflecting on your thoughts and behaviour, and what you might have brought to the situation to make emotions rise. 

Many of us spend a significant amount of time thinking about events from our past. Some of these memories go back to our childhood. Others are more recent, such as what happened yesterday, last week or a year ago. The person involved in our current interaction might have been involved - or perhaps it was someone completely different who reminds us of the one now in the conversation. 

Each time you enter a meeting, pick up the phone or converse with someone face to face, chances are you're wheeling a whole trolley-load of baggage into the encounter, based on a past experience. There's a huge temptation to rely on that baggage as your emotional guide during the conversation. Then you can use what unfolds as evidence of what you already believe; "There he goes again, losing his temper" or "She's taking that sarcastic tone. just like she did in the last meeting"... you get the idea. 

But that baggage doesn't have to take over a situation and railroad your emotional response. Make the simple choice to leave your baggage at the door and start the encounter with a clean slate.

That one mental act can shift your attitude and the energy you bring, delivering a profound effect on the outcome. Instead however, many of us take a largely passive role in human interactions. We receive our cues from the other person and let our instant reactions guide what happens next. That's a dangerous recipe.


Holding up the mirror involves taking a closer look at what you're really bringing to the situation. Are you seeing it with a positive mindset? Do you have a clear idea of what you want to achieve (always being flexible because things can change)? Are you taking the time to build rapport with the other person? Are you mindful of simple things like smiling, making good eye contact and reducing distractions so you can be present and truly listen? 

If the interaction isn't going well, what contribution are you making? A quick change of approach can make all the difference, for example;

  • Perhaps someone (maybe you) is reacting negatively based on their own interpretation of the situation, rather than considering specific facts. Shift that by honing in on the core facts of the issue, not the emotion. 
  • Is a lot of "I" focused language being used? Change it up by asking a "you"-focused question or introduce collaborative language like "we" and "all of us".
  • Resist the temptation to use absolute words (e.g. "always", "forever", "never") and use more tentative, probing language like "how about if we try this.." or "what would it look like if we..." Remember, words have weight - choose yours carefully. 

Curiosity and self-reflection are powerful processes to help get better results from your conversations, meetings, and presentations. Even before the first word comes out of your mouth, do the inner work. The conversations you have with others are important; those you have with yourself are absolutely critical. 

The new rules of crisis communication and why they apply to you

Crisis communication is a fascinating subject – and there’s no shortage of current material to put under the microscope. Cricket Australia, banks, KFC, data breaches – you could spend weeks pulling this stuff apart.

This week at Mumbrella360 – Australia’s biggest media and marketing conference – I had the opportunity to share a stage with some of the country’s leading minds on communicating when it really hits the fan.

The audience was made up of communicators and business leaders from all sectors. Regardless of where they were from, there were universal head nods about the key elements that now govern how any business or organisation must respond when a crisis cripples normal operations. Here are the points that stood out for me:

Respond quickly and slowly

When a catastrophic incident or action hurls you into the headlines for all the wrong reasons, you can’t spend a day deliberating about what to say. Waaay back in the day, we used to talk about the Golden 24 Hours – how to carefully craft your response and release it for maximum impact. Then it was the Golden Hour.

In today’s Twitter Time, an hour is a luxury. Every person out there is a 24-hour live broadcast channel – or as US communication expert Barie Carmichael puts it, “today’s web-enabled auditors of corporate behaviour can create a global movement when their expectations are not met.”

The swiftness of your initial responses sets the tone for your engagement in the entire crisis response. You won’t have all the details, and you can bet others in your business will be urging you to wait, but delaying can be disastrous. Someone else will fill that communication vacuum and they’ll probably know less about the situation tha you. It’s important to at least:

  • Say what’s happened (to the best of your knowledge at the time)
  • Express empathy in acknowledging those impacted
  • Say what’s happening right now
  • Say what’s likely to happen next

While this isn’t exactly a crisis (more an incident that could have had serious consequences), here’s an example of a media report and a swift response by Transport for NSW:


While all this rapid responding is playing out, you must also be formulating more considered communication based on deeper research into the crisis. This is the meat on your communication skeleton; the next layering of messages for the network of stakeholders (those who are directly impacted by or who can impact your business) who will need more detail, communicated through channels directly to them.

Communication happens in tandem with the operational response

Someone in the audience at Mumbrella360 commented that the hashtag #PRfail, which inevitably appears after a major public mishap, should be changed to #leadershipfail – a great reminder that people often confuse the communication response with the actual response to the crisis. Just because a disaster erupts on social or traditional media doesn’t mean the communications department is responsible for solving the problem. 

The organisation as a whole needs to own the crisis and take responsibility for addressing it and recovering from it. Communication will, no doubt, be a huge part of that – but it’s not the only response. Gone are the days (if they ever existed) when a crisis could be made to disappear through spin.

An effective crisis response starts from the inside. Identify the root of the problem and fix it fast – all the while, keeping the world updated on what you’re doing.

KFC’s Great Chicken Crisis in the UK – when it ran out of chook- has been applauded as a great example of how to respond to a business-crippling disaster. Yes, the communication response was awesome – but that wouldn’t have amounted to much if the company didn’t also quickly address the problem and get chicken to its stores quickly – even using some innovative warehousing methods to do it.


Crisis communication planning has changed

In the past, when we had a relatively limited number of communication channels, it was somewhat easier to predict and plan for the types of crises that might erupt. Today, the variables are endless.

One client embroiled in a recent crisis admitted they “threw their crisis communication plan out the window” because the nature of the issue was something they’d never encountered before and couldn’t have predicted.

A rigid crisis communication plan is no longer effective. In its place, have rock-solid, agreed principles for how you will respond, for example;

  • Your business commits to communicating honestly and authentically at all times
  • You’ll issue your first response within 15 minutes followed by rolling updates
  • You will use plain, understandable language
  • You will act in the interests of those impacted by the crisis
  • You know up-front who your key spokespeople will be, and they are trained and ready

As we discussed at the conference, it’s also critical that your basic processes are in place; your media contacts are up to date, you can find key operational people quickly, and you’ve got easy access to all your social media platforms. These sound obvious, but not everyone takes the time to address them. 

The crisis communication landscape has changed drastically, but some of the principles go back centuries. No business is immune to a crisis. Be ready and stay ready; and if/when it happens to you, use authenticity as your guide in responding


How looking below the surface of social media will make you a better communicator

Are you finding it tough sharing your message in a very crowded world? Whether you run a small business, represent an organisation or want to increase your personal profile, it can be a frustrating process because everyone else is trying to do the same thing in the same space.

Over the last week I had the privilege of convening two events for communication professionals. Listening to the speakers who joined me on stage, I was reminded of some important principles  as we all struggle to get traction in a busy digital environment.

1.     Spread the word on social, but don’t neglect your own assets

David Pembroke from contentgroup made the point that it's dangerous to put all your eggs in the social media basket.

Actually, his analogy was less about eggs and more about building a house. As he put it, “you wouldn’t build a house on rented land”.

It's a reminder to develop content and spread your message through channels you own and control - like your website. Then, you're free to take advantage of the incredible range of social media tools out there, and point people back to your mother-ship. It's your source of truth - a place where you can reinforce your key messages and correct misinformation.

2.     Be at the top of the content creation chain

Editorial expert Stuart Howie reminded us of the power of thinking like a journalist (even an old journo like me needed this reminder).

Each of us is now a publisher; if we can operate with a "newsroom mindset", where we’re originating valuable content and spreading it through multiple channels, we’re going to have a proactive advantage.

If you’re a subject matter expert - or your organisation has expertise on a particular topic - don’t wait to be asked for your opinion. Take the initiative and be the content creator, then find ways to make your valuable message known. This isn’t empty spin or marketing hustle. You're creating genuine high-value material that will benefit others.

3.     If you seek the truth, strive to be truthful

Truth and trust specialist Elly Johnson gave everyone a wake-up call by pointing out that each of us tells numerous lies every day, whether we realise it or not. Most of these little porkies aren’t dangerous or destructive ("Sorry I'm late, the traffic was terrible..."), but a better habit is to monitor and weed out white lies.

If you want others to see you as credible - and if you want to reduce the number of lies people tell you - it starts with honest self-reflection and a commitment to being more truthful.

It’s a sad reality that lies and scandals dominate much online communication. A study released this year by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that false information on Twitter travels six times faster than the truth, and reaches far more people! We can play our own small part in trying to combat that, by being 100% committed to truth. 

The world of communication has changed radically even in the last few years - and it's light years from what it looked like a decade ago. While it can be fun and challenging trying to keep up with technology, it’s the principles lying beneath that provide the real insights into human behaviour. Those who take the time to understand those principles will have an edge in this competitive  environment.


How to start a conversation that can transform lives

This week I’ve had the privilege of speaking at three events as part of the R U OK? movement. This cause has built up a huge profile around Australia, most notably for R U OK? Day in September, but many businesses embrace the concept all year round.

It’s a simple idea: reminding people about the importance of having a conversation, particularly at challenging times. The right word at the right time really can change a life.

One of my presentations was in the financial services sector. It’s no secret that at the moment staff in those businesses are under enormous public pressure. While the senior leaders respond in the glare of the Royal Commission spotlight, regular staff are sometimes the forgotten casualties.

Having worked in government agencies in the media spotlight for all the wrong reasons, I know how stressful it can be to represent a business that’s struggling with its reputation. It’s impossible to go to a social gathering and mention where you work without half an hour of questioning or unsettling conversation.

The R U OK? message reminds us that personal struggles don’t just come from relationship or money issues. Changes in our work environment can cause a significant amount of stress which can rock us to our very core. If there are people around you who seem to be struggling for whatever reason, opening up a connection - however brief - can really count.

The four R U OK? steps are simple: seek out the person and ask them how they're going; listen without judging; encourage them to take action and check in with them later.

Being the one who makes the connection can seem daunting; especially if you don't know them well or generally lack confidence. A simple three-step framework can help.

1.     Plan

If you had to make a major presentation you'd probably spend time planning and preparing, yet most of us don't put the same planning into individual conversations. In any interaction where the stakes are higher than social chat, have your first words and your key message ready. Things might change - you can’t, of course, control how the other person responds - but being planned in your approach makes a big difference to how you feel on the day.

It’s important to be aware of your frame of mind. Often we talk ourselves out of feeling confident because we’re thinking about a previous situation where a conversation didn’t go so well. Simply acknowledge that, and leave it at the door. This is a new day and a new conversation. Approach it with fresh eyes.

2.     Clarity

Have a clear picture of what you want the outcome of the conversation to be. Thee other person has a big stake in how it plays out, but if you can keep your eye on the main prize ( and maybe that’s simply to let them know you’re thinking about them), you’re more likely to stay focused and not get sidetracked by nerves or other distracting thoughts.

3.     It’s about them

This is important for all communication, and particularly for conversations where you want to make sure someone is OK. Take the focus off you and put it wholly on them and what they need, right in that moment.

Some of the most powerful words I ever heard came from a father who had just lost his son to suicide. He stood at the boy’s funeral, gazing out on rows of his son’s school mates in their  uniforms. He carefully looked each of them in the eye and said, “Please don’t do this. Whatever might be going on, there is always someone who cares. Please don’t do this."

What an incredible act of courage in that most difficult moment. I often wonder what impact those words had on those boys over the years. Maybe someone in that church needed to hear those words right then and there.

You can never know the true impact of every conversation you have, but know this: your words matter and so do the connections you form. In this world where we’ve never been more connected though technology, we risk losing our human connections. You can make a difference  by being the one who starts the conversation.


How one experience - and multiple stories - can lift your communication game

As you go about your day, it's easy to assume the people around you are having the same experience as you in each situation you encounter. I was reminded this week that's simply not the case.

I caught up with two colleagues for drinks; professional women I didn't know well. We chatted over happy hour cocktails, and the conversation for some reason turned to the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

It was fascinating that all three of us had specific experience at those Olympics - but those experiences were very different.

One had the task of wrangling the 2000 musicians who accompanied the athletes' parade at the opening ceremony. She painted an amazing picture of the master conductor, harnessed into a cherry picker, coordinating the music high above the Olympic stadium as three separate bands played music tailor-made for each country.

It took 52 buses and five semi-trailers to transport the musicians and instruments to the stadium from their rehearsal space at Bathurst, west of Sydney. 

My second colleague, a French-speaking Canadian, had been minder to the team from the Republic of the Congo - a handful of athletes and officials. She was their shadow; living in the Olympic village and mixing it with high profile athletes from around the world. When Muhammed Ali visited the athletes’ village he noticed her and called her over. She got to speak to him and hold his hand.

When she went to say good-bye to her athletes at the airport, one was missing. He’d decided to stay in Australia off the grid - she got calls from the federal police for a long time afterwards asking if she’d had any contact from him.

My experience was different again, as an announcer at the hockey stadium. I got my mouth around some tongue-twister names as I introduced the athletes and called the highlights of the games in front of more than 20,000 people.

It struck the three of us that while we had a shared experience, the details were vastly different. It's interesting to remember this and apply it to your daily conversations and interactions.

When you’re having a discussion with an individual or group, you’ll take your communication to a new level if you stay aware that everyone in that interaction will see it differently, based on their individual experience.

You might be in the same room, but you could be globes apart when it comes to interpreting the message. Keep that in mind and you’ll build better connections,  get more collaboration and your communication experiences will be richer.

Outstanding communicators know the world doesn’t look the same for everyone. To truly be  effective, make the encounter about them - from their viewpoint - not about you.  Your reality is your own construct and the same applies to everyone else.

How can you bring this awareness to your next conversation or meeting? Take a broader view of the perspectives of others, and you'll get enhanced results.


Why standing out doesn't mean shouting the loudest

Getting your message across has never been a bigger task.

I saw a great presentation the other day from marketing expert Paul McCarthy; he opened by asking everyone in the room to shout the name of their business at the same time.

The noise was piercing and, of course, you couldn’t tell one voice from another. Paul looked at us and said, “Welcome to the marketplace”.

It was a memorable way to be reminded there’s plenty of competition out there - whether you're a business owner vying for clients or someone looking to boost their career.

That got me thinking about what it takes to stand out in today's reputation economy, where everyone is striving for the same prize - attention.  

Some approach this by shouting louder or trying to fill the spaces between the other voices by telling everyone how great they are. But that’s hardly a powerful way to get noticed. It’s more likely you’ll encourage people to switch off.

How do you go from being one of the crowd to standing out from it? This model is one way to build a stand-out culture for your organisation or yourself.

1.     Get clear on why you're doing what you do

No-one will buy you if they don’t know what you're offering. It’s worth taking time to really get to know the essence of your brand. What do you or your business stand for? Not what’s in your vision statement, but at the very core? When people interact with you, what do you leave behind?

Knowing the essence of your brand means better decisions. When you have options, it's easier to know which choice aligns more closely with what you actually stand for. When negative issues arise, you can quickly assess their urgency.

Aim for clarity and simplicity in all your communication.

2.     Don't operate in a vaccuum

Stand-out people - and their businesses - are switched on. They know what’s happening around them and can quickly identify what's likely to have an impact on them. That enables them to seize opportunities and address problems as they arise.

Stand-outs are ahead of trends and able to anticipate pain points before they get worse. When something isn’t right, they’re the ones people turn to for advice.

How much time do you spend in your own world, compared with considering the bigger picture and what it means for you and your organisation?

3.     Be great at connecting with others

To be a stand-out you must be exceptional when it comes to human interaction. In an age when we can dash off a text in an instant, we as a race risk losing the art of person-to-person connection.

Practise and cherish those skills; make a point of focusing on rapport-building whenever you’re in a conversation or meeting. Do it deliberately and notice what happens. Treat every communication interaction as part of a relationship, however brief it might be.

Even though we have the ability to network with a global audience, the people who know us best still have the greatest potential impact on our business or career success.

4.     Get your systems right

You know you're already a good operator. You have solid communication skills and you’re talented at your job or in your business. What super-charges that performance from good to stand-out is using proven frameworks, templates and processes to interact in an even more powerful way.

Once you're clear on your purpose, increase your awareness of what's going on around you and build your skills in connecting with people, the last piece is to take a systematic approach.

Be clear on what you want to achieve and plan each step to get you there. Learn what's worked for others; use templates for writing better emails, frameworks for having more effective conversations or delivering presentations to meetings or larger audiences.

Whether at a business or individual level, standing out is more than shouting loudly to make yourself heard. It takes time and a multi-pronged approach. 

What are you putting in practice today to make sure you stand out tomorrow?


Get the first part right and you'll have an awesome day

His smile was as wide as the doorway I'd just walked through as I arrived at a major corporate headquarters. As I approached the concierge desk he made perfect eye contact and his grin broadened. "Welcome!" he invited.

I was taken aback. I've walked into many office blocks early in the day to set up for a workshop. Those behind the concierge desk are usually well-meaning folk but they're busy and distracted and give a cursory greeting.

This guy was on a mission to make me feel at home - and it absolutely worked.

That glowing welcome had a profound impact on my day. I immediately felt positive about the session I was about to run. I didn’t realise it then, but for the next hours I channelled that man in all my interactions.

That afternoon as I checked into my hotel, I felt myself consciously making friendly eye contact with the young women at the counter. I smiled and asked how her day was. She was momentarily confused, then she returned my smile and we had an animated conversation.

When I asked for the Wi-Fi password she looked embarrassed, then said “Oh, we normally don’t have free Wi-Fi but I’ll tell you what, I’m going to give you free Wi-Fi for your whole stay”.

It continued the next day when I left the hotel and checked in for my next flight. I knew my bag - full of training material - was way heavier than the airline's baggage limit. Again channelling my concierge friend, I strode to the counter, looked the woman directly in the eye with a smile and opened with, “I’m so sorry but I think my bag might be over the limit”.

She beamed back and said, “Well, let’s see." The scales showed the bag was, in fact, more than a few kilos over. She consulted her computer, looked back at me and said conspiratorially, “Look, the flight’s not full so we'll let this through. It’s okay.” I’d been expecting to have to pay extra bagging costs - bonus!

What a great reminder that how we show up to people is how they reflect back to us. It's amazing what opportunities open up when we begin on a positive note.

One of people's biggest fears in this digital age is interacting with another human. You can stand out by approaching every communication opportunity with confidence and enthusiasm.

Who can you connect with today to brighten their world? It’s a win-win. It costs you nothing, and you'll reap plenty in return. But most of all, you'll make another person feel good - and you might even inspire them to pay it forward.


Stop being held back by geek-speak

Have you ever had a conversation with someone and come away thinking ‘Wow, they are truly extraordinary’?

That happened to me this week. I was meeting with a technical expert – this guy is at the forefront of a very specific field. I was talking to him about how to encourage others in his profession to communicate more clearly.

I have to admit I was already inwardly groaning, thinking we’d be getting into geek-speak with me having to mentally translate everything he said before I could process it. Turns out, I had it all wrong!

I encountered a rare individual; someone totally immersed in his technical field with all its jargon – and at the same time able to communicate with such clarity I immediately knew I was communing with a kindred spirit.

He told me how frustrated he felt when others in his field deliberately hid behind big words and important-sounding language because of their fear of being accountable. He clearly understood the problems those barriers created. I was hooked!

Even better, he was looking for a way to break through the blockages and resistance of his profession, to reach a point where his colleagues could form great relationships with their clients rather than trying to avoid them.

Working with many businesses and organisations still bogged down in old forms of communication, I’m often overwhelmed by the size of the challenge in helping them communicate more clearly. My friend this week has given me new hope - and a reminder to all of us that whatever type of work you do, whatever the nature of your business, you’re a human communicating with other humans.

Get that mindset right and you’re already well on your way to being a clear and credible communicator. Remember:

Big words don’t impress; they’re likely to confuse.

The English language is full of shades of meaning. Think of any concept and you can probably come up with five words or phrases to describe it. Some language will be simple, some won’t.

It can be tempting to choose bigger, more complicated words under the illusion they’ll make you sound credible and impressive - but you’ll create the opposite effect. Do you know anyone who has time to plough through long-winded emails or reports? No, neither do I.

Keep it short and clear. I’m not suggesting you take short cuts; you still need to be precise and sometimes a longer word is the best option. However, if you have the choice between a long word or expression and a shorter one that means the same thing, dare to be brief.

Great communication is based on great relationships.

Whenever you interact with anyone – whether it’s a one-line email, a short phone call or a deep and meaningful conversation - it’s part of an ongoing relationship. It needs to be treated with the importance it deserves.

Rather than firing off a message in a mad rush, think about the person on the receiving end. How can you build your relationship with them? How much more effective will your communication be if you’ve built a level of trust? That trusting connection is the conduit that makes your interactions flow smoothly.

Take every opportunity to communicate in person. Don’t revert to email because it’s what you’ve always done.

Highly technical individuals are people too.

My meeting this week was an important wake-up about the risks of stereotyping. I turned up thinking this guy would have no people skills, but he was the one teaching me some lessons. His combination of highly technical skills and clear words made him a communication powerhouse.

As our world becomes even more digitally driven, the ability to relate human to human will be critical. Those people with technical brilliance and outstanding communication skills will have the world at their feet.

If you don’t think you’re an outstanding communicator now, you can start to address that.

These are learned skills and there are plenty of tools out there to help you. Here’s just one to give your email writing a boost. If you’d like a quick and easy tool that will make an immediate difference to the way you write emails, you’re welcome to download my IDEA Email Framework.



How to shine in the spotlight, every time.

Last week I coached a client's senior staff team on presenting to camera, so they could move large chunks of their staff induction sessions into an online format.

If you’ve ever had to stand and deliver to a camera, and you’re not used to it, you’ll understand how daunting it can be.

As I watched people cope with the pressure of changing their approach from talking to a group of humans to speaking directly into a lens with bright lights in their face, I was reminded of the important communication principles that were being amplified before my eyes.

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Most presenters came in expecting a perfect take the first time around, but at the same time they were nervous in front of the camera so their performance was far from flawless. I had to get them past that need for a 10/10 delivery and focus on finding a way to connect with their imaginary audience.

When you’re faced with a tough communication situation - whether that’s a critical conversation, a high-stakes meeting or a presentation to a large audience or on camera - these points can mean the difference between soaring and tanking.

1.     Be yourself.

People will forgive you for a few ums and ahs; what they won’t forgive is you making no effort to engage with them. We know that attention spans are shrinking, so any interaction needs to be super-memorable or your audience's’ fingers will be inching toward their phones.

Double your focus on making a connection. As the authors of the book Crucial Conversations stress, ‘Start with heart’. Yes, you need to have your content covered, but that effort will be wasted if you don’t engage. Put conscious effort into making great eye contact and find a way to build rapport from the outset. Don’t apologise for who you are, just get on and be a great version of yourself.

2.     Get rid of “I’m not good enough”.

I was listening to a terrific podcast this week by Suzy Jacobs where she described her first efforts at podcast recording. The first few times were far from perfect, but she was able to listen and say to herself ‘Well, that didn’t suck!’ This was a breakthrough because in the past, she would have told herself ‘That’s not good enough’ and had to do it all over again.

I’m not suggesting you strive for mediocrity, but when it comes to having an important communication encounter, recognise that annoying little voice that whispers "I’m not good enough", look the sucker in the eyes and give it the day off. Back yourself, put your focus on the people you’re talking to, and let your skills and capability do the rest.

3.     Be prepared to stretch.

Standing in front of a camera amid blazing lights is a good definition of getting out of your comfort zone, but any pressure communication situation can be a stretch experience. Take time to prepare. Think through the key points you need to convey. Rehearse them out loud rather than just in your head. Leave your own baggage at the door when you go into the meeting or presentation.

Don’t judge your results on whether your conversation was word perfect, assess what you actually achieved. What did you want to walk away with, and did you get there? And whatever happens, don’t beat yourself up; treat it as a learning experience.

Every one of my on-camera performers last week came away apologising and saying ‘That was terrible’ or something similar. In reality, their performances were really solid. Most of us view ourselves harshly compared to how the rest of the world really sees us. Be a little kinder to yourself.

By practising your communication skills you'll build influence and credibility. Along the way you’ll create even stronger relationships at work and at home.