When Richard Branson announced publishing a paperback version of his book The Virgin Way he said that: “Simplicity in communications is not just a nicety but a necessity – it’s a sure-fire way to win and keep your audience’s attention…. Developing the art of simple clear speech is something that every one of us, and everyone with whom we associate, can only benefit. For some people, the ‘gift of the gab’ comes with an innately intelligent and concise delivery; for others, however, it can be anything but concise and frequently utterly unintelligible.”
An effective gift for gab starts with some prep to hone conciseness (i.e., using a few words to convey lots of information). Five habits point the way:
1. ask yourself, silently, why you’re about to speak. Clarity helps you match words and messages so you speak without rambling. How?
Here are a few reasons we speak (e.g., to pitch something, to complain or assert your need for change, to instruct team members or establish policies, to speak about a personal passion, seek clarification, or ask for collaboration, etc.). Notice that each reason produces a different pattern of speech (e.g., saying “I need….” is not the same as “customer service here stinks….” or “change…” or “my designs soar beacuse…”). Next time you hear a run on talker, listen for a garbled message. It could be the person didn’t do their homework and is searching for the right words.
2. consider your end game, your desired result. Knowing your end game helps shape how you speak (e.g., emphasis on key words, the volume or tone of speech, and hand or eye movement). Body language communicates more than words, so match your body language to your ntent, and you will say less.
3. know your audience and adapt to their needs and lives. People listen to sales people and public speakers when the speaker has done their homework. Whether discussing a problem with a team member, your kids with your spouse, or providing training, respect your audience by trying to understand the nuances of their lives before speaking.
4. cut yourself some slack. You won’t always communicate what you intended. To screw up is normal, and if you are lucky people listening to you will tell you or ask questions that let you know they aren’t getting your message. Really good mediators or facilitators often sense when they’ve miscommunicated. They stop, admit the mistake, apologize and rephrase what they were trying to say.
5. don’t equate clarity with forceful expression or yelling. Pithy sometimes offends when people don’t know you, and pithy is even harder when a message conveys emotion. Concise communication is sometimes heard as anger, especially when a speaker is female (a well documented pattern).
How long does it take to practice these five habits – a minute?
Think of two situations that make you nervous speaking. For each, what is your key message? What is your best outcome? Who is your audience and their core need? What is an easy way to self correct when your message falls flat? How did this exercise help? Does it speak to building conflict competence? You bet.