What you say is important. How you say it, even more so.
Anyone transitioning into a new career in any capacity will soon discover that their success is directly proportional to their ability to communicate their experience and value effectively. As a trained and motivated professional you have a lot to offer prospective employers. That said, the only person who can convince them of that fact is YOU.
Whether answering questions in front of an interview board or presenting a business plan to potential investors, successful candidates must develop the skills necessary to become effective communicators.
To be an effective communicator is not the same thing as being a great speaker (or talker). It transcends the commonly held belief that communication is a linear exchange of information: one person speaks while the other listens, then vice versa.
A truly effective communicator understands that interpersonal exchanges of information create a dynamic environment – a fluid interaction – between those speaking and those listening. The spoken word is actually only a small part of the communicative process.
This dynamic environment is always present regardless of the number of people interacting or the degree of formality of the conversation. A conversation between two friends, an informal presentation to a small group and a formal public speaking event to thousands require the same 10 rules to be practiced in order for the communication to be effective.
These rules are not being presented by order of importance; the last rule is equally as important as the first. My experience has led me to believe that the ability to achieve success is impossible without effective communication, and effective communication is impossible without these 10 simple rules.
1. Actively Capture Attention: Initiating a conversation with an audience which is not prepared to hear your message is an exercise in futility. All conversations – whether with one person or a thousand – should begin when the parties involved have their undivided attention focused on each other. Approach the interaction patiently, ensure that eye contact has been established and then begin communicating.
2. Build Personal Trust: Effective communication is much more than conveying information; it’s about evoking emotion that inspires people to embrace and champion your cause. It’s not enough for your message to be understood; it must take root in peoples’ minds and be believed by them as well. The only way your message will impact people on this level is if they trust you. As John Maxwell so wisely stated, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
3. Practice Fluid Speech: Fluid speech, like any other skill, needs to be practiced and requires constant reinforcement. If you are confident and believe in yourself, others will believe in you as well. One of the surest ways to undermine peoples’ confidence in your message is the inability to speak fluidly. People often incorporate interjections and hesitant phrases into their sentences such as “um,” “uh,” and “like.” Not only will this drive your audience insane after 5 minutes, it sends an underlying message that you’re neither confident in yourself nor your message.
4. Practice Engaging Speech: To effectively communicate your message requires you to engage your audience and cause them to be genuinely interested in what you have to say. To do this requires that your speech patterns have a discernible cadence and tempo; monotonous speech tends to bore people to death. Monologues, in addition to sounding rehearsed and completely disingenuous, also tend to put people to sleep more quickly than prescription medications.
5. Practice Congruent Messaging: When you practice congruent messaging, your non-verbal communication (body language) matches your verbal message. While this seems obvious, many people are not aware of their body language and are therefore not aware of the non-verbal messages they are sending. This can be nothing short of disastrous if left unattended, and a lack of congruence in your style of conversation sends mixed signals and confuses the audience.
6. Speak to Individuals: Whenever you communicate either verbally or in writing, your message must be directed at individuals, not the masses. Even when speaking to groups, your goal is to address individuals in that group. It allows you to personalize your interaction and capitalize on the emotional component of the conversation. Have you ever been in an audience listening to a powerful speaker and thinking to yourself, “Wow, this person knows exactly how I feel?" That’s the power of speaking to individuals.
7. Speak in Specifics: Unless you’re a politician intentionally avoiding direct answers and committing to a position, specificity is the rule by which you live when communicating your value. A concise thought has more value than one that is confusing and ambiguous, and speaking in general terms doesn't provide the level of information necessary to engage your audience. In more practical terms, any “informational gaps” in your message will be “filled in” by your audience in ways you did not intend.
8. Practice Active Listening: An effective communicator knows that conversation is a dynamic engagement of “give and take,” and active listening ensures you understand what the other person is saying. In many conversations, when a person begins to speak, the other person sees that break as an opportunity to formulate the next thought to be communicated. This is why many people only hear half of what is actually said in a conversation, and remember only 10% of that half.
9. Monitor the Conversation: This visual skill involves the use of your perception and intuition, and allows you to make needed adjustments in real time. If you are so preoccupied in your own communication that you cannot continually perceive the reaction of your audience to your message, you’re bound to make some mistakes.
10. Master the Topic: When communicating your value to others, you are the topic, and it’s assumed you know your value better than anyone else. If you find yourself answering questions with responses such as “I don’t know” or “I didn't think of that,” you obviously did not give enough thought to the conversation. This can be embarrassing to say the least.
These 10 simple rules, when applied in combination, will serve you well as a solid core for communicating effectively. These principles are not all inclusive of course, but experience has proven that mastery of these 10 rules will afford you a high probability of success when communicating your value to prospective civilian employers.
As you navigate the maze of job interviews, networking events, trade shows and sales meeting ... remember that mastering the art of effective communication takes time and practice. I promise you it's worth the effort.