July | August 2017

By Deb Sofield
It’s a funny thing that most everyone I know would tell me that they communicate effectively. They’re sure that when they speak, people listen and take action. When I press them to tell me who was listening and what action was taken, rarely does anyone know the true numbers.
Dear reader, I can almost guarantee that no one is listening well these days, and very few take action once the event, conference or phone call is over.
Why? Because effective communication needs the driver of leadership.
Leadership is the key component in managing an effective, long-lasting and far-reaching message. Along with leadership, there are two other drivers for success in every spoken exchange—control and preparation.
Why does it seem that people always ask challenging questions versus easy conversational questions? Because challenge creates conflict and drama, and we are a drama society.
So how does one rise above and maintain leadership to effectively communicate with all audiences? By understanding the synonym for the verb control, which is manage. Therefore, a well-handled question, response or presentation is effective management or, for this discussion, effective communication.
Control and preparation are paramount in effective communication. Human nature being what it is, we know that you’ll react in one of three ways to being challenged: You will become defensive, evasive or contentious.
These actions are closely aligned with the freeze, fight or flight response in each of us—it’s an instinct of fear, stress and frustration. Understand, though, if your answer is friendly, assured and to the point, you’re likely to emerge unscathed, if not victorious, with most audiences. That is why effective communication is based on control and preparation in advance.
If someone pushes against your leadership in a public setting, be careful about being perceived as negative or hostile or intimidating; if you come across that way, your audience will be negative, hostile or unfriendly toward you. This is where your leadership with effective communication steps in to tap down these perceptions so you can get your message across.
To lead with effective communication, four rules apply.
1. Know Your Audience.
Who is your target audience for the presentation? Is it the general public, industry groups, physicians or, perhaps, the media? Know who they are and why they’ve come to hear you speak. Were they invited, cajoled or interested in the topic? What are the demographics of your audience and do they fit your conversation?
Be careful about speaking in jargon. It’s tough to adjust your technical language level to that of the audience, but it’s critical. Don’t talk over their head and don’t talk down to them. Think about why they have consented to hear you speak, in essence allowing you a chance to entertain, educate or enlighten. The more you learn about who you are speaking to, the better you are able to craft your message to meet their needs. Effective communication only works when you know who is in your listening audience.
2. Know Your Purpose.
Have you been asked to inform, educate or provide information to the public? As an effective communicator, you must be able answer the “So what?” the “Why are you speaking?” and “What is your intended outcome?” Otherwise, you’ll be talking with no action to be taken.
Let me add that I have found that my mature audience tends to want more facts in the conversation and many of my younger folks want a place to find more information—they will look up the information and make a judgment. Remember, you have about 30 seconds to capture their attention, and if you don’t catch them quickly about the reason for your message, your opportunity is lost. Effective communication only works when you know your purpose for presenting.
3. Know Your Strengths.
Always position yourself as the expert. If you are not an expert, do what it takes to become one. Anyone can be rock star amazing at topics they enjoy talking, training or teaching others about. Becoming an expert will make you a better presenter, lecturer or guest. Many people claim to be knowledgeable; when pushed, they concede they are average. Anyone can be average today with Google and Wikipedia, but true knowledge comes from the work you do daily to study, learn and help others.
Learning to express yourself in a manner that makes others listen and take action will set you apart in your leadership. Remember, the secret to speaking with power is twofold: how effectively you get the point across and how you make a connection with your audience. Effective communication only happens when you play to your strengths and bring others along.
Before you speak, think about what you want to achieve. When I leave the event, or turn off the radio or TV, what am I to remember from your talk? In order for me to remember what you say and to go as far as repeating it, you would do well to shape you message in such a way that it is memorable.
4. Know How To Shape Your Message.
The key to successful speaking comes down to clear and concise message points that can be remembered and repeated. I know that seems as obvious as reminding you to wear clothes to your event, but, amazingly enough, most people are unprepared in crafting key message points for the audience to remember long after the presentation is over. Many amateurs think they can wing it or get by or rehash an old speech and that will suffice. Unfortunately, when you do that, you will be sloppy on key message points, wander in your presentation and, when it is over, you’ll kick yourself for not making the most of the opportunity you have been given.
If you don’t have your points down in a clear, succinct and memorable manner, your audience will not be able to follow you. When you understand the value of a clear messaging that is repeatable, you will then effectively communicate your key message.
To sum it up, it’s wise to remember the old adage, “If you can’t tell it, you can’t sell it.” And I’ll add, “If you tell it poorly, you’ll not be invited back.” That is the antithesis of leading with effective communication.
Deb Sofield coaches executives to Speak Without Fear. As a national speaker, author and radio talk show host, Sofield speaks for associations, conferences and luncheons. Sofield is a visiting professor, teaching public speaking at Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government, and on the faculty of the Woman’s Campaign School at Yale University. She has worked at Loyola University School of Mass Communications, the University of South Carolina’s School of Mass Communications and Clemson University.