In the last few weeks we’ve been talking about eﬀective communications - It's Not About You and Less is More. It’s a two way street, requiring the message sent to be the message received. Being eﬀective means being clear and prepared as well as empathetic and tuned to your audience.
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How do you know whether you’ve achieved eﬀective communications? This is important to establish because while planning, preparation and intent are important, it’s results that count. The result of eﬀective communication is impact: something is diﬀerent. Something has changed. Perhaps you want to impact people’s understanding or way of thinking. Maybe you are trying to influence people’s decisions and choices; or impact an organization’s goals and aspirations; or change behavior and culture. Elegant, articulate speeches are fine, sophisticated or clever graphics are fun, but in the and, eﬀective communications is all about the impact it has on others.
Achieving the intended results of eﬀective communications requires a realistic understanding that it is never once and done. Psychologists will remind us we all need to hear something new or diﬀerent at least seven to ten times before we fully comprehend and internalize it. This is a vital reminder that while every communication counts, the consistency and pattern of communications over time also counts. We’ll return to this in a subsequent column, but for now, let’s focus on how we determine that we’re making an impact in the immediate term. I’m talking, is anyone listening?
An eﬀective communicator is always carefully observing their audience during communication. Don’t stare endlessly at your graphics or notes. Don’t stare oﬀ into space. Look at your audience. Whether it’s on Zoom or in an auditorium or conference room, pay attention to what your audience is doing. Are they making eye contact? Are their heads nodding? Are they quiet? In other words, are they paying attention? Or, are they restless? Distracted? Doing something else? Whispering to their colleagues? Heads down in their devices? Staring oﬀ into their computer screens? As basic has all this sounds, if you’re audience isn’t with you, you’re just wasting everyone’s time, including your own. Don’t just keep going. Don’t just stick to your plan. Adjust and adapt in real time. You need to get your audience back. You need to reconnect.
One of the best ways to do this is to stop transmitting and start interacting. Questions are an eﬀective communicators’ best friend. Always allow time for questions. Always encourage questions. And when you’ve lost the audience, ask them a question to get the ball rolling. You can ask something as basic as: “What questions or observations do you have?” Or, even more basic: “So what do you think of what you've heard so far?”
Silence may follow. Don’t panic, even if it is a very long silence. Don’t be alarmed if no one raises their hand or responds for a while. That silence, that pause, is riveting people’s attention on what will happen next. That pause is giving people space to actually think about what they think. And if you wait, instead of jumping in to fill the space by talking again, someone will eventually step forward and say something.
Speakers are too often afraid of questions. What if I get asked something I’m not prepared for? What if the question is embarrassing? Controversial? Oﬀ-topic? Shouldn’t I at least try and control the questions to make sure I get the “right” ones? There is no doubt that questions are unpredictable. Questions can throw a speaker oﬀ their game plan. They also tell a communicator a lot about results, impact and where to go next. Do people care what I said or are they onto something else altogether? Are people accepting what I said and applying it? Or are they rejecting and challenging what was said?
And remember, eﬀective communications is not about you looking perfect and demonstrating how brilliant you are. Eﬀective communications is about impact on others.
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