Even the most accomplished leaders can struggle with clear communication. These strategies can help.
I recently asked several of my coaching clients to complete a self-assessment of their executive presence, based on the three-by-three model of executive presence developed by Joel A. Garfinkle. In his book, Executive Presence: Step Into Your Power, Convey Confidence, and Lead With Conviction, Garfinkle uses this model to break executive presence down into three areas: gravitas, authority, and expression. Each area contains three attributes. “Expression,” for example, includes the attributes “vocal,” “insightful,” and “clear.”
To my surprise, the results were almost unanimous. While my clients rated themselves highly in the areas of gravitas and authority, almost all rated expression–and particularly the attribute of clearness–lowest.
Successful professionals can be experts in their field and passionate leaders yet still face challenges with communicating their ideas clearly.
In fact, expertise and passion sometimes get in the way of clear, simple, and powerful communication. The following strategies for clear public speaking can help you overcome these challenges.
1. Collect, prepare, and rehearse
One of my clients, Mariana, is an outgoing, passionate, and charismatic leader. She has recently been promoted to a role that requires her to regularly present ideas to the highest-level executives in her company. A natural extrovert, Mariana isn’t shy about public speaking, but she often “thinks out loud,” expressing her thoughts as they come, without editing. She comes across as passionate but scattered, which undercuts her authority.
Leaders like Mariana can get carried away with their enthusiasm, losing focus of their message. Instead of speaking off the cuff, collect your thoughts in advance. Write down the key points you want to communicate–not a full script–and practice presenting them to a trusted colleague who can give you honest feedback. This process can help you refine your message and focus your enthusiasm. Ask yourself, can I say this in 30 seconds instead of three minutes? Does the listener walk away with a clear idea of the main message?
If you find yourself having trouble staying on track, try providing numerical guideposts. For example, “I have three recommendations to make,” or “we have two options going forward.” These guideposts ground both you and your audience. Finishing with a summary can help close the loop and provide even more clarity.
2. Know your audience
When Mariana is speaking, she doesn’t tune into her audience. If she did, she’d discover that she’s often lost them. Sometimes she gives too much context, providing details that might be important to her, but irrelevant to the listener. Or she uses technical jargon that confuses and alienates her audience.
Before preparing to speak to any audience, be clear on their needs, their current knowledge, and their reference points. High-level executives often don’t need minute details to make decisions, and they may be unfamiliar with technical jargon.
While you’re speaking, keep your eyes and ears open. What is your audience’s body language telling you–are they engaged and focused on you? Or, have they disengaged? If so, are they confused, distracted, or losing interest? Adjust at the moment, clarifying anything that might be confusing, or cutting to the main point of your message.
3. Favor stories over data
My client George works for a government agency that serves an underresourced population. He often appears before Congress to ask for funding, but can’t seem to clearly communicate the urgency of his agency’s needs, despite the mountains of data and details he presents. I asked him if he knows any stories of the individuals his agency serves. “Hundreds,” he replied, proceeding to tell me several emotional stories of the lives his agency has changed. These stories–not data–are what can inspire people to take action.
Numbers and data can obscure what’s important, while a simple story can provide a clear “why.”
Find a story that can hook your audience, and only include data that supports the “why.”
Once you’ve mastered clear communication, others take note. They trust that when you speak, you are going to deliver a message with a clear purpose. Prepare and rehearse your message, know your audience, and help them connect to your message with stories, not just data. These three strategies will help ensure your message lands with clarity and impact.
This article was originally posted on Inc.com