In our fast-paced, digital world, face-to-face conversation is becoming a lost art.
Leaders must transform their communication style if they want to be heard and understood. Having the ability to communicate with influence takes hard work, skill and planning. Here are five strategies to ensure your messages are heard and understood.
If you want to influence others to act on what you have to say, start by listening. The act of listening is more than just making eye contact: It's making a meaningful connection to the speaker and their message. Active listening involves remaining quiet, clearing your mind of any thoughts – including formulating a response to what the speaker is saying– until the individual has finished speaking. Being an engaged listener demonstrates your commitment to the person speaking, creating a respectful, authentic connection.
Tip: Make a conscious effort to quiet your inner dialogue and tune into what the speaker is saying. Avoid distractions and connect with the speaker's eyes. Respond only when the speaker has finished and after taking a moment to formulate your thoughts.
Most people are guilty of saying too much, which often frustrates listeners and makes it a challenge to understand what is being said. In order to maintain your listeners' focus, communicate in a clear, concise manner. Knowing what to communicate is the key to brevity.
Listeners don't need to know the struggles, hurdles and hours spent resolving a problem or landing a new client. Your listeners' trust, credibility and confidence in you come from proven results, not lengthy explanations.
To maintain brevity in your conversations, commit to only using one "and," "so," or "but" in a sentence. Take frequent pauses, allowing the message to resonate with listeners. Last, avoid using filler words and phrases – "uh," "um," "like," and "so" – that cause you to ramble.
Tip: To experience what your listeners hear when you speak, record yourself at your next meeting or during a phone conversation. Use your smartphone or any technical gadget to record the audio. Immediately play back the audio so you know if you're coming across the way you want to.
The pace at which you speak helps determine your listeners' ability to understand your message and keep track of what's being said. When you speak too quickly, your message doesn't resonate with listeners, jeopardizing your credibility by making you look nervous or ill-prepared.
If you want your message to make an impact, slow your tempo. Enunciate and carefully choose your words. Pausing in between thoughts and during transitional points in your conversation also gives listeners time to comprehend your message, allowing them to fully connect with you and what you have to say.
Tip: Ask others whom you trust to continuously give you feedback to ensure you are speaking in an influential way. Feedback is easier to seek and apply in low-risk, daily interactions than in high-stakes situations. Rather than wait for the "big gig," seek feedback regularly.
Your body language and movements must be consistent with the message you are sharing. When you communicate with others, strong, consistent body language is necessary to establish credibility, demonstrate emotions and connect with listeners. In order to emphasize key points that you want listeners to remember, use appropriate gestures consistent with your words.
Demonstrate confidence by maintaining an open-posture stance, leaning toward your audience and keeping your arms relaxed at your sides. Avoid fidgeting with your pen, tapping your fingers or bouncing your feet. This will keep your listeners focused on your words, not your movement.
Tip: The next time you're preparing for a presentation or meeting, videotape yourself. Watching the playback may be difficult, but it helps you pinpoint any body language, gestures or movements that may distract listeners from hearing and understanding your message. Identifying these distractions will make it easier to create stronger, effective communication habits.
A well-crafted, focused message requires key points to get your listeners to take action. Dumping data on listeners overwhelms them and causes them to tune out. Fewer things are harder to follow than a speaker who overshares. Communicating a message that focuses only on you, your objectives and your expectations is not likely to influence others, because it leaves them feeling overwhelmed and confused. Focusing your message on key points ensures that your listeners clearly hear you and understand what needs to be acted upon.
Tip: Identify listeners' needs ahead of time as well as what is the most critical piece, or pieces, of information for them to know to take action. At the start of the meeting, tell your listeners that you will be moving through the material quickly to honor their time. Then explain that you will ask questions throughout the session to ensure they are receiving the value they expect.
Once you see yourself as others see you, identify areas of opportunity and focus on practice and preparation, you will be certain your message will be heard and understood. Only then will you have the ability to communicate with influence, ensuring your listeners will act upon what you have to say.