I spent a day recently working with a team of people who belong to a part of the government that I can’t mention. But aside from talking about hamsters and flying cars instead of the real work they were doing, so that they didn’t have to kill me at the end of the day, the training focused on body language and storytelling as it usually does. And the concerns and struggles of this great team of people were the same as any civilian group or business team would be: how to express yourself with clarity, authenticity, and persuasiveness.
We all want to be able to communicate effectively, and the difficulties that arise when we try are pretty much the same whether you’re in the cremation business, or office supplies, or health care, or national security. Five issues repeatedly come up, and with such regularity that I would suggest that if you can conquer these issues in your own communications, you’re well on the way to becoming a master of the universe. Or at least a clearly communicating one.
First, our initial instinct is always to argue our case from our own point of view, but the better argument is almost always from the audience’s (or someone else’s) point of view. One of the participants told a great story about overcoming the disapproval of an adult in his life, persevering, and finally becoming an expert at a sport he loved. (I’ve had to disguise details of some of the examples in this post.) At the moment that he was about to give up, his mother encouraged him to keep going, because she had been a trailblazer in a male-dominated field herself. Our storyteller revealed this detail incidentally in the middle of the tale.
I pointed out that the story would be immeasurably strengthened if he changed its focus, began with his mother’s trailblazing, so that her support would make dramatic sense instead of coming as a surprise half-way through.
It’s a simple point, but illustrative of the challenge we all face: we begin from our own point of view and struggle to get above our own concerns. The story almost always gets better when we do.
Second, even though we know we should tell stories to hold our audience’s attention, because we experience life as a series of events (first this happened, then that happened), our attempts at narration usually take the form of lists and information dumps. It’s hard to impose a story structure on what we want to say. Hard, but essential. We can’t expect everyone else to do the structuring for us. That’s our job. Almost all first attempts at stories have either too much or too little information, and they lack structure.
Third, even the confident speakers are initially closed and defensive in their body language. Speaking in front of a group, in any way more formal than a quick, casual one-on-one conversation, puts people on the spot, and the result is that they get defensive. It takes a lot of training – and video – to persuade people to open up. I’ve worked with actors and musicians, and even they do the same thing until shown otherwise. If you want to take a huge jump on everyone else, in other words, force yourself to be open.
Fourth, training yourself to avoid filler words (“like,” “you know,” “actually,” “really,” “ums” and using “and” as the connector for every sentence you utter), will immediately increase your reputation as a polished performer. Trust me, it’s not that hard! It simply takes attention, and a few weeks of practice listening to yourself and mentally adding the periods at the ends of your sentences. Just do it. Please. If we all clean this verbal litter up, the world will immediately become a better place with no shots fired.
Fifth, the pause is the greatest secret weapon a speaker has. It’s universal: everyone getting communications training believes that they have to fill all the seconds they’re up in front of the others with sound. Don’t do this! Take your time. Put pauses in your speeches. Watch how the audience is reacting. Breathe. React to the reactions. Breathe again. You’ll immediately increase your authority and charisma tenfold if you do.
There’s lots more to effective communicating, of course, but follow these five tips to get yourself off to a great start.
This article was written by Nick Morgan from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.