5 Strategies to Enhance Communication
In the June Leadership Matters column, I shared the implications of recent brain research on how people communicate in different styles. You will be a more effective speaker and leader if you can recognize and adapt to the style and preferences of social, contextual, linguistic, visual and cerebral communicators.
There is a good chance that most or all of these communication types will be represented in group interactions you have with your executive team, board, staff and members. To truly connect, you must speak to each of these five types. When you are delivering a presentation, working with a team, or facilitating a group discussion, here are five strategies for more effective communications.
1. Build Social Connections
From door-to-door sales to TV and online advertising, a common tactic is to suggest that people should purchase a product because their neighbors or other people they admire have done so. This tactic plays to a variety of motivations—to keep up with the neighbors or to emulate admired celebrities, for example. This phenomenon works on a local level as well. I know of a small business that asked a local TV news anchor for a testimonial. Business skyrocketed as a result of that ad campaign, because people knew and respected the spokesperson.
These same motivations can be useful in business communications by identifying and tapping into the social peers of your audience. If you are planning a presentation to members, for example, recognizing other members and staff likely to be familiar to your listeners can be an effective path to build connections. In staff events announcing new initiatives, gain and promote buy-in from well-liked managers and employees to increase acceptance by others.
2. Be Direct and to the Point
Make your message as clear and simple as possible—and don’t bury the lead. A common mistake speakers make is waiting until the end of a presentation to reveal their main message. A more effective approach is to begin and end with key points. Take the example of a credit union CEO making a YouTube video for an intended audience of prospective members. A powerful opener might be, “In the next two minutes, I will tell you how credit unions differ from banks—and why that matters to you and your money.” Or, a credit union leader might launch a staff presentation like this: “I know some of you are reluctant to embrace our new sales culture. Today, I will share five reasons why sales is the highest form of member service.” People are compelled by different motivations, but many people want to know “What’s in it for me?” Aim to answer that unspoken question.
3. Choose Your Language Carefully
This recommendation may seem obvious, but it is often overlooked. Many speakers fail to recognize how important word choice can be for some audience members. Not everyone can be as eloquent as Martin Luther King, Jr., but taking a few minutes to think about the words most likely to engage your audience can be time well spent. Consider the simple closing statement made by Men’s Wearhouse founder George Zimmer in ads for that chain: “You’re gonna like the way you look. I guarantee it.” This phrase became Zimmer’s signature mark by capturing what his customers wanted and how his business would deliver on their expectations.
4. Show and Tell Visual Stories
Anytime you are speaking about complex ideas, using statistics and data, or talking about places, it will be helpful to your audience to include some visuals in your presentation. But that’s not all you should do. Depending on your topic and audience, consider blending facts with emotional appeals. A great way to do this is to tell stories. Almost every presentation you give should begin with a strong, powerful story. Tie it into the topic, the audience and the occasion. Revisit the power of your language, and make sure your stories are visual and excite the senses in the mind’s eye of your audience. Think of stories as the emotional connection of your facts. TV commercials that air during the Super Bowl provide a wealth of examples of how storytelling makes a message more powerful and memorable.
5. Make People Think
There is a tendency in presentations to want to give as much information as possible and not let the audience try to figure anything out on their own. This is a mistake. Offer facts and then invite the audience to apply that information to their own lives. One way to do this is with a rhetorical question. Don’t tell employees that a new member relationship management system will make their member interactions more personal and effective. Ask them, “How helpful would it be if you had instant access to information about the last five interactions the member you are serving had with the credit union? If you could see that they were checking out auto loan rates online last week? If you knew they mentioned in their last conversation with a call center rep that they are starting to house-hunt?” Give them some time to think about those questions. You will see employees look upward for a moment as they consider all the ways that information could help them provide more personalized member service.
Some of these strategies may resonate with you more than others, but remember that your audience may be more engaged by those you tend to discount. If you want to connect with everyone, you have to communicate in a way that reflects their preferences for interacting. The more you can do that, the more effective, persuasive, influential and collaborative you will be—not just in your credit union but with family and friends as well. Whether you are speaking to one person or 1,000, consider that each is listening through the filter of a unique brain that guides their communication type.
Jeremy Teitelbaum offers individual and group training to help professionals speak more effectively, feel confident, and persuade and lead others. He is the author of the forthcoming book Speak From the Brain: The Cognitive Science of Communication and Connection, which includes an online assessment to determine your communication type. He is on the faculty of California Polytechnic State University and has been teaching, training, researching and consulting in communication for 20 years.