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Influential Communication

Ben Dekker says there are five white lies of communicating. If you have been a public speaker on more than a half dozen occasions, you have probably told yourself at least one of them.

  1. If I say the words, they will get it.

  2. When I am on, I am great (if I feel excited or passionate).

  3. I don’t need to prep, I can wing it.

  4. People tell me I am pretty good at speaking.

  5. It’s just not the way we do things here.

But none of us want to be mediocre communicators. We want to be influential; we want to be able to shape the future and engage listeners with our words. How do we do that?We all know great communicators when we see them. It is clear they are able to command the attention of everyone in the room, maintain the focus, and cast a compelling vision. They command and receive respect. They persuade and move forward. President Ronald Reagan was one of these communicators. Oprah Winfrey is. Billy Graham was. Winston Churchill had that ability. What makes communicators of this caliber? What sets them apart from others?Riley Mills, an executive coach who teaches communications skills to high capacity and high profile leaders, says that great communicators model certain behaviors effectively and consistently. He lists fivebehaviorsand says that while many speakers demonstrate a couple of these, only truly exceptional communicators master all five.He says those five characteristics are be clear, be concise, be confident, be credible, be compelling. It’s absolutely vital to capture and influence the emotions of your audience in order to make behavioral change happen. These five behaviors are direct avenues to the hearts of your audience.Clarity. A lack of clarity will sabotage your message every time. The audience will be confused, and the end result will be disappointing. Clarity is essential for understanding. If your message is unclear, you will confuse your audience and will not get what you want. This happens all the time in meetings. A Wrike Study of Meetings in the Workplace found that fifty percent of respondents attend two to five meetings per week. When asked if they leave a meeting with a clear understanding of the next action item, 46% of participants answered with "some of the time," "rarely," or "never.” This is naturally a big problem because after a meeting the participants are expected to be ready to move the organization forward. Any message a communicator delivers should clearly provide an action item or direction. Clarity improves everyone’s performance and attitude.Conciseness. Less is always more in communicating. Don’t waste people’s time by being repetitive, too long, unprepared, or making your point several times. Abraham Lincoln set oratory history with his masterful Gettysburg Address. Known as one of the greatest speeches of all time, it lasted only 3 minutes, and was only 272 words. Today, the average manager spends 35-50% of their time meeting with people. That’s a tremendous amount of time, and needs to be stewarded well. The more you talk, the more likely you are to weaken your point, contradict yourself, or say something you regret. You can raise everyone’s morale by keeping a meeting shorter than anticipated. Clarity and brevity go together well.Confidence. Everyone has the same instinct desire. We look for executive presence in our leaders. We are attracted to people who are comfortable with who they are without being cocky. If you do not feel secure in the message you are communicating, why should anyone believe you. Nervousness in a presenter is distracting and unsettling for an audience. When you are confident and display that through your relaxed and expressive body language, you project strength and stability. Pleasant, specific gestures drive home significant points. Eye contact that is consistent to the entire room of listeners builds connection and trust.Credibility. Credibility is directly tied to trust. There is no significant positive influence without trust. Trust is emotional cash for business. Always make sure you do the homework to make sure you are informed and well-prepared. Be sure you don’t have any “fake news” or “alternative facts.” It’s not just the right information, however, it also matters how you say it. Try to delete the “uhs” and “ums” (they make you appear to be searching), weak language (“kind of,” “sorta,” “it’s just my opinion, but”). Be prepared.Compelling Action. Your audience must be persuaded by you. Motivating speakers not only convince people to listen, but to DO SOMETHING as a result of hearing your message. Riley references Aristotle, who identified threemeans of persuasion needed for a speaker to influence an audience: ethos (appearing sincere and honest), logos (being believable and credible), and pathos (displaying passion and emotion). These still matter. They are present in the effective communicators we mentioned.Communication is not simply about your content and the words being spoken, it is about the objective you are pursuing and the ability to get your audience to react and respond in the desired way.The bottom line: To be a great leader, you must be an above average and inspiring communicator. To be inspiring, you have to learn how to be a better listener, understand what is in the hearts and minds of the people in your audience, and speak with passion and authenticity. You can “murder the King’s English,” but if people saw you speaking to the things you truly believe and felt that you truly understood them and respected their views, you are likely to make the vital connection that would attract them to your vision. Use stories to help you communicate a clear picture.Keep working at it. Focus on progress, not perfection. Becoming an influential communicator is a journey, not a destination.

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