Learning to verbally communicate effectively is a valuable tool that will build your confidence and credibility. The ability to appropriately balance a message, filter a message, and provide an impactful message is important to move a professional business forward. An effective communication style and approach will give the presenter confidence, and gain credibility with the audience.
What is “effective” communication? The term itself is vague, and therefore hard to define. I like to start with the basics. What is the message you want to send? Whether you are attempting to put two sentences together or a thirty-minute presentation, you must have a clear message with a strong beginning and a strong conclusion. The message you are attempting to convey should be emphasized and reiterated throughout the body of your presentation. The preparation in formulating your message is important, even in question and answer formats or impromptu situations. You should know your audience well enough to have some semblance of an idea of the types of questions or responses that may come up. For example, an executive summary doesn’t need the minute details of the inner workings of a process. This type of audience simply wants to be assured that the process will work as intended. You can give high-level examples where this is the case and have details available if questions are asked, or in the Appendix at the back of the written presentation.
Even if you have the jitters when communicating in front of a group, keep them under control and attempt to present confidently. I realize this is easy to say and harder to do. As you nurture your ability to control your nerves, that ability will improve over time. Keep trying, even if mistakes are made. The more public speaking you do, the more comfortable you will be. I have seen too many people in meeting settings who were experts in their fields not say anything because they were uncomfortable with their own oral communication skills. Not saying a word is communication—if you choose not to participate, you must take this into consideration. If a question is asked about any additional points or a discussion is required prior to a vote, for example, you can make a difference in the direction a business takes if you choose to stay out of the debate. Be confident enough to state your points. You do not have to own the situation; you need to just confidently speak up when necessary. Confidence comes with time and practice.
How often have you been distracted when a presenter communicates a message intertwined with filler words, such as “ah,” “um,” and “you know?” There are plenty of filler words out there. Many times, the speaker’s mind is working faster than he can get the words out as he thinks ahead to the next piece of the presentation. This is easier to fix than you think. Being conscious of your own behavior is half the battle. When you begin to understand how distracting or annoying it can be to the audience, you will slow down your thought process and formulate better-constructed sentences. You can have people around you provide feedback. This practice is critical in a Toastmasters meeting and has been a practical exercise to everyone who has ever had anyone count their filler words.
The ability to reduce filler words will increase your credibility with others. Although you may feel embarrassed at first, the respect you will gain from your audience for your improved communication will easily make up for it. You may remember the story of Caroline Kennedy when she expressed an interest in the U.S. Senate seat in New York. In a thirty-minute interview in December 2008, she had been reported to say “you know” well over one hundred times. The unpopular media responses hurt her credibility. It was not long after the media stories that she decided to drop out of the race. If it was not the direct link to her dropping out, was it at least a contributing factor?
The best-written speech is only as good as the person presenting it. Imagine the “Gettysburg Address” wrought with filler words: “Four score, ah, and um seven years ago, you know, our fathers brought forth, you know, upon this ah continent, um a new nation, you know conceived in um liberty, and, um, dedicated to the, you know, proposition that all men are created equal.” You get the point.
While I am discussing effective communication, I thought I would also share some of my favorite communication pet peeves. I’ll start with the use of the words “go” or “went” when the intended word was “say” or “said.” For example, “He went, ‘You should have…’” Another one is “to be honest with you.” It adds no value to the conversation and does not change the message. The phrase may even negatively impact your credibility since it provides the audience with a taste of something about to be said that needed emphasis on the so-called truth. The phrase is filler and should be avoided. I went years saying the word “supposebly.” Ask me to spell it out on paper and I would spell it correctly, “supposedly.” I knew how to say it but picked up on the habit of saying it like I had been hearing it from several people around me. Someone said to me once, “You realize the word is supposedly?” Yes, I did, but I had become oblivious to my own poor habits. Actively listen for it. It is still out there in the professional world being used daily.
Another unnecessary phrase is, “It is what it is.” What is “it”? What new nugget of hope or information is the audience given with the phrase? I find it is a way to end a conversation but adds very little value to the intended message. Remember, your conclusion is just as important as the introduction and body of your message. Do you really want to end a presentation or a conversation with, “It is what it is”? Finally, the recent integration of the words “right” and “really” at the end of sentences is becoming mainstream. For example, “You know what I’m saying, right?” Or a little increase in tone when someone ends with a sarcastic, “So that’s what happened? Really?” A keen ear, or in many cases, a not- so-keen ear, can easily pick up on these add-on words that add little to no value to the conversation.
Build your own confidence and credibility by starting with the basics. Keep the message clear and concise, and speak with confidence. Minimize filler words and nurture your ability to overcome your butterflies and your audience will gain respect and consequently promote your credibility. Your verbal communication will become a valuable tool with direct links to your success.
Thomas B. Dowd III’s books available in softcover, eBook, and audiobook (From Fear to Success only):
- Now What? The Ultimate Graduation Gift for Professional Success
- Time Management Manifesto: Expert Strategies to Create an Effective Work/Life Balance
- Displacement Day: When My Job was Looking for a Job…A Reference Guide to Finding Work
- The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas: Growing from a Cynic to a Professional in the Corporate World
- From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide received the Gold Medal at the 2013 Axiom Business Book Awards in Business Reference
- The Unofficial Guide to Fatherhood
See “Products” for details on www.transformationtom.com. Book, eBook, and audiobook (From Fear to Success only) purchase options are also available on Amazon- Please click the link to be re-directed: Amazon.com