FORBES: Managing the 5 Keys to Effective Communications
We all know a great communicator when we see one: those rare individuals with the ability to command a room and articulate a vision. Ronald Reagan had it. So did Winston Churchill. Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama have it. But what is it about these leaders that makes them so engaging and persuasive?
As an executive coach who teaches communication skills to CEOs and leaders across the globe, I’ve discovered that great communicators, when they are “on” and performing at the top of their game, share five common traits, which I call the five C's of influential communication. And while many leaders may possess two or three of these qualities, it is only the truly exceptional who possess all five.
To capture the attention of others and facilitate behavioral change, you must influence emotion to motivate action. This is something I learned in my years working as a professional actor, and it forms the bedrock of the communication skills training my company does with executives in over 40 countries. To influence an audience or listener, whether in a formal or informal setting, incorporate the five C's great leaders exhibit with their communication into your own communication toolbelt.
1. Be clear. 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. According to one study, 46% of people leave meetings without a clear understanding of what to do with the information discussed. Considering most managers attend between 2.8 and 3.4 meetings per day, this is a huge problem. Meetings are not about talking, they are about creating meeting assets: decisions, action items or consensuses that can move a company or initiative forward. Any message you deliver, whether in a presentation or on a conference call, should address the wants and needs of your audience by providing a clear benefit or establishing an action item.
2. Be concise. Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, one of the greatest speeches of all time, consisted of 272 words and lasted less than three minutes — a virtual master class in brevity. Today, the average manager spends 35-50% of their time in meetings. That is a lot, so don’t waste people’s time by being unprepared or rambling on once your point has been made. Whenever possible, say less. The longer you go on talking, the more likely you are to repeat yourself, contradict a previous point, or say something you regret. And just because your meeting is scheduled for an hour doesn’t mean you can’t end it early if all agenda items have been covered. Bottom line: Every moment of your meeting or presentation should resonate with impact and provide value to those in attendance.
3. Be confident. We instinctually look for executive presence in our leaders. We are drawn to people who are comfortable in their own skin. If you are not confident in the message you are delivering, why should anyone else be? A speaker who is visibly nervous can distract an audience or make them feel uncomfortable. Utilizing open, relaxed body language will project strength and steadiness to a boss, subordinate or client. Expansive, specific gestures will help you underscore your message and drive home important points, while eye contact that is consistent (but not constant) will allow you to connect with your audience to build trust and rapport.
4. Be credible. Credibility in communication correlates directly to another essential aspect of influence: trust. Trust is the currency by which you do business. If your client or employee does not find you credible, they won’t trust you, and it will be harder to influence them with your message. Before a meeting or presentation, do the necessary research to ensure that you are adequately prepared. Credibility for a communicator extends not only to what you say, but also how you say it. Vocal delivery matters. To maximize message impact, avoid verbal viruses ("uh"s and "um"s), hedging language (weak phrases such as “kind of” and “sort of”) and the use of “alternative facts.”
5. Be compelling. In order to motivate or persuade an audience, you must compel them to not only listen to you, but also do something as a result of hearing your message. Aristotle identified the Three Means 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 are still relevant today. As a leader, you can captivate and engage others by clearly demonstrating value and then fueling your delivery with passion and purpose.
Communication is not simply about your content and the words being spoken: It is about the objective you are pursuing and the intentions (one-word verbs such as motivate, reassure and excite) you activate to get your audience to react the way you want.
As you review the five C's, identify the ones you consider personal strengths, as well as those that could benefit from further development. Focus on progress, not perfection. The road to becoming a more influential communicator is a journey, not a destination, so sharpen your communication skills one C at a time.