Great communication is a real business asset. Here are some ways to raise your game in the coming year.
1) Keep your “I”s down
Here’s an exercise. Take any form of communication you have delivered. It could be a speech or an article. Go through it and count all the times you use the word “I”. Then count how many times you use the word “you”. If the former exceeds the latter, you are talking about yourself too much. In fact, the “you” count should be much higher, since communication is all about your audience, and what they are interested in.
2) Tell your story
Use stories that have happened to you, not stories involving others. If you keep a lookout, there will be plenty of incidents you can use to make your point. It’s easier to remember your stories, and they will not have been heard before. Never, ever use a story from someone else and pretend that it happened to you. Remember to tell your story, emphasise the point, and then give a practical example your audience can use.
3) Be original
People are fascinated by originality. Your ideas are unique to you, and though they may have been influenced by others, will be yours alone. That’s what people want to hear - your take on the world. There are no bonus points for plagiarism.
4) Be controversial
Make yourself stand out by going against conventional wisdom, or delivering a rarely-heard point of view. If you agree with everyone else, why communicate at all? There’s no need to be critical of others, but giving solid reasons why you take another view is good copy.
5) Give advice, not instruction
Pay respect to your audience by giving them suggestions about how they might change, not ordering them to do so. If you tell people they must act in a certain way, a likely reaction is that they will decide not to. Of course, you don’t have to take this advice...
6) Provide evidence
Always back up your ideas with evidence, and make sure that you quote the source of the information so that it can be verified. If you can’t find any evidence, you can either fall back on the old phrase “in my long experience” or drop the idea. I’d advise the latter.
7) Get out of the elevator
The “elevator pitch”, a short speech about what you do, used to be a fashionable way of opening a dialogue at a networking event. However, talking to people for up to two minutes without a break is hardly a way to encourage people to warm to you. Instead, try offering a simple, intriguing phrase to start a conversation.
8) Show you care
People love to see passion in communication, If you care about something, share your passion and people will respond. Even if they don’t initially agree with you, they will appreciate your feelings about the subject, and may even be persuaded.
9) Drop the cliché
Using phrases like “It’s not rocket science” or “change is the only constant” won’t have as much impact as normal speech. Alas, some people find it impossible to speak without using a cliché. You should avoid those people like the plague.
10) One message at a time
I know, there are eleven messages here, but it’s a tip sheet, not a speech. SInce your audience will recall only one thing, it makes sense to concentrate on your key message throughout, and repeat it at the end too.
11) Only say it if you really mean it
Authenticity is essential to good communication. If you lack conviction, or worse still, don't believe what you are saying, it will be obvious. Stick to content that you are confident about.
Bonus rule (12) Occasionally, try breaking the rules, as I have done in several instances above...
Good luck in 2011.