How do I communicate with more impact?

We’re being asked to deliver our bite-sized workshop on communication skills quite a bit at the moment, and when I ask people why this is so, there are some consistent themes:

  • Using the wrong medium for the message
  • Rubbish writing, especially waffle
  • Lacking confidence and authority to back up what’s being said

So if you want your communication to have more impact, take these tips:

  1. Think before you default to your favourite medium

    About to hit ‘Reply All’? Stop and think. Email may not be the best medium for your message, and your message may not be essential reading for all those on the recipient list. What is it you want to achieve? Agreement? Approval? Help and support? Expert input? Debate?

    Clarify that first, then figure out what you need to say and how you will say it, and only when you’ve got these points covered can you choose the best medium for the message. A quick online chat or phone call may be miles better than yet another email.

  2. Edit, edit, edit

    Hello, my name is Dawn and I’m a waffler. But hey, I take each day as it comes and work at it. Recovery is a constant process, as is learning to edit. It’s amazing what can seem hugely important to us, but actually doesn’t move the conversation along one little bit.

    So again it’s a case of getting clear on what you want to achieve and filleting out anything – in your email, proposal, speech, presentation – that doesn’t serve this purpose.

  3. Write for work, not for uni

    Long ago and far away, if you went to university, you would have been encouraged to structure your essays thus: hypothesis (what I / ANO folks reckon), antithesis (what I’ve found that contradicts this point of view), synthesis (which bits work from all that). You had to build up to a point, gradually and with evidence along the way.

    Not at work you don’t. You need to get to the point. Because that may be all your readers can be bothered with. So start with your key point, and then support it. Yes, that’s totally upside-down to how you did it at uni. But you’re not at uni now.

  4. Format emails so they’re skim-friendly

    This includes having a clear subject line, preferably with a question, or actions and dates. These tend to focus the mind. ‘Re:’ just doesn’t cut it. Then get to your point (see 3). What needs to happen? By when? Why?

    Use your email system’s formatting tools to improve the chances your recipients will navigate through the whole thing (rather than giving up on it). Have headers to separate key points. Keep sentences short. Bullets and numbers are good.

  5. Borrow authority

    If you’re being told that you don’t have the experience / seniority / knowledge / chops to comment on something, you can always borrow from others until you acquire it yourself. Quotations can be good in presentations – ensure they’re relevant (not just your favourites) and pithy. Better still, cite relevant studies and publications – this will show you’re up to speed. Rather than presenting your new find as ‘the answer’, you’ll gain more points for putting it out there and then asking others what they think. Listen well to their views, to learn what works and what doesn’t with your colleagues.

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