#016 - Are you CLEARER or just LOUDER? What's the point of your message as a leader? Is it Clear, or is it Louder and Longer? Join your host, Dr. Charles Boyer, for some insights and tips on good, and clear communication.
Hello there! Welcome to Keys for New Leaders, a podcast just for YOU, the new leader. I’m so glad you’re here for this Episode #16, CLEARER or LOUDER. Well, there’s more to it than that, so keep listening! This is your host, Dr. Charles Boyer, and as you know, my friends call me Charlie, and that most certainly is YOU, my friend! It’s been so interesting and heartwarming to watch the number of downloads grow, and to see all the different cities where people are listening in. Thank you so much, my friends! I hope you enjoy this Episode, and that you will take time to think about your answers to the questions I’ll ask you toward the end of the podcast. So let’s get started!
What’s your message as a leader? Just what IS it you are trying to say to your colleagues, your co-workers, your employees? Is your message clear – or is it just louder and longer? Let me ask you: Have you noticed that when the TV program breaks for a commercial, the volume gets LOUDER? Does this get your attention in a good way – or do you, as I do, reach quickly for the “mute” button on the remote control?
I wonder how effective these commercials really are. Maybe they do work for some, but I, for one, turn these commercials off and tune them out as quickly as possible. The same goes for motormouth sports announcers who seem to be paid by the word. TMI – Too Much Information!
During high school years, I worked for a time as a grocery bagger. When we weren’t busy at the check-out counters, the store manager would ask us to do something else, such as re-stock shelves. But his instructions were always garbled. We used to call him “Mumbles” behind his back. He would say, “Charlie, would you go over there and mmmph, mmmph, mmmph?” Well, I did what I thought he said, only to have him ask me again, only louder, “Charlie, would you please MMMPH, MMMPH, MMMPH?” His message was LOUDER, but it sure wasn’t any clearer.
And also keep in mind that MORE isn’t BETTER. Do people want to hear or read more from you, or do you notice their eyes glazing over as they hit the mental “mute” button? I know, I know – you have LOTS you want to say to prove that you know all about it – whatever it is. An old piece of advice is still worth considering: People tend to avoid what they’re hit with. You need to avoid all the hype and communicate your leadership message as clearly and as briefly as possible. If you find yourself saying, “In other words…” you’ve missed the point of your message.
No, more certainly isn’t better. Think of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, only 272 words long, yet it has become a well-remembered and often repeated classic speech. Its message is clear, concise, and right to the point during a time when people seemed to favor length over content. On the same program for the Gettysburg cemetery dedication day was a two hour speech by a then-famous orator, Edward Everett. Does anyone remember or quote from Everett’s speech? Think about it.
Research has shown that people’s attention spans have become shorter these days. That’s no surprise in these times of instant communication, abbreviated text messages, advertising hype, and feeble attempts at multi-tasking. Studies have shown that people’s attention lags after about 18 minutes. That’s one reason I design these podcasts to last less than 20 minutes. One episode that ran over about 5 minutes was kindly criticized by several trusted friends as being a bit too wordy. Big lesson for me there! Get to the point and then get off it!
That doesn’t mean you are limited to an 18-minute presentation. If you need more time, then take it – but do something different to refresh your audience’s attention span. A sudden change in the format will get attention – a story, an illustration, a change of pace.
In preparing for this episode, I studied several books and articles about clarity and communication. No surprise here – all were remarkably similar in their advice to all of us. I’m going to summarize the main points for this episode, and I think the message will be very clear to all of us.
One of the first rules, if we can call these rules, is to Be Specific. Say exactly what you mean and say it as clearly and as briefly as you can. Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” It’s NOT dumbing down the content – it’s all about making it crystal clear to everyone.
I read an interesting article by Carly Fiorina about distilling a long essay down to ten pages, then to five, then to two pages. That exercise forced her to get down to the core of the materials, and to distill the meaning until it was as clear and concise as she could make it.
And, as a part of being specific, ask yourself, “What’s the point?” If you can’t state your point clearly, how will your audience know what the point is? There is also a traditional “Rule of Three” that will help you. Make only three main points in your presentation. People can grasp that. The problem with so many presentations, speeches, and sermons is that they ramble, include all sorts of asides, and the main points become lost somewhere in the verbiage. There’s an old joke about a Texas Longhorn speech. Now, just take a minute and picture in your mind one of those big Texas Longhorns. You know, a point here, a point there, and lots of Bull in the middle. Nuff said.
Next, remember the KISS principle (yes, that’s right: K-I-S-S). It stands for Keep it Short and Simple. Longer and Louder won’t do. If you tell a story to illustrate a point, make sure it’s a short story, not a dissertation, AND make sure it clearly illustrates the point you’re trying to make in the first place. If you use illustrations, keep them clear and simple. If you use PowerPoint, keep to the point with a simple chart or diagram. We’ve all sat through poor presentations where the presenter read the slides to us, word upon agonizing word.
Next, say what you have to say in clear, plain language that everyone understands. Stay away from the pompous words, the jargon, the slang, the latest buzzwords, or worse yet, the overused, hackneyed buzzwords. I once got an email from someone who wanted “… to be of service to your bottom line…” I didn’t know whether to laugh or be embarrassed! I still don’t know quite what was meant by that comment.
Of course, it’s always better to communicate face-to-face whenever possible. This past year, the pandemic has made in-person communication all but impossible. In person, you have the advantage of making eye contact, of using facial expressions, gestures and different voice tone and volume to help get the point across. Online conference calls have helped a lot, but some of that in-person quality is hard to manage electronically.
Make sure you are not sending mixed signals. Your illustrations should amplify your message, not undermine it. Think of all those drug commercials on TV. If you turn the sound down, all you see are smiling faces, happy people, and bright, sunny days. Now listen to the soundtrack, and you hear a whispery, secretive, low-volume voice telling you in great detail that this drug could cause blindness, idiocy, or Russian Root Rot, but ask your doctor if this is right for you. Which are you supposed to believe – the pictures or the soundtrack?
If you’re relying on written memos or email, be sure to think carefully how what you are writing may sound internally to the reader. So many times, words in print without the in-person expressions can be mis-read or mis-understood. It’s so important to read and re-read before you send anything in print. And especially, if you are sending a memo or email, make sure that your GPS is working. No, not the gadget in your car that gives directions. This GPS is your Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling. Yes, these are very important if you want your message to be received well. Poorly written communications tend to make you appear less credible to your readers. I once got what was supposed to be a compliment for a “succinct” report, but the spell-checker substituted the word “succulent” for “succinct.” Believe me, the report wasn’t that juicy!
It's also vitally important to focus on the people who are hearing or reading your words. What are they hearing or reading, and how are they likely to react? How engaged are they? Are they listening or are they politely waiting for you to finish? Are they getting your point? Don’t assume they get it with one explanation. One thing I learned very quickly as a new teacher is that one approach or one explanation doesn’t work for everyone. If you’re going to make your point, prepare to explain it in several different ways, and then watch for that magical “AHA!” moment when you know they got it! Ask questions, and listen carefully to the responses you get. You’ll find out very quickly if you’ve made your point – or missed the mark.
So, to sum it all up, what’s the secret to clear communication? It isn’t LOUDER, and it isn’t LONGER. There isn’t any secret – it’s all right in front of you: BE CLEAR. Know your point well and practice delivering it in as clear and concise a way as you can. Limit your presentation to three main points, or as few as possible to get your main point across, and focus on the people, those who are on the receiving end of your communication. All that sounds pretty easy – but it isn’t. It takes lots of practice and preparation, but it sure is worth all the extra effort! Good luck!
And now, here are those three questions that I invite you to think about and answer on your own. Nope, it’s not a test, and there are no right or wrong answers, only YOUR answers just for YOU.
1. When have you noticed an especially clear, concise message from someone? What was most clear about it?
2. What is one way you can make clearer your message to others?
3. What is the most important point you are taking away from this podcast?
And that special key for this episode is: The Key of C for Clarity. Make your message as clear as possible. Clarity will also improve your Credibility and give you more Confidence in your Communications.
In the next episode, we’ll talk about something you hear all the time if your TV is on at all: Breaking News. And I add a question to that: “Really?” Tune in! We’ll have fun with this topic.
Thanks for joining me for this episode. I look forward to our next meeting. Until then, stay safe and well, my friend.