With attention spans getting shorter and shorter, every word matters — effective communication has never been more important. At the same time, online communication has exploded and created a range of new communication challenges, such as cutting out the nonverbal cues that help us gauge interest and build rapport.
As a legal counsel, author, and speaker, I make my living as a professional communicator. And after years of talking with sales execs every day, supporting deals, and advocating for gender equity in the workplace, I have come to realize that there is no one ‘best’ communication style. However, thinking about these 6 factors has helped me refine my own communication style and deliver the results I need — inside and outside of the office.
1. Understand yourself.
Understanding who you are and what your natural tendencies are is the first step to being an effective and genuine communicator. Do you tend to be chatty, or do you like to listen? Are you assertive? Are you direct? Are you comfortable with ambiguity, uncertainty, and risk? Do you choose your words carefully, or are you more blunt? Do you tend to unintentionally offend or miscommunicate with others? Do you tend to overreact, or do you tend to stay calm and collected? Another part of understanding yourself is to be clear about your values and goals, both in general and in the context of each interaction. When you are clear on why you’re communicating, your genuine self will shine through and add credibility and vigor to your communication. Being “real” really does make you more effective.
2. Understand your audience.
As important as it is to understand yourself, it is also important to understand your audience and their natural tendencies, motivations, goals, challenges, and opportunities. Does your audience want to be heard, enlightened, or get things done? How much time does your audience have? Is your audience patient and forgiving? Are you interacting with a competitor, collaborator, or a superior? What pains and opportunities — real or imaginary — does your audience perceive? Is there a third party that is not present whose interest must be addressed to help you communicate more effectively? Another part of understanding your audience is to be clear about their values and goals. For example, is your audience focused on maximizing profits, or are they more concerned about social good?
3. Listen to and engage earnestly with your audience.
Listening is clearly an important part of communication — conversations are a two-way street. But just listening isn’t enough. It’s critical that people you communicate with feel heard and understood. Some strategies that help make people feel heard include making eye contact, nodding, appropriate and timely responses, and asking questions — especially when those questions help you gain a better sense of your their values and goals. Asking relevant questions also helps to build rapport and trust. Don’t forget about the power of subtle, nonverbal cues; body language and expression often convey as much as what you say.
Simple, concise messages that can be delivered quickly and powerfully usually have the highest impact, especially when you address an audience that is overworked or overwhelmed with information. And these days, who isn’t overworked or overwhelmed with information? Learning to distill complex topics into something digestible is critical, because that can often make the difference between getting what you want and not. Cut out the technical jargon and business speak, reduce complexity, and cut right to the chase by saying exactly what you mean in as few words as possible. Also consider using graphics, stories, and analogies to drive your point home in a powerful, memorable way.
5. Find a perfect time.
A good idea is only good if it’s delivered at the right time. As an effective communicator, you need to be on the lookout for the window of opportunity that will allow you to be the most effective. For example, offering a solution, product, or service just when your audience is looking for one is a perfect time to deliver your message. In fact, addressing the needs of others in a timely way is the most effective (though not necessarily the easiest) way to get a desired outcome and be an effective communicator.
6. Use technology to become a more effective communicator online.
Sometimes, having the right skills isn’t enough to communicate effectively — and this is especially true online. Today, more and more communication is done over email. Even if people are responsive to emails, it’s difficult to gauge their needs, identify the perfect time, and create a personal connection. ClearSlide fills this gap, and that’s part of what drew me to work here. Engagement data gives you a way to ‘listen’ to customers to find out what’s working and what isn’t. And based on what you learn, you can tailor your messaging and content to what buyers are interested in — helping you build rapport and trust, and moving the conversation forward. As you hone your communication skills, consider how the right technology tools — such as Sales Engagement Platforms — can fill the gap and help you apply these principles to online communication.