Can You Hear Me Now?
The Power of Communication: Part II
“Can you hear me now?” That catchy tagline from Verizon wireless commercials years ago often comes to mind when I think about communication. The ability to effectively communicate a key component relative to how leaders are perceived. It’s an impactful way to build trust and credibility with others and it represents the heart of executive presence.
From the minute you wake up until the minute you go to bed, you are sending messages to those around you. Those messages might be about your ability to get the job done, how easy you are to work with, the way you lead in a crisis, your approach to challenging situations, your decision-making skills, among many others.
Whether we like it or not, people are always forming perceptions and making judgements about us based solely on the way we communicate. You’ve heard the saying “you never get a second chance to make a first impression,” right? Here’s why that phrase so powerful: As soon as we begin interacting with people – often as soon as seven seconds [gaping mouth emoji] – they begin making judgements about you. How you introduce yourself, what you wear, your body language and even the tone of your voice all impact what people think about you. They’re all critical components of communication and it’s important, as leaders, that we get them right!
Communication is broken down into three primary components: vocal, verbal, and non-verbal. While that list seems fairly straight forward, the weight your audience places on each factor may surprise you.
It’s amazing that the most important piece we focus on, the actual words we say, accounts for only 7% of communication! While that may come as a shock, when we break down each component, it makes perfect sense. Let’s take a look…
As a coach, I consistently push clients to start with what they want or need to say – the words. There’s a process I rely on to help make the impact I’m aiming for through my communication. It starts with mapping out exactly the point or points you want to get across and it works well for one-on-one conversation, team meetings, and large format presentations.
First, ask yourself what is the situation and who is the audience? Are you facilitating a meeting with senior staff? Presenting to your Council or Board? Engaging a new service provider?
Next, think through what your desired outcome is – what your goals are. Do you need approval for a budget? Consensus on a new development project? Public awareness on a new community initiative?
Finally, write down your entire message; this will include your script, speaker notes, and presentation materials – in that order. This step may take several iterations, but it’s an important step toward clarifying your thoughts and organizing them in a way that’s appropriate for the situation, meets the specific needs or limitations of your audience, and paves the way toward your desired outcome.
Next up is to practice…not just in your head, but out loud! Once you’ve written your message, it’s time to focus on your tone. It’s so important to align your tone with your words because, as I mentioned earlier, your audience will place more weight on how you speak than what you actually say. The positive side is the right tone of voice will demonstrate confidence, leadership, and knowledge. I will also instill trust among audience members. Conversely, the wrong tone can send a message to others that you are nervous, frustrated, or unprepared…and those perceptions can quickly erode audience trust.
While you practice, be sure to hear the words you’re saying. Listen to your flow, speed, and pitch. Try to identify any areas where you stumble or where your message may lack clarity or begins to ramble.
Consider the following:
- How fast are you speaking?
- Do you sound clear and even?
- How long does it take to reach your key points?
- Are there areas where your knowledge isn’t deep enough to instill confidence?
- Are there areas where you get “lost in the weeds?”
Even for the most seasoned speakers, these rehearsals – in front of a mirror or with a friend or colleague – are vital to helping ensure you’ve crafted a message that’s well conceived, sequentially organized, and authentic to who you are as a professional.
The world of non-verbal communication is vast, and as I mentioned earlier, it is also the single most important slice of the communication pie. Essentially, non-verbals reveal a great deal about you without a single word. It’s body language, and if you want your communication to be effective, make sure to take the time to pay attention to yours.
Non-verbals consist of things like posture, appearance and attire, eye contact, gestures, breathing and body movement, just to name a few. But rather than reel off a laundry list of items to think about, I ask my clients to self-reflect with questions like:
- How do you enter a room? Are you looking down at your phone? Shoulders hunched? Racing to your seat? Do you greet people with a smile and intentional eye contact? How are you dressed relative to others in the room?
- How do you participate in meetings? Are you looking at whomever is speaking? Looking down at your phone or laptop? Do you take notes? Do you sit back from the table with your arms crossed or do you lean in with your hands or elbows on the table? Is your body still? Do you fidget?
- How do you engage with your audience while speaking? Are you looking directly at them? Staring down or hunched over your notes? Are your hands in your pockets? Do you use gestures?
Try this exercise in a variety of different settings and jot down both the things you do well and the areas where you can improve. Once you do it a few times, you’ll find yourself becoming more mindful about your non-verbal presence. It works!
Pulling all three components of effective communication together takes time and intentional practice, but definitely worth the effort. Here’s why: When communicating with others, the receiver of that information will only retain about 20% of what you say, but they’ll remember 100% of their perception of you in the moment. Focus accordingly.
To your growth, development, and amazing potential,
Leadership Consultant with Through-The-Hayes