"Business communication sucks, but there is hope. It doesn’t have to be this way. And it can’t. Circumstances and our audience demand that it change. The need for great communication has never been more urgent."
Ben and Kelly Decker, authors of Communicate to Influence: How to Inspire Your Audience to Action, own Decker Communications, a global consultancy on business communication. They speak and train businesses and executives on how to communicate better and now share their expertise with us.
As they explain, in this age of information overload, we need to move communication from just words that inform to words that inspire. To do so you have to move from communication with low emotional content (which informs or directs) to communication with high emotional content (which entertains or inspires). On this same roadmap, which they draw out into four quadrants, you can also move from self-centered content (inform or entertain) to audience-centered content (direct or inspire).
The Big Idea
Inspiration Leads to Influence
"To create an ideal communication experience for the audience, we must be both intentional about our message (it must be audience-centered) and intentional about the way we communicate that message (with high emotional connection). This is the place from which we motivate, shift culture, change minds, and win supporters."
As per Ben and Kelly, the upper-right quadrant—inspire—is where we should be aiming most of our communication. And this requires both audience-centered content, making it about them and their point of view, and high emotional content. It is emotion that allows us to connect to our audience and that inspires them (pun intended) to trust what we have to say.
Since there are so many myths about good communication, they start off with some “reality checks”–
- Ditch the script and make sure your message is about you and comes through;
- Always be authentic—audiences want to see and hear the real you to determine if they can trust you;
- You’re always communicating so prepare for more than just the “big talks”;
- Good communication requires self-awareness, so get honest feedback (e.g., watch a video recording of your speech).
Inspire Trust with Consistency
"This means that when people listen to you speak, they are deciding whether or not to trust you, whether or not they like you, and whether or not they believe you. If there is congruence and agreement among the verbal, vocal, and visual content of your communication, your listeners will be more likely to trust you, like you, and believe what you say."
Ben and Kelly share with us “behaviors of trust,” techniques to help earn your audience’s trust:
- Make the connection with eye contact;
- Keep them tuned in with energy via appropriate—
a) Posture and movement;
b) Gestures and facial expressions;
c) Voice and vocal variety;
- Boost your credibility with effective pausing.
Further details on the above include how long to hold eye contact depending on how large your audience is, the recommended posture to take, and the many advantages of pausing.
You also have to take into account the power of visual. If the 3 V’s of communication (verbal, vocal, and visual) are not consistent, your audience will believe what they see and not what they hear. The power of the visual is so strong that your words will be totally forgotten if they’re in any way inconsistent with what your audience sees!
Connect Emotionally with SHARPs
"People crave emotional experiences. Logic makes us think, but a well-told story makes us feel—and emotions prompt us to action…. That’s how we inspire. To really cut to the emotional core of your listeners, you have to get to their memories."
SHARPs—a clever acronym for Stories, Humor, Analogies, References, and Pictures and visuals—is how to truly connect with your audience and to influence them to change or act. Although you don’t have to use all of them in one speech, any one of them will get beyond your audience’s information overload and distractions. As Ben and Kelly explain, SHARPs reach us on an emotional level, which engages our memories and helps your audience remember what you’ve said—instead of everything else vying for their attention.
Below are some tips on how to make the “S” part of SHARPs—the stories—most effective:
- Begin with the end in mind;
- Make them care;
- Make the audience work for its meal;
- Make it personal.
Regardless of our industry, title, or aspirations, we all communicate every day, several times a day. And even if we are not in the business of “selling,” we often have to influence others with our communication. Whether our audience is the boss we’d like to get a raise from, our peers that we’re trying to convince to support our latest business case, or our child whom we’d like to get to bed without a fight, it all requires effective and influential communication. Ben and Kelly give us a literal communication roadmap, tips and tricks, and plenty of their own SHARPs to help us inspire with our words.
The last part of their book lays out the Decker Grid, a system to help prepare for all common business communications. The four steps are–
- Cornerstones: focus your message.
- Create: brainstorm the supporting ideas.
- Cluster: organize your thoughts.
- Compose: edit your final message.
So next time you need to communicate with someone, take a breath and consider how you can make the message most relevant to your listener (audience-centered) and how you can connect with them via behaviors of trust, consistency, and SHARPs (high emotional content).
What was the last meeting or speech that you found inspiring? Can you now identify what the speaker did to make this so?