A common question I get from coaching clients is “how do I become a more concise communicator?”
It’s no surprise because concise communication is more important now than ever before.
Consider these facts:
- The average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in the year 2000 to eight seconds today.
- Each day, the typical office worker receives 120 emails.
- Every time a person is distracted it takes over 23 minutes for them to regain focus.
Given these realities, it’s no wonder that studies rank good communication skills as twice as important as good managerial skills. That’s because, in this age of oversaturation, there’s little margin for error. In fact, 86% of employees blame lack of good communication for workplace failures.
People get impatient when they have to work mental overtime to grasp what you’re saying. Long-windedness can be perceived as indecisiveness and quickly cost you trust and respect as a leader.
Concise communication is clearly an essential part of executive presence and projecting confidence, but it’s also something Sensitive Strivers frequently struggle with.
Why Sensitive Strivers Struggle with Concise Communication
You may think that you’re being thorough, but all you’re really doing is losing the other person’s attention. Instead of making your point clear, you end up clouding it by overexplaining. Many Sensitive Strivers inadvertently overcompensate for their insecurities by saying more, especially in situations where they feel intimidated.
You think everyone is like you.
You may like to process information deeply, but you’re in the minority (only about 15-20% of the population is sensitive). Trust me, I get it. I’m a high-input person, which means I need to take in tons of data points before making a decision. But other people, especially senior executives, don’t operate that way. They get easily overwhelmed by too much information and would prefer you to be direct and to the point.
You’re trying to be someone you’re not.
Clients tell me that they “need a bigger personality” in order to exude executive presence. No, you don’t. If you try to be someone you’re not, others will sense it. Not only will you come off as inauthentic, but you’ll also exhaust yourself in the process. Better to find a way to communicate concisely in a manner that fits your personality and style.
9 Ways to Communicate Clearly and Effectively
1. PREPARE IN ADVANCE
Without preparation, you can’t be brief. Before any important meeting, take five minutes to review the agenda and other provided materials. Jot down notes for yourself. Organize your thoughts and earmark where you want to contribute.
If you’ll be speaking, go through the extra steps of creating talking points and anticipating objections and questions. I like to have my clients prepare a few “frequently asked questions” to have in their back pocket, just in case there’s silence at the end of their presentation.
2. PROVIDE A PRE-READ
If you have a lot of information to share, consider preparing a pre-read. This is a document that provides background information on a topic. It means you can give your audience needed context and then be briefer in your time together. A pre-read may be reports, slides, or detailed analytics.
3. Complete the sentence “If you walk away from this conversation with one thing, I want it to be ______.”
If you were forced to boil down your main idea to one sentence, what would it be? Use this as the subject line of your email or repeat the phrase verbatim when you speak. It’ll ensure you’re drawing your audience’s attention to the biggest takeaway you want them to remember.
4. Use the PREP framework
When you’re forced to speak impromptu, you can speak strongly and coherently using the PREP framework. Here’s how it works: Make a point succinctly, back it up with a reason, provide evidence, and end by reiterating your point. For example…
- Point: I believe we should take direction A
- Reason: We’ve received positive feedback about this approach
- Evidence: For instance, our president said he supports it
- Point: That’s why I believe direction A is best
5. Use bridging and flagging statements to highlight and punctuate your points
Flagging and bridging refer to two PR tactics that you can take into the boardroom. Flagging is like sticking a flag in the ground or waving one in the air to say, “pay attention – this is important!” Whereas bridging helps you make a transition from one idea to another. Bridging is especially useful when you want to change the subject or steer the conversation in a different direction.
Examples of flagging statements are:
- It all boils down to…
- The heart of the matter is…
- I can’t underscore enough…
Examples of bridging statements are:
- I cannot speak to ____, but what I can say is…
- While ____ is important, it’s also important to remember that…
- Before we leave this subject, I’d like to add…
6. Know your audience
Consider what concerns and objections are top of mind for the people you’re communicating with. What do they care about the most? What problems are they trying to solve? Most importantly, what’s in it for them if they listen to you? How will what you are sharing with them help save them time or make their job easier? Frame your message in terms of how it impacts your audience.
7. Ask questions
Oftentimes concise communication is about saying nothing at all. You need to listen first. Specifically, ask plenty of open-ended questions like:
- What do you make of what I’ve shared?
- What do you think is best?
- How does this look to you?
- What would you add or change?
- How do you feel about it?
- What’s your impression of X?
- How does this fit into your plans?
- What part is not yet clear?
- Can you say more?
- What is an example?
- What support do you need?
8. Edit your emails
A good rule of thumb: emails shouldn’t be more than five lines. If your email is longer than that, condense it down or make it a phone call.
Make sure your message is scannable. That means short paragraphs and sentences. Use bullet points and numbering to make the text easier to digest.
9. Eliminate fluff
Hedging language, such as “I just wanted to check in” or “Could we maybe find a time to chat?” minimize the power of your words.
With concise communication never more important than now, it’s important to first recognize why you’re struggling being concise. Then take these steps to communication clearly and effectively to be the respected leader you deserve to be.