Monday, May 6, 2013

Three questions to ask to get your point across

While creativity is a skill CEOs feel is critical to workplace success, the ability to communicate effectively is another. Communication - particularly how you get your message across to another or to others - is an art as well as a skill. Before you share your message, ask yourself these questions to do so appropriately and to maximize others' understanding of it.

What language does my audience use? By this question I don't mean "English," "Spanish," "French," etc. but what are the key terms and concepts that your audience is familiar with that they will respond to. For example, if you are giving a presentation to a non-business audience, using terms like widgets, gross margin, net revenue, etc. will not only lose them, they will feel frustrated at being lost. Another example would be in a job interview: if you use a lot of acronyms from your old position, you are going to confuse and irritate your interviewers. Get into the head of those you will be conveying your message to and be sure that you are using words to which they relate.

What is a metaphor that best conveys my message? I love using metaphors to get my point across, as they can take complex topics or issues and make them more relatable and accessible. While you can risk becoming cliché with your metaphors, a well-placed simile can heighten your audiences' understanding of your subject. One time while working at a university I had to explain the difference between "campus cash" (campus currency that could be used anywhere on campus) and "dining dollars" (campus currency that could only be used in the dining halls). "Picture the university as the United States," I said. "Campus cash is like the U.S. dollar: it can be used anywhere. Now, think of the dining halls as amusement parks. Not only can you use the U.S. dollar at amusement parks, you can also purchase amusement park cash for special deals and bonuses, but it is only usable at the amusement park." A simple metaphor, but it helped my audience left understanding it perfectly.

What is the best medium for my message? This is a question that many of us frequently underestimate. In our digital age a message can be conveyed in many ways: over the phone, face-to-face, via email, and in some instances via social media. The advice I typically give is the more sensitive the message, the greater the need for person-to-person communication. Bad news is best delivered face-to-face, but so can good news when you want to specifically recognize individuals for their achievement. General information and announcements can be made via email and a message that you want to get out to the public can be made via social media. There are endless permutations to this, however, so use your best judgment and consult with a trusted colleague if you are unsure how to proceed.

Your point isn't to merely say what you need to say: it needs to be received, understood, and acknowledged. Ask yourself these questions to ensure that your point comes across.

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