Six steps to effective communication

What could possibly be more important than the message you need to communicate? Everything. From presentations to job interviews, content is the last thing you should think about when communicating.

Poor communication confuses, possibly even damages your message. It wastes time and money, and harms your reputation, not just as a communicator.

Being heard loud and clear depends on getting really good answers, to six basic questions. Knowing the who, what, when, where, why and how of communication is essential.

Think of all the people and things fighting for your attention. Friends and family talk and text, pets wag their tails and meow, products come labelled with enticements or warnings, even flowers in a vase shout “look at me!”

Unfortunately for those flowers, they’re in the wrong place, talking to the wrong audience, in a language that’s not understood and in a context where their message has become irrelevant.

Don’t waste precious opportunities to communicate. Be heard, be clear, be compelling.

Why are you communicating and why should people care?

This is the single most important question and it needs very clear answers. Those answers will create solid a foundation for all of your efforts.

It may sound overly simplistic, but getting this wrong will compromise your success before you even begin to plan.
Start by telling your audience quickly and clearly why your message is important. Doing that is more important than the message itself, at least until you have their attention.

Hold their attention by satisfying their goals, wants, needs, requirements, objectives and expectations.

Do they need to pass an exam, decide how to allocate funding, choose which bits of your interview hit the cutting room floor?

Why are you communicating? Do you need to inform, engage, train, educate, inspire, motivate, challenge, convince, persuade, impress or sell something to your audience?

Who is involved?

Make sure the way you deliver your message is appropriate, personal and relevant.

Who else is involved besides you and your audience? Is there an organiser or a sponsor? What are their requirements?

Will you be communicating with colleagues, a funding body, the media? Who else? Will there be just one other person or a group? Will there be a mixture of ages, backgrounds and education levels?

What’s your relationship with the audience? Will they be receptive, sceptical, hostile? This is just a fraction of what you must know about your audience.

When will you be communicating?

How long do you have? Don’t cram in too much information and leave your audience overwhelmed and confused. Are you staying within appropriate time limits, stated or otherwise?

What time of the day will you be communicating? Will your audience be bright and attentive because it’s 9am or tired and distracted because it’s after 5pm?

What happens if your allocated time is cut down? Which parts of your presentation can you skip without losing your message?

Where will you be communicating?

Be familiar with the location, make the most of the space you have, work around limitations and be prepared for problems. Will everything work properly there? Who can help if there is a problem?

Will you have access to power, the internet, a projector, a screen? When presenting to a large group, will everyone be able to hear and see you? Will you need to dim the lights when using a projector? Where are the switches? Small things, but not getting them right will make you look unprofessional.

How are you going to communicate?

Deeply engaging and memorable communication draws the best of many different methods, styles and techniques. It should also stimulate each of the five senses as much as possible.

Often your options will be limited, so it’s even more important to make the most of the choices you do have. From a paragraph in a newsletter to the chance meeting of an important contact, make it count.

Don’t fall into the style over substance trap, sometimes simple is best. By using your options really well, simple can become extraordinary.

Don’t just make a speech, add something more, include a display, do a demonstration, involve the audience.

Explain concepts creatively with analogies, timelines, contrasts and comparisons, personal anecdotes, or try some storytelling techniques.

Use tools, equipment wisely. Do you need a computer, projector, remote, microphone, handouts and samples or props for exhibition or demonstrations?

Make the most of your grooming, general appearance and especially body language to enrich and reinforce your message.

What are you going to communicate?

The message is the last to consider because it’s the only part of the communication equation that won’t change. Facts are facts, your story is what it is. Answering the first five questions well will create a solid framework for your message.

If you know your material well, and you obviously must, that framework will get you a long way towards successful communication.

These six seemingly simple questions will help make all your communication become professional, tailored, targeted, clear, concise, compelling most importantly memorable.

About the author
Sally Howes has worked as a journalist and an editor and is passionate about helping experts from all fields communicate more effectively. Sally will elaborate on these six steps to effective communication in a series of articles for Inspiring Australia (NSW) over the coming months.