You’re pitching a new idea to your company’s executives. You’ve got 30 minutes to make your case.
You’ve been asked to give the keynote address at your company’s national sales conference.
You’ve been elected president of your local service club and will lead their next meeting.
In each of these scenarios you have the ability to influence an outcome. That’s leadership. Whether it’s on stage addressing 12,000 employees at your annual company meeting or at a table with the 12 members of your Rotary club, your ability to lead and influence others depends on your ability to communicate effectively.
VITAL Communication is a set of principles to help you bring your business communication to life. It’s an approach to making the abstract concrete, the vague clear and the complex simple. It’s a means to help you communicate ideas so they resonate with your audience and compel them to action.
We believe in the power of VITAL Communication — so much that we created a workshop, so others can learn it. Our method employs five basic principles for dynamic, more compelling communication.
Make It Visual
You should design business communication to get results, and the fastest and most effective way to do that is to incorporate a visual element. Various sources cite research about the learning and information we absorb through each sense. The distribution decidedly favors the visual; we take in about 80% through seeing, 10% through hearing and 2–3% each for taste, touch and smell.
Images — either actual graphics or images created with concrete, descriptive words — have enormous persuasive power. Strong images prompt emotional reactions, which have the power to move listeners and inspire action. Think about how advertisers appeal to our emotions through visual imagery. They’ve been pretty successful!
In addition to adding visuals to your slides, you can create powerful images with words. Using literary devices like metaphor, simile and personification helps your audience “see” what you mean. When presenters make their communication visual, abstract ideas become concrete and tangible for the listener.
Make It Interesting
Making a presentation interesting is all about capturing and sustaining audience attention. It’s about engagement and stimulating the audience’s thinking.
In today’s corporate environment, presenters have stiff competition from the sensory stimuli of voicemail, email and text messages. When was the last time you were in a meeting or workshop and no one had a phone out? Capturing and sustaining interest gets harder with each new technology.
So how can a presenter create and hold interest? Here are two powerful strategies:
Develop a strong opening. The best time to get an audience’s attention is right from the start. Beginning a presentation with an anecdote, a personal story or rhetorical question is a simple and time-tested way to engage an audience.
Break a pattern. When things happen the same way again and again, we develop a mental model for how they work. For example, we turn on light switches and light appears. We don’t think about how the light appears. Perhaps we did at one time but after hundreds of successive attempts with the same response, we create a mental shortcut — flip the switch…light goes on. Until it doesn’t. When that pattern is broken, when the light doesn’t come on, it gets our attention.
Speakers can create interest by deliberately breaking a pattern. Remember the first time you took a Southwest flight and the flight attendant made jokes during the safety briefing? I’ll bet it got your attention. Besides telling jokes (not too many!), you can vary your sentence length, or break the pattern with a very short sentence. Or you can get the audience to stand up as part of an exercise, or close their eyes to visualize something, or answer a question.
Make It Time Sensitive
Effective communicators adapt to the situation. In most business situations time is limited, which calls for the presenter to be concise.
The challenge with being concise (and coherent) is that it takes time and effort to condense a message to the essentials. Woodrow Wilson, 28th president of the United States, reportedly said, “If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.”
Three keys to developing time-sensitive communication are:
- Understand your audience. Just how much time are they willing to spend with you? What are their expectations?
- Identify the essence of your message. Finding the essence is like developing a headline for a news story. It captures the audience’s attention and identifies what the story is about.
- Stay focused. Ask yourself this question about every piece of information in the presentation: “Is this absolutely necessary to help the audience understand the message and take the appropriate action?” If not, drop it — period.
Make It Action Oriented
All persuasive communication inspires action, driving the audience to think, feel or act a certain way. Unfortunately, speakers often present good information that’s lost on the audience — because the speaker never tells the audience what they need to do.
To avoid this, develop a crisp and clear objective expressed in terms of VERBS, which are Very Effective for Real Behavior. You want the staff to approve your proposal. You want the team to support your idea. You want the committee to pay for the research.
Making your presentation action oriented keeps it moving toward your goal. It keeps your audience engaged, so they can determine how they should act on your request or recommendation. An action-oriented presentation generates questions, concerns, strategies and ideas. When the audience begins to voice these during your talk, it creates a level of interaction that leads to results.
Make It Logical
All business presentations need sound logic that provides listeners with reasons to agree with your position. Arguments — the language of logic — are comprised of two essentials:
- a premise – a known truth from which one can make an inference, and
- a conclusion – a claim supported and accepted as true on the basis of the premise.
Arguments don’t necessarily establish a matter of fact. Rather, they provide reasons to accept positions or decisions that cannot be made on facts alone.
For example, you might say, “Because sales have declined in the first quarter [your premise], we want to develop a new master visual aid for the sales force.” You should have figures to back up your premise (that sales have declined), and then use sound reasoning and evidence to gain audience acceptance of your conclusion (that a new master visual aid will increase sales.)
A well-reasoned and -researched presentation appeals to your listeners’ logic. As a result, they will be more likely to support the action necessary — in this case, to design and implement a new master visual aid.
Pitch the idea, give the keynote, lead the meeting. Make sure it’s VITAL by combining an action-oriented request with sound logic in a visually compelling, interesting and time-sensitive manner. Create VITAL Communication worthy of your audience’s consideration!