Have you ever had someone come behind you and repeat an idea you just stated, but no one picked up on, or it was rejected outright? Yet when it came out of his mouth, everyone praised him. Some of that may have to do with the manner in which the idea was presented, or the credibility the person has built over time by delivering on commitments and speaking with authority.
Good speaking skills aren’t just for the podium. The way we communicate, moment-to-moment, influences how people perceive us. Will they take us seriously or instantly discount the valuable information we have to impart? No matter how strong of an argument you have, if delivered without confidence and language that is succinct and clear, your great argument will likely fall flat.
We pick up language patterns from the people we live and work with. Even the region we’re from can adversely affect the way we communicate. As a result, speaking habits that lessen our credibility are hardly noticeable to our own ear. Colloquialisms, clichés and phrases we unconsciously use can get in the way of being heard. More importantly, they can diminish the power of our message. And it doesn’t stop there. How we feel about ourselves at any given moment is also a factor in how effectively we make our case.
Here are six tips that will help you become a more persuasive communicator.
Know your audience. Some people respond best to numbers and statistics. Some respond better when the big picture is clearly described. Still, others respond most favorably to a story or image that makes a compelling case about the outcome or end-goal. Most often, you have to get your message across to different types of thinkers at the same time. Get comfortable with adjusting your style and approach so that your message hits home no matter with whom you’re speaking.
Take time to prepare. Figure out what it will take to convince listeners that your solution is worth trying. Often times, the person you need to persuade has revealed their priorities to you – formally or informally. Lay out your argument in a way that demonstrates you’re helping them reach their goals. If you’re called on in a meeting and you’re not a fast-on-your-feet thinker (few of us are), restate your understanding based on what you’ve just heard and ask for permission to gather more information or think more about the topic. Then schedule a time to follow up with your well-thought-out argument. But don’t wait too long.
Embrace brevity. Get right to the point. Don’t over explain, share the details of your analysis, recount history or ramble on about why you’re about to say something. Be succinct and focused. Also, avoid filler words. The word “like” for instance. It’s common to hear people use it even though it doesn’t add any meaning to their message. “Like” is similar to “umm” in that it fills in the silences we’ve come to fear. The same goes for starting sentences with, “basically,” “quite frankly” or “honestly.” In the same vane, don’t overuse words like “really,” or “extremely.”
Stop fearing rejection. When we fear that what we are about to say will be rejected or discounted, we distance ourselves from our own words. We prequalify our statements with, “This may not be important, but…” or “This is just my opinion, but…” While these phrases fill silences, buy time and can soften the message, they also give the listener permission to not take you seriously. If you don’t commit to what you’re saying, neither will anyone else.
Avoid long words when simple ones will do. This rule applies when you’re speaking and writing. Simple words ensure that everyone can understand your message without tuning you out to search for the meaning of that graduate school level word you just uttered. Speakers often use long, multi-syllabic words because they believe it makes them sound smarter. Instead, it can drive a wedge between you and your listeners. Keep in mind that newscasters speak at an eighth grade level. They rarely use words that send you running to the dictionary, yet they’re considered to be eloquent, intelligent and authoritative speakers.
Listen for unnecessary words and phrases that you use unconsciously. Record yourself and listen to how many times you say “like,” “umm” or similar words. Once you start paying attention to your go-to speech patterns, you’ll be able to curb and modify old habits that don’t serve you well, and adopt new patterns that enable you to be a more effective, compelling speaker.