If you’re a beginner when it comes to communication skills, you probably look around at celebrities, superstars, and people in your industry and wonder how they are so composed, compelling, and confident. You think they are natural-born communicators, but let me tell you that everybody is scared and nervous when it comes to spoken communication, such as giving speeches, presentations, or interviews. I train the presidents of countries, leaders, and CEOs, and all of them confessed that they think they’re not very good speakers. They weren’t a natural communicator.
So, if you’re uncomfortable with the idea of giving a speech, that’s not because you are not a good communicator. The reason you’re uncomfortable is no one’s trained you on your communication skills. Sure, you may have had training on how to write. You can write an email, resume, or memo, but you haven’t been trained on the most important communication skills - spoken communication skills.
That’s what this article is all about. We’re going to get you to the point where you’re comfortable, confident, and relaxed when communicating with someone. You’ll learn how to get better at communication when it comes to giving presentations, interviews, speeches, or talking to the media.
When you’re a beginner trying to figure out how to communicate, one of the hardest things to do is to think, where do I even start? You might feel the temptation of running around your office or home workspace to gather more information, research, PowerPoint slides, etc. However, that shouldn’t be your first step.
Any time you’re trying to communicate, whether it’s communicating in a job interview, a presentation to five staff members, or an important presentation to a thousand big prospects, you should ask yourself what is the one thing you want your audience to do after you have communicated with them. That’s the starting point, and you should be able to write this down in one sentence.
After you’ve figured out what you want your audience to do, it’s time to go into research mode. Brainstorm. Dig. Look everywhere for messages, facts, numbers that will motivate your audience to do what you want. However, you don’t have to educate them on everything you do unless you’re a professor giving a college lecture. The people you’re speaking to in the business world, the government world, or the adult non-academic world are not there to learn every single thing about what you do. You’ve got to restrict yourself and limit yourself to what is truly most important.
You can brainstorm thousands of messages, numbers, or facts, but you have to use your judgment to figure out the important messages. Many people are bad communicators because they don’t use judgment and try to tell everything. Remember, if your audience had to know everything, they’d already have your job. So, look at all the data and figure out which facts, messages, or numbers your audience has to know. Especially to take the actions you want, which messages are going to motivate them to take your desired action?
After you’ve figured out your most important messages, it’s time to narrow them down. You may come up with 15 messages that are important and would possibly motivate your audience to do what you want. However, you have to further narrow down and prioritize the top five messages.
Why five? Based on my empirical evidence from working with more than 10000 clients over the last 30 years, I’ve concluded that people don’t remember more than five messages. I ask people to think of the best presenters they’ve seen in the last year in their business or maybe their whole career. I ask them to tell me every message they remember from their speeches or interviews. Quite often, the answer is “nothing”. Sometimes it’s one message. Sometimes it’s two, occasionally three, and every three months or so, somebody will remember four messages from a great speaker. Roughly somebody will remember five messages from the best speakers they’ve seen, possibly in their whole life. In all the years I’ve asked this question, I’ve never had anyone remember more than five ideas.
So don’t try to communicate every single fact. Don’t have one of those PowerPoint slides with twenty-seven bullet points. It’s not going to work. You want to be a successful communicator and be seen as someone who has strong communication skills. Remember, it’s not communication if it comes out of your mouth or is up on a slide. It’s communication if it comes out of your mouth in the ear of an audience member, and they understand and remember it so they can act on it. If you want to achieve this, you have to narrow down your messages to a maximum of five.
Human beings are hard-wired to tell and remember stories, not facts and bullet points. That’s why great communicator always uses stories in their speeches, presentations, and interviews to illustrate the messages that are important to them.
If you’re a beginner, then telling stories can be helpful to position yourself as a great communicator. It’s not just telling a funny story or joke, but something that will help your audience remember your messages. Have a real story for each of your five messages.
Tell relevant, interesting stories that will make your messages come alive. The story you tell should have certain elements i.e., settings, characters, emotions, a problem, a little dialogue, and a resolution with the point to it. That’s all, and it will take less than a minute to reinforce your messages and make your audience remember them.
You may be wondering that if you’re nervous or uncomfortable while giving a presentation, how will you remember what to say? You can cheat this with a cheat sheet. Having a cheat sheet is amazingly effective, and it will help you give the impression that you’re confident, authoritative, and not just a beginner.
I never give any speech without a single sheet of paper in a large font, so I can look at it without having to put my glasses on or bend down. Just a single sheet of paper with your main messages/ideas in bullet points in large font so you don’t have to turn the pages or pick it up. It’s a simple little thing.
When you’re giving a presentation, you may look at the option of using a PowerPoint to enhance your presentation. There’s nothing wrong with using PowerPoint; however, a lot of people consider PowerPoint presentations boring and awful. Though that’s true for most PowerPoint presentations, your presentation doesn’t have to be boring.
PowerPoint is just a medium like television. If all you ever watch on TV is what’s being served for lunch at the local schools, and you don’t have any kids then you’ll find the program boring and awful. But if you love watching the Olympics and you can’t be at the Olympics, you’ll love watching Television. It all depends on what you put on the screen, and it’s the same with PowerPoint.
There is one thing that will help you with your communication skills and save you a lot of time: IMAGES. Many people focus on designing the PowerPoint slides while inserting lots of bullet points and changing all the graphics eyes. However, this may not help enhance communication. What I found when I test real audiences everywhere is that people remember images. They remember a slide if it has one idea on it, but they do not remember the complexity on slides or lots of bullet points. They remember an image, a chart, or a simplified graph. Moreover, a picture or some type of drawing makes your idea come alive.
After you’ve done all the practices shared above, it’s time to put it all together and start practicing. Practicing is important to dramatically get over the hump of being a scared, nervous, and uncomfortable beginner.
Just take your cell phone, laptop, or camera and practice on video. Record a video, review it, and note down what you don’t like about it. Then work on your flaws, record again, and repeat until you’re happy with the results.
If you had an important press release or document that you had to send to all of your customers or the media, would you just wing it? Would you just dictate it once and send it out as it is? Probably not. You’d want to test it, check it for spelling mistakes, and review it. You’d possibly have a lawyer in your organization or a trusted advisor to look at it. You want other checks on the process before you send out your text communication.
You can also test when it comes to spoken communication. Let’s say you’re giving a sales presentation to 20 important prospects on Thursday. Get one or two of your colleagues to join you in the cafeteria or an empty conference room and give them your presentation. When you’re done, ask for their feedback. Don’t ask them what they think. They’ll tell you, “Oh, you’re wonderful,” because they want to be helpful.
The secret to getting feedback isn’t asking people to rate you on a scale of five or ten, it’s asking them what they remember from your presentation. If they don’t remember anything from your presentation, then you’ve failed and you need to improve. If they remember even one or more messages, then you’ve successfully created a great presentation, and the chances are your audience will understand your messages and take your desired actions.
You can also upload the presentation you recorded for practice on YouTube, Facebook, or any other video-sharing platform and ask people for feedback.
Let’s say your boss is giving you a boring PowerPoint presentation and you’re afraid of putting people to sleep, and you want them to focus on something you’re saying. In such a situation, if you have a slide up on PowerPoint, all you have to do is hit the letter B to instantly black it out. You can now talk and everyone will focus on you. Hit any key on the keyboard when you want the slide to come right back to the screen.
Not many people know this, but it’s a way for you to come across much more commanding and confident when you’re giving a presentation and trying to communicate with people.
Whether you’re doing a TV interview, giving a speech, going for a job interview, if lots of ums and ers come out, it sounds unprofessional. Here’s a quick tip I use when I’m conducting training sessions with people. I just type up the word that they say too often, print it out, and draw a red circle around it with a slash (making a NO symbol). It is a little sign that says no oms, ers, yeah, or no. I cut it out and just tape it to their cell phone, watch, computer screen so they remember they have to avoid saying these words. After a week, it will reprogram their brains so they won’t have that annoying verbal tic any longer.
Congratulations, you are no longer a beginner when it comes to your communication skills. Now, when you want to communicate, you’re going to have the skills and techniques to do it. You’ll always start the same way by asking yourself, “What’s my objective here and what do I want my audience to do after I’m done speaking?” Then you’ll brainstorm all the possible messages and narrow them down to the top five. You’ll think of interesting, relevant stories involving conversations with real customers for each one of your messages. You’ll have a simple paper outline, so you don’t have to remember anything in the speech. If you want to use PowerPoint, you’re not going to throw tons of text up there. Instead, you’ll come up with an image for each one of your message points. Finally, you can practice on video and test with others.
Do all that, and you’re going to go into this communications opportunity with tremendous success because your audience will perceive you as comfortable, confident, and relaxed. They’re going to understand you, remember your key messages, and take the actions you want.
To learn more, you can also check out my Communication Skills for Beginners online course here.
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