Speak up! How to articulate ideas and hit your target in a few words

“Getting People to Listen by Saying Less” 

This article is based on the presentation by the same name delivered by myself at the EAN Conference in Canberra in 2013. When it comes to the workplace, and the home for that matter, communication is essential. Through good communication we build trust in our relationships. Through these relationships we are then able work in a team to achieve our objectives and goals.

What is Communication?

Communication can be defined as “The transfer or conveying of a message or feeling in any form to the other people.” Diagram 1 is a simple flowchart for how communication works. Here is a quick explanation of each part of the process:

  • Speaker – The person who is sending a message.
  • Message to send – The message that the speaker wishes to send. Once the message is sent the speaker loses control on how the message will be interpreted.
  • Encode – The speaker Encodes the message based on their experience and knowledge. Their background, culture, experiences and environment will all impact on how the message is encoded.
  • Message Medium – The medium that the message can be sent can be audio or visual. This includes talking, email, writing, music, movies and sign language. Depending on the medium there can be interruptions in the environment that can confuse the message.
  • Decode – The Listener will decode the message based on their experience and knowledge. When the background and experience of the Listener is Speaker the decoding may not be equal to the encoding and the message can get mixed up.
  • Message Received – The decoded message is then ready for the listener.
  • Listener – The person receiving the message.

Communications Model

Diagram 1: The Communication Model

Components of Communication

Professor Albert Merabian conducted a study about communication and found that when conducting face to face communication the listener interprets your communication as (Diagram 2):

  • Verbal 7% – The words that you use
  • Vocal 38% – The way you say those words
  • Visual 55% – Your body language and facial expressions

What this means is that though your words are important, it is more important the way you say your words and your body language. Think about the following examples:

  • Someone has folded arms(not interested)
  • Head Movements (Yes/No)
  • Shoulder Shrug (I don’t know)
  • Drumming Fingers (Bored or Impatient)
  • Smiling (Open and Friendly)

When it comes to the vocal part of the face to face communication there are a number of components. These components are Volume, Pitch, Pace, Quality and Pause. Imagine someone with a high volume, medium to high pitch, quick pace, good quality and a lack of pause. They may be coming across as excited (Even if you cannot understand them). However the same person talking with a low volume, low pitch, slow pace, okay quality and long-long pauses may come across as bored.

When your words, vocal and visual all match up then you send a consistent message, however when they do not then you send a mixed message. Imagine someone who is sitting on the couch with their arms crossed telling you “I am excited” in a low volume and slow pitch. Do you really think that this person is excited?

 Components of Communication

Connecting with your audience

In order to connect with your audience (an individual or a group) you need to build trust with the audience. Two great ways to build trust are to seek an understanding of the other person’s point of view and the second is to listen to the other person. Though understanding and listening you will build trust with your audience by being authenticity and demonstrating empathy.

“We are born with one mouth and two ears- use them in that proportion” John F Kennedy

Here is a true story from a few months ago to sum up listening from my daughter Anna:

Our youngest Anna likes to talk. Though there is nothing wrong with liking to talk, taken to the extreme it is very annoying. Anna has a tendency to cut people off and talk over people. So we have been having a discussion about Listening.

First lesson is that we have one mouth and two ears. This is a great reminder that we should be listening more than we talk. Listening is more than just hearing. Hearing is about the physically being aware that there is noise going on. Listening is about actively listening. Active listening is about hearing and understanding the message. This takes more than just your ears. It takes a whole of body and mind to actively listen.

Anna today summed it up as:
1. Listen more than talk
2. Listen with all your body
3. Make eye contact

Focus on your message

Now that you are aware of the impacts of the way you say things, you are also aware of your body language and you have listened to the other party, what is next? How do we deliver a clear message?

I find that before a meeting or presentation I spend a little bit of time to prepare and work out the outcomes that I am seeking from the meeting, as well as the parameters that I am willing to operate within. This helps me to have a clear focused message. Once I am clear on the message I then use a four step approach to deliver that message:

1. Be clear on your message
2. Plan the delivery of the message (verbal, vocal & visual)
3. Let the other person ask questions to clear up points of confusion in their mind
4. Ask confirming questions to ensure that the message has been received correctly


So in summary communication:

  • Covers a vast parameter of situations and relationships
  • Can be verbal or non-verbal
  • Can involve speaking, listening, writing, actions, lack of actions, feelings, emotions, associations and relationships.
  • It is necessary to have an understanding of the components of effective communication in order to work effective with others.

Steps to clearing communicating your message:

  1. Seek first to understand by listening
  2. Define your message through preparation
  3. Choose your method of message delivery (verbal, vocal & visual)
  4. Practice your message prior to delivery

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