Commit to Clarity

Transparency and being a bit vulnerable are the thing now. So how about trying the following approach the next time you make a presentation or speak at a meeting? It should sound familiar …

“Hello. Right, where shall I start? Let’s see, obviously, um, you know, there are so many points and stuff I basically, er, want to sort of make, that, well, actually I couldn’t really decide exactly, er, what I wanted to say. Haha. So I’m just going to um think out loud for a bit and, you know, sort of say a lot of stuff while you listen, or not, haha, and we’ll see what happens, okay? Right. And to be fair, um, you may have to bear with me because sometimes I talk a bit fast, and sometimes I mumble and, er, well, you know. Anyway, I expect you’ll get my gist. Or not. And feel free to ask questions.”

What’s not to like about this approach? It’s transparent – all the speaker’s thought processes are right there, for all to see. It’s vulnerable – you can imagine the speaker squirming.

Transparent and vulnerable, yes, but it’s also painful. In fact it’s almost unbearable. If people know you and like you, they may try and make the effort to stick with you and understand what you’re trying so say. But if they don’t know you and/or they don’t like you, they will have a stark choice: they will either lose the will to live, or else they’ll stop listening and find something worth living for until you finish. In fact even the people who know you and like you will struggle.

Alternatively, with a little effort – with a little Attention and Space – you can get everybody on board with you as you speak. They may know you, or not. They may like you, or not. But they will at least get your point if you commit to clarity on three key elements: the Why, the What and the How.

1. The Why – Clear Intent

Before you start, get clear about your purpose in speaking – your point. What effect do you want your words to have? What outcome do you want to achieve by speaking?

When you get clear about your intent, shaping your content is a lot easier.

2. The What – Clear Content

Are people’s attention spans shorter these days? I don’t know. What I do know is that people (including me) easily get overwhelmed by a load of words and ideas coming at them. So don’t overwhelm them. Keep it as simple as possible without making it kiddie talk.

Cut out any words and ideas that don’t serve your purpose. Make sure that your words and ideas lead towards your outcome. Make sure they count.

3. The How – Clear Delivery

If people can’t hear and understand the words you say, you’re wasting your breath. You’re wasting your time and theirs. It’s not up to other people to understand you. It’s up to you to make yourself understandable.

You don’t need to sound like an elocution teacher with a posh accent. You do need to say your words clearly, to keep your sentences short and to allow time for them to land. Relaxed pauses give people time to absorb what you’ve said. They give you time to observe the effect, and to prepare what you will say next. They sound confident.

Try this exercise

This is a variation on the classic “lift pitch” also known as “elevator pitch” – that legendary spiel you prepare to deliver to somebody riding with you between floors. This exercise doesn’t involve sliding doors or even an audience. Just you, in a place where you can stand comfortably, move your arms a little and talk to yourself out loud. You must have experienced one of those situations where somebody asks you: “what do you do?” Now write an answer that will take you a minute or less to speak. 100-150 is plenty. More than 150 is probably too many. As you write remember the why – what’s your purpose in saying what you do?  Remember the what – what idea, what picture do you want to create in the listener’s mind?

Once you have written it out, go to that place where you can talk out loud to yourself, stand and deliver your “what do I do” to your audience – yourself. Run through it several times. Notice what works, what sounds right, what feels right, what interests you both as speaker and audience. Be your own audience (but no heckling!). For bonus points, get in front of a mirror and do it.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes