As a voice and communication coach, much of my work focuses on preparing clients for formal presentations or keynotes. But the majority of business communication happens informally, in meetings and smaller group settings. Mastering the art of speaking clearly and concisely in these situations – whether with clients or colleagues – is a vital skill.
The recent shift to remote meetings has only served to highlight this. Who hasn’t sat through a seemingly endless video call with a colleague or client whose communication skills extend to a first-class degree in rambling? Judging by the uptick in the number of clients who are asking me for help with this, the answer is: everyone.
‘On work calls she runs through an entire trail of thought before giving others a chance to come in,’ is a typical complaint from managers. ‘He often rephrases arguments or repeats himself if he doesn’t get confirmation that his point has landed,’ is another. But perhaps the most telling example of the growing frustration surrounding this issue is this one: ‘He could save so much time for himself – but also for his audience.’
In communication, less is more
Which says it all really, doesn’t it? In a world of back-to-back meetings and over-stretched inboxes, speaking clearly and concisely is more than a skill. It’s practically an obligation. Just as everyone in a meeting is expected to turn up on time, you owe it to your colleagues to stay on time by communicating your message clearly and sticking to the point.
Don’t get me wrong. A lack of conciseness is usually driven by good intentions. It often happens when someone is keen for listeners to understand what they’re trying to say – particularly if it’s a new or difficult concept. (Over my years as a coach, I’ve found that it’s technical types speaking to non technical audiences who regularly fall into this trap.) Many such speakers have a tendency to over-explain. To repeat (not always relevant) points. To overuse jargon. Rather than bringing the audience with them, they tend to lose them entirely.
Communication success in meetings requires you to structure your thoughts in the moment. It requires a logical development of points, the right balance of supporting detail, and just the right amount of context to ensure people understand where you’re starting from. So how is it done?
Speaking clearly and concisely: a guide
Being more efficient in your communication requires practise. To get you started, here’s a checklist of points to be aware of as you deliver any information or proposal.
Prepare for spontaneity
For most people ‘winging it’ and clarity do not go hand in hand. Even spending three minutes planning your key points before a meeting will help. You can use a structure model like Point-Reason-Example-Point to answer questions, or Situation Action-Result to give updates. [See our blog on Structuring Thoughts Clearly In The Moment for more on this.]
Think before you speak
Before you begin speaking, pause briefly to ask yourself: What does my audience really want to know? Answering this question in your own mind first, will help you to set off on the right track and stay on point. When someone asks you a question, if you have any doubt about what they’re getting at, clarify. Otherwise, if you go off on the wrong tangent, everyone has to listen patiently till you’ve finished answering the wrong question. And then all over again, when you get around to answering the right one.
Take your time
Different pauses have different uses: all of them valuable. A momentary pause before speaking allows you to gather your thoughts (as above). Pausing between points divides the information you’re delivering into manageable ‘chunks’, which helps the audience to understand and digest it. Micro-pausing between thoughts helps to reduce filler (ums and errs), which makes you sound more persuasive and considered. In fact, there are so many benefits to pausing, we’ve written a whole blog on it.
Get to the point
In a newspaper article or online blog, the headline will contain the story in a nutshell with the details to follow. Use the same technique when you’re speaking. Get your main point up front and follow it with the supporting detail. This sounds obvious, but it’s surprising how many people work their way deductively to their main point, only landing it at the end of their update or answer.
Show don’t tell
An example that shows how something works will often help listeners to understand a concept faster than an explanation. If the concept is new, attaching it to something the audience already knows makes it easier to grasp. For example, when Henry Ford described the motorcar for the first time, he called it a ‘horseless carriage’. If you can’t use an example, use simple, visual language to help people ‘see’ your point.
Add details sparingly
Don’t over-explain. Give just as much supporting detail as is necessary and no more. If you need to give your audience some context or background to understand the point you’re making, always ensure you’ve considered how much people already know and need to know. Summarise in as few sentences as possible – preferably one.
Number your points
This is a technique you’ll often hear business leaders using when interviewed on the radio. First, they headline what’s to come “There were three main challenges we faced with this project” and then they list them out: “First… Second.. and Finally…”. This not only serves as a way to signpost where you are for your audience, it can also help prevent you from meandering off-track.
Saying more with fewer words: the benefits
Speaking clearly and concisely will make a huge difference to your communication skills – winning you friends and influence along the way. The benefits include:
Efficient communication is appreciated by all audiences. It shows a speaker respects their time – and it generates respect in return.
A simple message is fundamentally easier to remember than a complicated one. Distil your argument and get it over fast.
Studies have shown that when messages are easier to process, they are more likely to be perceived as true.
- Audience Focus.
When you speak concisely, the audience has an easier time digesting your message. This helps you to manage their attention and focus.
Yes, you could hold fewer meetings but, in reality, that’s not a choice most of us get to make. At least when everyone sticks to the point, meetings are more efficient.
We’ve worked with hundreds of business professionals all over the world, helping them to be clearer, more concise and more confident in their everyday speaking situations.
If you’d like to find out more about how we could enhance your communication skills with an online 1-1 or group workshop, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or sign up here to get public speaking tips delivered straight to your inbox.