“Communication is both a science and an art.”
– Mark Sanborn
6) Entertain to engage
Voltaire is reputed to have said that any speaking style that wasn’t boring was a good style. That’s because being boring is the unforgivable sin of communication.
For a leader to be heard and understood, he or she must break preoccupation and grab attention, in other words, entertain. That means a leader captures and holds the attention of those being addressed.
As a young lad I once asked then State Senator David Johnson for advice about public speaking. His words permanently affected me. He said, “Always remember that people want to be entertained. Whether you’re giving a sermon, teaching a class or giving a speech, people want to be entertained.”
You can’t bore people into positive action.
7) Feedback and feed forward
If Wheaties is the breakfast of champions, then feedback is the breakfast of winning communicators.
The best way to make sure another person has heard and understood what you said is to ask them to repeat it back to you in their own words. (But I advise not saying, “Now repeat it back to me in your own words” unless you want to alienate that person.) Just request a summary, and take responsibility for any lack of understanding. You could say, “I want to make sure I explained that clearly. Would you please tell me how you understand what I’ve said?”
One of the corniest stories I know is about a man driving up a mountain road in a jeep. Coming down the mountain in the other lane is a woman in a jeep. As she passes, she leans out and yells “Pig!”
The man is offended! She is calling him a name and making a judgment on his character.
As he looks back in his rearview mirror at the woman behind him, he smashes into a hog that is standing in the middle of the road.
That woman wasn’t criticizing him, but rather giving him feedback limited by time. Had circumstances allowed, she might have said, “There is a large farm animal ahead in the middle of the road—be careful!”
Such are the pitfalls of communication. When leaders don’t take time to communicate clearly, the potential for misunderstanding—and even disaster—is high.
Feedback is excellent for adjusting your message and assuring understanding, but it is “after-the-fact.” To increase the odds of future success, you can use feed forward, which provides people with the information they need to be successful before they undertake something.
Feedback provides evaluation of what has been done.
Feed forward clarifies expectations of what needs to be accomplished. It gives people the answers to the final exam in advance.
Feedback focuses on past performance.
Feed forward focuses on future performance. It talks specifically about what a successful performance will be like and enriches the description to enrich the outcome.
Feedback is remedial.
Feed forward is intended to be preventative. Rather than waiting until later to determine if you’ve communicated clearly, information is provided to prevent possible problems.
8) Tell a better story
“It is important that a leader be a good storyteller, but equally crucial that the leader embody that story in his or her life.” —Howard Gardner, a leading researcher in leadership development, Harvard University
People generally aren’t that interested in what you’ve done. They are much more interested in what you’ve learned and ultimately most interested in what they can learn from your experience.
Gardener goes on to explain, “The best storytellers are those who can tell a story that’s strange enough to get people’s attention but not so strange that the people can’t eventually make it part of their own consciousness…existential stories are very important. They tell us who we are and what we’re trying to achieve.”
Perhaps you’ve heard the old poem that goes, “…I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day. I’d rather one would walk with me than simply point the way.”
Telling a story is good, but being the story is better. The congruency between who you are and the stories you tell as a leader create credibility. The purpose, however, isn’t to be speaker-focused, but to use personal experience and story as a bridge to build connection.
My friend, the wise Carl Hammerschlag, puts it well: “Our biology hasn’t changed in the last 10,000 years; we feel the same emotions Jesus felt. … We need to focus on the things that bring us together rather than the things that separate us.”
“True leadership is to first know who you are, and then to help others find their place in the story.”
—John Eldredge, author and speaker
One of the best ways to help others find their place in the story is to give others the opportunity to tell their stories. When they have the chance to see it fitting into the bigger story, you build mutual respect, first because you have given them your attention to listen, and secondly because you know and understand them better.
And yet the best stories aren’t my stories or your stories—they are our stories. We share them because while the details and specifics vary, the themes we experience are so similar. Good stories resonate because they transcend time and space and the truths they convey touch us deeply.
Good stories are an important part of relationship building, of creating connection. Within organizations, you experience many of these stories together. In telling and retelling these stories leaders share their perspective and what they learned. Others look at the same story from their personal vantage point and can share additional insights. Storytelling can be an interactive process for learning and growth.
What makes stories powerful is that they happen. That’s why parables are so powerful. While they may not be factually true, they are always true philosophically and express an important concept.
Great leaders tell REAL stories.
9) Tell a REAL story
To be a better leader by telling better stories, remember that great stories are REAL:
The listener should suspect and eventually see the application of the story to the situation, and/or them personally. Relevance is a good way to engage people. When they know there is a reason to listen, they’ll give you their attention.
Stories should be uplifting. They should stimulate intellectually and invigorate the spirits. Being reminded of great truths through powerful stories has a way of doing that.
What am I supposed to do? That is the question a story should directly or indirectly answer, and if the answer isn’t implicit in the story, then the storyteller should make that connection.
Stories should be easy enough to be retained. Complex or convoluted stories are difficult to understand, much less recall.
Good communicators know that serious medicine, like candy-flavored cough syrup, often goes down best when it is sweetened.
Good stories can be serious in intent and told humorously. Described as pain separated by time, humor can used to discuss otherwise painful experiences and failures. Appropriate humor is never told at another’s expense. Effective leaders often make themselves the brunt of the humorous story. It shows that not only do they not take themselves too seriously, but that they, too, are only human. Good storytellers take their intentions seriously but themselves lightly.
10) Call for action
Scholars of Roman history say that when Cicero spoke, people marveled.
When Caesar spoke, people marched.
Cicero was impressive. Caesar influenced. What was the difference?
Great messages end with a call to action.
Todd Beamer, a hero on hijacked flight United 93, September, 11, 2001 made famous the phrase “Let’s roll.” His actions, and those of his colleagues, may well have saved many lives. In the crucible of crisis, Todd clearly signaled it was time to act on the plans that had been laid.
Too many communicate without a clear call to action. Every email, phone call, voicemail, conversation or speech can and probably should conclude with a “Let’s do it” indicated: let’s move forward, take the next step, get involved, play your part, etc.
Jeff Salzman, a cofounder with Jimmy Calano of the training company CareerTrack, had an excellent technique for assuring commitment from others. Jeff suggested that when making a request, simply conclude by asking “Do I have your word on that?”
That gives people a chance to seriously consider the agreement. If they have hesitations or reluctance, they will come up at that point. Most conscientious people take giving their word very seriously.
|Others tell.Others impress.
Others try to be heard.
Others give facts.
|Leaders sell.Leaders influence.
Leaders try to be understood.
Leaders hear what is being said.
Leaders tell stories.
Ten Sentences Can Change the World
The Gettysburg Address is one of the most memorable speeches of American history. Delivered by Abraham Lincoln at the scene of one of the Civil War’s most costly battles, in only ten sentences Lincoln was able to not only encapsulate the great truths he wanted to convey, but to communicate them powerfully and memorably.
Did you know there was another speaker on the dais that day in Gettysburg? His name was Edward Everett. A senator who was considered the most skilled orator of his time, he traveled around the country addressing audiences. He was the equivalent of today’s professional speaker. Eloquent, he was also long-winded: his speech lasted for nearly two hours. Lincoln’s ten sentences trumped Everett’s two hours.
Great leaders are not evaluated on their eloquence, but on their impact.
Your Ten Sentences
What are your ten sentences as a leader?
What are those things you hold to be deepest and most valuable? Should you only be able to communicate ten sentences of ideas that summarize and encapsulate all that is important to you and define who you are, what would those ten sentences be?
Beware of anyone who tells you that you should be able to summarize what you are about on the back of a business card. While you might have room for a life purpose or mission statement, the depth and breadth of your life should take up more space.
If Lincoln could summarize an epoch of history in ten sentences, then with careful thought and consideration, you should be able to summarize the epoch of your own desired leadership impact.
What are your ten sentences as a leader?