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How to get your point across in a business environment

There’s a lot of discussion about how education needs to prepare children to enter into the world of work, and that discussion is usually centred around literacy and numeracy skills. What is rarely talked about is how much your communication skills affect every aspect of your working life. And this is particularly true in a business environment.

iBusiness Blog - Point across

A clear conversation can solve a problem and enhance your agenda faster than a dozen emails. A great pitch can buy trust and investment quicker than the glossiest brochure. And a decent media interview can resolve a reputational crisis and boost your company’s image better than any press release.

However, the risk of bad communication in all those circumstances is also present, with possibly very unwelcome results. Live, human, spoken communication is a much more unpredictable beast than the controlled, written word. And there are many factors that will be contributing to success or failure that are beneath your consciousness and not directly related to your message.

So it would seem obvious that training in this area of live communication and impact would be at the top of everyone’s list. And yet it often gets forgotten. Or perhaps it is simply assumed that ‘you are what you are’ and you are either naturally good at it, or naturally bad.

However, live communication is a kind of performance. And if it were the case that you can’t train and improve performers, we wouldn’t bother training other kinds of performers either (dancers, actors, singers, athletes). And that’s clearly nonsense. Performance skills, of any kind, can be honed, trained and improved. In fact, the areas of performance important to business people; impact, presence, spoken clarity and clear storytelling, are extremely trainable skills. You just need the correct guidance and the right information.

Commanding attention

Before you even begin to speak, you need to have people’s attention. And you need to continue to command their attention throughout your communication. The word ‘command’ is useful here as it implies leadership. For any kind of public speaking, you are, temporarily perhaps, the leader of your audience. For one to one conversations that still applies. You have to lead the conversation, during your contributions, in the direction that you want it to go, or you will have handed all control over to the other person.

Leadership does not necessarily mean ‘getting your own way’. But there are agendas that everyone can get behind: for example ‘a peaceful resolution to the conflict’, a ‘win-win situation’, a ‘warm and friendly interaction’ . Leading your communications in these directions, even if you are having to concede points along the way, will be a constructive and helpful thing to do.

Leadership does not also necessarily imply higher status. We expect a waiter in an expensive restaurant to be behaving at an equal or lower status to us (just for the duration of the meal). We certainly don’t want to feel that he is the most important person in the room and we are there to serve his needs. But a great waiter is also a leader who has a clear command of the space, and clearly runs the rhythm of the events of the meal. If you are communicating with someone of a much higher status than you, it is worth remembering this. You can still be a leader of what is in your control, even whilst acknowledging that the other is more powerful.

So how to be a leader? This is partly about the decision to lead and developing a clarity of thought and direction (see below). But there are also behaviours that make that leadership trustable or not. The biggest area here is physical. Nerves, lack of physical presence, a thin voice all contribute to a sense of weakness that could make your leadership untenable for the other party. So the best area to train is your physicality. A theatre and voice trained speaker coach can help you with the following:

 

  1. Getting your breath low in your body so it is a relaxed and quiet breath, not the nervy, high chest pant that betrays anxiety.
  2. Getting your physical alignment right so your body is naturally tall and wide, and working efficiently. Deviations from an easeful and efficient use of the body unconsciously imply neuroses. The more natural and at ease you look (and are), the more people will trust your leadership.
  3. Vocal richness and clarity. The above two elements lead naturally to the release of a full and embodied voice. Few things command greater trust and attention than a truly centred and tuneful voice.
  4. Your physical actions. There are also behavioural habits, for example how you use eye contact, and what your body is doing, that can either result in a real rapport with your listener or in them feeling pushed away, shut-out or aggressed.

Work on all these areas can change how you feel as well as how you come across. The body and mind are in a continual feedback loop, and by adopting the physicality of a confident leader, your mind will receive messages of confidence and well-being. Similarly, replacing negative self-talk with images of success, can have a positive impact on your physicality.

Getting your point across

Looking the part is only half of the battle, however. Getting your point across requires more skills.

For a start it requires clear thought. There is a story that I love about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, where many household dogs were left to run wild in packs. These dog packs naturally selected leaders, and these were not necessarily the biggest and strongest dogs. They would appear to have been the smartest dogs, those with the clearest idea of where to go and what to do. This would lead to packs of great big Alsatians and Doberman Pinchers, being led by tiny Terriers.

Get conscious

Clarity of thought can be really helped by conscious decision making about what you want and intend to achieve in the next ‘segment’ of your day. And by a clear visualisation of what a successful outcome would be in that segment. This is where you come up with the plan (for example ‘a peaceful resolution to this crisis’) that will be your guiding light during the conversation or speech.

Be assured, if you do not have a conscious plan, you are leaving a space for your unconscious to add one. And this may be a habitual and emotionally unbalanced plan coming from some unresolved childhood crisis. No-one likes to think of themselves as a bully. No-one likes to see themselves as a weak person. And yet as children we may adopt behaviours that temporarily work for us in our need, and these behaviours can sit there in our sub-conscious ready to pervert our communications in unwary moments. The intention ‘to win at all costs’ can sneak in where our conscious choice might be very different. An intention ‘get out of here without being attacked’ might subtly control our communication, where our conscious choice would be to make an impact and get our message across.

So the first element of any communication, is to get conscious and visualise what success would mean in this instant.

Build rapport

The next area you need to work on is to build rapport with your listener, whether that is one person, a roomful or a whole auditorium. Building rapport can be done by physically mirroring people, but the most honest way is simply to let them, and their point of view, matter. Physical mirroring happens naturally when we are really into people. So the best way of achieving this is simply to be really into the people you are talking to. People who are very charming are often described as making you feel ‘like you are the only person in the room’. If this is done manipulatively it is a thin trick that won’t last long. But taking a genuine interest has a magic effect.

This is why you listen to people first, if they want to talk. This is why you ask questions and encourage communication from the other person if they are being quiet. This is why you use their language for things, and think about their point of view, even as you express your own. The acknowledgement of the other’s point of view and how they see and describe the world is vital to being able to guide and lead them to share aspects of your point of view. Even if you have to directly contradict and do the opposite of what they want, if people feel they have been listened to and understood in the process, and their needs have been considered, then they are far more likely to accept such compromises than if they have been ignored.

Choose your language

Words are powerful things and they can be used to obfuscate or enlighten. The words we learned first and youngest have the most powerful relationship with our psyche. So they are the most powerful words to use. The longer, more academic and hard to spell words we learn later, have a much more intellectual relationship with us. And are therefore much less powerful. We may feel cleverer using long words and complicated jargon we’ve only just learned, but we are failing to tap into anything but the most superficial connection of language to our listeners. Use simple words, and you get a much more direct, physical and concrete response.

However, the main language of our minds is arguably not verbal but visual. So where you can, create real images and sensory connections that will communicate at the directest level. A number is hard to visualise. Translate that number into an image (the size of four football pitches) and your audience will get it. Imagery (including all the senses) is the most powerful form of communication.

Patterns

Lastly, think in patterns and shape. The art of rhetoric is the art of patterning spoken language to make the message more memorable and impactful. Patterning could include using similar sounds (‘the state of play’, ‘bright and beautiful’) or giving examples in threes, or repeating words, or using gesture and pitch to create a ‘graph’ in the air as you describe it. Using the possibilities of live language can really make your message sing, rather than get lost in a flat landscape with no structures.

But with all these suggestions, nothing beats live training in the hands of a genuine expert in the field. Much of the above involves addressing unconscious physical behaviours and patterns of thought. Having a skilled ally to reflect back what you are doing and offer you alternative routes is the most powerful step you can take to really improve how you command attention and get your message across.

Speak-Easily are a company that dedicate themselves to the art of elocution and have helped numerous people with their pronunciation skills. From accent reduction to establishing your presence, Speak-Easily can help.

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