The well-known secret to communicating better

31st October 2017

“Give me some Rules of Thumb about communication. Ones that I can follow every time. Without thinking.”

So said one of my customers recently. I asked what areas he was most interested in.

Him: Well, when I’m making a formal presentation, should I use PowerPoint or not?
Me: I don’t know. It depends what your audience wants. Your best bet is to ask how they want you to deliver it
Him: OK. But if I do use PowerPoint, should I send the slides in advance, or take everything with me on the day?
Me: It depends. I suggest you ask if they want to see something upfront
Him: And should I start my presentation with background information, to set the scene?
Me: It depends. Many customers don’t care about stuff like this But some do. So, ask them if they want it. And, if they do, ask which bits they’re most interested in
Him: And who should present it? The best presenters on my team? Me? The people who’ll be doing the work?
Me: It depends. I suggest you ask…
Him (interrupting me): Aaaargh – this is exasperating. I’m looking for Rules of Thumb. And you aren’t giving me any
Me: Can’t you hear the Rule of Thumb? The Rule of Thumb is to ask

So, the best way to give people the information they want?

Ask them what information they want.

Contact them beforehand, and ask things like:

  1. What do you want me to cover?
  2. What do you not want me to cover?
  3. What do you think are the most positive aspects of this topic?
  4. What do you think are the most concerning?

Answers 1 and 2 tell you what to talk about.

Answer 3 – their positives – will probably appear in your title/sub-title. This helps you grab their attention. For example, if their answer was “speed”, your subtitle might be something like “A speedy solution to X.”

Answer 4 – their negatives –- gives you vital information about their concerns. And you must remove these during your communication.

Asking these questions upfront will help.

After all, if you don’t ask, you’re guessing. Which can go spectacularly wrong.

Action point

For your next presentation, contact the audience in advance, and ask these few questions. Your prep – and therefore your presentation – will be better because of it.

But, of course, things aren’t always as good as we’d like. Here’s why selling isn’t much fun. And what to do about it.

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