How do you get to the point in a clear way? Being a good communicator is a part of being an effective manager, a productive employee, and a successful person. And speaking with clarity and precision is at the core of effective communication and fluency.
Effective communication can only happen if the message you transmit is understood by the receiver –simple but not always easy. Getting “lost in translation” is not fun. It can happen both if you are a non-native speaker trying to express your ideas, but also if you are a native-English speaker talking to someone whose level of English is not so perfect yet. But, dear reader, fear not! In this post, you will learn how to speak effectively and with clarity, whether you are a native-English speaker or not. Whether you want to explain a complex concept in an easy way, describe an idea when you don’t know a specific word, ask for vacation days, get your point across in an argument, influence others, or negotiate, these are all tips that will redesign the way you speak and help you achieve it. Learn how to explain things effectively –that is, learn how to speak so that people understand–, and become more persuasive.
How do I speak so people understand me?
These speaking techniques are simple but effective. Follow these 8 tips and get to people on a much deeper, meaningful level.
- 1. Captivate your audience by giving them only what they need to know
- 2. Avoid jargon to be more engaging
- 3. Make your point clear with ‘special’ repetition (and win any argument)
- 4. Classify your concepts and guide your listener
- 5. Make connections with what your audience knows
- 6. Use the art of storytelling to connect with your audience
- 7. Use images so people understand and remember
- 8. Influence people by focusing on benefits and consequences, not features
1. Captivate your audience by giving them only what they need to know
The more you understand your audience, the better they will understand you.
Your expertise won’t be of any value to an audience that doesn’t get it. Like the anecdote of Einstein and a glass of milk, we sometimes pick features that aren’t really relevant to our audience. Explaining what milk is to a blind person by saying it’s a white fluid is not going to make things easier, especially when there are other properties much more valuable to that person.
Ask yourself – what is my audience’s existing knowledge and frame of reference? Learn about their motivations and their background, and leverage that information.
For example, if you are explaining to your business team how they can use the new app you created, what do they want to know from you? Do they really need to know all the complications that arose throughout the creation process and technicalities, or do they only care about the result and how they can apply it in real life? Focus on this and people will understand you much better.
If you are asking for vacation days, what does your boss need? Pick the best time to talk to them give them some time to integrate your time off into the planning, anticipate some questions, and reassure them that the work will get done.
2. Avoid jargon to be more engaging
“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” (Yup, this is also by Einstein).
Jargon is the specialized terminology associated with a particular field or area of activity. It is normally used in a particular communicative context and may not be well understood outside that context. Let’s look at some examples.
Did you A/B test the ad copy? It looks good overall, but we may need to optimize the CTA and use dynamic content so that each persona gets what they need and we max our ROI. You know that inbound marketing is only effective through lead nurturing.
Unless you work in marketing, the fragment above will like include words you don’t understand. Remember this when talking to other people! Also, even if they understand, it turns out, jargon isn’t so engaging.
If your words are too complicated, or if your audience doesn’t understand the acronyms you are using, you are probably going to lose them.
Keep your words simple and clear. Express your ideas using words that your listeners can relate to. But remember that there is a difference between using simple language (easy to understand), and simplistic (treating the problem as if it’s not complicated at all). Don’t think of it as “dumbing down”, just think of simple and light ways to explain your message and engage your audience.
3. Make your point clear with ‘special’ repetition (and win any argument)
If you want to make sure people understand you, repeat your ideas. Say the same thing in different words. Repetition is important to get to a person’s mind, but if you vary some elements, like using synonyms and changing the structure of the sentence, the chances to be understood and listened to are much higher.
That’s what makes the repetition ‘special’, the fact that you are saying the same thing in a completely different way. This is called paraphrasing (What the heck is paraphrasing?). Learn a good range of synonyms and related words (in this list of useful English resources you can find great dictionaries).
Look at these examples:
- When you can’t find a specific word (e.g. goal): My objective or aim this year is to learn English.
- When you’re talking to your colleague and they don’t understand what you mean: What are your resolutions for the New Year? (…) You know, your goals, objectives, or intentions?
- When your point wasn’t taken into account and you want to say it again: I believe that implementing this feature will reduce the costs. (…) Yes, but I still think that applying it would involve fewer expenses. (…) Right, but we could save a lot of money. (Notice how they all mean the same).
4. Classify your concepts and guide your listener
Define your terms. When we talk, people often need some guidance to fully understand us. Classifying your concepts with categories will give your listener a better understanding (is it an action? A place? An element?).
If we look at the earlier mentioned anecdote, Einstein also used categories to guide his blind friend: milk is a white liquid, and a swan is a bird with a crooked neck.
This way, if you are in a meeting, and you feel too insecure to speak up and express your idea, remember that you can always use this tip to help them understand.
5. Make connections with what your audience knows
Use examples and analogies that your audience already knows, and compare and contrast those with your idea. When you tie the concept to a previously learned or shared piece of information, people will connect your thoughts to what’s already on their minds, creating a new bond that will make them grasp your view better.
e.g. Telegram is an instant messaging App, similar to WhatsApp, but with some differences. For example, Telegram is cloud-based and group chats can host up to 75,000 members.
6. Use the art of storytelling
If you really want people to understand you on a deeper level, tell them an interesting story or use a practical example they can relate to. Stories and examples are a great way to express your ideas, have an impact on people, and create a bond with other humans.
Over 90% of all purchasing decisions are made subconsciously; so evoking emotions in your audience might have a huge impact on their conscious minds.
If you need to explain something that is complex or highly technical to an audience that might not understand it, tell them a story based on something they can relate to, something they do understand. Once they understand and relate to it, there is a good chance they will listen to your advice. Learn more about storytelling here.
7. Use images so people understand and remember
They say a picture paints a thousand words, so why not use images to support your explanations? If you get your audience to see what you are trying to explain, they will not only be able to understand it better, but they will also remember it. Illustrate your ideas with a picture, a drawing, a diagram, or a chart and help people understand you better.
The beauty of this tip is that it can be applied to a great many examples. If you are not a native speaker and you can’t remember a word, you can always look up an image in your own language and show it to the person you are talking to. If you want to show your team how well sales are going, show them a chart that visually illustrates that growth.
8. Influence people by focusing on benefits and consequences, not features
A feature is an inherent property of an object, it’s the kind of information that dictionaries tend to offer. A benefit is a way in which the feature helps a person. When we communicate information, we do it for a reason. Think of this reason and use it to point out the benefits of what you are trying to explain.
In the same way, try to focus on the benefits of technology rather than its features. This distinction becomes more significant the higher the level of the person you are talking to. The CMO probably has little need to know about the commands and steps involved in setting up a new analytics and tracking system. However, that person will want to know that this new system will help them track ROI for their online marketing.
If you want to persuade your audience, explain the consequences. What is the result of applying your concept? Think of the next example: you are in a meeting with your team, and there is a problem with a feature of the software. Most of them agree that it will all be done manually, not automatically, to avoid any complications. You have an idea; which one is more compelling?
- Why don’t we do half of the work manually, and half through the software?
- If we run the work through the software, it will save us a great amount of time. To make sure there are no errors, we will test it manually. This way, we will have most of the work done automatically, but the human factor will be there to make sure everything is correct.
Go back to all the tips. What is the one thing that all the headings have in common? Notice that all the headings include a benefit, a reason, and a consequence that will happen if you follow such advice:
- Captivate your audience by giving them only what they need to know
- Avoid jargon to be more engaging
- Make your point clear with ‘special’ repetition (and win any argument)
- Classify your concepts and guide your listener
- Make connections with what your audience knows
- Use the art of storytelling to connect with your audience
- Use images so people understand and remember
- Influence people by focusing on benefits and consequences, not features
Make your “why” clear and people will understand you better, the way you want them to.
What’s your favorite tip? Tell us on LinkedIn.
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[This post was originally published in August 2020.]