3 Principles of Effective Communication
There are three essential rules of effective communication.
1) It’s Your Responsibility To Make Sure Your Message Gets Across
Getting across the message you wish to get across is both easy to do, and not easy to do. Say people come to a presentation you give, and you’re prepared, but they still go away just not understanding what you had to say, that’s on you, not them. If there’s any kind of break in communication, the onus is on you to fix it.
You need to think through how others will receive the information you have. Is there background knowledge that they need to know, are you providing it? Don’t assume they know what you’re talking about. This is a big mistake many people make, especially if they pride themselves on being knowledgeable about a lot of things. But what they may not understand is that not everyone they meet is into the same things that super-knowledgeable person is. So a certain amount of background information is key to making sure your audience comes away with not just information, but understanding of that information.
Have a healthy balance of providing that background information though. Don’t overdo it in any certain way. Spread out the information between both facts and figures, visual aids and perhaps telling stories. Having a variety like this spices things up and makes the information more digestible for everyone in your audience.
2) Know Your Audience
This sounds simple enough, right? But knowing who your audience is can go a long way in helping you prepare for presentations. You need to ask yourself the following questions: Does my audience have any background on what I have to say? How do I write or speak this material in a way that my audience will understand? Is my audience a technical audience? Are they going to know the same kinds of things I know?
Also, another question that will help you better prepare your presentation is whether you’re just going to be speaking to the person you’ve been working with one-on-one, or if their boss is attending. Everyone you talk to is going to receive the information in different ways. If you have other stakeholders listening to the presentation, what they need to know may be more than what information you provide to another coworker needs. They may need more background information than what you might give to your immediate team-mates. Also, understanding how other people react, other people’s personalities, how they think, is also helpful. Are they more “big-picture,” seeing a wide vantage point, then going down to the details, or are they more detail-oriented, wanting step by step processes? Knowing stuff like that can go a long way towards making sure your information is presented effectively. Also, everyone’s got different learning styles. Are they visual? Verbal? Kinesthetic? Do they talk to you and not even open the actual presentation notes? Do they want pictures? That’s also something to consider as well when mastering effective communication.
3) Remember The Business Context
Connect the technical information with the business issues at hand. The technical stuff is a given. What you need to do is make sure to ask why they are asking for the particular information they want. Is it a business case? For example, they want to suggest or support the effectiveness of a new product? Is it a forecasting request? Or do they simply want updates on things so they can make a certain decision?
Also, what are their concerns? Are they looking at the public’s perception of the company? Are they looking to expand, somehow, perhaps to a specific demographic, for example? Make sure the communication is geared towards this request. You can also think about how you communicate your recommendations to someone you’re advising. For example, say you have three approaches to a problem, with 1 being high, 2, medium, and 3rd being low. Perhaps you think the medium approach is the way to go, then you might go ahead and present options 1 and 3 first, as a contrast between extremes, then talk about the medium approach as your personal recommendation as an alternative to those extremes.
But in no way give up your business integrity. You are an actuary, and you are in a business. So while you keep in mind who your audience is, don’t sacrifice professionalism.
In addition, make sure you define words in advance or in context as needed. Don’t assume everyone’s going to know what you’re referring to. Give examples or connections to each person’s field. Provide analogies if you need to, contexts that your audience can grasp. If you’re addressing a non-technical group, a good way to think about it is if you’re talking to someone who has no idea what you’re getting at. Think about what it is they need to know to make an informed decision. If they’re on a specific team doing a specific portion of a project, what would they need to know to get their portion of a project done?
This all comes back around to the Platinum Rule: Do unto others as they would do unto themselves.
To recap: the one thing to remember is to apply the three principles of effective communication.
- It is your responsibility to make sure your message gets across. If there’s a communication breakdown, the onus is on you. Think things through of how you want to communicate information. Have a healthy balance of how you present information.
- Know your audience. Think about who you’re talking to. Are they a technical group? Or are they non-technical? Verbal or visual? Certain people need certain amounts or types of information. More information for a boss, and less so for a co-worker.
- Remember the business context. Make sure the technical connects with the business issues at hand. Give examples or analogies as needed. What do people need to know to get their job done?
And of course, in all this, be professional.
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Let us know in the comments below – Which one of these principles do you think would be the best for you to focus on for the next month?