We all have good ideas and sudden brainwaves, but some people communicate their ideas more effectively than others. They know how to engage with people, deliver a compelling pitch and get people aligned, sometimes by saying very little. As a result, they get more done and add more value.
The good news is that effective communications isn’t black magic – you can learn to communicate more effectively by adopting a few simple strategies. Most of these are common sense – but it’s surprising how many people don’t follow them. If you find that you are struggling to get your ideas across to other team members, and perhaps your boss, here are some proven ways of doing this.
Develop an elevator pitch
Be prepared to explain your idea in 60 seconds or less – the amount of time it takes to travel in a lift. Keep in mind that famous Einstein quote; “If you can’t explain it simply enough, you don’t understand it well enough.” Your explanation doesn’t have to go into excessive detail, but it should be enough to get people interested. Once you have them hooked, you can then go into the details or set up a follow-on meeting. Don’t waste that 60 seconds on convoluted language or excessive background information – “hit the headline first”, in the words of renowned communications expert Karen Friedman, in her 2012 book Shut Up and Say Something. Instead, explain your idea in a couple of sentences, and say what the high-level benefits are. Then, ask for a follow-up discussion. If the person says yes, you have an opportunity to sell your idea further. If they say no, then you won’t waste your time and you can rethink.
Know your audience
To communicate effectively, you need to talk in a language that your audience understands. There’s no point in having a detailed technical discussion with finance people – or talking about NPV or IRR with software developers. Think about how to make your ideas relevant, and steer clear of concepts that will be unfamiliar to those you’re trying to convince. If you do have to introduce a foreign concept, then be sure to explain it clearly and simply – and say why it is important.
Focus on benefits
All good ideas have clear benefits – otherwise, they aren’t good ideas. Unless your colleagues understand these benefits, they’re not going to back your idea. Take time to research the positives before you pitch your idea. Again, it’s important that they’re relevant to your audience – they need to understand what is in it for them. If you can’t come up with any benefits that will resonate with your audience, ask yourself whether or not you are talking to the people who are going to feel the benefits directly.
Examples are often the best way to sell an idea. They help people to understand what you are saying and to see how your idea can be applied. For instance, don’t just say “Integrating our supply chain software directly with vendors will let us move to just-in-time inventory.” Instead, say “If we connect up for our supply chain software to Acme Co., we can reduce our inventory by 50%. That means that we will save £7 million a year in carrying costs.” It pays to do a bit of research to come up with these examples, and they obviously need to be both real and credible.
Communicating ideas is all about selling. It’s not just what you say – it’s how you say it. People will believe in your ideas if they know that you believe in them. If you are hesitant or your body language is negative or defensive – think slouching or crossed arms – then you are going to send the wrong signals. Adopt an alert, confident stance and speak enthusiastically – this way, people will take your idea seriously. It’s no guarantee that they will agree, but they won’t automatically dismiss your idea because you are just going through the motions.