In addition to being a trainer for Turpin, I’ve spent many years teaching communication to undergraduates, graduate students, and professionals. In the course of teaching everything from Composition 101 to complex ideas, I finally hit on one simple goal that can act as a guiding light for everything from emails to keynotes: Make It Easy. It’s a concept so basic as to be almost ridiculous. But if you think about some of the business communication you’ve had to work with, I’m sure you’ll recall examples where the information you needed was given to you in a way that was anything but easy.
I’m so committed to this idea that this is going to be a short series of posts that gets more involved and conceptual as it grows. (I even had a t-shirt made with MAKE IT EASY! on it, which I now realize I can’t wear without a lot of explanation.)
For now, though, we’re going to focus on the Turpin techniques that already contribute to making it easy for your audience to learn, follow, and act on the content you present. These are things you know how to do if you’ve worked with us. But you may find new applications for them and new ways of thinking about them in the context of giving your audience less unnecessary work to do. Click on the links for more information about each technique.
One of our key beliefs is that a presentation or meeting of any length should be framed for the audience. The key parts of a frame are—
- The current situation
- Your goal as a speaker
- The benefit of your content for your audience
- An agenda
Stating your goal as a speaker/leader and the benefit to your audience makes it easy for them to understand why they’re there and what they’re going to get from the time they spend with you. When a presentation or meeting lacks a frame, listeners must figure out for themselves how their time is being spent—or wasted.
The current situation and the agenda ensure that even recurring meetings or meetings with team members who work closely with one another benefit from framing. Complacency among both speakers and audiences—when people assume everyone knows what each other is thinking— leads to misaligned expectations, which can generate frustration and a sense of time wasted.
In our workshops, we talk about how eye contact is a fundamental engagement technique for business communication that makes it easier for speakers to see their audiences’ faces—confusion, frustration, enthusiasm—and react appropriately in the moment. Just as seeing a friend’s face gives you lots of cues in a personal conversation, making eye contact and reading expressions gives you important data in Orderly Conversations.
But how is your eye contact useful to listeners?
- It conveys your engagement with and investment in them, which makes it easy for them to feel like you’re not wasting their time. They’ll see that you clearly want to be there because you’re making the effort to connect.
- It makes attendees feel more like a cohesive unit rather than isolated individuals, which makes it easier for audience members to see the broader context of what you’re saying—especially if they have to collaborate to get their jobs done.
- It helps listeners stay awake and alert. Let’s face it; if your job involves endless meetings, it’s pretty hard to stay focused all the time. But a speaker who really connects is worth sitting up for. Also, knowing that you might look at them and see that they’ve drifted off is a good incentive for the people you’re meeting with to stay focused.
Our other fundamental engagement technique in business communication is pausing to think and to breathe. When we’re teaching this, we sometimes get resistance from learners, as though taking the time to pause is somehow wasting listeners’ time. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Your audience needs you to pause for it to be easy to—
- Follow what you’re saying, absorb it, and process it. If you deliver information like a firehose, your audience will, in the end, just be wet and thirsty rather than informed and equipped to move forward.
- Find a moment to break in with a crucial comment or question. If you never pause long enough for a listener to raise their hand or ask a question, you will almost certainly lose people. Waiting until the end for Q & A means that the person who was lost halfway through has probably completely given up by the time you’re done.
- Get what they need in the moment. The whole point of an Orderly Conversation is that you, the speaker, expect and prepare for give-and-take. In the moment, you can only be sure you’re giving someone what they need (as opposed to everything you know) by pausing to consider the question, the asker, and the context.
Using Your Slides
We have a few good blog posts about the myth of “never look at your slides.” Let’s reframe that idea in the context of making it easy.
- Engaging with your slides helps your audience know where to look. Especially if you have complex schematics, diagrams, or data sets, verbally telling people where to look isn’t enough. Showing them by engaging with your slide makes it easy for them to follow along with what—and where—you’re focused.
- Interacting with your slides also helps people return to the presentation or meeting when they’ve zoned out for a bit. If a listener loses focus, and it’s not easy for them to re-engage, you may have lost them for the entire presentation.
- What you say aligns with what they see. If you don’t look at the slide that’s up, you risk getting out of sync with it. What you’re saying may be a slide or two ahead of what they see, which not only doesn’t make it easy, but it also makes the whole experience pretty confusing and frustrating.
As we move forward with the idea of making it easy in future posts, we’ll get into more complex aspects of business communication, presentations, meetings, and even written content. For now, focus on how you can use the approaches you already know to make it easier for your audience to follow, learn, and work with the information you want to share.