Communication excellence, speaking clearly and conveying ideas with impact, is highly associated with career and organizational success.
Yet, healthcare and technology leaders face a major challenge: simplifying complex and technical information so that others “get it,” buy-in, and take action for best results.
Here are some truths about transmitting knowledge and influencing others outside your field:
- Knowing your topic does not equal speaking clearly about your topic.
- Your listeners likely don’t care about your topic as much as you do-sorry!
- Anytime you speak, whether one on one or to a crowd, in person or virtual, in a formal or informal setting, you are a “presenter.”
- Preparation, not Desperation: Strategize and plan, no matter how knowledgeable you are.
Let’s look at key strategies for thinking and speaking “mind over mouth.”
Develop communication empathy
As experts in your field, your knowledge, breadth and depth, mastery of the big picture, AND the details are valued. So don’t be heartbroken to learn that your audience doesn’t care to hear it all…especially some of those technical specifics.
Approach your meeting with a listener-centered mental mindset, what I call communication empathy.
Let’s consider three questions to develop your communication empathy:
- What are the top three points these listeners care about?
- What do I care about that they don’t? A grant writer I worked with went into passionate detail about the 16 spreadsheets the government required. It was a painful waste of time for me. All I needed to know was the goal of the grant.
- What can I omit to focus and streamline? (And not feel like you are giving away your firstborn!)
If you’re worried about leaving out something important, keep in mind that you can always troubleshoot questions you may be asked in advance or follow up after the meeting if requested.
Check-in with your listeners
Communicate in advance – The best communicators get comfortable with asking listeners what they’d like to cover before the meeting. For example, executives in a large health care company I’m working with shared this blunt advice: “Talk about what I want to hear. Just ask me, and I’ll tell you.”
You may also want to consider consulting with a colleague who knows the listeners or a needs assessment before a high-stakes presentation.
Consider listeners’ level of knowledge about the topic – If you’re over their heads, the deal may be over as well. Jess, a biotech entrepreneur I prepped, lamented, “I messed up an investor presentation. I thought they were scientists, but it turned out they were analysts and laser-focused on the bottom line. Wish I knew that in advance.”
We all know what she should have done: her research before the meeting.
Preparation, not desperation, Jess!
Stop to include your listeners – Make sure you’re meeting their needs during the presentation. No one hits the bullseye 100%. Make your key point at a meeting in 60 seconds or less, then volley to your listener(s). Become comfortable with questions like:
- Anything you’d like to add or ask?
- Are we on target?
- Questions, comments
Master verbal organization – Excellent speakers convey their message concisely, with fluency and focus. Show me a great presenter in your field, and I bet you they have prepared, practiced, and probably have a coach. One-half of one percent of the population are gifted verbally. The rest of us benefit from learning and mastering techniques.
Headline for impact – Work to convey your key points in 15-25 words, what I call a verbal headline. (That’s actually a generous number of words, a newsletter or a slide headline is usually less than twelve words). Listeners value your ability to bring what they need or want to hear to the foreground. Devote time to figuring out what matters to your listeners and then create your headlines. For example, here’s a strong, succinct headline a healthcare VP shared recently:
“We’re innovating to improve complex care.”
Note that the wording is well chosen to streamline and tighten the thought.
Learn the HEC Model – The HEC model is popular with clients who present an idea or are on the spot at meetings. HEC stands for Headline-Example-Comment. Headline followed by an Example, and then an ending Comment (opinion, perspective, action).
Practice HEC with this question:
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
Here’s a sample reply:
Headline: I love creating and designing programs for individuals and groups.
Example: For example, an investment firm asked my team to design a program for 35 analysts presenting at a client conference virtually for the first time.
Comment: Not knowing what’s around the corner and always having a fresh project at hand keeps me busy and energized.
Make new ideas or terminology easy to understand – Listeners are uncomfortable when they don’t know a term, abbreviation, or concept you are sharing. Therefore, it’s crucial to scan your words and explain and simplify what isn’t familiar or clear. This sequence will help: State the term, define the term briefly, offer an example.
Try it out with a word or idea that listeners outside your field find challenging. Let’s give it a try with the words “fast pacing.”
Term: Watch out for fast pacing with non-technical listeners.
Definition: Fast pacing means you are including too much material in the time you have. For example, a speaker who is too fast-paced will lose their listener at point one and already be speaking about point five.
Example: For example, a speaker who is too fast paced will lose their listener at point one and already be speaking about point five.
Apply these techniques and you will be known as a clear, comprehensible communicator in your field!