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The One Secret of a Good Communicator

At dinner last night with some old colleagues, someone asked if the years had taught me the “best secret” to being a good presenter.

(To someone who wasn’t in P.R., it probably would have been a boring dinner. But I digress.)

I don’t often give away secrets for free, but lean in kids, here’s my best tip:

Be prepared.

First, I did not steal this tip from the Boy Scouts of America. And if I did, I don’t care.

Second, whoa. So many people are disappointed by this one tip. Not sexy enough. Not click-bait enough. Not insightful. Needs to be an anagram or some other psychobabble marketing term.

It’s Obvious Advice that Isn’t Obvious to Many People

You may not think it’s a secret, but I’m still amazed how many people who work in business forget this one fact, over and over.

Do your homework.

Don’t walk into a situation unawares.

Don’t start talking until you’ve read the room.

Don’t start talking until you know what the audience thinks or does now, and why.

ALL of these are variations of the same advice:  be prepared.

Once you’ve got yourself organised, the next steps for a good presentation are clear.

This is a short form of the “Six Questions” methodology I use. If you want the longer version, .

The Six Essential Questions of Proper Communications

1.  GOAL – What am I trying to accomplish?

What is your specific purpose for communicating? Be explicit.

Specifically, what do you need to happen?

What outcome needs to occur so you keep your job?

Tip:  Use  to write exact objectives, or use SMART to check whether your objectives are right before you move to the next step.

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2.  ISSUES or PROBLEM – What’s happening around me that may influence what I say or write?

No communications is all “good news.” There are always situational or environmental reasons why people don’t want to hear what you have to say. What precisely are those problems or issues surrounding the audience?

What do you need to be aware of before you begin speaking or writing?

What’s the environment, context or history surrounding this communications?

Will any of these factors change or influence whether or not your objective will (or can) be reached?

3.  PEOPLE – Who is my intended audience?

Among your key audiences, which one isn’t doing what you’d prefer?

Describe what the audience does does or thinks now through .

Among this key group, what similar values, opinions and behaviours do they have?

Can you speak to them in advance to get their perspective? Even if you only get to one person, it’s better than not being fully aware of what’s going on. 

4.  MINDSET – What does my audience believe now? Why?

What happened historically to create their impressions, perceptions or beliefs?

Whether you like it or not, or believe it or not, people’s perceptions are real. This reality often has nothing to do with real facts.

You cannot change a person’s mind until you know why they believe what they believe.

Most of all, what do you want them to believe? Is it realistic or releveant? Will it sound like propaganda?

5.  MESSAGES – What are you going to say?

What is your single message in one sentence?

If they forget everything you said – which is possible, even to the best presenters – what’s the one takeaway message that should remain in their memory?

If you can’t say it in one sentence, your audience will never work harder than you to decipher or remember it.

. If they don’t, you’re wasting your time – if not negatively influencing this group of people.

Trust me on this point:  any negative quality of your messages will have a residual rub-off effect on you, your outcome, and most of all, your personal brand.

6.  ACTION – What do you want your audience to do or think? And by when?

This step is often put at the beginning. “Tell people what you want them to do.” I agree, sort of. I prefer to start with the objective.

I prefer the audience knows why I am speaking so they have context before my call to action.

Also, the answers to the previous five questions may alter what and how you ask for the call to action.

One other secret (that’s probably not a secret)

Get key people together as soon as possible prior to communicating. Get all of the questions on the table. Discuss and debate. Get quality information. Think about what’s there, and more so, what’s missing. Assign roles and responsibilities. Divide and conquer.

In other words, be prepared.

The ideal quotation to end this post comes from the incomparable Mark Twain:  It usually takes me three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.

Any other thoughts or comments to add?  Please include them in the Comments section below.

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The One Secret of a Good Communicator