Most of us are unaware of the “static” we create when communicating. Not only does this static prevent our influencing others to take action, it also tends to:
- Limit the perceptions of us formed by others
- Fail to capture and keep the attention of listeners
- Communicate messages that are unclear and therefore misunderstood
What do I mean by static? I’m referring to the incongruity that occurs when what you say is not consistent with how you say it. Example: You’re having a face-to-face conversation and the other party says in a lifeless, boring monotone: “I’m so excited to have this opportunity to work with you.” Her face is expressionless, she never looks you in the eye, and she’s fidgeting with a pen. Would you believe her? You’d most likely question her credibility and sincerity and hesitate to take action on anything she proposed.
This article will increase your awareness of the static you may be creating and give you immediate, practical skills to apply when you are communicating face-to-face, during meetings or in presentations.
Learn to Pause
Um, what perception, like, do you create, you know, when you hear, um, a speaker using, uh, words that clutter, you know, their language? Knowledgeable, credible and confident probably don’t come to mind.
Traveling the country I’ve observed that the number one change people need to make in order to communicate with influence is to replace non-words with pauses. We use non-words to buy time to think about what we want to say. These non-words can be so distracting that listeners miss what we’re attempting to communicate. Instead, we need to give our listeners time to hear, understand and absorb each message.
Pauses give you time to think on your feet. They help you avoid rambling and get to the point. Your listener gets a moment to hear and understand your message and prepare to act on what you say. So, take a relaxing breath and use an occasional pause to hold your listener’s attention.
Connect With Your Eyes
Last week I asked a new client, “What are your communication strengths?” She answered, “Eye contact.” As she responded her eyes were darting everywhere!
Most of us don’t lock eyes with our listeners long enough to create a relationship. The only way to build a relationship is through trust, and making eye-to-eye connections with people helps to build trust.
When you lose your place or forget what you want to say in the middle of a presentation, don’t look at the ceiling, floor, your PowerPoint slides or notes. Pause and look at your audience. During the disconnect, avoid filler words such as uh, um and so;, which communicate to your listeners that you don’t know what to say. Continue pausing while you gather your thoughts or find your place.
When speaking to more than two people, maintain eye contact with only one individual as you complete a sentence or thought. Then take a moment to pause as you transition your gaze to a second individual. Continue connecting with different individuals in this manner, one thought or sentence at a time.
Project Your Voice
If you want to influence others to take action, they have to hear you. On a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being inaudible and 10 being too loud, your voice needs to be a 7 to 8 when speaking to a group of 15 or more people. When speaking over the phone or to a small group, you should project a level of 4 or 5.
Vocal projection has nothing to do with yelling. On the other hand, no one should have to strain to hear you. If they do, they’ll stop listening. Projecting effectively allows you to hold the attention of your listeners, emphasize the importance of your message and convey confidence.
Gesture With Purpose
Many individuals fidget while they talk—with rings, hair, pens, or whatever is handy. Others unconsciously talk with their hands—elbows locked at their sides and every gesture the same. Still others—often the ones who’ve been told that they fidget—clasp their hands and do nothing.
Confident speakers use gestures to add emphasis to their words. Avoid locking your elbows at your sides or creating the same repetitive gesture. Instead, use expansive movements that emanate from your torso, and let your hands emphasize and describe your message. Add variety to your gestures by relaxing your arms back to your sides after you complete a gesture.
Remember that when you speak before an audience, you are the primary visual, and your gestures are a dynamic ingredient in that visual. If your gestures are effective, people will absorb more information and remember it longer. Gestures add emphasis to your message, grab your listeners’ attention, add vibrancy and help channel nervous energy.
Get to the Point
The more unnecessary things you say, the greater the risk that listeners will either miss or misinterpret your point. When you find yourself saying too much and begin to feel like a train about to derail, put on the brakes and get yourself back on track…pause! Keep your objective in mind. What does your listener need to know to take action?
Use the “Rule of Three.” Focus your message on no more than three significant points. Sticking to a limited number of essentials makes it easier for you to get to the point and your listeners to remember the message. To gauge the effect of your delivery, pay attention to your listeners. Are they hanging on every word or do they look dazed? Are they attentive or fidgeting?
Five Surefire Ways to Perfect Static-free Communication
- Pause often. Throughout the day, give yourself permission to think on your feet by replacing non-words with pauses. Speak in short, concise sentences.
- Make eye contact. Speak only when you can see your listener’s eyes. When you (or they) look away, pause. Ask friends and trusted associates to immediately alert you when your gaze wanders while speaking.
- Speak to be heard. Ask for feedback regarding the volume you project in meetings, face-to-face situations and over the phone.
- Gesture. Throughout the day, notice how you and others use gestures. Do you talk with your hands or gesture too often? Do your gestures have purpose? Ask for constructive feedback. Practice relaxing your arms and hands at your sides between gestures. Stop yourself when you start to fidget.
- Get to the point. Become aware of any circumstances in which you tend to “beat around the bush.” Prepare for those circumstances by deciding in advance exactly what you want to say, rehearsing quietly to yourself, and ultimately delivering your message with laser focus.
About the Author
Stacey Hanke is a communications consultant, coach and public speaker and the author of Yes You Can! Everything You Need From A to Z to Influence Others to Take Action. Visit her website at www.staceyhanke.com. Email Stacey at