For nearly every element of business, clear communication is an essential ability. Whether you’re selling to customers, pitching to investors, partners and media, or composing an email to staff to explain what you need from them – we all depend on communication skills constantly.
You can never have too much good advice about how to develop your communication style, and so this week I visited the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts for a live Q&A with BBC journalist Ros Atkins, speaking about his new book The Art of Explanation: how to communicate with clarity and confidence.
Ros has quickly gained a reputation through his short explainer videos, breaking down complex topics into a more digestible 5-minute format. His work and methodology has plenty of applications for anyone keen to share an insight or a message with an unfamiliar audience. The book outlines his process for understanding, distilling and assembling information in a way that is easy for people to understand.
Some of the best practical tips that he shared during an hour of Q&A include:
- Stop focusing on what you want to tell people, and focus on what they want to know. A good place to start is by thinking about which questions you can’t answer already, and finding out the answers. Communication is all about navigating information along with your audience, rather than talking at them.
- Remember that we live in a world of infinite information. There are countless places that anyone could look for the same answers that you’re providing. No-one has to consume your content, and once they start watching or reading, they can switch off at any point – so everything you say should have a purpose. It’s worth reminding yourself that “no-one cares as much about my email as I do” – don’t waste people’s time, just share the pertinent details.
- No-one cares as much about your email as you do. Don’t waste people’s time, just share the pertinent details – and if you’re speaking to a large group of people, make it clear which parts are especially relevant to which people. Identify your audience and force yourself to answer the question: “the reason this matters is…”.
- Simplifying does not mean “dumbing down”. Complexity will always be there, but your job as a communicator is to make it as easy as possible to understand. Never overestimate the audience’s knowledge or underestimate their intelligence. A good way to ensure that you have adequately explained everything is by seeking a second opinion from both an expert and a novice on the topic.
- Practice speaking aloud. If something is important, practice and experiment with how you talk about it before it matters. The more times you say something, the more filler words you are able to lose without losing the essence of what you’re saying. This isn’t just a valuable exercise for speaking opportunities; when you write in your speaking voice, your writing carries more personality and is usually easier to understand.
- Try to tell stories instead of repeating facts. Communication is rarely just about utility. It’s also about shared understanding, and stories are the simplest way to help people intuitively understand. A narrative holds people’s attention while you impart facts and information. A good example of this is how a news report will often start by describing a current event and then rewind to explain how we got there. Think: what is the most important thing that has happened, and why did it happen?