“No that’s not what I meant.” People don’t always hear what you meant to say!

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What you communicate matters. What you intended to communicate doesn’t matter so much — especially if you’re not doing the work to help ensure that your audience hears what you want them to.

If you’re a senior leader in an organisation people listen to you. Even in those moments when you think what you’re saying is inconsequential people are listening to you. That’s why what you say is incredibly important.

I’ve seen it before and I’m sure you have too. A leader has been giving a presentation to an assembled group of staff and whilst they’ve been doing it you’ve taken a quick scan of the audience and it’s clear that their message just isn’t landing! People don’t have a clue what’s going on. I’ve even been party to it myself — I think I’m saying one thing and my wife (or whoever I’m talking to) is hearing something entirely different. So why does this happen?

Well the simple reality is that communication is difficult! The amount of dissonance between what person says and another person hears is alarming. If you’re the one communicating you need to take responsibility for what you say and how the other person hears it. This might seem a little unfair but if what you’re saying is important it’s worth making sure that your audience is hearing exactly what you want them to hear and not some variation of it!

There is some good news in all of this, of course! Communication is a learned skill which means it’s something you can better at. So what are some of the things you can do to improve the reception your communication gets?:

  1. Prepare & practice — you might think this is a little bit cheesy but it doesn’t need to be as clichéd as standing in front of a mirror for hours on end reciting the same lines over and over again! But it is worth being intentional in preparing to communicate. Have you got succinct talking points that make sense? Have you thought about what it would be like being a member of the audience hearing this for the first time?

  2. Invite feedback — build in points to your presentation or talk where you can naturally pause and see if anyone has any questions? A good way to start this is for you to think about some questions that you might have if you were in their shoes. “I’m going to stop here and see if there are any questions. Whilst I give you a moment to think I’ll note that one of the questions you might have is ‘What does this all mean for me?’ which is a great question…here’s what I’d say to that…”

  3. Have someone else explain your points back to you — this is especially powerful in small group or 1:1 situations. Ask the other person or the group to reiterate and play back what they heard and understood by what you’ve shared with them. In doing this you’re able to see any blind spots you’ve left in your message and make alterations for the next time. And, what’s more, you’re able to correct any misinformation or assumptions before people leave the room!

  4. Communicate again! — important messages are worth reiterating. And if they’re truly important, chances are you’ll want to communicate about it more than once anyway. Use various mediums to communicate your message and in doing so chances are you’ll reduce confusion. If your first method was a public presentation to a large group — perhaps follow it up with a summary blog post which can be shared with everyone afterwards. The point is use whatever tools you have available to keep sharing your message — this helps avoid miscommunications and clears up misunderstandings!

Good luck on your quest to communicate with impact & clarity! If you have any tips you’d like to share we’d love to hear them.