The No. 1 communication secret of great leaders: Be clear and concise
What do you do about the “overexplainer” -- someone who shares too much information for too long and can’t stop talking?
If you’ve ever met (or been described as) an overexplainer, you know the signs: Endless words with poor form and direction, too many details and no focus. What happens? People tune out, stop asking for an opinion, avoid meetings, focus on someone else. Career stagnation.
Today’s senior leaders, with a million points of focus, are less patient than ever. Unless you’re ready to be precise in your messaging, chances are you’re going to lose their attention. In my book “Executive Presence: Four Ways to Convey Confidence and Command Respect as a Leader,” I go into detail on how to overcome one of the most important qualities of executive presence -- being concise.
The key points below provide the specific ways on being powerfully succinct.
1. Learn that less is more
There is a definite art to concise communication. I often see people I coach struggle to find the balance in confidently stating their position with the supporting facts without either making a statement that seems unfounded or droning on longer than necessary. I advise my clients to speak briefly, but clearly, and avoid seeming unsure or like you’re "testing the waters" for a reaction.
Practice and refine your key messages to be simple and supportable in a sentence or two. You can follow up with answers when there are questions on clarity or validity -- be prepared.
2. Summarize and edit ruthlessly
Expect to cut a lot of your first draft -- half the bullet points, half the slides, half the summary. It sounds drastic, but it will be necessary to deliver a powerful message. Allow yourself to get all your thoughts out onto paper or screen, but then start carefully cutting back everything you don’t really need. Make it your mission to edit until you’re sure it can’t be squeezed any further. It will hurt, especially if you’re new to presenting or rely on a lot of facts to support your point of views.
The distilled result will serve you well with your audience, especially if they’re higher up in the organization.
3. Hit the key messages clearly
Focus on the important information you need to convey and hit it early in your presentation. Back up your statement as clearly as possible in a few brief sentences and then stand by ready for questions. This approach may feel like it’s pinching your style, but now is not the time to make complex statements that need a lot of explanation, or to fill the room with a lot of extra facts. You’re the expert, so confidently state your case and then be ready to back it up.
4. Understand the audience
Know who you’re talking to, especially when you’re talking to executives. Many of my clients, especially those from a technical background, struggle to keep their explanations at the right level. Their training works against them. Senior leaders don't just want you to be concise – they need you to keep your message tight and business-focused. Executives have hundreds of things and people vying for their attention. There is so much information coming at them at any given moment, and so you must be razor-sharp to cut through the noise and make your point.
They want to give you the opportunity, but that window is brief. Make the most of it.
Ready to be consistently tight in your messaging? It will take practice, but it’s worth every moment spent refining the habit. Be aware that you’re most likely to fall back on overexplaining habits when you’re under stress or caught off guard. Give yourself plenty of opportunity to exercise your messaging muscles and practice editing your speech in the everyday -- including with your peers, teammates, and direct reports. Nothing makes a habit stick better than repetition, so seize every opportunity to be confident and concise.
Do you need to learn how to be a clear and concise communicator? How to stop rambling? Hire Joel Garfinkle as an executive coach to positively improve your reputation and other’s perceptions of your capabilities. Garfinkle is recognized as one of the top 50 coaches in the U.S. and is the author of 11 motivational books. Subscribe to his Fulfillment at Work Newsletter and receive the FREE e-book "41 Proven Strategies to Get Promoted Now!" You can also view 75 of Garfinkle's two-minute inspirational video clips at his YouTube channel.