Advice to a Niece on Her College Graduation, Part 4

Today is Thursday, so this post is on dynamic communication.

Today’s post is the fourth in a series on advice to my niece Brett, who graduated from Florida State last weekend.

Brett, all successful people are dynamic communicators.  All dynamic communicators have three things in common.  1) They are excellent conversationalists.  2) They write clearly and succinctly.  3) The present well – to groups two or two hundred.

Effective conversations are an up close and personal undertaking.  All of the dynamic communicators I know are great conversationalists.  Like most things I have one great piece of advice on how to become a great conversationalist.  Listen more than you speak.  When I am in a conversation, I try to spend about one third of my time speaking and two thirds listening.  I have found that this ratio works well for me.

Most people like to talk about themselves.  The best way to get people speaking about themselves is to ask a lot of questions.  When you meet people for the first time, ask what I call “get to know you” questions.  “What do you do?”  “Where do you live?”  “Are you married?”  “Do you have children?” 

Listen to the answers and file away this information for future use.  Yesterday I called on an old client.  Prior to going to see him, I spent time thinking about what I knew about him from our past interactions.  Here’s what I remembered.  We know several people in common.  His son is a music major at Ithaca College.  His company was recently acquired. 

I was able to keep the conversation going for over an hour by asking four questions.  1) How is your son doing at Ithaca?  2) Have you spoken to Jo lately?  3) I saw Tom the other day, have you spoken to him recently?  4) How are things going with your new company?

By asking these questions, listening, and adding follow up comments and/or questions, I was able to keep things moving for an hour.  At the end of that time, I was in a good position to ask the two questions that were my main reason for the conversation.  “How are things going with your team?  How can I help you?”  This was a sales call, after all.

The key here is to ask questions, listen to what people have to say, respond appropriately.  Then file away what you’ve learned.  I recommend writing it down so you won’t forget.  Review what you know about a person prior to visiting with him or her.  This will help you prepare for the conversation by choosing the questions you want to ask.

Good writing will set you apart.  Most people are poor writers.  They are unclear.  They ramble on.  Their e mails, letters and reports are a series of long sentences filled with big words that don’t really say anything.  You can catch people’s attention by writing in a clear, crisp, concise manner.

I try to write like a journalist.  I use short sentences with a simple subject – verb – object structure.  My writing may read a little staccato like, but it communicates.  People can understand my points and the reasoning behind them.

Your objective in writing at work is to communicate – not to impress others with your vocabulary.  When we were speaking about my book “Straight Talk for Success” the other day Brett, I said that I tried for an “avuncular hip” writing style.  You said, “What does that mean?”  I replied, “Avuncular means uncle-like.  I wanted to sound like a hip uncle to people reading the book.”  You came back with a great question, “Why didn’t you just say so?”

You were right.  Everybody knows what “uncle-like” means.  A lot of people, including cum laude graduates, don’t know the word “avuncular.”  I was just showing off my vocabulary by using that word.  As a result, I didn’t communicate effectively.

Write in short, simple sentences.  Use the most simple words you can to get across your point.  Write fast.  Get your thoughts on paper or the computer screen as quickly as you can.  Then edit and rewrite until you’ve said exactly what you want to say.  One of my first bosses always told me that rewriting is the secret to good writing. 

Write with the reader in mind.  Sometimes it’s a good idea to read aloud what you’ve written to get a feel for how it will sound in your reader’s mind. 

Finally, many a career has been built on one good presentation.  Presentations give you an opportunity to shine.  Unfortunately many people are afraid of standing before an audience and presenting.  Their fear stops them from taking advantage of the opportunities presentations afford.

Don’t let this happen to you, Brett.  Presenting is like any other process.  It can be broken down into a series of manageable steps.  Master the following five steps and you’ll become a great presenter. 

  1. Determine your message.  Begin by determining what you have say.  Get crystal clear on the message you have for the audience.
  2. Analyze your audience.  Why are they there?  How much do they know about your topic?  Are they familiar with any jargon you might use?  What is there general attitude towards you and the information you will be communicating?
  3. Organize your information for impact.  I always start at the end.  I write my closing first.  I use this closing to help me choose the information I am going to include in my talk.  I ask myself, “Does this information add to my main point?”  If the answer yes, I leave it in.  If the answer is no, I take it out.  Then I write my opening.  I design my opening statements to do two things – get people’s attention, and then tell that what I will be telling them in my talk.  Once the closing and opening are written, I simply fill in the content.
  4. Create supporting visuals.  Once I’ve decided what I want to say, and how I want to say it, I develop my visuals.  Your visuals should support your presentation – not drive it.  There is nothing more boring that watching and listening to someone read his or her slides.
  5. Practice out loud.  This is the most important point of all.  As an early mentor told me, “Bud, preparation makes up for a lack of talent.”  It also enhances your natural talent.  Never skip this step.  If you do, you will be likely to do a poor talk.  And while a poor presentation generally is not a career killer, it is a missed opportunity.

Brett, there are a few common sense points about becoming a dynamic communicator here.  Become a good conversationalist by listening.  Take an active interest in other people and what they’re saying.  Show them you’re listening by asking appropriate follow up questions to what they say.  Write in a manner that communicates well.  In general, this means, being clear, concise and easily readable.  The best way to make sure your writing is readable is to read it aloud before sending it.  Finally, preparation is the most important key to doing a good presentation.  If you follow the five steps I’ve laid out above, you’ll be able to develop and present great talks.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading.  Log on to my website for more common sense and to subscribe to my weekly newsletter “Common Sense.” 

I’ll see you around the web and at Alex’s Lemonade Stand.


PS: Speaking of Alex’s Lemonade Stand, my fundraising page is still open.  Please go to to read Alex’s inspiring story and to donate if you can.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.