Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: 5 Ways to Keep It Simple!


In this seventh chapter of his book Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, John Maxwell states a practice that is true of all communication if you want to connect to other people:   keep it simple!

My favorite story in the introduction of the chapter is of a U.S. Navy ordnance officer who explained in great detail how guided missiles work.   One man who listened to the talk came up to him after the presentation and said, “Before hearing the lecture I was thoroughly confused about how these missiles work.”   “And now?” the officer asked.  “Thanks to you, I’m still just as confused, but on a much deeper level.”

As funny as the story it is, it does make the point that you should aim to oversimplify rather than to over-complicate.   This will depend on several factors:    how much time you have for your presentation, how familiar the average person in the audience is with your subject matter, and what their purpose is in listening to the information.   Are they there to be entertained, and get a glimpse of the subject matter?   Are they there to actual use something of the information you present in their everyday lives?    Or are they already conversant with the subject matter, but perhaps not from the particular perspective that you intend to share with them?   All of these questions should go into how much detail you should give in your presentation.

Here are 5 ways of keeping it simple …

1.  Talk To People, Not Above Them

When you are starting off learning how to be a speaker, your first impulse is probably to try to impress others–you should replace this with the desire to have an impact on them instead.    The direct and simple approach is usually best in all forms of communication–greater complexity is never the answer in communication if your desire is to connect.

2.  Get to the Point

You should start thinking about the reason for your communication before you begin to speak.   You need to ask the two questions:

  • What do I want them to know?
  • What do I want them to do?

In a difficult situation, where you have to give unpleasant news to an employee, from a problematic evaluation to having to let them go, it’s best to a) establish a connection with the person that you are trying to talk to, and b) tell them clearly the reason why an action or a recommendation is being taken.

Less is more when it comes to communication.    Thomas Jefferson once remarked of George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, “I never heard either of them speak ten minutes at a time, nor in any but the main point which was to decide the question.”    They not only said the minimum needed for effect, but they also chose the best moment to say it.

3.  Say it Over and Over …. Again

William Rastteter, who taught at MIT and Harvard, once said, “The first time you say something, it’s heard.  The second time, it’s recognized, and the third time, it’s learned.”    You should start of with your main point, illustrate the main point with examples, and then repeat the main point again.    The repetition takes your speech from prose and turns it into poetry, where lines echo and reinforce each other backwards and forwards throughout the speech, guaranteeing that they will be absorbed fully by the audience.

4.   Say it Clearly

Professional speaker Peter Meyer says that when you are trying to put a puzzle together, you put the boxtop of the puzzle next to you so that you have a clear picture in front of you to compare the pieces with in order to figure out where they should go and how they should connect to each other.   Likewise with a speech, you should have no more than three main ideas (the boxtop) if you are doing a talk that lasts an hour, with all of the illustrations coming after the presentation of the main ideas like the pieces of the puzzle.

5.  Say Less

You should always aim to end a little on the early side.   So if you are scheduled to do a 5-7 minute speech, don’t write a script which takes you 7 minutes on the dot to complete in rehearsal.   When you get to the real thing, you may have added gestures, pauses, or stage directions that take time from the “ideal” timing you had in rehearsal.   Rather aim for the 5 minute mark.   Don’t forget time for pauses BETWEEN the main points of your speech.   This will signal to the audience that there is the equivalent of a new paragraph starting.   It will also give them some time to digest what you have just gotten through saying.

As Winston Churchill once said, “the short words are the best, and the old words best of all.

The next post will conclude this chapter.

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