If you were to rate your communication skills, whether verbal or written, out of ten, how would you score? What can you do to improve that score by a couple of points?
The human brain is an amazing tool for generating thoughts and converting them into verbal and written statements, but it’s not great at retaining lots of information in real time, often referred to as our Working Memory*. In today’s busy world, how we deliver statements and information is a key skill set for anyone looking to convey their message in the most clear and effective way possible.
A concept I refer to as the “Power of 3” has proved an influential and positive impact on both my writing and verbal communications.
When preparing a report, speech, or other communication, consider the top 3 aspects, and scale them down accordingly. For example, when preparing a project update, identify your 3 headline updates. From each update, isolate 3 key points. Now define 3 key actions needed to move the project forward?
Obviously, there is more ground to cover, but try and focus on the top 3, rather than adding more just to give your presentation more content. Present your 3 points, break each one down into 3 sub points, then close and ask for questions if your team is happy to move forward.
When writing a report on the project, before or after the meeting, use the same strategy. Avoid using a dozen bullet points, simply put the 3 most important ones into a single sentence. It’s remarkable how this visual reduction in content alone will encourage your audience to engage more with the content.
Tip: When asked to provide an update in a meeting, even at short notice, write down 3 headline points, provide them with brief supporting commentary, and close by asking the audience if they have questions.
We can try to fight it, but it’s human nature to switch off after 3 points. Additional points won’t be retained easily in our short-term memory, or your initial points may be forgotten, causing the audience to disconnect and lose interest. By using 3 points, your audience can follow your train of thought, reinforcing their understanding, and their connection with the content.
It may feel like a lost opportunity not to cover more detail, but an engaged audience will ask questions, and if challenged as to why you did not include more, indicate that you have only provided the top 3, and offer to go through the full list. You want to avoid that awkward silence when you’ve lost an audience because you’ve provided too much for them to process.
It’s not always possible, particularly with written reports, and you may need to include additional information, but you should not mention more than 3 during your introduction or verbal summary of the report.
As a side note, and by way of closing, please consider empathy as a supporting factor. Being considerate to your audience will help define which points to select. I find this best comes with experience and through a journey of discovery. Ask a lot of questions before, during and after interactions to assess whether the important points were captured, so you can reflect and refine with each verbal or written interaction.
All too often I see people over-communicate and lose their audience. As Mark Twain famously stated, “I apologise for such a long letter – I didn’t have time to write a short one.” Make sure you write short letters.
If you have any other techniques for improving your written verbal communications, I would love to hear from you. The simpler the better. They’re the ones that stick and work the best.
*You can find a good article here if you’re interested in knowing more about the science behind our Working Memory
As an entrepreneur, employee, and mentor, I’m fascinated by personal development and helping people achieve their personal and professional objectives. I post related content regularly, so please follow The UnExtraordinaries to receive updates. If you enjoyed this article, consider giving it a Like or sharing it, to help it reach a wider audience. If you want to get in touch, feel free to contact me here or on LinkedIn.
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