Business communication has a lot in common with running. When I was a child I used to sprint as fast as I could believing that I was quicker than the wind, until somebody told me otherwise. My eight year old legs raced my neighbor, the boys at school, and every girl on the block. If I lost, I kept running until I won, figuring there had to be a way for me to beat them.
By high school I had learned form, technique and that I needed to run longer distances. While it didn’t turn me into an Olympian, the extra skill allowed me to pass a runner or two in style, make it to state, and run track in college.
Just like in running, in effective business communication pace is everything and so is technique. In order to determine your speed and select your style, you have to understand your race. Sprints require a different mindset from middle distance and cross country. Thirty-second pitches to share who you are with a room filled with new people is different from thirty minutes to breakdown the latest changes in your office in a room filled with your peers whose respect and attention you may have earned already.
Here are three quick questions to help you plan for your audience.
Who are you speaking to?
Study your audience. An early morning crowd is different from a late evening setting. A younger group is different from an older one. A room filled with men is different from a room filled with women. Know who you speaking to and plan your talk with them in mind. Every foot needs a different shoe. Every audience needs a different part of you.
What do you want to say?
Get clear about your main point. Discover the most important lesson or story that you want to convey to your listeners. Then, make that point hard to miss. Remind them in the middle and close by highlighting your point again in a fun or colorful way. Runners complete the race when they cross the finish line. Speakers complete the race when your audience understands, and knowing exactly what you want to say is key.
How long do you have?
You may plan out the best speech in the world, but if you ignore the time limit, you send a clear message that you have no respect for the flow of things. Besides, the ongoing debate about the human attention span and the impact of the television, the internet or our individual personalities, gives you any where from 30 seconds to twenty minutes before you lose your audience’s focus. So plan for the thirty-seconds. Rejoice if you get twenty minutes. Runners are aware of the clock at all times. Speakers should be too.
Maximize your seconds by kicking off with an interesting and relevant statement. Don’t treat your audience like prisoners: now that you have them behind the bars of your speech you can be as dull as you possibly can. Don’t do that to people. Respect the fact that they can leave. If not physically, they can always exit mentally. And it’s a shame to stand in front of an audience and end up talking to yourself. Effective business communication requires your best.
Plan a few wake up activities for your class that are designed to rejuvenate your audience. In their teaching handbook, Indiana University suggests this technique as a tool to “reenergize” their students for the next part of the class
Remember, communication quick tips learned from running is the only time that you should put your foot in your mouth. Otherwise, keep them firmly on the ground.
To read more about attention spans, check out The “Change-Up” in Lectures by Joan Middendorf and Alan Kalish published in The National Teaching and Learning Forum, Jan. 1996 issue: Vol.5 No.2 or NTLF.com. If you want to improve your brain, you may enjoy this article at CNNhealth.com , “Fuzzy Brain? Improve Your Attention Span.”
Jamillah Warner admits that she speaks much better then she ever ran track, but asks, “Isn’t it funny how a single life experience can teach us so much?” To keep up with latest quick tips for effective communication be sure to sign-up for the be CLEAR Series.
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