The experts at Decker Communications just released their annual list of the top ten best and worst communicators. I always look forward to this annual article. Not only is it interesting but it is also entertaining and sometimes a bit sad. I highly recommend spending a few minutes going through their blog post. There is a lot to be learned from the best (and the worst…).
Communication skills are more important today than ever before. There is so much noise around us. Being heard amongst all the information frenzy requires us to continuously work on our skills. In his amazing book You’ve got to be believed to be heard, Bert Decker sums that up nicely:
“The message for all of us is clear: Whatever our life goals, our career goals, or our dreams of a better world, the key to success lies in our ability to communicate. No matter how uncomfortable or ill-equipped we feel as communicators, we dare not back away from the challenge of becoming effective speakers.”
Over the past few years, I have attended more conferences than I can remember. Unfortunately, there are always a few people who deliver extremely poor presentations. Some of them simply do not care. Others are extremely nervous. And some of them simply have nothing to say. But the result is always the same: a lot of wasted time (think about the audience loosing 45 minutes of their lives) and the speaker’s reputation is often damaged (would you purchase expensive software or services from the arrogant person who could not articulate a clear message?).
Presentation coach Jerry Weissman states:
“If any one presentation fails, there may be no tomorrow. You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
NEW YEAR, NEW GOALS
2011 is almost over. Towards year-end, most of us sit down to make goals for the next year. Working on communication skills is always on my personal list. So, what can you do? Here are a few ideas:
My family and I just returned from a fantastic vacation on a cruise ship. On our last day we attended a Q&A session with the captain and a few of his officers. People were very interested in the details of the ship. The captain quoted a few numbers:
Weight: 85,000 tons
Installed Power: 48,000 HP
Length: 264 meters
Beam: 32 meters
Our 85,000 ton cruise ship
While the figures are certainly impressive I realized that they do no mean much. My boys asked the obvious question: “How much is that?” The numbers are just too difficult to understand. Indeed: What does 85,000 tons really mean? (Have you ever lifted something that heavy?) Plain digits rarely resonate with people – they do not communicate a story and they are often hard to understand. And this can be problematic in business when we present figures. We typically present them to tell a story and to instill action but the sheer nakedness of the digits hides the true meaning. That’s what happened during the presentation of the cruise captain.
CONTEXT AND MEANING
A better approach is to present the numbers and put them into context with something we are all familiar with. It helps people understand. This is especially helpful for larger numbers like the examples above. Let’s take a look:
85,000 tons is about as heavy as the combined weight of 56,667 BMW 5 series sedans.
48,000 horsepowers is the equivalent of 240 BMW 525d limousines pulling in unison
264 meters is as long as 2.6 regular soccer fields
32 meters is about half as wide as a soccer field
Here we go: 2.6 soccer fields long, with a huge stack of cars on top and a few hundred Beamers pulling the thing. Now that puts this into perspective and it is actually quite impressive. My kids understand that and they had a serious look of surprise on their faces.
STEVE JOBS – THE MASTER
One person who has perfected the technique of explaining and making numbers shine is Steve Jobs. He has delivered some classic explanations in recent history:
“1000 songs in your pocket.” ….Jobs is explaining what a 5GB iPod is able to do
“Our market share is greater than BMW or Mercedes in the car industry.” ….Jobs was critized about the low market share number of 5% in the computer industry back in 2003
ENHANCE YOUR NUMBERS
When you present numbers, try to put context around them. Compare them and relate them to something relevant. Pick something that your audience is familiar with. This technique is extremely effective and can really amplify your message. And it is not all that difficult. Best of all: you can use it in many different situations. Whether it is in a business meeting, your next presentation or to simply explain a few things to your kids.
“Remember, data is a representation of real life. It’s not just a bucket of numbers. There are stories in that bucket. There is meaning, truth and beauty.” Nathan Yau
P.S.: Speaking about context. Here is a fine example. We happened to spot the marvelous “A” yacht of Russian billionaire Andrei Melnitschenko. Look at the first photo and then scroll down to look at the second one. The first photo makes it difficult to assess it’s true size. It is hard to believe that this ship is a bit longer than a soccer field. The second photo provides the context of the fishing boat.