Dear Colleagues,

I often think I am like my Labrador dog when it comes to communicating. Inundated by a thousand messages – most of which are absolutely unintelligible to me (apart from a good sniff of meaty food).

As you are told repeatedly, we are bombarded with messages every day. Some suggest up to 3000 per day. You only need to glance around you – from the adverts/jingles on the radio/email/mail/T-shirts/phone calls/urgent messages/pop ups/web pages and so forth to see that this number is probably not far wrong.

Thus if you are endeavoring to communicate with someone you have a devil of a job penetrating this rather fierce thicket. And even if you do penetrate – does your correspondent really understand what you are telling her? Some apply the approach of simply repeating the message a zillion times loudly and persistently. But this often doesn’t work.

I would respectfully suggest that there are four techniques you can use:

1. Catch Their Undivided Attention
Your audience is in information overload. Start with an interesting kick-off for a presentation. Or if your audience isn’t listening and are otherwise occupied – simply shut up and wait for silence in the room.

2. Make it a Fresh Action Oriented Passionate Message
Don’t use all the old clichés to communicate. Use something fresh, interesting, useful and pithy. Remember they have been hammered with lots of other stuff before you start talking. So you had better have a good idea to sell.

3. Keep it Short
Use each word sparingly and make each word work for you. Your audience has only so much interest and within minutes, this will be waning. Keep it short and powerful. Tag on action steps with deadlines at the end.

4. Set a Trap
Finally, when you have passed on your message, ensure you test this person’s understanding with a simple quiz or ask them to repeat it (obviously, in a non-patronising way if you are communicating to a valued client or your boss). I notice really effective restaurants have their waiters repeat your order. Getting your audience to confirm your message means that you can correct any misunderstandings and also reinforce it in their minds.

Abigail Adams hit the nail on the head: We have too many high sounding words, and too few actions that correspond with them.

Yours in engineering learning,

Steve