The following is an interview with Frank J. Pietrucha, author of Supercommunicator: Explaining the Complicated So Anyone Can Understand offering strategies to make communication clearer and more effective.
The way we communicate is quickly changing. How is the Internet altering the way we exchange information?
There are trillions of bytes of information out there in cyberspace waiting to pulse through our fingertips at the command of a click. In the short span of a couple of decades, the Internet has turned us from careful, deliberate readers into power-scanners… hungry predators searching for our next information fix. The Internet is actively re-wiring our brains and people are overwhelmed with all the content coming their way. To successfully communicate a message of any complexity in this digital age you must understand that audiences are swimming in excessive data. You must be kind to them and throw them a life preserver.
What are Supercommunicators? How do they address explaining complicated content in an era of information saturation?
Supercommunicators transcend ordinary communications and deliver more meaningful, more impactful messages. They know how to turn technical geek speak into everyday language that real people can understand. By engaging at a human level, they get past the clutter of facts and figures and enable audiences to see big picture scenarios they might otherwise miss.
How do you turn difficult content into meaningful messages?
Give people a reason to care. People who don’t see benefits to learning new content often tune out early in a presentation nor bother to read a report straight through. Too many of us forget to deliver meaning in our communication efforts. We rush to produce reports focusing on facts and figures… but in our haste neglect to tell our audiences why something is important. Supercommunicators figure out how to make topics resonate with their audiences. They make the subject important to them at a human level.
Communication efforts seem more casual today than a generation ago. Are we just being less professional or are there benefits to a looser style?
Communication styles are not just looser… there more human and more engaging. Gone are the days of the 80s power suits and hard to comprehend corporate speak. Supercommunicators want to connect with their audience… and you can’t do that if you’re projecting an uptight image. Professionalism has been re-defined. The Internet culture has freed us from a rigid impersonal way of doing business. Serious, stilted communication is not conducive to helping people understand new content. Research has proven that people work harder to understand new material when they feel they’re engaged in a conversation… and content isn’t being dictated to them. Be genuine and let the real you emerge! Share relevant real life experiences that make you authentic in the eyes of your audience.
We often hear that some learners are visual learners. Is that true? What should or shouldn’t communicators do when considering adding graphics or other multimedia?
We can all benefit from visual learning. Think back to the days of the caveman… what can be more natural for us as humans than seeing pictures… visuals have been around a lot longer than the written word (by about 35,000 years)! and are very effective. And today the computer and the Internet make communicating visually much easier to accomplish. But don’t just throw any graphic into your communication effort. Visuals, if not used properly, can distract from the learning experience. Approach graphics with journalistic integrity. If the image doesn’t serve a purpose, it should be stricken.
What other tips can you offer?
It’s easy to get caught up in new multimedia tools, but there’s much more to being a Supercommunicator. We still need the language and content development skills we learned in high school and college, but also need to be aware of how digital-age demands are re-shaping the way we present information. Here are a few ideas:
• Combat jargon abuse. When you use jargon – special words or phrase professionals use to communicate with each other – you’re creating a barrier between yourself and your audience if your audience doesn’t know your special language. Use words everyone can understand.
• Don’t overuse acronyms. We love to take short cuts. Acronyms – words that are formed by the initial letters of other words – can help like-minded people speak and write in shorthand. Great if everyone knows all the acronyms. But what happens when you need to communicate with people outside your circle? Supercommunicators know that if their documents look like alphabet soup… they need to hold back on acronyms… and spell it out.
• Use big words sparingly. A lot of people think they sound more impressive when they use big words. Its great if you have a strong vocabulary… but be kind to your audience and keep it simple. Supercommunicators want their audiences to focus on their message… they don’t want to distract people by using words their audience will have to think about.
• Shorter words, shorter sentences, shorter paragraphs. Again, Supercommunicators want to be kind to their audiences. Our Internet culture has us wanting everything shorter. Brevity is king.
• Don’t beat around the bush. Lead with a conclusion. Give your reader what she wants immediately. Don’t make her hunt for the main point. You still need to back up your claims with a cohesive argument… so no short cuts… but put the conclusion first.
Frank J. Pietrucha, president of Definitive Communications, has over 25 years of experience helping start-ups, established companies, and government agencies make challenging topics more accessible.