We tend to live in times when leaders talk much about everything. Political leaders talk about change in models; community leaders talk about change in mindset; technical leaders speak about the impact of the disruptive technology they create, and organizational leaders talk about change and its effect on growth. So much talk, and still, according to the American psychological society study from 2019, only thirty-six percent of the people hear, understand, accept and support what leaders say.
So much effort and so small impact. While leaders communicate with everyone, one downside of their communication is easy to be seen in the way of communication and the content they share with the auditorium. I have gone through the same model many times till I learned to divide my contact and focus it on the auditorium level. And after doing that, the impact I have made and the result I have achieved got better and better after every communication cycle.
Improving communication is a crucial element of interaction with the people around you.
In 2009 I had to communicate a disruptive change in the company I have worked with, introducing the closing of our local business and opening a much smaller entity that could welcome not more than ten percent of the staff we had at the moment. I was nervous and prepared several scenarios for starting and finishing the talk faster. Unfortunately, the board of directors did not want to participate in this type of conversation and left it to me as an HR Manager. After preparing for almost a week, I did not feel comfortable acting. That day, I had to share the bad news with people, and I was still doubting what and how to communicate. Here to help came a university professor of mine; I was preparing my Master’s thesis. The lady was a fantastic listener and, at the same time great mentor. She taught me four simple rules to follow to make any communication acceptable.
Rule 1: Understand your auditorium
To attract the attention of a group of people, you will need to focus on the group’s level and in what area the group has expertise. For example, imagine sharing statistical data in front of the warehouse workers or talking about the supply chain in the IT department. Many leaders do the same – they use the same approach in every auditorium. And often, these same leaders ask themselves why people are not listening. The best thing the leader can do before starting the communication is to invest time to understand the specifics of the auditorium. In simple words, that means understanding the level of the people, their area of expertise, the needs they share, and what makes them stand up every morning and go to work. Creating a profile for the auditorium and learning the language and specifics that characterize the hall is essential to creating the winning communication toward it.
Rule 2: Map their day
Many leaders often overlook this rule. They do not know what moves people through the day but go with the intention that they will have to share something, and any time of the day is good for that. When communicating with a group of people, the leader interferes with their daily agenda. For some people losing concentration in the most productive part of their day can ruin their whole plan.
Mapping people’s day means for the leader not to focus on when his free time is, but understanding when will be the best time to stop people from working and share what needs to be shared with them.
Let’s assume you work in a distribution company. If you are the leader, it will be a bad idea to stop people from working at the beginning of the end of the day. These are the pushiest moments of the day for them. But if you do your speech during their lunch break and make it with a slice of pizza – you will win their attention and a more significant part of their acceptance of what you want to share.
That is why it is crucial to map the day of the auditorium and find that momentum in time when they will be ready to accept what you say.
Rule 3: Anticipate questions
Many times in my career, a leader came up in front of an auditorium, shared a news or a change coming up, and then just left. In one case, I even had to stay two more hours with the people in the room and answer their questions, calm them down and help them find their internal motivation to continue through the day. According to an article published in Harvard Business Review back in 2020, some forty-six percent of the leaders do not answer a question during events and think that everything they share is clear for everyone. In the same article, the authors share that percentage of people who want to ask questions is seventy-two, but only twelve percent feel confident to do it.
Standing on those numbers, the leader’s third task is to prepare to answer questions and be ready to stimulate people to ask questions. Skipping the Q&A session in a presentation is the breaking point of people’s acceptance of what the leader says. But, according to the auditorium needs, moving through this section is a positive sign that the leader is open and transparent and wants to share more information.
Rule 4: Create helpful content
“Be careful what and how you share with the people around you,” – a professor from the University I have attended one’s said. First, I did not understand what he meant, but I painfully learned my lesson after several years in HR.
People need information, and the leader needs to share it. But what people need is information that they understand and can directly connect with their daily agenda. The leader’s role is to find the best approach to allow him to be easily understood by the auditorium. I have often seen a leader who is not helping people comprehend him but assumes that everyone thinks and acts like him by default. The HR people and CEOs often make that mistake with explaining company values. But what they miss is that people do not understand the fancy words; they need to connect them with their lives at work and home.
The leader must create content that helps others. Or, in other words – content that is close to the people and answers the needs of their mental level. The more simple and easy to understand the content, the more it helps people see its main pillars and act proactively using the information shared. That is why every leader needs to think of the content he shares in terms of how meaningful, impactful and understandable this content is to the people it will be shared with.
And if there are no signs that more than two-thirds will be easily understandable, the leader should turn back and find another way and form to communicate the content he wants to share.
There is no doubt that today communication can make or break the environment and trust in organizations. The essential thing in the process is for the leader or the communicator to understand what moves or stops it and react proactively to ensure excellent results with less effort and stress.