There are seven essential elements to successful business communication:
Psychological Rule of 7Â±2
If you are going to communicate effectively in business it is essential that you have a solid grasp of these seven elements. So let’s look at each in turn…
How you structure your communication is fundamental to how easily it is absorbed and understood by your audience. Every good communication should have these three structural elements:
This structural rule holds true no matter what your communication is — a memo, a phone call, a voice mail message, a personal presentation, a speech, an email, a webpage, or a multi-media presentation. Remember – your communication’s audience can be just one person, a small team, an auditorium full of people or a national, even global, group of millions.
In this instance size doesn’t matter — the rules remain the same.
An opening allows your communication’s audience to quickly understand what the communication is about.
Short, sharp and to the point, a good opening lets your audience quickly reach a decision of whether or not to pay attention to your message.
Time is a precious resource, after all, and the quicker you can ‘get to the point’ and the faster your audience can make that ‘disregard/pay attention’ decision the more positively they will view you — which can be VERY important if you need or want to communicate with them in the future.
Here’s where you get to the ‘heart’ of your message. It is in the body of the message that you communicate all of your facts and figures relative to the action you want your communication’s audience to take after attending to your message.
Keep your facts, figures and any graphs or charts you might present to the point. Don’t bog down your audience with irrelevant material, or charts with confusing, illegible numbers and colors.
There’s a key to rapid uptake of your message — KISS.
Pitch your presentation’s graphics at a grade seven child. If THEY can follow and understand them, chances are good that your audience will too.
The Close is where you sum up your communication, remind your audience of your key points, and leave them with a clear understanding of what you want them to do next.
The more powerfully you can end your communication, the more easily remembered it will be by your audience.
Be clear about the message you want to deliver, as giving a confused message to your audience only ends up with them being confused and your message being ignored.
If you are giving a message about, say, overtime payments don’t then add in messages about detailed budget issues or the upcoming staff picnic — UNLESS they ABSOLUTELY fit in with your original message. It’s far better and clearer for your audience if you create a separate communication about these ancillary issues.
Nothing more upsets a regular reader of, say, your newsletter than inconsistency of your message. Taking a position on an issue one week, only to overturn it the next, then overturn THAT position the following week, only breeds distrust in your message.
At the risk of sounding like the Grouchy Grammarian, please make sure that your tenses remain the same, that your viewpoint doesn’t wander between the 1st and 3rd person and back again (unless you deliberately want to create a linguistic or story-telling effect â€” be careful with this!) and that your overall ‘theme’ or message doesn’t change.
If the only tool you have in your tool bag is a hammer, pretty soon everything starts to look like a nail. Similarly, if all you believe you have as a communications tool is PowerPointâ„¢ then pretty soon all you’ll do is reduce very communications opportunity to a PowerPointâ„¢ presentation. And as any of us who have sat through one too many boring slideshows will attest, “seen one, seen ’em all”
There are a myriad of was you can deliver your messageâ€”the trick is to use the right one.
Which is the right one? The one that communicates your message:
with the greatest accuracy
with the largest likelihood of audience comprehension
at the lowest fiscal cost
at the lowest time cost
Note: it must meet all of these criteria. There’s absolutely no value in spending the least amount of money if the medium you choose doesn’t deliver on any of the other criteria.
So what media are available? You have a choice from any one or combination of the following:
one-to-one face-to-face presentation
one-to-one phone presentation
one-to-many personal presentation
plain text email
one-to-many phone presentation
text + graphics email
Choosing the right medium or media is obviously critical, as the fiscal costs of some in the above list are higher than others. Get the media mix wrong and you could end up spending a whole lot of time and money on a very visually attractive business communication that delivers next-to-zero ROI (return on investment).
It never ceases to amaze me that business managers still believe that everyone would be interested in their messageâ€”and then proceed to subject any and everyone they can find to a horrendous PowerPoint slideshow put together by a well-meaning but aesthetically-challenged subordinate.
Screen-after-screen of lengthy text, in a small barely legible font size (because a small font size is the only way to fit all of the words onto the slide), which the manager duly and dully reads verbatim.
It is essential to know that, one week later, a business communication is remembered by one or both of two things:
the power and memorability of its opening
the power and memorability of its close
Psychologists call the effect of remembering the first few items presented as a ‘Primacy Effect’. Similarly, they call the effect of remembering the last few items presented to you as a ‘Recency Effect’.
7. The Psychological Rule of 7Â±2 (seven plus or minus two)
Psychologists have long known that the human brain has a finite capacity to hold information in short-term or ‘working’ memory. Equally, the brain is also structured to retain information in ‘clusters’ or groups of items.
These clusters or groups average, across the whole of mankind, at seven items, plus or minus two. Which means that your audience is only able to hold on to between five and nine pieces of information at any one time.
Similarly, your audience will group your business communication’s message with between four and eight other messages in their long-term memory. Now do you see the importance of clarity of message and of having a distinctive and memorable opening and close?
If you want your key points to be remembered even five minutes later, it is essential that you limit your business communication to between just five and nine key points. Equally, if you want your key action points to be remembered five weeks later, ensure that your communication is amongst the five to nine most memorable messages your audience has attended to in the last five weeks.