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Issue 51

Communication Games - Less is More

Bogdan Mureşan
Senior Director of Engineering
@3Pillar Global
MANAGEMENT

Awhile ago, I wrote an article addressing some important aspects in the world of client communication, or at least that was what I thought I was doing. I talked about how important it is to find a common ground when talking to somebody, especially if the people involved have different backgrounds. I also talked about the importance of emphasizing the value of what we are communicating, to point out what our ideas are bringing to the game. Since then, I have continued to improve my communication skills and I have discovered how important it is to pass these messages in a very efficient manner, especially when there are time constraints in the game. This is almost always the case when discussing with a client. There have been a couple of game changers for me lately, which I think have really helped me improve my efficiency when communicating. In this article I want to pass along these additional teachings.

The first revelation

If you really know what you want to say, time pressure is not a problem. We can communicate much more efficiently than we think in a very short period of time.

Exactly one year ago, I did one of the craziest things so far: I decided to take a public speaking class. There are tons of jokes about fear of speaking in public and I can assure you that all are true. So, I choose to participate in the "Speaker Elite" program created by Andy Szekely. It was an awesome class. I had very cool colleagues and even cooler moderators. And I learned much more than I expected. Among other things, I learned how to communicate more efficiently that I could think up to that moment.

While I learned a lot of things about public speaking through this program, I also learned a lot of things related to communication in general. I'd like to talk about a couple of them, since they can really make our way of communicating much more efficient.

Structure

When we write, or speak, or communicate in general it is very important that we have a structure. Structures help organize our thoughts and help the other person follow our ideas easily. Therefore, it enables us to be more efficient. There are plenty of frameworks to help us make a case for our idea. The one I found during the class is the one I like the most. It starts by telling what's in it for the listener. Then, it focuses on why we are talking about this. Then, it presents arguments that all centered on the main idea.

I like this format because it explains what's in it for the listener very fast. When we are dealing with clients, or in other situations, when there is a limited time for discussion, we don't want to lose time. We want to capture the attention of the listener very quickly. We want listeners to focus on what we are about to say. Once we have a focus, we can make our case. Short, and to the point. And, of course, it is very important for the arguments to be related to the main idea. We want to keep the focus on what we want to deliver.

Exercise

The program ran for ten weeks, and one of the best things was that we had to prepare five-minute speeches in order to explain an idea. We presented, we gave feedback and we received feedback. I was really nervous because it was a real challenge to present an important idea for five minutes. Sometimes, we just say "hi" and five minutes are gone.

The first presentation was straightforward: I was a little shy, I gave couple of jokes, and I tackled a subject which I was really comfortable with. It was mediocre at best. Then, I got my wings. I chose a subject out of my comfort zone. I illustrated every aspect of the message with cool examples, and then illustrated each cool example with an even cooler backup example. Take a step back now and think how many times, after a discussion, you said to yourself: damn, I could have communicated all of that in a quarter of the time. That's exactly what happened to me. Because of the excitement, in order to be perfect I stopped after eight minutes and a half (out of five). Instead of an auditorium raising in their feet and cheering, like we see in the movies, I left people really confused. I went home, I cried, I analyzed, I cried again. I learned my lesson: more doesn't guarantee more understanding or clearer ideas. Beginning with the next attempt, I started to come around. And all of a sudden, five minutes for an idea turned out to be much more than I needed.

Through exercises, I learned how to focus on what is important: the message. Good examples instead of many examples can really save the day. A structure should be in place no matter what we want to say. If we are working on an idea and want to see if we've got it right, we can try to present it in five minute to a tough auditorium. It really helps.

The second revelation

The second revelation I got came from a book which I now recommend to everybody from the bottom of my heart. It is called "The Disciplined Pursuit of Less" written by Greg McKeown.

When I first read the title I though "Nice, there is an art of trying to do nothing". But the book is awesome in describing how to do things more efficiently, and in a more focused way. It shows us how to do better, not more. What it taught me is how to find the essential.

Among other ideas, I found one which really got me thinking: what's the role of an editor. So let's pause for a moment and think about what an editor does. Everybody has heard about editors but I have personally never asked myself what their job really is. They do what we all should do with our ideas: they edit them. I know that you would have expected something brilliant, crazy, unexpected, but actually it is that simple: they edit stuff.

What's crazy is what this editing means that they take the rough material and go over it trillions of times. And they take out any 'trash', any piece of information which is irrelevant, all the waste. What remains is pure gold--only what matters--the essential. It happens with books, papers. Do you think that this nice article you are enjoying right now was written like this from the first attempt? No, somebody really worked hard to clean it up. The best movies have the best editors because what we see on the screen is only what is important: no detail is left to chance. (Would you like to see a plane in the sky in an old western movie?)

We can apply this concept anytime. We can draw ideas, write them, talk to the walls and then edit them. If we need to be efficient, if we have a presentation, if we're preparing a case for a client, we can edit our thoughts and leave only the essential. And most of the time, the time constraints will not be a problem anymore. In this way, we will maximize our chances that our messages will be received the way we want by allowing the other party to focus only on what matters.

The conclusion

As I previously stated, we often tend to believe that, in order to emphasize our ideas, we need to talk for hours. Or at least I do. But the truth is that we rarely get that time, and we never do it with clients. So, we need to be as efficient as possible, which means that we need to point out the essential and do it right. Practice is what leads to excellence. One way to practice is the five-minute time-boxed exercises which I found very useful. We need a structure and we need good arguments. In order to meet time constraints, we can adopt an "editor mentality": keeping what's important and allowing the listener to focus on what we consider the main point. These are three concepts that can really help improve the way we communicate, the way we spread our ideas.

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