Knowing how to say what you mean, and mean what you say, should be as effortless as breathing.
In reality, however, the process is as tiresome as watching paint dry.
Then there is the written word – knowing what to write, and how to tweak your written communication to meet your recipient’s expectations should be straightforward. After all, Ernest Hemingway, once quipped that writing was easy: all you had to do was to sit down at a typewriter, (substitute ‘typewriter’ for computer, laptop, tablet, IPhone etc.), and bleed.
To complicate matters, interesting research revealed that since 2000, the human attention span, when viewing web content, has dropped from 12 seconds to eight seconds, (less than that of a goldfish, at nine seconds). Whatever opinion you have about the study, know that the stakes are higher in this digital age. You would need to simultaneously hold the attention of your audiences and communicate with clarity if you want results.
Therefore, before you proceed to craft that speech, organise that presentation, or pen that document to inform/persuade your audience, note the statement below:
Communication is only effective when it either achieves a purpose, or brings you closer to completing a goal.
This means that the rationale for the communication should be at the forefront of your plans. With a defined objective, it becomes easier to achieve clarity in your overall communication.
Note also that the three beacons of effective communication – simplicity, brevity, and clarity, are invaluable guides that will help you fulfill your intentions.
Of the three beacons, clarity is often relegated to the fringe because it is mistaken for simplicity. Yet, without clarity, your communication will fail to prompt action.
So, what is the case for clarity in business communication?
Without clarity, you would ‘die’ a hundred times when delivering that address because from the nonverbal cues, you would know that you have lost your audience.
Or, you would ‘bleed’ in front of your desktop/laptop etc. when you realise that your written piece failed to convince your recipient, and consequently, that you are required to re-write the content.
In defence of this underrated beacon, below are the reasons you must seek to provide clarity in all your business communications:
1) Without clarity, you will not convince people
Imagine this scenario:
You have been invited to give a ten-minute address at the United Nations about how education in STEM-related fields (i.e. in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) is instrumental to driving innovation in the 21st century.
Below is a breakdown of how your once-in-a-lifetime speech at the renowned international institution is regrettably structured:
First two minutes:
You gush on about how important the opportunity is for you and how grateful you are to have been selected for such an honour. You also briefly explain the selection process.
Next five minutes:
You narrate your inspiring overcoming-all-odds story. In particular, you emotionally share the accounts of your difficult childhood and early adolescent years. You, however, highlight how you overcame challenges. You also explain that by hard work and good fortune, you received a full scholarship for advanced studies in computer science and artificial intelligence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the U.S.
Final three minutes:
You enumerate your most impressive professional feats and declare that you could attest to the many opportunities a STEM-related career brings.
You end by thanking your audience for their attention, and then you sit down – pleased as punch.
In that contented state, you do not notice the incredulous expressions on the faces of the distinguished audience members. Indeed, they are perplexed about your speech because it is unclear, from your background story or professional accomplishments, how STEM-related careers could drive innovation on a global scale, thereby translating to positive outcomes for all. (This is the United Nations, after all).
So, despite your eloquence and engaging body language, your communication fails to achieve its goal to inspire and convince people.
Do not be that person.
You are faced with another scenario:
You are a business owner and through a referral, you have secured a meeting with an influential U.S-based investor who is visiting your country. After a short, but successful pitch, the investor requests that you email him a brief note about the joint venture partnership you propose. He warns you that the email must be clear and concise, given that he receives hundreds each week and can only attend to a few.
Excited that you have proceeded to the next stage, you send the email below:
Dear Mr. Jones,
It was a pleasure pitching my idea to you two days ago.
As mentioned during our company’s presentation, Venxot Ltd. has been a leader in the manufacture of bespoke African leather footwear for 20 years.
With an average annual turnover of $36 million, we operate in Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa. Attached for your perusal are our audited accounts for 2017, as well as our brochure.
Should you require further information, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Thank you for your consideration.
Mobile: +234 070 000 0000
Now at first glance, the email does not look disastrous; it is written in a simple manner and in Standard English. It is also concise.
But that is where the good points end.
Two major flaws are evident in the piece:
I) Important details are missing
You did not mention the date or location of the pitch. Providing these details will help jog his memory given that he travels frequently.
Another concern is that you did not explain what your pitch was about. Your potential important, (and busy) investor, may have listened to other presentations since the time you delivered yours. There is also a possibility that your competitors might have pitched to Mr. Jones. So, how would he differentiate your business interests from the pack?
He would not be able to do so.
This means that your business will be considered irrelevant.
II) A clear call-to-action is absent
Not anywhere in the email did you clearly state what you wanted Mr. Jones to do.
After reading your email, Mr. Jones will also be puzzled about what your business interests are.
Put yourself in the investor’s shoes. Are you likely to respond and request for clarity, when other options are available to choose from? Is it not Mr. Smith’s responsibility to communicate in a simple, concise and clear manner?
Furthermore, there is the perception that if you, as Mr. Smith, could not send a clear email about your business interests, how could you be trusted to handle an investor’s finances?
Mr. Jones will thus be inclined to discard your email, unless you immediately email an apology for the gaffe and provide the relevant information.
Again, do not be that person.
Yes, it might be nerve-racking to speak with clarity at important functions. Nevertheless, by remembering the goal for your communication in your preparation, you would deliver speeches/addresses/presentations that will inspire and convince people.
Similarly, for effective business writing, you must cultivate certain habits and stay the course. That notwithstanding, by using strong, clear calls-to-action, you would successfully coax your recipients into action.
Be determined. Aim to boost clarity in your business communications, and you would soon be known as a professional who consistently delivers results.
Over to you:
What other tips can you give for achieving clarity in your business communications?
Share your experiences in the comments below.
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Hire me for:
- Communication training sessions for your staff and executives;
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Let me help you get results.
A) Send an email to: Lucille@LucilleOssai.com.
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N.B: First image is courtesy of Master Isolated Images, via freedigitalphotos.net. Second and third images are courtesy of Stuart Miles, via freedigitalphotos.net. Last image is courtesy of Aechan, via freedigitalphotos.net.