In the previous two articles, we’ve focused on ways to project greater confidence in your communications with others, but there are times that it can be taken too far. For example, mitigating your speech may lead to others being unsure of what you want, but the person who is always completely direct may get tiresome very quickly.
We also discussed the confidence that comes from conviction. Conviction stays logically grounded and does not quite cross the line into passion. It’s wonderful to be passionate about an issue, but in business communication it may come across as excessively emotional and can quickly turn people off.
You don’t always have to be forceful and direct to be persuasive; we all know people who are very persuasive and soft-spoken at the same time.
The smoker said, “Sure I can, I have permission from the abbot.”
“No way! I asked him if I could smoke when I pray and he said it was forbidden.”
“That’s because you didn’t ask the right question”, the smoker replied. “I asked him if I could pray while I smoke.”
As you can see from this example, the same situation can be viewed entirely differently depending on how it is perceived, and how it is perceived depends on how you frame the message. Effective persuaders know how to frame their message for maximum appeal to the intended persuasion target.
They say an expert is someone who learns more and more about less and less until finally he knows everything about nothing. I’m not sure if that’s true, but many of the senior executives I speak with come away from encounters with experts feeling they’ve been told a lot but still understand nothing.
One of the most common issues that I am asked to address in my coaching sessions is how to communicate complex and difficult information to a lay audience. My coaching clients, who include engineers, scientists, and lawyers, sometimes understand on their own that they take too long to express their ideas, and are frustrated by it. More often, they’ve been counseled by others that they must be more concise and clear. As one senior person in a high-tech company told me when he hired me to coach his staff: “I ask people what time it is, and they tell me how to build a watch.”
The real issue is not in making your listeners understand—it’s how to help them get it efficiently.
Brevity is one of the most critical attributes of practical eloquence, because you’re dealing with ever-shrinking attention spans and the discipline of distilling your message to its essence will greatly clarify your thinking.
Here’s one of the best examples of brief eloquence that I’ve come across.
When General Ira Eaker led the first contingents of the 8th Air Force to England in 1942, try hopes were running high for America to add its muscle to the war against Nazi Germany. So, when he was asked to speak at a luncheon, the audience was poised to hang on his every word. Here’s his speech, in its entirety:
“We won’t do much talking until we’ve done more fighting. After we’ve gone, we hope you’ll be glad we came.”
He sat down amid thunderous applause.
If you have any other examples of brief but powerful messages, please share them.