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Improve your communication skills with this data-driven approach

Pitching your startup to a room of investors. Delivering a keynote to a packed auditorium of peers. Rallying your leadership team around a critical strategic pivot.

These are the type of situations Noah Zandan and Briar Goldberg, CEO and Executive Communications Practice Lead at Quantified Communications, find themselves called in to help with. But QC has a unique advantage over the thousands of competitors crowding the communication coaching space: data.

By building a platform that uses data to help leaders ensure their presentations resonate, QC’s taken the guesswork out of how to be an effective communicator. After measuring hundreds of thousands of speeches from Fortune 500 executives, politicians, Nobel Prize winners, and every CEO in the FirstMark portfolio, they’ve learned a few things about how to be influential, authentic, and trusted by audiences.

“Most founders and CEOs set out to create something significant, but they don’t know how to tell the story of their vision.”

At FirstMark’s 2017 CEO summit, QC presented the three biggest lessons they’ve learned from their data about how to influence audiences.

Authenticity is now the #1 audience expectation

Once upon a time, Briar says, leaders were expected to stand still behind their podium while delivering their presentation in an authoritative tone. Today, that’s not the case. Instead, audiences want to hear from leaders who present themselves the same way in an auditorium that they might over coffee. They want their leaders to be authentic.

So how can you make sure you’re communicating authentically? Quantified Communications released a ranking of Fortune 100 CEOs, and found that the 20 most authentic leaders in group had overall scores that were 28.5% higher than their peers. Those high authenticity scores corresponded with stronger-than-average visual and vocal delivery:

  • Bring mindfulness to your facial expressions as you prepare your talk. Ask yourself, “How do I want my audience to feel?” Do you want to evoke excitement? Empathy? Whatever the desired emotion, make sure your own expression matches.
  • Make real eye contact with one person at a time. In large, dark auditoriums you may not be able to see your audience’s eyes, but you can still see their heads. Pick a head, focus on delivering a few lines to it, then move on and repeat. This tactic creates a virtuous cycle: the room will feel more intimate, which will make you feel more conversational, which will in turn help your audience connect with you.
  • Speak the written words out loud ahead of time. Whether you or your comms team wrote the speech, take five minutes to see how it sounds orally. Many people write differently than they speak, and that difference is going to make you sound less conversational and create distance between you and the audience. Be thorough here: if you would never use the word terrific during a conversation, it shouldn’t be included in the final draft of your talking points.

Vision doesn’t come from forward-looking predictions, it comes from clarity and plans for the near term

The complicated, elevated language we might expect from a futurist is out, as audiences look for leaders who can deliver complex messages and concepts in an accessible way.

In a recent talk, Noah identified the communication traits the world’s most renowned visionary leaders have in common. QC had anticipated these visionaries’ language would be complex and theoretical — difficult for the average educated adult to keep up with. But when they looked at the data, they discovered that these leaders were some of the clearest communicators they’d ever measured. The most iconic visionaries speak, on average, 20% more clearly than the everyday communicator.

And the roadmap to clarity? It’s all in the structure of the language:

Clear communication uses fewer words per sentence, fewer syllables per word, and lays out an unmistakable path of cause and effect.

So imagine a CEO saying something like, “Over the next three quarters, through cost-cutting efficiencies and improved synergies, we will improve our results by approximately ten to fifteen percent,” versus, “Over the next three quarters we will use three methods to improve our results by ten to fifteen percent.”

See the difference?

People think about themselves when they prepare, instead of their audiences

This third secret is perhaps the most important:

No matter how clear or authentic a leader is, his or her message will fall flat unless it’s designed with the audience in mind.

Think about how you last prepared for a big presentation. Typically people spend 60% of the time scripting, 30% on visual aids, and 10% on rehearsing the delivery.

What if instead, we spend 50% researching the audience, their knowledge, and what would make the presentation influential for them?

This means speakers must start by asking:

  • What is my audience’s background, education, ideologies and knowledge of the subject matter?
  • What are their goals?
  • Why have they taken time out of their busy days to come listen to me?

By crafting clear, authentic messages specifically tailored to each unique audience, leaders are far more likely to inspire stakeholders and achieve the results they want.

Interested in learning more from senior leaders across the tech ecosystem? Click here to join FirstMark’s upcoming events and watch past talks.

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