Oh dear! You are an awful communicator!!!

(find out why below)

From Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address to Amy Cuddy’s hugely popular Ted Talk on powerful body language, great communication can change the world.

More importantly, in your daily life, whether at work, at home, or in business, the ability to communicate well is like your secret superpower for success.

Unfortunately, your answers to the great communicator quiz show that your instincts aren’t very good when it comes to communication.

But fear not! The first step is always to recognise the problem, which you’ve done now. After that it just about your commitment to improve.

A good starting point would be to join my private “Great Communicators” Facebook Group. It’s a great space where people like you can engage in great discussions about public speaking and communication, and it’s also where you’ll be able to pick my brain on everything from PowerPoint presentations to emotional intelligence and leadership. I hope to see you there.

Kolarele Sonaike
Q1: If you are engaged in a discussion/argument with another person, what is your natural instinct when the other person is speaking?

The answer options were:

A) To ask probing questions at various moments. AWESOME: This is an example of active listening and is a much stronger approach to listening because it signals genuine interest to the other person.

B) To stay still and silent until they finish speakingAVERAGE: It is a good thing to listen so letting people speech is a good thing.

C) To jump in with your own points when you canAWFUL: You do have to get your point across, but jumping in constantly is just rude and off-putting.

Q3: When giving a speech or presentation, what do you do with your hands?

The answer options were:

A) I use my hands during a speech the same way I use them in a private conversation. Verdict: AWESOME: The key with your hand gestures is to be natural – not forced or artificial. A speech is nothing more than a conversation with your audience, so the more conversational you can be, the better.

B) I am MUCH LESS expressive with my hands during a speech than I am in a private conversation. Verdict: AVERAGE: If you can’t be natural, better to be contained with your gestures than to be over-expressive.

C) I am MUCH MORE expressive with my hands during a speech than I am in a private conversation. Verdict: AWFUL: If you are not naturally expressive with your hands, overdoing it with your gestures during a speech can be highly distracting.

Q5: Public Speaking nerves affect different people in different ways. How does it affect you?

The answer options were:

A) I use my nerves to help me stay focused. Verdict: AWESOME: Nerves are a natural and necessary part of public speaking. They are triggered by the feeling of exposure that comes with standing alone in front of an audience. The greatest speakers in history have embraced those nerves to keep them sharp and focused as they deliver.

B) Nerves really affect my performance negatively. Verdict. AVERAGE: If nerves hamper your performance, this puts you in the majority, not the minority. Glossophobia, as it is technically known, affects everyone, and it is only with practice and repetition that you will ultimately come to overcome it.

C) I don’t get nervous at all. Verdict: AWFUL: In all my years of coaching and training, I have never come across anyone, who said they didn’t get nervous, and who was also a great public speaker. It usually discloses over-confidence not matched by actual ability. There is nothing wrong with nerves. Accept them.

Q7: If you were given an unlimited amount of time to speak to your ideal audience about any subject of your choosing, how long would your speech be?

The answer options were:

A) 11 – 20 minutes Verdict: AWESOME: It is no accident that TED Talks are 18 minutes in length. This is long enough to explore a subject and convey a powerful message about it, but short enough that you have to keep it focused and to the point. Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech was 16 minutes long. Your speech or presentation doesn’t need to be any longer.

B) 3 – 10 minutes. Verdict. AVERAGE: The more concise the better. After all Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address came in at just 2 minutes. If you have to choose, keep it short. 3 – 10 minutes is enough for most speeches (although the 18 minute TED Talk length is still the optimum length in my view.

C) 21 – 30 minutes. Verdict: AWFUL: There is just no excuse for going on so long. Very rarely is such a long speech actually needed. Even if that is the time slot you have been given, challenge it. Aim to bring your speech in underneath this time and then use the remaining part for Q & As. The impact of your words will be inversely proportional to the length of time it takes you to deliver them. So the longer you go on, the less people will listen.

Q9: When you give a speech or presentation how do you make sure you’ll say the right words?

The answer options were:

A) Note cards with bullet points. Verdict: AWESOME: Notes are great. They help keep you on track, but because it is not a full script, you can’t simply keep your eyes down and read from that script without engaging your audience.

B) You use a full script. Verdict. AVERAGE: Because It’s OK to use a full script. Especially if you are hyper nervous or inexperienced, a full script can help you stay on track. But be sure to maintain proper eye contact with your audience throughout, otherwise, you will make no connection with them.

C) Nothing at all. You give your speech entirely from memory. Verdict: AWFUL: This will be controversial, but in my judgment trying to memorise your entire speech is the worst option. Why? Firstly, unless it is hyper short, it is extremely difficult to do, which means you spend more of your time memorising than refining your delivery. Secondly, you run the great risk of everything falling apart if you lose your place for even just a moment. Finally, it feels more like a gimmick than anything else to your audience. My rule is that you should familiarise or internalise, rather than memorise. That way you cannot be knocked off course because you always know where you’re going.

Q11: When you have to tell someone a decision you have made (which you know they won’t like) your approach is to…

The answer options were:

A) Give the bad news first and then follow up with your reasons. Verdict: AWESOME: You are being direct and signalling that ultimately, it is the decision that is most important, so the person knows where they stand. This is always a better approach than keeping them in suspense. They are more likely to listen to the reasons behind it afterwards. If you start with the reasons and build up to the decision, they will pay less attention to your reasons and more effort trying to anticipate your actual decision.

B) Give your reasons first and build up to the bad news. Verdict. AVERAGE: Reasons are important so leading with those reasons is OK (though doing it this way round means you are encouraging them to focus on your reasons rather than the decision itself). If you are going to deliver bad news this way, then make sure your reasons are well cogent and well structured, otherwise, when they hear the decision itself, they will immediately focus on the inconsistency of the reasons given, rather than the implications of the decision.

C) Sandwich the bad news in between your reasons. Verdict: AWFUL: This sounds like a nice approach in theory, but what actually results is a fudging of the issue. The sandwiching approach is effectively seeking to hide or obscure the bad news rather than help the person deal with it.

Q2: On 5 minutes notice, you are asked to give a short presentation about your work or business. What do you do?

The answer options were:

A) You already have a go-to Elevator Pitch so you can use that. Verdict: AWESOME: In this day of heavy competition and short attention spans, everyone needs a powerful Elevator Pitch. Whether it’s for your business or a job application, you need to be able to answer the question: “So, what do you do?” in a way that draws people in.

B) Make some quick notes then deliver your speech. Verdict: AVERAGE: If you haven’t taken the time to work out your Elevator Pitch beforehand, the next best option is to quickly jot down some notes and deliver.

C) Stand up to speak and improvise. Verdict: AWFUL: Unless you are one of the very few natural raconteurs, delivering a speech with no planning or preparation is the surest route to failure. Avoid speaking off the cuff. Always be prepared.

Q4: Which of these famous people is the best communicator?

The answer options were:

A) Oprah Winfrey. Verdict: AWESOME: Your opinion of other communicators is a good indication of your own approach. Whether speaking directly or interviewing others, Oprah presents as intelligent, interested, and authentic.

B) Hillary Clinton. Verdict: AVERAGE: Aside from one excellent speech to the UN in 1992, Mrs Clinton generally presented as highly competent but not particularly engaging.

C) Theresa May Verdict: AWFUL: Although as Prime Minister she has undoubtedly faced many difficult challenges, Mrs May constantly undermines her own credibility as a communicator by delivering her words without conviction.

Q6: The most important thing to know about your audience is…

The answer options were:

A) What your audience knows or feels about the topic of your speech. Verdict: AWESOME: It’s not enough to know what you personally think or feel about your topic. It is far more important to be clear on the thoughts and feelings of your audience, because this will determine their response and reaction to what you say. Your communication is only as effective as the impact it has on others, so knowing their current thoughts and feelings before you speak, will help you craft a speech that resonates with them.

B) Who your audience is. Verdict. AVERAGE: The minimum you need to know is who your audience actually is. Knowing this, even if you know nothing else, will help you tailor your speech so it is appropriate to your audience.

C) What your audience expects to hear from you. Verdict: AWFUL: Oddly, the least productive approach, is to worry about what your audience expects to hear from you. The most important thing is to be clear on the message you want to communicate and how to fo this effectively. When you speak according to what others want or hope for, it results in a diluted ad unfocused message.

Q8: You are giving a speech and someone from the audience continually interrupts. What do you do?

The answer options were:

A) Acknowledge them but ask them to wait til the Q & A at the end. Verdict: AWESOME: Hecklers very difficult to deal with. They are often very wilful and happy to be disruptive. Most of all they want attention so you have to be willing to give them that (by acknowledging them) but still stay in charge, by promising them the opportunity to voice their thoughts.

B) Let them interrupt and hope they stop after that. Verdict. AVERAGE: Because there are no great options when it comes to hecklers, the next best option is to give them their moment in the sun and hope that they burn themselves out. No guarantees, but it’s better than engaging in an argument with them.

C) Ignore them completely. Verdict: AWFUL: The worst thing you can do with a heckler is to ignore them. Because they crave attention, they will see this as an irresistible challenge and get more and more disruptive.

Q10: You lead a team, which just missed its targets for the first time ever. Do you?

The answer options were:

A) Acknowledge the people that were responsible for the result but show that you support them nonetheless. Verdict: AWESOME: Your team will be feeling shaken at this moment. They will be looking for scapegoats. By voicing the true thoughts of your team but still standing behind the individuals that everyone thinks was responsible, you are showing leadership by demonstrating the principles you want your team to follow – that a loss isn’t a failure if it is used to learn and progress.

B) Take the blame entirely and thank your team for their work. Verdict. AVERAGE: A leader should always give the credit to others for success, and take the blame for losses on him/herself. So, this is good. But if this is all you do, your team will simply breathe a sigh of relief that you have exonerated them, without also taking personal responsibility for improving.

C) Remind your team that this is only the first bad result and encourage them to just shake it off and move on. Verdict: AWFUL: Whilst on the surface this seems like a good option (shaking off a bad result), what this actually signals to your team is that no one is really responsible, which means no one needs to do anything different. You will be communicating to your team that there is nothing to learn from or change. This is a recipe for eventual failure.

Q12: Finally, which of these quotes best fits with your approach to communication?

The answer options were:

A) “People will forget what you did. People will forget what you said. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou. Verdict:  AWESOME: The single most powerful persuasive factor in your communication is emotion. However logical and well thought out your words, it is how you connect with people’s hearts that is the biggest determinant of how strongly your words will resonate with people.

B) “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” Leonardo Da Vinci. Verdict. AVERAGE: Simplicity is so important when it comes to communication. There is no advantage to over-complicating your message. It hampers your delivery and people’s comprehension. As Einstein once said “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”.

C) “Tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em. Tell ’em. Then tell ’em what you told ’em” Dale Carnegie Verdict: AWFUL: Dale Carnegie, author of ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ gave this advice to public speakers, basically recommending repetition to get your message across. That may have worked back in the 1930s but in this day and age it makes for a very uninspiring speech. The better approach is to build up to a memorable conclusion.

Remember. Great Communicators will change the world!

Don’t forget to join the Great Communicators Facebook Group. I think it could help.

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