The ability to meaningfully communicate with other people is an integral part of healthy, positive relationships.
That’s not limited to our personal relationships either.
Sometimes you’ll need to explain things to a boss, coworkers, or even total strangers to make your perspective known.
That can be a difficult thing if they aren’t as familiar with a subject as you are…
…or if you aren’t great at expressing your thoughts clearly to others.
Luckily, there are ways to better explain things so that other people will understand.
Firstly, an integral part of being understood is knowing your audience.
1. Know Your Audience
Effective communication, whether verbal or through another medium, relies heavily on understanding your audience, their knowledge level, and the ways in which they may perceive the world.
By understanding your audience, you can tailor your message in a way that will be easier for them to comprehend.
As an example, from a professional standpoint, your colleagues may understand the acronyms and jargon of your industry.
But if you’re talking about your job to people outside of your industry, those same acronyms and jargon will only make it more difficult for your audience to understand what you’re saying.
That’s why you would opt for simple language that doesn’t require specialized knowledge for your audience to grasp your point.
On the other hand, you have more personal communication…
Let’s say I’m a person with depression trying to communicate what it feels like to a loved one. I can say that the depression I experience feels like a persistent, empty numbness.
But if my loved one has never experienced a persistent, empty numbness, that description isn’t going to mean a whole lot to them because they lack the context to understand what I’m expressing.
People tend to hear and interpret things through the filter of their own life experiences.
Knowing your audience, their education level, and their worldview allows you to tailor your message in a way that they will be able to conceptualize.
A good example of this is medication inserts that you receive when you pick up a prescription from the pharmacist.
These are generally written in plain English with no jargon so that anyone can pick it up, read it, and understand the benefits and side effects of that medication.
That kind of approach is necessary for patients who do not have a medical background to understand the more complicated aspects of the medication.
That information as presented to and for professionals would look a lot different because they have a different body of knowledge to draw from.
Assuming you’re able to, a good way to learn more about your audience is to directly ask them questions about the subject matter to get a feel for what they already understand.
Allowing yourself to be questioned is also good because it will not only point to what the audience does and does not know, but it provides you with the opportunity to better clarify what you are trying to communicate.
2. Consider What You Need To Communicate Ahead Of Time
There are people out there who are amazingly quick witted and who can effortlessly find their words no matter what kind of situation they are in.
Not all of us are that lucky.
For many of us, being put on the spot can kick up anxiety or cause unexpected stress, which derails our ability to think and communicate in the moment.
It’s easy to get angry or frustrated when we can’t find the words that we need to express ourselves.
One way you can step around this problem is by thinking ahead of time, considering what you need to communicate, and even taking some notes so you don’t forget what it is you have to say in the moment.
You don’t need to have a fully prepared speech. A list of bullet points with your primary message and supporting points can help you jog your memory when you need to.
You may also want to spend some time talking to yourself in a mirror so you can articulate your words, see your body language, and practice before you step in front of your audience.
This is a common and traditional way to help build confidence in what you’re doing, because then you don’t have to worry as much about how people perceive you – you’ve already seen what you are projecting.
Body language will be quietly talking alongside of you as you communicate.
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3. Analogies And Metaphors Are Powerful Tools Of Communication
Analogies and metaphors can help to bridge gaps in knowledge and facilitate understanding.
Your audience may not necessarily understand where you’re coming from, but if you can find an appropriate analogy or metaphor to put your idea into a frame of reference that they can understand, they will have a better chance of hearing what you’re trying to say.
Again, this goes back to knowing and understanding your audience well.
What will resonate with them in a way where they will hear your message?
What can they relate to?
Touching back on the previous example of depression, a person may not know that level of emptiness or numbness as depression, but you may be able to point at other life experience’s the person has had where they felt similar extreme emotions.
Events like a friend or relative dying, missing out on an opportunity that they were really looking forward to, or being hit out of nowhere with an extreme hardship are all things that could be comparable to the same feelings.
They generally won’t be exact and there is a lot of room for overlap, but sometimes getting into the general area of the information is the best you can hope for.
The best way to think about analogies and metaphors is putting an unfamiliar idea into a familiar space for the listener.
Ask yourself, what is familiar for your listener?
4. Quality Communication Is Often Concise And Clear
A message that you want to present often needs to be honed and trimmed of the fat that distracts from the main point.
A concise message does not necessarily mean that it is a simple or easy message. Some subjects are just too complicated to provide a simple message for.
But we can eliminate some misunderstandings and gray areas by ensuring that our message is relatively clear and without unnecessary details, though it is a good idea to know those details in case questions arise.
A concise message will also keep you from tripping over or stumbling to find the right words to say.
It’s easy for a message to get lost or lose the power of its impact if it’s surrounded by too much fluff.
As you edit, you’ll want to question whether or not each piece of the message serves to make the greater point more clear or powerful.
If it doesn’t, cut it out mercilessly.
And that goes for all methods and mediums of communication.
Don’t be afraid of silence or of speaking few words. So long as you can make your point clearly and understandably, you don’t need to keep talking.
And do give your audience time to think and process. If you are working on communicating something complicated or heavy, they may need a minute to really consider what you’re saying.
5. Ask For Feedback On Your Communication
The easiest way to figure out if your message landed is by asking your audience.
That can be difficult depending on the circumstances of your communication.
As an individual communicating with another individual, you can ask them if they understand directly or have them relate back to you what you were communicating in their own words.
Also give them an opportunity to ask their own questions so that you can help fill in any gaps that might exist in their body of knowledge.
Make a mental note of any questions that they ask, so you can better fill in the gaps later.
Communicating to a crowd is a bit different in that it’s not as easy to get direct, verbal feedback.
Instead, you have to try to read the room.
What kind of expressions does your audience have? Are they in thought? Are they confused? Are they smiling?
How are they responding to the information that you are presenting?
You can steer this in a verbal direction by asking if anyone has questions about what it is you communicated.
The ability to communicate effectively is a skill that must be developed, practiced, and honed.
Everyone has their own personal style, though some factors remain consistent depending on the circumstances in which the communication is happening.
Practice, practice, practice more.
Even if that means talking to yourself in a mirror for awhile!