Communication can seem like a dark art. Many believe that people are either good speakers or bad speakers; a simple binary choice which has little room for movement. Sadly, those who believe it most strongly tend to count themselves as a bad speaker. Personally I’ve found this view far from reality. Communication is a skill that can be developed and essentially comes down to 3 “C”s.
Those three Cs are content, conveyance and confidence. And yes I could have said delivery rather than conveyance but you’ll remember it more now; things in threes work well like that.
Content is everything that could be written down and transcribed in words. It’s the structure, the anecdotes, the phrasing, quotes, and of course your core subject matter. The things you look to include or avoid in your content can to a large degree be taught.
If you wish you can be very formulaic about it but you don’t have to be. As you learn techniques for content it may help to keep a list of them. Scan your list when you are writing something important, to see what might add value. For example, analogies are a technique. You may look down your list and think “oh yes, an analogy would help me explain this tricky concept here”.
Good communication means conveying that information in a appropriate way. A speech written down or a PowerPoint shared should not be the same as receiving it in person. There are many times when that delivery is preferable for everyone, but when we are speaking we have an opportunity to convey the content in a more meaningful way.
Conveyance includes vocal strength, clarity, and variety which can help or hinder understanding. It covers how we move (or not) to engage our audience and visually support our message. The use of silence can add power and be more powerful than the words spoken. Facial expressions can reverse the meaning of a sentence and sometimes, in turn, reverse the whole meaning of the speech – it’s a technique a lot of comedy relies on.
Conveyance is also part taught and part caught. A distracting habit identified, the expert use of a wink noted and encouraged, volume and variety practised and better defined. “It’s not what you say it’s how you say it” is how the old adage goes.
Lack of confidence can hamper our attempts at communication. Confidence comes to us in many areas of life. We may be confident as parents but not confident at work, or confident playing sport but not doing DIY. When we lack confidence we often put it down to lack of skill, but a lot of confidence is about dealing with failure. Skill helps but only as far as knowing that we can cope when things don’t go as we planned.
The important thing about confidence in speaking is that it is also contagious. If we appear confident in what we are saying then our audience is more likely to have confidence in us. I agree that the appearance of confidence isn’t the same as having confidence, but I do believe that confidence is contagious. If you convey confidence to your audience (even it’s appearance) then that will be reflected back to you, and your will feel your confidence grow. It’s a beautifully virtuous circle.
You can develop your confidence through techniques and practise, supported by the knowledge that you have the tools you need for content and conveyance of your message. For fans of Harry Potter, remember the time he used the patronus spell: he knew he could do it simply because he saw his future self doing it. Confidence is a magic all of it/s own.
The critical C?
Really good speakers tend to have mastered all three C’s to some extent, however it’s less universal than you may think. Low quality content can be expertly conveyed with confidence and most of us don’t notice until we ask ourselves “What did they actually say?” Some speakers lack confidence and may convey things poorly but have content so compelling that we are willing to listen, particularly if we believe it will make or save us money.
Working on the three C’s is the key to better communication. I believe that each of us have the potential to develop the three C’s and when we dig down into the ‘good speaker’, ‘bad speaker’ idea it’s within these 3 C’s that we’ll find the answer.