Submitted by 208001354 on
I have received feedback from my manager on multiple occasions that I need to improve my communication. Specifically, I tend to "ramble on" or provide too much data upfront in conversations; this leads to the audience "tuning me out" vs. receiving a crisp, clear, on-point message. My manager and I are both looking for the right strategy to help me overcome this weakness; we do not have a lot of ideas currently.
Are there any tools / tricks out there that can help me address this? Although I try to be conscious of this issue, I still have trouble realizing that I'm doing it!
Would Toastmasters be helpful? My company tends to have "working session" type meetings where I need to speak vs. formal presentations.
Any guidance would be appreciated! Thanks!
Learning about your DISC profile will help.
I have a similar problem - except I am a high D & I - so I often am too direct and blunt which annoys people.
I really try to focus on improving this area - and by attending the Effective Communications Conference I learnt load more.
I find it really hard - and often look back on situations and get frustrated with how I handled things when I forgot to think about how I communicate.
I think I'm getting better - but I know that for me this will be something I have to keep on working on for a long long time before I become any good at it.
Knowing your DISC profile and hard work!
Good luck and if you find something that works please share so I can give it a try!
I was in a communication training class once that suggested thinking of 3 things around a given topic and then expressing those. Even if you could think of 10, only share 3. That way, you get to communicate some of what you think, but it stops you from rambling on. You can then ask for feedback from the person / audience and continue the conversation. I found it helpful as I did sometimes ramble.
Remember that communication is what the listener does - so ensure that what you talk about is important to your audience and explain why its important if its not obvious.
Last point: Mark has often compared conversation to tennis. That has helped me a lot. If you need to share something, talk (hit the ball), and then ask a question to get others input (ball crossing net), and wait for them to answer (them hitting the ball). Hopefully that will help you keep your talking shorter.
know the one message you want/need the listener to remember
1 - Go into the conversation knowing what is the one message, the one sentence you want people to remember from your talk after you leave the room.
2 - Think that you have only 30 seconds to send your message. What would say in 30 seconds? Say this first, then say the rest.
3 - Pay attention, observe, how people are reacting to what you are saying.
Something that has help me quite a bit is Beyond Bullet Point Presentations, by Cliff Atkinson. It is designed to improve the quality of presentations, but I have found out it has helped me in general, not only when I am giving a presentation. I use the story template to elaborate on an idea I am trying to explain and convince somebody else of its usefulness. Two recommendations from the Beyond bullet points I always carry around with me are:
1 - The audience is the protagonist of the story;
2 - A presentation is like a movie, you need to set the context first, so that people can relate to it. It is not a suspense movie though. Don´t leave people feeling like they are watching a suspense or detective story. Don´t keep the best to the end. Tell people up front what they should expect from what you are going to explain in further detail on the presentation (that works as well when talking).
I can relate so much to what you have written. I am a high I, high D, as well (DISC 7721). The sentence I keep repeating in my mind for myself is: "Please let me have enough strength to keep my mouth shut!"
The podcasts on DISC have help me. There is one that says a high I should keep his latest great idea until he has a new latest great idea. I do that now. And I also apply that to things I think I should say: "Keep the first comment in my mind and only say the second one."
That does take a lot of effort and a lot of energy out of me though! And then I also don´t know if I am doing enough, because I still talk more than the average, and I still catch myself in situations I say unnecessary things! Seriously I don´t know if I can win! How much trimming down the edges is too much?
I feel your pain and have received the same feedback in the past.
Bottom line, focus on preparation and editing.
Important point -- you're worrying about unconsciously slipping here -- my suggestion is to focus exclusively on upward communication initially. This is where 95% of the problem comes from. It doesn't have to stop there, of course, but this is the most important place to start.
Preparation is best suited for presentations you know about in advance. Of course preparation is the answer for pretty much every issue related to presentations, but in your case you'll slip into rambling if you haven't prepared not to.
For emails or other written communication, go ahead and indulge your brain -- write out the detailed response your brain naturally wants to put out there. But then before you hit send, go back to the beginning and insert a BLUF sentence or two. And then consider deleting the entire long version. And then delete 1/3 of the words in your BLUF. Obviously I'm exaggerating a bit (you might not delete everything), but start with the assumption that everything goes. You are almost certainly overestimating how much detail they want to hear (because you'd want it). They can always ask follow-up questions (for which you're prepared). Over time, as you apply DISC you can tailor your message to the right level.
This might feel like a waste of time, but just chalk it up to doing what the organization needs in two ways -- going through all the details (someone needs to consider them) and then saving everyone's time by not dragging them through it.
For ad-hoc communication (when you don't have time to prepare or edit), focus on BLUF. If the first words out of your mouth are not the answer, take a few moments of silence to craft an answer. Might seem like you're slowing down communication, but if you start talking before a BLUF, you're really just thinking out loud. You'll find the desire to describe the entire plot of the movie really melts away once you've already spoiled the ending.
By the way, I think you are showing self-awareness. Improvement counts here. Good luck!
think like a newspaper reporter
The way I dealt with this was to use the structure of a newspaper report , saying the 'headline' then asking the audience what they wanted to know more about( rather than assuming I knew what they wanted to know) before I gave more detail. The process is iterative, each time giving more detail only at the request of the audience. If is not obvious from their question why they want to know, then ask. If it really is going to take some time and detail then tell them up front, they can then choose to invest the time now, later or never.
I practised on my friends and family outside of work, an audience not afraid of hurting my feelings by saying 'too much detail - try again ' . Practice will deliver improvement and quite quickly. You will get much better at reading the behavioral cues to judge the level of detail and when you are loosing the audience.
Dale Carnegie helped me with this
I had the same problem and finally found help through the Dale Carnegie Course. Presentations are timed and you get immediate feedback on your talk. You learn quickly to be concise and to engage the audience. I had read "How to Win Friends and Influence People" previously, but it didn't have the same effect as going through the course. The training and practice has helped me tune my communications to the audience and to improve my relationships with others - and I believe they're closely related.
I discovered MT after that, and the actionable tips in each podcast have certainly helped me continue to improve in communications and other aspects of professional life. As others have mentioned, knowing your DISC profile will also help as it will make you more aware of your own communication style. I have yet to join a Toastmasters club, although it's definitely on my to-do list!
Different approaches work for different people. Try as many things as catch your eye - you're sure to find something that helps you.
Dale and TM
I agree with all of the above. To answer your question about Toastmasters, yes, it is quite likely joining a club will help. Each club has a slightly different personality so if you can find one that clicks with you, you should be able to improve in this area as well as others you didn't expect to. I also want to echo the advice about the Dale Carnegie course. I took it in th late 80's and still use the techniques today, especially when I'm trying to be persuasive. BTW, the course does add so much more than just the book alone.