At work, a large part of my day is taken up by speaking. I spend a significant amount of time in meetings of some sort, both where other people are primarily talking and also where I have to talk most of the time. Because I started noticing that many of these hundreds of thousands of words were being applied less effectively than they could have, I began trying to derive some rules of thumb for effective verbal communication. These rules of course do not apply to your run-of-the-mill pleasant social conversation, and they shouldn’t. They’re there for meetings and for advising people. Here we go:
- Whilst you are talking, continously monitor your own words. After every sentence, mentally double-check whether that sentence had a purpose. Did you transfer some applicable advice? Did you make a sensible suggestion? Did you point out a next concrete action? What is the actual contribution of your sentence to the person that you are talking to? If you have difficulty determining this, stop talking immediately.
- Do something similar before each sentence: what’s the purpose of your sentence? Are you transferring knowledge that is useful and/or actionable? If not, stop talking immediately. You now have the option of thinking and planning your communication better, or handing over to someone else.
- If you notice that you might need more time than usual to get to the point, stop talking immediately. First explain what you are going to try and communicate, then continue with your exposition. In this way, you don’t bore the living daylights out of your conversation parters.
- This can be quite difficult: monitor your conversation partners continuously. If they get that glassy-eyed look, or their heads start lolling, or they look like they might want to lynch you, it probably means that you are boring them to death. Stop talking immediately. Picking up the more subtle clues, also the positive ones, is a fine art. Never stop working on it.
That’s it for now. If you catch me violating one of my own rules during a meeting, don’t hesitate to tell me about it. I’ll buy you a beer and then talk until you go all glassy-eyed.