Updated: Oct 19, 2020
“I wish people who have trouble communicating would just shut up.” Tom Lehrer
Communicating effectively takes preparation, practice and personality. If you can communicate a message, really get it across to others, you will occupy the highest offices in whatever field you aspire to.
If you don’t like to communicate, or you do not overcome your demons that prevent you from really letting it fly, you will be marginalized in nearly every field that is not locked in a self-sufficient environment.
You like working with your hands, but not necessarily with people? Even the garage mechanic has to articulate what is wrong with a customer's car, and why it needs to be fixed today, or he’ll starve. An author needs to sell her book, essentially herself, in order to compel people to take a chance and buy her work. What car jockeys and writers have in common is the confidence they have in their craft. Preparation is key, then the practice of the art, and how to convey the idea, the picture, of what he or she wants the recipient to envision. The confidence in your personality doing the communicating will seal the deal.
Lt. Col. Jim Sfayer, USMC (ret), has placed these effective communication techniques into what he espouses as “C-4 Communication Skills.” I expand on his outstanding concepts, including his SMART acronym…
We have discussed previously the importance of practicing public speaking and giving subordinates a chance to talk whenever it avails itself. Now we want to strip it down to essentials:
C-4 Communications Skills. Military people or even avid movie goers will smile at the C-4 reference. C-4 is a malleable and stable plastic explosive, very effective for all kinds of jobs. With a bang.
Connect, Convince, Communicate, Close
Communication habits are different based on the situation at hand. No one can deny that a Drill Instructor’s cadence is a little different than a Chaplain’s sermon. We have all been exposed to the good and the bad. Even if we think the speaker is dead wrong we can be swayed by C-4 ability and the rhetoric that flows through it. In contrast, we have witnessed our favorite people absolutely face-plant when not prepared and without trying to incorporate Jim Sfayer’s C-4 Communication Skills.
Military trained people believe in the intensity of the message, with little tolerance for gas-bags. The civilian environment, thankfully, is a little more laid back, and focuses on message, not authority. Military necessity can be abrupt and too urgent, a tough habit to break. I tell veterans to smile while they talk as most people in the business world can discern intensity and importance on their own. Adults should be treated as adults, fully capable of making decisions based on a factual, well-thought out, and evenly presented set of facts.
This is one area where the military people can learn greatly from their civilian counterparts by balancing urgency and intensity in measured doses that will enhance the message, not overwhelm it.
Whether dealing with internal or external customers, the C-4 (Connect, Convince, Communicate, and Close) method of effective communication is a proven winner. It may appear oversimplified, but in a practical sense, it works. You have enough to worry about, so why complicate the communication process?
Military protocol practically begs for acronyms, so we won’t disappoint. When you connect, be SMART. Know your audience, and try to be familiar with it, if not outright friendly.
STATE who you are, your organization, your function, and your office or title.
MAKE the connection with the person if he or they do not recognize you. For example: “You may not recall, but we met at the XYZ reception last month.”
ALWAYS state the person’s name and title at the beginning, and err on the side of being formal unless corrected. Sometimes, though, just asking “May I call you Judy?” will work. Use your instincts.
REMEMBER to plan your communication to save time... the recipient’s time, not necessarily yours. You have met with titans of industry who need to warm up by talking about the weather, current events, and the like. Go with it. Just don’t hijack a story or try to trump an anecdote unless it flatters your host and raises your goal in her eyes.
TELL the recipient your contact information. If you can hand out business cards right away, that will help others a great deal (most will forget your name immediately).
STATE the purpose of the communication. There is always a reason, and after the connect you have to state your business. This is not to be your ultimate goal, however; it is to be why your message is important to the recipient.
This can be done with an attention-getter. In the service, attention-getters usually involve pyrotechnics or explosives or feats of daring and skill like rappelling, zip-lining or extreme camouflage. Try to incorporate a small but memorable grabber appropriate to the host and her business, but nothing too ambitious that it will “flop.” Err on the side of an anecdote or hypothetical or a current event, and nothing too dour as to distract from the real purpose.
MAKE the case for the importance of the communication early. Be succinct and incorporate that punch often in your presentation or discussion.
ALWAYS ensure you satisfy the number one reason to listen to anything… “What’s in it for me?” People always want to know how the idea or program or pitch will affect them. Try to satisfy that through a large-picture review, and without making promises that cannot be kept.
RESPECT their time. Don’t ramble or get side-tracked and please get to the point quickly.
TAKE the time to put yourself in the place of your audience. Do this during your preparation.
Effective communication is both method and content, and your preparation (plan) is vital to being clearly understood. You must be confident, as this will command people to listen. Most audiences want to hear what you have to say, if for no other reason than so that they can get on with their lives. Act like you want to tell the story, that you are committed to it, and you will be favored with their attention.
STATE your main points. Having a graphic for their attention and memory can be helpful, but do not get too complicated with it. Many speakers have given simple presentations with complicated graphics and found the audience’s attention was on the distraction, not the message. Painful and wasteful experience.
MAKE you point clearly and succinctly. Be brief, and do not ramble or go off on tangents. If you repeat anything, it should be the main point.
ADDRESS one, at most two, main themes in each section of your talk. Too many topics are too confusing and will not be retained.
REMAIN positive throughout, even if you lose your focus. It happens. Try to get back on track by jumping ahead. You can always circle back with “I neglected to emphasize earlier what may be obvious to some of you, but…”
TAKE the time to prepare. If you do not prepare, your audience will know it, and you will be tuned out, or worse, heckled and peppered with stupid questions and irrelevant observations. You are the expert, even if your audience is an Einstein convention. Be prepared through practice.
A typical stumbling block in preparation is “Where do I start?” You cannot start at the conclusion, unless it’s a straight training environment: “At the end of this class you’ll be able to …” You cannot start in the middle, as you need to prepare your audience for the purpose of the talk or pitch.
The preferred method of preparation is one of your perception.
Picture yourself sky-diving. When you jump from the plane, you see the whole countryside, serene, colorful, far away and vague. As you get close to the earth, more detail comes into focus, and your knowledge improves as this detail of your goal (or landing point) is shaping up. Peripheral detail is much less important. Hitting the landing zone is inevitable, must be done safely and with skill, and has to be on target.
You are both the eyes and the parachute for the audience. Tell them what they are seeing and where they are going. You can gauge the speed with the parachute by pulling a guideline here and there, and land them right where they are looking… if you prepare your talk, practice the delivery, and bring them safely to a concluding message by force of your confidence, personality, and expertise.
Sales people live for this. You have an obligation to ask for a commitment from your audience as a result of your communication. If you landed them on the target safely and consciously, the audience will know it and reward you (probably with questions unanswered). That’s okay. It shows people were listening.
STATE any follow-up action required.
MAKE sure you close with a “thank you for your time.”
AVOID adding more information. If the sale is made, stop selling!
REMEMBER to leave your contact information.
TIME when they can contact you or where to reach you.
Much thanks to Lt. Col. Jim Sfayer, USMC (ret) for his insight.