Four Steps to Becoming a Better Communicator

19 Mar 2015
Four Steps to Becoming a Better Communicator
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Kelly Smith

It’s been said that a confused prospect never buys. The same idea can be applied to a wide range of audiences—from kids who won’t eat their vegetables to boardroom execs reluctant to try something new—which is why effective communication is so important for individuals and organizations.

Throughout my career, I’ve learned that the more you know, the better chance you have of successfully making the case for your idea, product or service—no matter the situation. Following are four principles that guide the way I approach communication at LPK.

In the world of effective sales and communication it boils down to one simple truth: people buy you before they buy your product or service.

People tend to make decisions at a gut level and quickly decide whether you’re worth their time or not. It’s what happens in speed dating: in just a few minutes, we believe we can determine whether the person sitting across from us is worth another cup of coffee. These kinds of snap judgments are known as rapid cognition.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Blink, addresses the idea of rapid cognition, where decisions are made in 1 to 2 seconds at an emotional level, before your rational mind has a chance to catch up. That means most of us feel a long time before we understand. So your well-prepared message, your 200-slide PowerPoint, your incredibly detailed and logical discourse on the topic du jour doesn’t stand a chance if your audience is turned off by you in the first few seconds of your engagement.

This means you need to know you very well—your strengths, weaknesses, natural biases and presentation style. Self-awareness helps you avoid some obvious social landmines so you don’t ruin your first impression.

Clarity begins with company purpose then cascades down to what products the company makes or services it offers.

You can’t sell what you don’t know. Why does your company exist? Why should anyone care that you are here, and why would they care if you went away? According to the Meaningful Brands Index released annually by Havas Media, 73% of all brands could disappear and consumers wouldn’t care.

Become an expert on your company—its products and services, its history and legacy. If you’re selling a service, you owe it to yourself and to your audience to know exactly what you can and can’t do, how what you offer is different and better than the competition and how you can solve the challenges your audience faces. Once you know your stuff, it will be much easier for you to focus on what’s next: your audience.

People desire information that addresses what they need; so you stand a better chance of making a true connection if you focus on what’s most important to them.

We humans are a selfish lot. We think about ourselves first and often. Think you’re different? Find a group picture with you in it. Who do you look for first? That’s right, you. Most people do. Then we find the people we like in the photo, then the people we don’t like (just in case they look bad in the photo) and finally, if there’s time, the other people who just happened to be sharing our space at the moment the photo was taken. It’s natural, it’s human and it’s the way your audience thinks every time you try to communicate. You have to know they are more interested in themselves than they are in you. So it makes sense to understand what you’re up against.

In his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey identified one habit as “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Making it a habit is exactly the point. In sales and communication, you have to overcome your desire to talk about yourself and whatever you have on your mind. Your audience is looking for information based on what they need. Seek first to understand them, then move on to help them understand how you and your product or service might solve a problem.

Start with the end in mind, and make sure everyone shares in the spoils.

Covey also said to “think win-win.” In its base form, that’s all there is to it. You need to have some idea of what an ideal outcome is—and that outcome should always include some form of shared value. Unbalanced outcomes aren’t sustainable, for the simple reason that we humans like things to work in our favor. Bend the odds too far in one direction, and the other party is eventually going to opt out of the deal. This is true in relationships, marriages, business deals and trips to the casino.

When you begin your conversations with the idea that the outcome will be good for both parties, you are more likely to remain open to creative solutions to the challenges on the table and work toward positive compromise. Since both you and your audience ultimately want to win, it only makes sense to build your conversation from that angle.

Effective communication doesn’t have to be tricky or difficult. It’s one of the fundamental tenets we follow at LPK. When we apply these four principles—know yourself, know your stuff, know your audience and know what success looks like—our conversations, sales calls, ads, social media posts and more just seem to end well on a more regular basis.

If you found something here that works for you or have another principle to add, send me a note at or on Twitter at @thinkhaus1.

This article is an edited version of the original LinkedIn post: Four Principles for Being a Better Communicator.

As LPK Vice President, Managing Creative Director, Kelly Smith works across LPK’s portfolio, transforming organizations and building B2B and B2C brands—from small family-owned businesses to Fortune 50 companies. When Kelly’s not immersed in organizational change issues, you’ll find him buried in a business book, playing his guitar or chasing a triathlon personal record.