You've surely seen speakers who ramble on as if lost in a forest and just as likely seen speakers who are clear, concise and powerful. The difference is enormous and can usually be boiled down to one underlying factor--purpose.
Communication falls into four broad categories of purpose. They work symbiotically to create alchemy in your audience's hearts and minds, to move them towards new ideas, greater possibilities, and action. Knowing how to work with these categories will exponentially increase your ability to build a relationship, close a deal, increase your market presence, or simply add value.
While any major presentation, negotiation, or discussion should contain all four of these, most will have one as the primary or dominant purpose. Likewise, each section of a presentation should be driven by one of these.
This category includes expressing anything meaningful for you. For example, taking a snapshot of your child and exclaiming, "Whoa, that's beautiful!". It could be revealing data from the previous quarter and spontaneously remarking, "whew!" It includes retelling a story that made your day, or sometimes, "saying the quiet part out loud." So, you see, this can be a double-edged sword and needs the most discernment. The primary intention is to express yourself, and you feel compelled to say something. Yet what you express can have a profound effect on other people. This adds authenticity and emotion to your communication and is often most needed at the beginning of a conversation or presentation and lightly sprinkled throughout.
When someone expresses themselves to you, and you listen with focus, you are validating them—even if you don't agree. You are magnifying the power of their expression because you have allowed it to land.
Speaking to inform will usually be driven by data. It can set the stage to inspire, transform, or persuade. Communication in this category can include a financial update to your shareholders, good news to boost the morale of your team, or a list of steps you are implementing to fix a problem with your product or service. The motto is "just the facts." This adds credibility, gravitas, and engagement. It needs to be consistent throughout a discussion or presentation…along with the appropriate context and meaning. For skeptical listeners, a bit more detail is needed, but avoid the biggest pitfall of this purpose: getting lost in the weeds. Too much detail overwhelms people and makes them disengage, so trying too hard can work against you.
When executives tell me their teams get too lost in the weeds during certain types of presentations, I ask, "What are they trying to do? What is their mandate?" They usually say, "get product feedback, explain a new feature, train the customer." That’s why they get lost in the weeds. When your main goal is to teach, educate or inform, context is everything. Your facts only matter in terms of what they mean to your audience and how they add value. When you focus on that, it becomes easier to prune your words.
Using the Inform and Express modes together helps create meaning and emotional impact.
When you listen to this mode of communication, you also give the speaker an opportunity to learn about you: your silent reactions speak volumes.
When you endeavor to motivate, you intend to spur action, new ways of thinking, or reinforce current ways of thinking with added urgency. For example, this is the underpinning of most political speeches and would be the focus of a sales presentation or fundraising request. In personal situations, you may want to lure someone out of the house after a long quarantine. You may want to convince a family member to visit you more often (or less)! “Motivate” tops the hierarchy of compelling communication. It is the most enticing type of audience connection and, in turn, requires the most skill, relationship-building, and context for successful execution.
When you use the motivate mode of communication after inform and express, your motivation has a solid foundation. People have a reason to follow where you lead.
Being a good listener during this mode will often allow you to get motivated and will motivate the speaker even more.
When you are in the engage mode, your primary purpose is to compel and connect. This applies to entertainment, getting to know someone, flirtation, or small talk at a cocktail party. This mode is also one of the most important parts of relationship building.
When you engage someone effectively, you show interest. You may tell a story or share something about yourself. You may display curiosity about their goals and concerns. You will always listen carefully. This is where human connection is formed and strengthened. Transparency abounds and core strengths are used to benefit both or all parties.
When you use engage in combination with express, inform and motivate, it allows you to speak with greater precision and it allows your audience to own and actively participate in your vision. It gives your presentation or discussion an after-life.
All active listening is a form of engagement. It energizes both the speaker and the listener. And it’s creative. Something new emerges—a thought, an insight, a stronger relationship.