Maybe you were educated at a really good college and went on to get your master's degree (or even your doctorate).

Or maybe you're just street smart and earned your expertise by working hard to become very good at what do.

And maybe you're very well read and make sure you've kept up with all the latest developments in your field.

That's all good, but there's one place where your education and experience can work against you: When you try to communicate like a know-it-all.

You know what I mean: Using big words and acronyms. Making your sentence structure as complicated as a graduate textbook. Trying to sound erudite and sophisticated.

The truth is this: The try-to-be-impressive approach to communication may help you forget that you were picked last for dodgeball, but it doesn't appeal to your audience--whether you're trying to reach customers, employees, colleagues or other stakeholders.

It may be hard to believe, but your audience wants to hear from you, not from your title or experience. This is not the time to hide your light behind the diplomas and awards on your wall; you need to let the real you--complete with bad jokes, an exhaustive knowledge of Star Wars trivia and every Bruce Springsteen recording--come through.

This may be a little scary because it means you can't disguise yourself (You know what Bruce sang: "Is that you, baby, or just a brilliant disguise?") or hide behind your public identities: Mr. MBA. Ms. CEO. Mr. VP of Logistics.

To be compelling, communication needs to come from the real you. This is especially important because we spend so much time these days feeling like a tiny cog in the wheel, lost in a high-tech maze, reduced to nothing more than a number and a password. So we crave the human touch. We love walking into the local hardware store and knowing the shopkeeper, who gives us advice not based on guiding us to the most expensive solution, but what's best for us ("This 45-cent bolt should do the trick.") The funny thing is, we'd pay more for the privilege of having a caring person help us.

We bring that person-to-person preference to communication as well. (After all, we'd much rather receive a personal letter than an anonymous mass mailing.)

The personality of communication is often called "voice." Every communication has a voice--from the bureaucratic tone of government reports to the fun, energetic style of Target ads.

That means, the best way to engage your audience is to uncover your authentic voice and let your wonderful personality come through.

Here are three ways to do so:

  1. Make your communication as simple as possible. Yes, you know a lot of multi-syllabic words, but the smartest people know that the most effective way to get your message across is to be simple.
  2. Write like you talk. Many of us get a keyboard in our hands, and we stiffen up as if we're on our best behavior in school. We want to sound impressive, so we become more formal. If this happens to you, try two things: First, read your work out loud to make sure it sounds conversational and real. Second, if you still have trouble being conversational, record what you want to say on a tape recorder, then use the recording as the basis for your communication.
  3. Pretend you're communicating with one person--even if you're writing an email to 1,000 customers. Imagine explaining your topic to a new employee sitting across a table. How would you get that person's attention? How would you define unfamiliar terms? How would you appeal to that person's needs?

See how it works? You're as impressive as ever, but, just as important, you're getting your message across. 

Published on: Jul 25, 2018