Dear Lifehacker, I want to communicate more effectively, so people remember what I say. I’m tired of getting passed over and ignored because I don’t make much of an impression, but I’m also paranoid about coming across as narcissistic. What can I do? Sincerely, Impressionless
Images by lineartestpilot (Shutterstock).
There are many ways to make a point, but as you noted it’s easy to be remembered as making a bad impression or just make little to no impression at all. How do you find balance between too much and too little? You stop looking. Concentrate on making your point. Be genuine. Like yourself and what you’re saying. Those things bring about good impressions and help people remember you. Of course, you can’t just flip a switch and charm anyone you meet. Some specific methods and mind hacks can help.
Tell a Story
When communicating a point, storytelling makes a big impact. A story doesn’t equal long-winded anecdotes or excessive analogies, but rather a way of creating a narrative for your listener with a concise and deliberate approach. Advertisements, politicians, and public speakers all incorporate stories. Some do it better than others. The impact comes when you find the emotional root of what you want to say and derive a way to share that effectively with your listener.
Take Google’s search story advertisement. It depicts several search queries that build up to a love story. It gave emotion and feeling to something as boring as a web search. TV viewers were actually interested enough to read a minute-long ad. When Steve Jobs announced the iPod, he didn’t sell it as an MP3 storage device. He sold it as 1,000 songs in your pocket in order to let you imagination consider the possibilities. Whether it’s a complete story told briefly or the start of one that the recipient can finish him or herself, narratives make a greater impact on humans than strict, cold logic. Productivity and ideas blog 99u suggests that a persuasive story consists of the following:
- Centre your story around one idea and build the rest from there.
- Choose a mood to keep your story consistent (hope and love in the case of Google’s search story, or excitement and possibility in the case of the iPod).
- Create a structure and stick with it. This can be as simple as a beginning, middle, and an end. Stay structured so you know where you’re going.
- Keep it short.
- Use specific, attractive details.
- Don’t be afraid to show vulnerability. People won’t judge you for it. They’ll feel more comfortable because you’re letting them know it’s OK to be honest with you.
Those core elements ask you to pack a lot into a tiny little story, but it simply boils down to this: tell a concise, structured story with a consistent emotional impact centred around a single idea. You’ll find these elements by figuring out what matters to you. Doing so builds a good story and confidence in what you’re saying.
Speak Slowly and Vary Your Tone
How you speak matters, too. Incredible public speaking skills aren’t required to make an impact, but a few tricks can make the process easier. Many of us have a habit of talking to fast and that gives way to stumbles, confusion, and miscommunication. We can’t easily keep track of what we’re saying if we’re spouting off a million words per minute. Speak slowly and don’t hesitate to take pauses when needed. In all likelihood, you speak faster than you realise. Perhaps you’re worried about being interrupted, or you’re concerned you’ll sound ridiculous. In reality, you sound stranger and are more likely to be interrupted when you’re speaking quickly for a couple of reasons. First, talking too quickly makes you difficult to understand. People processing your speech will have a harder time with words that sound mashed together in a hurry. Even if they don’t, they’re still interpreting your words at a faster rate. They’ll want to interrupt you for clarification. You may also sound a little neurotic because you’re talking too fast. What sounds too slow to you sounds normal to the rest of us. If you want to find the right speed, just practice with a friend and get their feedback.
Don’t keep your tone to a single note. Be expressive. Varying your tone makes your speech more interesting and allows you to change your pitch and modulation for good effect. Psychology Today points out how this affects your listeners:
Expressive speech, with modulation in pitch and volume, and a minimum of noticeable pauses, boosts credibility and enhances the impression of intelligence. Other studies show that, just as people signal the basic emotions through facial expression, we also do it through voice. Listeners instinctively detect that when we lower the usual pitch of our voice, we are sad, and when we raise it we are angry or fearful.
You don’t want to vary modulate your voice in ways that feel or seem unnatural, but be aware of your tone when you practice making your point. If you sound too consistent, mix things up a bit.
Use Your Body
Words express very little of what you say. They certainly have their impact, but your body language accounts for the majority of your communication. To use your body effectively as a communication tool, you need balance between nonverbal expression and a calm demeanour. This means moving your body to make a point, but not so much that you look like the dancing balloon man often found on top of a car dealership. Remaining relaxed inherently creates this balance, and positive body language will flow naturally.
In general, you want to avoid nervous ticks like tapping your foot or touching your face. Don’t remain stiff and don’t slouch. Sit naturally, lean forward a little when you want to engage, and use your hands to match the emotion of what you’re saying. Let this happen naturally. Don’t think about it and force it. Body language creates its effect when you allow it to be an extension of you, not a forced method of expression.
Overall, practice and remain patient. Four years ago I participated in group conversations, spoke entire sentences when no one else was speaking, and the group didn’t even acknowledge that I’d said anything at all. A lack of confidence caused this problem, and I built that confidence by focusing my words on the things that mattered to me. If I cared, I could get others to care, too. Ultimately, that’s what matters most when you want to be heard.
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