Want to Be a Great Communicator? Use Plain English

Last Updated Aug 17, 2010 11:46 PM EDT

Communicate in Plain EnglishIt comes as no surprise that How to Give a Killer Presentation was a popular BNET post. After all, you can't get very far in your career without learning to present. Well, the same is true of speaking and writing.

And if you work with and listen to enough successful executives and other business leaders, you'll find that, with rare exception, they use plain English and cut to the chase. That means no jargon, no beating around the bush, and no flowery or big words.

Sounds great, right? Well, here's the catch. For some odd reason, most people seem to have great difficulty being direct when they communicate. It's sad, really.

Ironically, I learned this ridiculously valuable skill because I somehow managed to graduate from college with two technical degrees and virtually no communication skills.

That's right, when I started working as an engineer I couldn't write or speak for beans. My first stab at a specification for a product I designed was like something a 12 year-old would write. And the first time I had to present, I was so terrified by my lack of speaking skills that I almost passed out.

But, I worked for a big company that had a lot riding on me, so they sent me to a business writing class. That's where I learned two things:

1) Ditch all the flowery composition and big words they taught us in school, and

2) Get your message across as crisply, as clearly, and in as few words as possible.

Easy to say but hard to do. So here are 10 tips to help you succeed in business by learning to speak and write in plain English, or whatever language you use:

  1. Be direct with your point or position. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Don't over-think or over-complicate it.
  2. Folks will remember the first and last thing you say or write. Long rambling laundry lists are worthless.
  3. Communicate economically, as if you have to pay for every word. Your audience is actually paying with their precious time and share of mind.
  4. Words come from your mouth and fingers, but wisdom and inspiration come from inside you. Dig deep.
  5. People are more likely to remember things you tell with stories and humor.
  6. When you fumble around, it usually means you're trying to come up with some way to spin what you want to say.
  7. People connect more with genuine feelings than intelligent logic. People may learn from ideas but they follow people.
  8. People do business with those they feel comfortable with and trust. They judge that, in large part, on how you speak and write.
  9. Communication is bidirectional, not a one-sided data-dump. Remember, you give a little to get a little.
  10. Don't over-rehearse or over-edit. Where to draw the line comes with time and experience.
Image CC 2.0 via flickr user daveynin