To the degree that you want to be heard, you also want to be able to contribute meaningfully to discussion and debate. You’d like to rest in the well-earned belief that your opinion or comment on a given subject makes a difference to the discussion, has substance to support it and therefore, can be relied on.
However, your ability to contribute meaningfully to any given debate is affected by many factors, of both substance and style.
The strength of your argument is firmly held in place by the variety and depth of experiences that colour your perceptions. In short, an uneventful life, one unencumbered by trial and error, failure and a willingness to embrace risk in all endeavours will consequently result in a life that does not possess the full flavour necessary for you to make comments or draw insights of deep value. Lacklustre opinions will not resonate well with others. Your insights are coloured by your experiences, your perceptions thereof as well as how effectively you communicate the impact of these very experiences.
The arguments you present are also determined by the degree to which you are able to articulate and thereby, impart your learning. Style, in this context, may seem as relevant as substance.
I believe there are certain things you can do to help you throughout this process.
1. There’s black, there’s white and then, there’s grey.
In communicating with others, in taking the risk to voice an opinion, you need to accept that you work in unfamiliar territory. There are many opinions out there and what you don’t want to do, to gain notice, is merely replicate or repeat a point already made. Having a voice means exactly that – it is a voice and it is your own. While others may make a point, your viewpoint may contain certain overlaps but to the extent to which you take the time and effort to explain what you believe in or think, you will make clear what your stand is and consequently, make a difference.
2. Assume that people have the baseline understanding that you already possess.
In sharing, when you start from scratch or explore the fundamentals so to speak, you are liable to cover old ground. Consequently, people will not wait until you arrive at your point – they will make a call on what they hear at the early stages, rightly or wrongly. As such, you may find that you may no longer be heard.
What you know is exactly that – what you know. It is in your head and you cannot presume that what you see/think is what others see/think as well. Your job is to transfer that knowledge or insight to those willing to listen but in the most provocative, compelling and quickest manner possible. If you know it’s been said before, don’t say it. If you know people have heard it before, don’t feel the need to repeat it. Understand that the audience is far more discerning, able to respond to your comment with ease, speed and gusto and frequently, will do so.
3. Start with the end first.
As with emails being sent off or presentations being polished, starting with the end first is a sure-fire way to ensure that you get heard. You work on the assumption that people are time poor and possess lower levels of interest now. This is only because there is so much coming at them. They don’t want to be in a constant state of having to make decisions about everything and if they do need to, assume that only the most compelling will make it through. Shock tactics may work for a while but eventually, that too will be seen through and through.
They don’t want to wait till you complete everything you have to say before they decide if it’s worth committing time and attention to. Technology and the modern way in which we work emphasise speed, instant access and sometimes, a range of choices. Others have to make decisions quickly on whether to listen to you or do something else. When you are presented with these options, it may seem harder for you to get through, to make the point you need to make within the time frame allocated and to have sustainable impact.
When you start with the end first, when you put forward your most compelling argument right at the start, you catch people at their brightest and most open. And that is a good place to be. And when you know that less is more, and that there is a timeframe to make an impact, the kind of choices you make and decisions reached will naturally be filtered down.
4. Put yourself in their shoes.
While this is generally easier said than done, the truth is that we need to be compelling and the test is whether we are compelling enough to ourselves. Which requires a candid assessment. However, if we seek to understand things from the listener’s perspective, and not ours, then we are better placed to find out whether we really do.
5. Understand that your reputation is easier now to track, monitor, impact and destroy, than ever before.
In an age where social media can make/break brands (or at least, or give them something serious to worry about) and where the field has, to an extent, been levelled now between the big name brands and the upstarts freshly on the scene, you have two choices every time you open your mouth. Ensure that you have something to say that you can back up or you lose credibility quickly. Take care that if you are unsure about something, you don’t profess to claim otherwise.
Making an impact is about making the right sort of impact, and undoubtedly, the bottom line is making a good or positive impact. It is usually at the subjective point of things when the reality of the situation is rarely considered. People will consider the assertions you make and the manner in which it is made, far more deeply than the situation itself.
Your assertion about an issue should be backed by your own assessment so that you know you can rely on it. Consequently, you are happy to share this and know that others will rely on it too. But if you are not able to make that assessment yourself or fail to do so yet still make the assertion, you do yourself a disservice. And it is one that you indeed, will pay a price on.