Communication: It’s Not About You

Businessman in ConversationHere at Exec|Comm one theme unites all of our classes. We believe strongly that people are better communicators, and therefore more effective professionals, when they focus less on themselves, and more on their audience – their needs and goals.

When any of us are speaking at a meeting or on a conference call we can talk about one of three things: we can talk about ourselves, we can talk about our content, or we can talk to our audience about our audience.  In most business meetings, our listeners don’t care about us, and they don’t care about our content.  They care about how they need to use our content, which is different from the content itself.

It’s easy to say, “Focus on your audience.”  But what does that mean in execution?

Listen carefully the next time you are attending someone else’s meeting.  Whoever called the meeting will likely begin with the words, “What I want to talk about today is….”  In the very first line of their talk they communicate that the meeting is about them and what they want.   Think about what that opening line says about the speaker’s perspective on the meeting; we’re all in the room today because of what that person wants, as if we’re all in attendance to meet the needs of the person who called the meeting.  It sets the wrong tone for the meeting.

Think of the subtle but important shift in emphasis if instead the leader began the meeting with the words, “What I thought might be most helpful to you today is….”  By starting with both those words and that frame of reference two things happen.

First, right at the start of the meeting you consciously tell your audience, very directly, that you’ve put all your energy into helping them, keeping the agenda on their needs and goals.  Second, as you are preparing for the meeting, if you have this language resonating in your head, you challenge yourself to make sure everything you’re doing in the meeting is adding value for the audience.  This concept applies to your written communication as well as your oral delivery.  (By the way, it’s not wrong to start with, “What I want…” or to make the meeting all about you.  It’s just a lot less effective at getting buy-in from your audience.)

Ultimately, by shifting your focus to the needs of others, you will communicate with more impact and lead with greater confidence.

Try starting your next meeting, phone call or email with, “What I thought might be most helpful to you today is….”  Let us know in the comments below if the conversation improves.

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