How to Speak Clearly and Concisely when The Stakes Are High

by Janice Tomich

There’s nothing more frustrating when you have great ideas you’re passionate about and you find that every time you try to share your thoughts you lose people’s attention because you’re long-winded or go off on rambling tangents.

An inability to speak clearly and concisely is a common reason my communication coaching clients reach out to work with me.

They tell me how frustrated they are and that their words and ideas get all jumbled inside their head. This results in an inability to articulate their thoughts logically or succinctly. The good news is that speaking clearly, like any other skill, is something anyone can learn. It just takes practice.

What Does It Mean to Speak Clearly and Concisely?

Managers, directors, and executives who can influence and persuade are skilled at conveying their thoughts clearly in as few words as possible. Speaking clearly is an important part of a leader’s executive presence. It’s also a key communication skill organizations need from their employees.

Professionals that have a talent to strip facts to their essence show their prowess as communicators. Clarity and brevity when sharing your thoughts and ideas are key to persuading and influencing others.

“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”

~Thomas Jefferson

Can You Learn to Speak Concisely?

For some of us speaking clearly in speeches and everyday conversations comes easily, but that’s not the case for everyone. I suspect there have been times when you’ve noticed the tell-tale body language that you’re not being understood—eyes turning away or looks of exasperation. Or even worse, being straight out told to get to the point.

With awareness, a desire to improve, and some practice you can learn to speak in a way that will engage and compel any audience.

When you speak clearly, your audience engages better with your presentation.

Why Does Speaking Clearly Matter?

There’s a common misunderstanding if we add more or give more than is expected we will hit the target. We imagine that if we say everything at least one of our ideas will land. So we provide too much context and go off on tangents before we finally to the point. This is an ill-advised approach. You’ll quickly lose your audience’s attention.

You’ve likely heard that attention spans have deteriorated to nearly that of goldfish. My research shows it’s actually not true.

What I do know (based on my client work and observing audiences) is that attention spans are more sophisticated. Every day we are inundated with more information than we can (or want to) handle. This makes us tune out quickly when we’re not interested or aren’t engaged quickly.

When you don’t get to your point—when you’re you’re long-winded—it can stall your career growth. Plum jobs or promotions require you to speak clearly and concisely, because it’s the only way you’ll actually be able to persuade those you’re talking with.

The risk you take when you don't speak clearly and concisely is that your audience loses interest, and it shows on their face.

Pro Tip: The higher the level of a professional within an organization, the higher the expectation that your communication to be clear and concise.

Improve Your Ability to Speak Clearly with This Simple Exercise

Feedback is crucial to improving your ability to get your point across quickly. You may be nervous or shy to ask for presentation feedback from colleagues or friends, but there’s an easy way to start. Employ self-critique.

Almost all my communication coaching clients tell me they “hate” watching themselves on video and dislike hearing audio recordings of their voice. It’s important to get over this fear, however, because recorded feedback is one of the best tools to improve your communication skills.

  • Choose a topic – something you know well and are passionate about.
  • Hit record, whether video or audio. Don’t overthink … simply talk through your thoughts.
  • Speak to your chosen topic until you feel you’ve explained it well.
  • Now, listen to your recording with a learner’s ear and perspective. At what points in the presentation could you have scale back your speech? What was extra and didn’t need to be said?
  • Now, record yourself again—eliminating the words you determined, upon consideration, you didn’t actually need to say to get your point across.
  • Now, listen to your speech again … How did you do? Were you able to get your point across with fewer words?

Key to this exercise is to really embrace a learner’s mindset. Separating yourself from your ego is hard, but it’s the only way to reap the benefits of this simple exercise to learn how to speak more concisely—and be heard.

Strategy for Planning and Executing Clear, Concise Prepared Speeches

A key element to concise, clear speaking is planning out what you’re going to say. Here’s a quick, simple worksheet you can use to help you develop your next speech.

It’s based on this simple roadmap:

  • Determine your intention & audience
  • Establish your key message (only one).
  • Create an opening that hooks your audience in quickly.
  • Support your key message with three major proof points
  • Depending on the length of your speech, support your proof points with up to three sub-points of evidence.
  • Close powerfully. Drive home your call to action.

What’s important to note is the role of three concepts in building your speech content. Your audience can only take in so much information. By limiting yourself to a maximum of three major proof points, you’ll make it easy for them to follow along.

Framework for Speaking Clearly and Concisely in Spontaneous, Off-The-Cuff Conversations

Meetings, phone conversations, and job interviews require you to be on our toes and respond quickly. The techniques you’ll use to speak clearly in these situations is different, but this, too, is a learnable skill. There’s no need to search for words (or overuse filler words like um, like, and ahh).

There’s no need to panic. Here’s a framework you can use to keep you on track.

The framework I use with my clients for mastering impromptu speaking skills is based off of a system developed by Matt Abraham, a lecturer on organizational behavior at Stanford University and author of Speaking Up. The system is teach my clients includes a few enhanced tweaks.

I call it the CPBS framework, which highlights the Context, Problem, Solution, and Benefit.

  • Context: It’s important to keep the context succinct. This is often where clear, concise communication goes wrong. Limit yourself to two or three sentences to provide background to the issue at hand. Deliver a tight analysis of the issue.
  • Problem: Speak to the problem and only one problem. It’s easy to go off on tangents and down rabbit holes, but if you want to keep your audience engaged you need to be pithy.
  • Solution: Again, limit yourself to one solution. The best one of course…the one that you can put your conviction behind.
  • Benefit: Letting others know the benefit of your solution is key to influencing and persuading others. Again choose one… what will have the most impact on your audience?

Learning to speak clearly and concisely is a skill that excellent communicators live and breathe. It’s not something they’re born with, it’s something they’ve learned. Speaking clearly and concisely makes all the difference, because it allows you to grab your audience’s attention and sustain it when the stakes are high.

If you want to fine tune your ability to get your point across succinctly, and would like to learn how I help my clients communicate with confidence and ease, here’s access to my calendar to book a time to see how we can work together to make it happen.

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