Book Summary – Simply Said (Communicating Better at Work and Beyond)

Being persuasive requires having well-organized, properly structured content. Besides knowing your main message and your audience’s concerns, you must have a distinct purpose. If delivering information is your purpose, “Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them what you’ve got. Tell them what you’ve just told them.”

“When you want to inspire people to move forward, stories should drive your message.”

Your style of communicating matters as much as your content. If you’re presenting, don’t announce, “I’m here today to give you a presentation on X.” Your audience will instantly disengage since, “no one wants to be presented to.” Instead say, “I’m here today to talk to you about X.” If you include slides in your talk, don’t refer to a physical slide, for example, “On that last slide you saw…” The slide is the medium, not the substance. Instead say, “A moment ago we discussed…”

Verbal Communication Skills

To speak effectively to a group, imagine you are presenting to one person and speak accordingly. That is, “be present to your audience.” Never come across as distracted or self-absorbed. Your audience members want you to focus on them. To demonstrate your attention and focus, heed “your eye contact, your voice and your body language.”

“Our audience has limits on how much it can take in.”

Don’t “scan your audience” to make eye contact. That’s distracting and it will interfere with your focus on content. People could be bored or preoccupied, checking their phones, or talking to their friends. To hold their focus, establish eye contact with a single audience member while you communicate one complete sentence. Then move to the next person, and the next, and so on.

“The longer your document, the less likely it is to be read. Keep it short so that people read your ideas and act on them. That’s how you have impact.”

Vary your vocal “speed, volume, tone and inflection.” Pause periodically for effect. “Embrace the silence” to demonstrate your confidence. Smile while you speak. Folding your arms in front of your chest closes you off from your audience, so maintain an open posture. This includes unrestrained hand gestures. When you stand in front of your audience, keeping your hands apart makes it more natural for you to gesture as you speak. This will help you “tell your story.”

“We need to know our data so we can back up the claims in our stories, but it’s the stories that engage people.”

Communicating is a two-way street. You must be an effective listener. Don’t simply send out information; also receive information from other people to learn what matters to them. You connect with others by listening, not speaking. Make sure your body language conveys that you are fully attentive. Taking notes when you listen to others is a sign of respect.

Notes and Slides

If you need to refer to your notes or slides while you speak, follow this three-step plan:

  1. “See it” – Quickly glance at your slides or talking points.
  2. “Save it” – As you look up, hold in your mind what you have just seen.
  3. “Say it” – Establish eye contact with one person in the audience and relay your point.

“Most professionals interact far more on the phone than face-to-face, so leveraging the power of your voice is crucial.”

To prepare your physical notes, develop a “spot word” system. Outline your notes in the middle of the page in as few words as possible. This makes your notes easier to scan and understand when you glance at them during a speech.

Audience Questions

When you field questions from audience members, you’re vulnerable to not knowing the answers and getting surprised. Realize that no one expects you to know the answer to every question. If you are familiar with your content, you’ll be able to respond positively to any relevant question. To answer audience questions, 1) pay attention to the full question so your answer is also complete, 2) take a little time to think about each answer before you speak, 3) provide an answer and then go back to your main topic, and 4) ask the audience for other questions.

“Your Written Communication Skills”

Writing well goes beyond having a good command of fundamental grammar: It hinges on clarity of purpose. To be compelling, ask yourself, “Why is the reader reading this document?” “What does the reader need to do with the information?” and “How can I make it effortless for the reader to get the main message?”

“All words are delivered out to your audience, meaning you make eye contact with a single person in the audience for each sentence.”

The best writing is succinct. Clean up any clutter: Eliminate extraneous words. “Challenge every word in your document.” Get rid of all “zero words,” the ones that add nothing. Consider this sentence: “Currently, we have 40 staff members.” You can deliver the same exact meaning by dropping “currently.” “Wordy expressions” are as bad as zero words. For example, instead of saying “due to the fact that…” say “because.” Instead of writing “all men and women should…” write “everyone should.”

“Here’s the main concept behind effectively using visuals. Tell people what they are looking at before you tell them why they’re looking at it.”

To identify the best words to use to make your point, focus on the action in each sentence and then find the right verb for that action. Consider this flabby sentence: “The project is delayed at the insistence of the manager.” It has 11 words. The action is “insisted.” You can rewrite the sentence in seven words: “The manager insisted on delaying the project.”

“Most presenters…are more comfortable when responding to questions…compared with when they are delivering their content from slides or notes.”

Base the structure of your writing on its purpose. Do you need to persuade people or convey information? If persuasion is your goal, don’t focus your writing on what you want the person or organization to do. Instead, focus on why that person or group should want to do as you wish. To create a persuasive pitch: 1) Showcase your main topic in the first sentence, 2) use the “last sentence of your first paragraph” to explain your purpose, 3) provide necessary background, 4) “explain what led to the message,” 5) provide additional detail, 6) describe the benefits the reader gains by following your suggestion, 7) detail all subsequent steps, and 8) tie those steps to the goal of your argument.

“Many people think that thinking-time techniques are stalling tactics. That’s exactly what they are. You are buying yourself a few seconds to form the better answer. It’s about quality, not speed, when responding to questions.”

When you write to convey information: 1) Discuss your subject, 2) discuss the context, 3) note your subtopics, 4) provide detail for each subtopic, 4) summarize each subtopic, and 5) discuss the follow-up steps you want the readers or listeners to take.

Whether you’re persuading or sharing information, be warm and outgoing. Use the word “you” twice as often as the word “I.” To keep readers engaged, vary your sentence structure – a shorter sentence followed by a longer one followed by a shorter one. Keep paragraphs shorter than a fourth of the page. Use subheads to help readers make quick sense of your document. As always, keep your message and demeanor upbeat. Use simple, easily understood words and phrases.

“We only have impact if the person to whom we are speaking can convey our message to someone else.”

Emails should have a “clear message and clear action steps.” Create a strong subject line. Personalize your email by including the recipient’s name. If you write to as many as three people, open with all their names. If you write to more than three people, “Hello all” will work fine. Or you could start with a group name, such as “Marketing Team.”

“Your Interactions”

To prepare for client meetings, diagnose, address and fix any known personal weaknesses as a communicator in advance. Perhaps you “are too abrupt, tend to get sidetracked, give far too much detail” or “take too long to get to a point.” Try to anticipate your client’s needs. Before your meeting, make sure your mood is upbeat and positive. Measure the success of your meeting not by how much you say, but by how much you hear and learn about the client and his or her needs.

Toasting and Introducing

Are you ready if someone asks you to provide a toast at an event? Think of your toast as a short, private conversation between you and the honoree. A toast is highly personal. Being corny is fine, but being long-winded isn’t. The person you’re toasting is the honoree – not you. Don’t try to showcase yourself. Keep your toast succinct.

“If you want the trust and respect of those around you and…to be known as a strong leader, build a reputation for yourself as a good listener.”

If you are asked to introduce a speaker at a business or social function, paint a positive picture of the person you’re introducing. Don’t oversell the speaker. The right introduction puts the speaker in a good mood and prepares the audience for his or her comments. Giving a polished introduction is an opportunity to present yourself as a competent public speaker.

Communicating with Your Employees

When you delegate a task: 1) “State the big picture,” 2) explain the assignment and the results you want, 3) discuss any related tasks your colleagues will handle, 4) explain why you selected the employee for the job and what he or she will gain from doing it, 5) go over the next steps, and 6) have the person describe the assignment to you to ensure clarity on both sides.

“There are about 124 billion emails sent every day. Some of us feel like we receive all of them.”

Follow these steps to offer an employee productive feedback: 1) Broach a specific issue, 2) set a specific time to go over the issue, 3) mention the “big picture,” 4) review what the employee did and didn’t do well, 5) discuss what the employee should do to resolve this and similar issues, and 6) clarify the specific steps the employee agrees to follow in the future.

To organize and supervise an effective brainstorming session, explain the issue that your group will discuss, and welcome all ideas. Assign someone to take notes. Coach the participants to keep an open mind about everyone’s suggestions. Hold the session to one hour, tops. At its conclusion, determine which ideas offer potential viable solutions to the problem at hand.

Leading People

Leaders must embody leadership traits in the way they communicate, including thinking strategically and significantly contributing to the organization. Leaders don’t just communicate facts; they share values with their followers. Those values should focus on improving the organization and expressing a vision for the future.

Great leaders display vulnerability by being open and honest. When you speak of your shortcomings, be forthright, not shamefaced. Speak of yourself with confidence. Stay focused on your listeners. Don’t say, “I stand for integrity”; say, “You deserve someone you can trust.” Don’t say, “I believe in hard work”; instead say, “You want a leader who works as hard as you do.”