Communications tips for smart people

I’ve had the great fortune this week of interviewing several really smart people for some content development projects that I’m working on for clients.

Some are industry people who have invented a whole new way to use existing technology. Others are academics who are pushing the boundaries and figuring out how to make the world a better place for real people. They’re scientists who are working to develop brand new products and commercializing them in markets around the world. Or local community leaders who are trying to shift attitudes and create buy-in for a new way of thinking amongst their key stakeholders.

These are really smart people. And what I’ve noticed from talking with them is that, much to my surprise, they are also expert communicators.

These are people who have their key messages down pat. And who can explain them in layman’s terms for those of us who don’t share their expertise, or have their sense of the minutiae. Very often, they’ve told me a story — or shared an example — in order to drive home their points.

The most important things that I’ve learned from speaking with them are:

  • Know what you want to say and stick to it. Whether it’s an interview, a speech, or a pitch, know what you want your audience to remember about the encounter. Say it multiple times, in different ways, but always come back to your key message.
  • Back it up. It’s fine to make a claim. It’s even better to prove it. Use proof-points and examples to provide credibility for what you say.
  • Say it. Show it. Tell a story to help people visualize and internalize your message. And don’t be afraid to make it real by injecting personality and emotion.

As counter-intuitive as it may seem, my take-away from this week of interviews is: You don’t have to be a genius to be a good communicator. But you do have to be smart — and methodical — in order to get your message across.