Divided by a common language: quick tips

We had a great question during a webinar this week, writes Halina St James. I’ve written before about being part of the panel for a monthly webinar run by the International Institute of Business Analysis.

The question was about speaking to an audience with differing levels of comprehension.  The scenario raised by the questioner was this: you are talking to people who all speak and understand English – but with very different levels of confidence. And to complicate things, some have distinct regional accents.

I’ve trained people around the world. One memorable occasion was in a Serbian enclave in Kosovo, with an Orthodox priest as my translator. So I understand the challenge. Here’s the advice I offered on the webinar.

Avoid shouting. And don’t speak unnaturally slowly. That’s patronizing. Instead, begin with a chat about some neutral topic. Usually the weather is the perfect subject. Or ask people about their work, their hobbies, their lives, their culture. You want to get your ear used to the phrasing and the accents. Once you feel comfortable with the rhythms and patterns of speech, you can get down to the real purpose of your conversations.

Use the power of the pause. Say a sentence. Then pause for a second so the listener has time to digest the information. Watch their face and body language. They will give you important clues about the level of comprehension. Don’t press on until you are certain most of your audience are with you.

If you really have a hard time understanding people, don’t blame them. They’re doing their best to communicate. Seek clarification: “Do you mean?” “Are you saying…?” “What I’m hearing is… Am I right?”

Keep your message simple. Short words in short sentences. One thought per sentence. Avoid jargon. Don’t try to say too much. And smile. Remember 93% of communication impact is non-verbal.

The webinar is only for members of the IIBA right now. But it’s getting a great response. The host, Julian Sammy, tells me he hopes to throw it open to a wider audience soon.

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