I have a decent amount of experience communicating with a variety of people, mostly from a sports-coaching background. I have taught archery to 12 year olds, windsurfing to 65 year olds, raft-building to 24 year olds, wake-boarding to 40 year olds, kayaking to 8 year olds, orienteering to 15 year olds and surfing to 30 year olds. Currently I teach work-based skills to young adults ranging from 18-22. I also volunteer as a Beaver Scout leader to kids aged 6-8 in my spare time. From this experience I would like to share four key communication skills that are common. Regardless of discipline but all of which focus on the intended audience:
Be Relatable, be Interesting, be Understandable and Use Visuals.
- Be relatable. Present yourself as being on a similar level as your audience (cue the jokes about my being able to relate to 8 year olds). Make sure not to patronise, try to be genuine and be approachable. You should also try to make your subject relatable. Otherwise your audience cannot relate to what you’re saying, so you risk losing them. One way to help achieve this is to tell a story into which the audience can place themselves. Humans are suckers for a great story and they are much more likely to remember what you’re talking about if they are in it. You may wish to research what the group have in common (age, job, employer…) in order to enable you to pitch a relatable story.
- Be interesting. It’s perhaps obvious to say that if your subject is boring then people will be bored so do what you can to make it interesting. But consider this; even the most interesting subject can be made boring by a dull presenter. So BE interesting! Firstly, be enthusiastic, your enthusiasm will shine through. Secondly, vary your style; your tone of voice is key as it is your main connection. You should vary speed, tone, volume and ensure you use the right pitch and inflection. You could also vary the method of delivery, keeping things interactive to keep people on their toes and stop them getting bored.
- Be understandable. Talk in a language your audience understand. I don’t mean literally (although that is a valid point!) but make sure you use words your audience understands. Consider how this question may be answered:
How many Earths would fit into the Sun?
Perhaps someone with a scientific or mathematical background would like this explanation:
For those, like me, who are less mathematically inclined, we might prefer something a little less… numerically challenging:
So, avoid jargon if it won’t be widely understood by your audience on the other hand if your audience are familiar with the technical terminology, make sure to use it, if you make it sound simple it could come across patronising.
However, how could we present this to an 8 year old? I mean, it’s hard enough for us grown-ups to comprehend! I would start by telling them the sun is nearly 1.3 million times bigger than Earth but that doesn’t mean much. So, to further illustrate my point I would give them something visual – I would get a blueberry to represent Earth and one of those fitness/yoga balls to be the Sun. That is the best way to communicate to that audience of 8 year olds. Incidentally, fact fans, on that scale the ball would be 45m away from the blueberry, and actually the yoga ball isn’t quite big enough to be entirely accurate! This leads me on to my final point….
- Use Visuals. Whenever you’re communicating, try and incorporate visuals into your message. This could be photos, videos, graphs, tables, drawings or demonstrations. Studies have shown that humans remember only 10% of what they hear and 20% of what they read, but a massive 80% of what they see. Or to put it in a more memorable way…….
Credit to Iain Hunter, Skills & Development Coach at First Intuition Apprenticeships.