Say what you mean. Mean what you say.
Speaking clearly is just another one of those things that seems like it ought to be easy to do, yet remains remarkably elusive. Very often, when we’re speaking, we will say something that makes perfect sense to us, but our audience doesn’t understand. When we’re listening, we tend to try and re-phrase the speaker’s words, figuring that we need to “get what they mean.”
What we don’t do very well, as either speaker or listener, is try to understand the others’ point of view, or anticipate how they will react. This is what makes giving direction so difficult – that even when we do our best to consider the audience, the audience is programmed, by both nature and nurture, to take our words and look for some other, deeper or different meaning. For one, they want to taste-test our statements and see if they make sense. For another, everyone’s different and simply won’t understand the same information in the same way. Chalk it up to personality profiles, learning styles, intelligence, or anything else you like.
We need to seek understanding first when we encounter new information. There’s always time to use what we already know tear an argument apart later, but the time to gain new information is right now.
That being said, we’ve all seen terrible presenters, too. There’s nothing worse than a middle-manager, forced to give a presentation, who stumbles through the slides, either racing through important points just to get to the end, or reading every word on an overstuffed slide – just to get to the end. Of course, when a question arises, such a presenter either looks like a deer in the headlights and stammers out some half-baked answer, promises to “get back to you,” or, what’s worst – declares that it’s your fault for not listening.
Both seeking to understand what is being said, as well as taking into consideration the concerns of the audience, can alleviate the “waste of interpretation” that leads to tremendous misunderstandings. If the speaker isn’t clear, don’t try and assimilate the information – ask clear questions to develop a new understanding. If the audience isn’t “getting it” change your method of sharing the information. After all, if the student hasn’t learned, the teacher hasn’t taught.
Anything else simply leads to things getting lost in translation, which means people are walking away with a different understanding of the information than what the presenter intended – which means more work later on to stem rumors, clean up errors, or once again try to gain enthusiasm for another round of “improvement” initiatives.