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Mastering communication: getting beyond the inbox

By 4 January 2024 No Comments

The cornerstone of every interaction lies in effective communication. Yet, mastering this art is seldom achieved. Our experience across various businesses echoes a common theme: effective communication is one of the biggest challenges! This observation aligns with ZipDo’s findings, which highlights a startling reality: 86% of employees and executives identify ineffective communication as a primary culprit behind workplace failures, which in turn results in a 23% dip in employee productivity. Interestingly, 84% of businesses use email as their main form of communication, the question is, is it the most effective or appropriate way of communicating with your audience? On average people receive 80 emails per day (although we suspect that the average is higher for your team members). You may feel like you are efficient and productive each time you send an email, but it doesn’t mean that ‘your message has been received’. How often do you choose to send an email to your team or clients instead of a more personal form of interaction?

The power of proficient communication cannot be understated. Firms that excel in this domain see employee engagement soaring by as much as 20-25%. More so, in environments where communication is rated as “excellent,” employees are 20 times more likely to place their trust in leadership. These statistics aren’t just numbers; they’re a testament to the transformative power of effective communication and the importance of it for you and for your business.

Should we re-consider how we communicate and spend more time honing down our interpersonal and presentation skills before sending the next email? Perhaps your message will be better received in a different format, like a team meeting, an operations forum, client event, a video of yourself sharing your message etc.

If you are wondering how to improve your communication style, some inspiration can be drawn from Steve Jobs whose ability to captivate his audiences and crystalise complex ideas into compelling narratives was not just remarkable but a critical factor in his and Apple’s success. The question is – what made Steve Jobs’s communication style so unique and effective?

  • Passion and Simplicity: Jobs had an amazing ability to speak with passion and make his ideas understandable and memorable through telling stories and demonstrations. He only focused on one idea at a time.
  • Visual Reinforcement: His use of PowerPoint is another example of how he simplified his message. Jobs hardly ever used words on his slides; he let the image paint the picture and reinforced it with his stories.
  • Connecting on a Human Level: Jobs never let the fact that he was a techie and generally speaking to a tech audience turn his speeches stale with an overload of jargon. He knew that he needed to connect on a human level and speak about what a regular person really wanted out of a product rather than just spewing out impressive specs and features.
  • Stage Presence: The way Jobs moved around the stage freely, comfortably, and relaxed is a lesson that everyone should learn and follow. You never saw him stationary, holding onto a lectern like many people making a presentation.
  • Rehearsal: Practice makes perfect! Did you know that Jobs rehearsed his speeches sometimes over 200 times? You may think looking and sounding relaxed came naturally for him but he put days and hours into rehearsing for every major speech and product launch.

So, what can we learn from Steve Jobs communication style?

Passion and simplicity

Crafting your message, keeping it simple takes time. Mark Twain famously wrote “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” “It takes a lot of hard work,” Jobs said, “to make something simple, to truly understand the underlying challenges and come up with elegant solutions.” This is as true whether you are designing the iPod, iPhone or iPad or the product launch itself. With “t[T]his amazing little device holds 1,000 songs and it goes right in my pocket” Steve Jobs launched the iPod. One simple line that sticks with the listener. Do you put the time into crafting and practising your message before you communicate it? To communicate effectively, you need to be clear on your key message/takeaway and know your audience.

Visual reinforcement

Steve Jobs’s nine minutes long presentation to launch the iPod had only 19 words. He was a master of using images and stories. In the iPod presentation Steve kept talking about the ultra-portability of the new device. In his presentation he used the image of a deck of cards and stressed how Apple Design made the iPod incredibly portable. He then illustrated this portability by simply taking an iPod out of his pocket. Reinforcing it by saying: “This amazing little device holds 1,000 songs and it goes right in my pocket”. Whether communicating with clients or your team do you show and tell when communicating your message using simple, memorable stories and images?

Connecting on a human level

“We believe people with passion can change the world for the better….and that those people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who actually do. The things Apple believes in at its core are the same things that Apple really stands for today, and so we wanted to find a way to communicate this.” – Steve Jobs

This quote is from a presentation to Apple employees, shortly after Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997. For this important presentation, to let employees know where the company stood and where it was heading, Jobs then Apple CEO, dressed in shorts, sandals and a black turtleneck (the way you look forms part of the message). He adopted a simple conversational style, communicating clearly, simply, and consistently what Apple was and what it stood for. How do you connect with your audience when you are communicating an important message? Although each one of us has a default communication style, you should adapt your style to the audience if you want to be heard and for the message to be received.

Stage Presence

Steve Jobs engaged his audience. He had an open confident posture, good eye contact, and used his hands to emphasise his points. He was a master of pace, building up excitement, pausing to let the audience catch a breath or to create suspense, lowering and raising his voice, speeding up and slowing down his speech rate, changing his inflection to keep the audience entertained and engrossed. Simple presentation techniques that Jobs executed perfectly. Steve’s stage presence gave him the aura of a visionary leader, one who you could confidently trust and follow. How do you engage your audience?

Rehearsal

It’s an open secret that Steve Jobs rehearsed his speeches and presentations many, many times. Confident in his material Jobs could focus on his audience and crafting his message. Typically, his presentations were ready weeks if not a month ahead of the launch date. Steve Jobs recognised the power of public speaking and treated his keynotes and product launches like theatrical performances, by rehearsing like stage performers do. He was a master of the material and the moment. Jobs got feedback from Apple executives on each slide, each phrase and inflection, each step of the preparatory performances, taking on board the advice and honing the performance to perfection. Jobs did full ‘dress rehearsals’ at the venue the days preceding the events. This attention to detail contributed to Steve Jobs masterly performances and ultimately his cult following. How do you rehearse what you are communicating (if at all!)?

Stop hiding behind emails

Before sending the next email, first verify if it’s the best way of communicating your message. Regardless of the medium you use (this includes emails), apply Steve Jobs’s ‘rule of three’ focusing on three key points or stories in your communication.

Finally, the three key takeaways from Steve Jobs on effective communication in business are preparation, preparation, preparation. 


Katherine Hampsten’s video describes why miscommunication occurs so frequently, and how we can minimise frustration while expressing ourselves better.

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