Communication isn’t just about talking – remember the 50% Rule


A lot of presentation skills training I hear about only really gives you half the skills you need to be an effective communicator – because it focuses too much on transmitting.

I believe that half of any presentation you make should be made up of listening and observing – or receiving.

If you think about it, when you are talking with friends, colleagues, clients, stakeholders or investors why should you want to appear any differently to you – in your own natural style? Only if you would want to be considered as someone different to who you really are?

I don’t think many serious businesspeople I meet would sign up for that, because no one would trust them.  But – the fact is that for years and years we have been led (and trained) to believe that in order to present, we need to change the way we speak – by altering tone, body language and words when we present ourselves more formally. All the advice is generally on projecting ourselves as impressive, articulate, confident people with a clear focus on delivering a message fluently.

I challenge this. If you accept that good business relationships are built on trust, and mutual understanding, then surely this is also how we should measure the success of our communication?

Relaxed conversations work because they are always two way. If you analyse speech using audio analysis tools (as we do) you see that in almost every case, 50% of a relaxed conversation is silence – when either the speaker or the receiver is listening and observing a response. So when training presentation skills, shouldn’t you also embed listening and observational skills at the same time? They are an intrinsic part of the communication process.

As an example of someone who gets it right – and really listens while he talks – watch Ken Robinson deliver the most viewed TED Talk of all time.

I estimate from my conversations with clients that over 80% of training courses on presentation skills are all about talking. Some of the exercises practised are completely self-defeating. For example, have you ever been asked during a training programme to speak for a minute on a subject of your choice (or a random topic) and then critiqued afterwards on your fluency during presentation training. It’s not pleasant – or productive. Training yourself to keep talking without stopping is hardly a commercial skill that you would want to encourage.

To really communicate effectively – make sure you are listening and observing at the same time. It’s not as easy as it might sound, especially when you are under pressure – but it is possible with the right mindset, and the right training – such as our Clarity, Brevity and Impact programme or Impact and Influence programme.