How to be a better communicator
To learn how to be a better communicator, start by imagining a water slide at the amusement park. To enjoy the waterslide, you must climb all the way to the top of the slide and then ride it all the way down. Would it be fun to start the ride 90% of the way down the slide?
The thing about communication is that a lot of times when we want to get a message across to the person in front of us, we start at the bottom of the slide. We start out in the weeds, getting into all the nitty-gritty details of the matter and simply presume that the other person is following us. The problem here is that you have the curse of knowledge. You already know the context, your mind is already there! The person opposite you meanwhile may have been thinking about ice cream when you pounced on them and dumped all that verbal diarrhea hoping that some of it stuck (yuck).
Let me attempt to put together some tools and tips on communication that I have learned on my journey to building my AI startup.
The Communication Pyramid
Start at the top! When you want to get your message across, you first start by setting the context. The context is at the top of the slide. Once you’ve set the context it’s easy to get your point across.
Scenario: John a rocket scientist needs to borrow his wife Jane’s car to go to a conference because his car is in the garage.
Conversation 1: Hey babe, there’s a conference on ramjet engine thermodynamics. The speaker is going to talk about fan blade pressure characteristics and inlet/outlet ratio optimization. The agenda of the conference also includes a special guest appearance by the head of R&D at the European Space Agency. Also, babe, my car’s fuel injection system has a leak at the intake manifold increasing the probability of overheating. I need your car tomorrow.
Conversation 2: Hey babe, can I borrow your car tomorrow after work? There’s this really amazing conference where the speaker is going to talk about a topic that’s really close to me. I’ve been researching ramjet engines since grad school and I would really love to hear this top scholar’s research and insights. I wouldn’t have asked if my car wasn’t in the garage. The mechanic told me it’s not safe to drive right now due to a fire hazard.
Which conversation do you think worked? It’s pretty obvious right!
So here’s a tool that I refer to as the communication pyramid which is really helpful in visualizing how to get the point across to the opposite party and make the point stick.
- To get your idea across to me, first, you need to set the context. Setting the context helps me get my head out of ice cream and into what you want to talk about.
- Apply the hook. Give me an interesting or unexpected piece of information to get my attention.
- Now, give me some details about what you want to talk about, see how I react. If I seem to be hesitant or just nodding at you but my eyes are looking elsewhere, STOP. Take a step back and try again.
- Now you have my attention. So give me more details, describe the matter without the specifics but give me enough information to understand what you are talking about.
- Now the reveal! Give me the specifics, don’t hold back, lay it on me. You want me to have all the data so that I can understand it in its entirety and in return help you out.
Some people also call it the Why, What, and How. If you can’t get your WHY across to me, you can’t make me care about what you’re trying to say and how you need my help. Also, GO SLOW! Slowing the conversation down always helps the person standing in front of you understand you better.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”George Bernard Shaw
I have also used the above example to coach my employees at Siera on becoming better communicators. If you think this helped you, please do comment below. If you’re looking for a job in an AI startup and think you have what it takes to build a billion-dollar company, come join me at Siera.