What’s your excuse for not communicating?

Chris Farley used to do this great bit on SNL, where he played this typically rumpled character who bemoans his lack of communication skills. As he catalogues his various deficiencies, he punctuates each one with great, sausage-fingered air quotes:

Maybe I’m not “the norm,” I’m not “camera friendly.” I don’t “wear clothes that fit me,” I’m not a “heartbreaker,” I don’t “fall in line,” I’m not “hygienic,” I lack “style,” I have no “charisma,” I don’t “own a toothbrush” …

And so on, in an ever-descending spiral of self-loathing.

I’m reminded of that when I hear about an executive who’s doubtful about his skills to excite or even interest an audience. Or when I hear staff complain that they don’t have a charismatic leader to put in front of people.

But not everybody has to be broadcast-level telegenic to be an effective communicator. In fact, some of the best speakers I’ve seen have been the opposite of that. Substantive experts, like engineers and technology people, love nothing more than hearing from someone they consider a peer – someone who can speak their language.

Here are a few ways to win an audience over, even if you live in a van by the river:

  • Open up. Show them a side of yourself they don’t or wouldn’t normally see. Talk about your interests or passions outside the office.
  • Use emotion. Get excited or show empathy or even a little righteous indignation. If you believe it, and really feel it, it’ll come through.
  • Be human. Talk about a mistake you’ve made in your career or life and what you learned from it. Especially if you have some vulnerability in their eyes, address it up front.
  • Find something in common. A shared history or heritage, love for a product or goal for the future — these kinds of touchstones bring people together.
  • Be authentic. The worst thing you can do is try to fake it. Be yourself. Be sincere. Be real.

I’ve seen all kinds of excuses for not communicating. Lack of “charisma” or a “pulse” shouldn’t be one of them.

Leave a Reply