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Message and Messenger

by Randall Craig on August 28, 2007

Filed in: Blog, Communication, Make It Happen Tipsheet, Presentations

Tagged as: , ,

In business school years ago, I learned an important lesson. It’s not just what you say, but how you say it that can make a difference.

Back then, we were asked to hand in two copies of each major assignment. One copy went to the professor who would mark us on the concepts we learned in class. The second copy went to an English professor, who only marked our written communication skills and formatting. Both marks counted equally.

You probably recognize that successful communication is partly based on the words you use, but also your tone of voice. And most people recognize that body language trumps both. But how does it do so?

There is a communications hierarchy between the content of what you say, your tone, and your body language. At the base, there has to be content. Without a particular expertise – without content – there would be no reason for people to listen to you. This is true during a sales pitch, job interview, or business meeting.

Your tone of voice and body language amplifies your content, and influences your listener emotionally. If one of these is not in sync, don’t expect great buy-in to your message:

  • No content (and too much body language or tone): fluff, where’s the beef, showman, silver-tongued, etc.
  • No tone (but tons of content): dull, no recall, topic is not relevant, etc.
  • No body language (but great content): stiff-looking, doesn’t believe in their message, not an expert, etc.

This week’s action item: Whether the communication is written or verbal, to a large group or just with one person, remember that you are being marked on your content and your presentation. Practice content by becoming an expert in your field, and preparing before your next meeting. Practice tone by recording yourself and listening to your voice (hint: use your voicemail). And practice body language by videotaping yourself, and then asking for feedback from colleagues, friends and family. Only you can be the best messenger for your message – but it takes practice.

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Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)