Communication 101, Designer’s Edition

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| July 5, 2007

You can be a great communicator without being a great designer, but you will never be a great designer unless you are a great communicator.

Or you might, but no one will ever hear of you, much like the famed tree falling in the forest with no audience. Obviously, you’re not going to become a virtuoso overnight, but there are some basics to keep in mind as you begin your journey.

1. Listen more than you talk

The biggest mistake most people make is doing the exact opposite. Keep your mouth shut while someone else is talking and really listen. Do not just sit there, waiting for your turn to talk. Do not use this “free” time to plan what you are going to say next. The more you make it about them, the more you will learn. And, according to the most-liked guy on the planet, Chris Brogan, the more they will like you.

2. Think before you answer

You can ignore this if you’re one of those pause-y people in conversations. I am not. I have a mind that races a mile a minute, and is eager to spew forth what genius it holds within (see item #1).

If you are like me, for the love of all that’s holy, take a breath before you answer, even if you know the answer. The opportunity will not evaporate in the second’s pause you take, and, in addition to giving people the impression you are taking them in (again, see item #1), you may, in that second’s pause, come up with something even better.

This trick goes double for email. By all means, turn around anything that’s a simple “yes”, “no” or “4:30 p.m.” But I cannot tell you the number of times waiting a wee bit has resulted in a better, saner, more lucid reply, and saved my bacon.

3. Learn from the greats…and on your own

Great resources for learning how to speak are just a search away, but I’ll give you one brilliant one straight off: the collected, archived talks from the TED conferences. Some of the world’s greatest thinkers also happen to be some of the world’s greatest talkers. Who knew?

Start with Sagmeister and the other designers, but don’t limit yourself. Malcolm Gladwell and Seth Godin could keep a crowd enraptured by dissecting the phone book (although their topics here are way more interesting).

Of course, you’ll need to practice to get that good. If you’re in a major metro area, I always recommend a comedy improv class; you learn a whole host of skills that will serve you through the tools of improv. If you’re not up for it, or if you’d like a more traditional setting, Toastmasters is an amazing organization, and there are clubs all over the world. I joined my club, Del Rey 2646, almost a year ago. Even though I came from a performance background, I was amazed at how much I learned and improved in a short time.

Above all, the key to great communication is to stop thinking of yourself as a designer. You’re a communicator of ideas; learn how to get them across, and you can change the world.

For more tips on how to become a better communicator, please sign up for my monthly newsletter.


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