What is Effective Communication?
For the majority of the last decade, I’ve been working as a professional communicator. I make my living by thinking about and communicating my clients’ complex ideas and by teaching others how to communicate. I’ve thought about communication a lot and would like to share some thoughts on what I believe constitutes effective communication.
Every important communication should be planned. You can try to wing it, however, your chance of success increases significantly if you plan. What should you plan for? I believe there are two important ingredients. The audience and the goal. As different audiences require different approaches you should clearly define both within the context of your communication.
The purpose of effective communication is to get your specific audience to the desired goal. The goal could be informing them or allowing them to understand a message, but also to persuade or convince them to take action. Your goal could also be to make them laugh, cry… but for most professional communication, this is generally not the case. If you manage to bring your specific audience to the desired goal, you can call that communication successful.
Example: two audiences, two goals
Imagine you are a climatologist trying to communicate your research results to two different audiences:
- your peer scientists
- policy makers
In the first case, your goal is to present your research to scientists who very well understand the science behind what you did. You want to inform and convince them with your supporting data. In the second case, you want to persuade them to take certain action which will protect the environment. They have only vague knowledge on the science behind what you did and are more interested in the significance and implications of what you discovered.
Should the communication in both cases be the same? Absolutely not. You will never be able to achieve both goals if you use the same method of communication. It is even more likely that you’ll fail in both cases. This is why it is crucial to understand who exactly your audience is and what your goals are before you start preparing your communication. Your communication will be successful if your audience reaches the goal you wanted.
At Seyens, we consider the communication to be effective if the audience reaches the goal intuitively, effortlessly. This means that when they are absorbing your communication, they don’t have to think about the method you are using, but only about the message.
How can that be achieved? Different methods of communication require different principles in order to make the method as transparent as possible. Some of the principles that can be applied to all methods are concepts from psychology, especially perception. At Seyens, we focus on everything that can improve the effectiveness of visual communication, which is what we teach scientists at our workshops.
When to make sure you communicate effectively?
Most of the communication we do in our everyday lives is quite successful. We know to modify our behavior, vary our method/approach if we start to see we aren’t getting our messages through. However, for the communication to be effective, more effort has to be invested first into acquiring the principles and later into preparing and delivering our messages each and every time.
It may not be efficient to plan and polish all your daily communication. However, you should think about the more important instances of communication you deal with in business and relationships. Who are the most important audiences and what are the goals you and they want to achieve? What can you learn about the audiences to understand them better? These are the questions you should be asking yourself if you want to communicate effectively … Especially if a lot is at stake.
Jernej Zupanc (PhD in Computer Science, 2011) is the founder of Seyens Education Institute. He is an evaluator of H2020 project proposals and a published photographer.