3 Essential Tips for Effective Communication

We always start planning next year’s HOW Design Live by reviewing the evaluations and feedback from the year before—so that’s what we did last week as we began to plan for next year’s event in Boston (Save the dates: April 30-May 4, 2018). Based on the evaluations from 2017, you wanted inspiration and practical takeaways and that’s what you got, from the keynotes as well as the breakout sessions.

One of my favorite breakouts, because it had the clearest tools and takeaways, was Speak to Be Heard: Communicating Your Ideas Effectively with presentation coach, Eleanor Handley. You really have to see it!

3 Things We Learned at HOW Design Live on Effective Communication

1. “Change your body, change your mind.”

Eleanor said, “Communication is a physical art form. You can’t think your way out of a physical problem so you need to start building these muscles of standing, talking, taking a breath, producing enough sound right from the practice stage.”

When you watch Eleanor present, you can see exactly what she means when she says, “communication is physical.” And because it’s so physical, it requires warming up, as any athlete or performer would. One exercise she demonstrated involved cutting a huge watermelon with a samurai sword – you just have to see it!

BTW: As often happens with a good conference, there were themes that wove through many different sessions and this was one of them. In one of the highest rated keynotes, social psychologist, Amy Cuddy, reinforced Eleanor’s idea when she talked about the scientific basis for the idea that our body language shapes who we are. (Watch her TED talk here.)

2. “Great communication comes from focusing more on the other person than on yourself.”

“Focusing on the other person” when you’re speaking involves sacrificing the illusion of perfection for the reality of transparency, which means being honest about mistakes (like when you forget an idea) or mishaps (like a technology glitch).

Eleanor said, “This shows your listeners that you’re much more interested in them getting the information than in your “performance,” or whether you’re presenting perfectly. So, I’m a big advocate for transparency and I think it’s probably one of the most underutilized tools because we get up there and we feel this pressure to be perfect. Instead I would advise aiming for flexibility, not flawlessness. 

Of course, Eleanor practiced what she was preaching by being transparent about her own almost comical Lego-dropping during one of the exercises with a volunteer – you really have to see it!

3. “You don’t have to feel confident to convey confidence.”

Eleanor used several brave volunteers from the audience to demonstrate the points she was making. One of them, Erica, showed how doing a simple physical activity (with Lego) while speaking forced her to slow down, even though she was nervous.

It turns out this ability to stop, take a breath and begin the next sentence conveys confidence, regardless of how you’re feeling.

Sean, another volunteer, almost upstaged Eleanor! I thought he’d give his elevator pitch or talk about a recent design project. Instead he pitched love!

“Love, love, love,” he advised the audience. “Don’t let walls come between you and other people.” It was so genuine and real that – well you really just have to see it!


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