CHAPTER 1 What Do You Mean by That? Conveying a Clear Message

We communicate in a professional context to accomplish one of two goals: we either want to convey a specific point, or we want to build rapport with someone. Both involve focusing on the needs of the person or people with whom we are communicating.

I recently attended a conference on current economic conditions in New York City. The speaker was a senior leader of a global banking institution. He clearly had taken a great deal of time putting together his slide deck, which included complex graphs and charts. He spoke with a booming voice and had a strong presence in front of the room. He was clearly very intelligent, and he knew his content. The audience of 150 people included banking professionals with a wide range of experience. I was picking up occasional interesting data points, but was having difficulty following any themes. It turns out I wasn’t alone. At the end of the talk, the speaker asked for questions. A 40-something audience member raised his hand and asked, “This is all very interesting, but what do you want us to know?” The speaker seemed baffled.

“Do you want me to repeat my whole presentation?” he asked.

“Not at all,” the audience member said. “I just don’t know what you want us to know from all this. Are you hopeful for the economy? Are you concerned? Is there some specific action or approach you think we should adopt? What do you want us to know?”

“Oh,” the speaker said. He paused, looked at the ...

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