Enhance your communication


Every finance leader should consider ways in which you can enhance your communication, either verbally or written. This has a huge impact on your ability to build relationships, communicate message, demonstrate gravitas and support your wider business. In fact, communicating effectively is fundamental to your finance leader role and throughout everything that you do.

Some statistics

The majority of finance leaders are able to highlight situations where you would benefit from enhancing you communication. In fact, 15% of finance leaders consider this to be one of their top three biggest challenges.

The root cause

As with any significant challenge, you should start by understanding its root cause.

Here are the most common reasons why finance leaders identify the need to enhance your communication as being one of their main challenges:

– Not being able to get key messages across during important presentations, for example when delivering the finance leader’s Board report.

– Struggling to connect the financial story to the numbers in a powerful manner.

– Feeling nervous when presenting to a large audience.

– Finding it difficult to actively listen to people and determine what they are really trying to tell you.

– Lacking strong business writing skills when producing board reports, presentations and emails.

Unfortunately, many finance leaders do know understand what best practice looks like. This leads them to falsely assume that all aspects of their communication is being delivered to the highest possible levels.

Enhance your communication: The starting point

The starting point of any communication is the state of mind of the recipient.  Therefore, the pre-condition for good communication is to create the circumstances in which people will be receptive.  You are in control of creating the right circumstances so that your message will be received in the manner intended.

Clarify the context of your communication to ensure that people receive it in the best way possible.  This is essential when trying to influence people such as within board meetings or during a change assignment.

Enhance your communication: Understanding your audience

It is important that you properly understand your audience.  The following will help you:

  1. Research your audience: Up-front research will help you to understand people’s backgrounds, perspectives on your message and their likely reactions.
  2. Determine their interests: Establish triggers for likely interest and their capacity to absorb information.
  3. Language and cultural barriers: You will need to adapt your style and messaging depending upon the background of your audience.

You can research much of the above in advance of your meeting.  However, in some situations you may need to do this during your communications and tailor your approach accordingly.

Building relationships

Finance leaders should get to know people early on and develop strong relationships throughout your role.

You should constantly be trying to build rapport with people and win them over so that they are already on your side.

One-to-one conversations

There are three stages within a successful one-to-one conversation:

  1. Inform: Introduce yourself and provide some personal information
  2. Invite: Ask a direct question and wait for a response.  Although don’t ask too many questions!
  3. Convey: Listen well and acknowledge plus repeat the essence of their response.

Successful communication is a balance of listening and talking.  Spend twice as long listening to the other person as you spend speaking to them during a one-to-one conversation.

Reflective listening is where you repeat back what you have heard to ensure that you have received the right message.  This also helps to demonstrate that you are properly listening to the other person.

What you say

It is very easy to use the wrong combination of words and sentences within your messages.

  1. Complex messages: People may not understand what you are trying to convey within your messages.  This is an inherent issue for finance leaders talking to non-finance people.  Your messaging needs to be unambiguous and should avoid using jargon.
  2. Too much detail: You need to be self-aware of how long you are speaking for, the length of your sentences and your choice of words.
  3. Feeling nervous: Humans naturally speak faster and use more words when feeling nervous.  This can have a negative effect on your ability to convey messages.

Market research suggests that what you say contributes towards only 7% of your impact.  Therefore, you should try to keep this simple for your audience to understand.  The ideas and structure within your message should be restricted to short sentences containing straightforward words.  Use the active voice rather than the passive and avoid using double negatives.

The following summarises how many people are likely to understand your message based upon the length of your sentences:

  • 8 words – 90% of people will understand this
  • 17 words – 75% of people will understand this
  • 25 words – 25% of people will understand this

Strong communicators are able to deliver messages within short sentences that contain commonly used words.

How you say it

Market research suggests that your voice contributes towards 38% of your impact.  The meaning of what you say is conveyed through your tone, reflection, volume and pitch.  You need to vary this to get your point across and make these consistent with the message that you are delivering.

The clarity of your communication is absolutely key.  It needs to be understandable, succinct, relevant and memorable.

Make it interesting, real and believable.  Try to bring in stories to engage your audience with what you are saying.

Your body language

Your presentation and vocal behaviour speak much louder than your words.

Market research suggests that your body language contributes towards 55% of your impact.  Your physical presence conveys meaning through your posture, expression, gestures and movements.  If these support your message, then the impact is very strong. 

However, you can easily confuse your audience if your body language or tone contradict your message.  Therefore, everything needs to be fully aligned.

Enhance your communication: Tailoring your approach

Finance leaders should constantly be observing your audience and how they are reacting throughout your interaction with them.  Here are some of the challenges that people have:

  1. Not observing reactions: It is essential that you constantly read the body language of your audience to determine whether your messages are being received as intended.
  2. Misunderstanding you: There are many instances where people hear what you are saying but do not properly understand what you really mean.
  3. Unable to adapt: You need to have the ability to trial, practice and develop your communication style until it works effectively.

Enhance your communication: Summary

The context of your message will determine other people’s interpretations of any actions.  Be clear about what you are saying and make sure that you fully understand your message.  Aim for clarity over ambiguity, whilst engaging your audience with the appropriate body language.

It is primarily the sender’s fault when a communication is not properly understood.  However, the recipient should ask questions and the sender should seek opportunities to confirm that the recipient has properly understood the message.

And remember – your communication will not always go as planned hence observe and digest what is happening.  If it doesn’t go right, then think about how you can repeat your message in a clearer way with better presentation skills and clearer aids.

The challenge

Review one of your recent written communications such as a board report.  Determine your use of language and the length of your sentences.  Identify how you could communicate in a simpler manner to ensure that the audience properly understands your message.

Think about the impact of your verbal communications.  Do you properly understand your audience and get them in the right mindset to engage with your messages?  Are you able to communicate in the right manner and use strong body language to create a strong impact?

Each of these will help you to enhance your communications throughout your finance leader role.

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