How can you influence your audience’s reception of what you’re telling them? How might you make them care about your message?
In Amplify Your Influence, René Rodriguez asserts that you must effectively communicate your main idea to keep an audience’s attention. He shares three steps to get your point across: contextualize your main idea, deliver your main idea, and explain why your main idea matters to the audience.
Here’s how to make a point that you believe people need to hear.
What’s a Main Idea?
Rodriguez notes that your main idea is the central lesson or information you’re trying to communicate to your audience, the idea you want your audience to remember.
For example, in the professional realm, you might give a presentation to your employees in which your main idea is how changes in leadership will help the company. In a personal conversation with your significant other, your main idea might be a way to solve a conflict about household chores. Now we’ll look at how to make a point using three steps: contextualizing the main idea, delivering the main idea, and demonstrating the value of the main idea to the audience.
(Shortform note: In Simply Said, Jay Sullivan argues that when you’re preparing to present, it’s important to clarify your main idea before fleshing out any other part of the presentation. Many speakers don’t know their main idea before presenting, which is problematic—if you’re confused about your main idea, the audience will likely be confused, too.)
Step #1: Contextualize Your Main Idea
Rodriguez states that before you present your main idea, you must contextualize it. This ensures your audience views your main idea the way you want them to, rather than through their personal contexts. We all typically view information through our personal context, which is based on our experiences, memories, and preconceptions, along with our present physical and emotional states. This context determines how receptive we are to new ideas, how likely we are to act on these ideas, and how we’ll react to them emotionally.
Your audience might have aversions or fears about your main idea that form part of their personal context. This can hinder their ability to receive your ideas and thus, your ability to change their behavior. When people feel unsure and unsafe, their hypothalamus (the part of the brain responsible for automatic functions such as digestion and breathing) activates, shutting down their ability to process new information.
Instead of letting this restrict you as a speaker, guide audience members’ perception of your main idea by creating context at the beginning of your communication. Specifically, addressing your audience members’ fears and concerns primes them to be open and receptive. For example, contextualize your main idea using pathos by telling a story that helps your audience members empathize with you.
Step #2: Deliver Your Main Idea
After you contextualize your main idea, it’s time to deliver it. This is the main part of your communication, where you state and explain your central points. Rodriguez states that the delivery of your main idea, including any actions you want your audience to take, should be clear and thorough. The audience shouldn’t have to speculate about your meaning or fill in knowledge gaps themselves. When in doubt, explain more thoroughly than you think you need to.
If you fail to deliver your main idea clearly and thoroughly, you could create misunderstandings and your audience might make assumptions that lead to further problems. For example, in business, poor communication can cause mistakes, hampered efficiency, and financial losses.
Rodriguez also recommends considering the best format for delivering your main idea. Carefully decide whether you should communicate something over the phone, in person, through email, and so on, as the wrong format can make it hard for people to hear, understand, and appreciate your main idea. For example, face-to-face communication is probably better for addressing a sensitive issue than email.
Further Advice for Ensuring People Hear Your Main Idea
Clear communication can be especially important in a business setting: It fosters a sense of purpose, accountability, and transparency in a company’s culture. By contrast, unclear communication can lead to tension, decreased productivity, poor collaboration, negative interactions with clients and customers, and financial losses.
For your communication to be effective, some experts argue that you must balance thoroughness (for the purpose of clarity) with brevity. In Talk Like TED, Carmine Gallo suggests limiting your presentations to 18 minutes—the length of a TED talk—whenever possible, for three reasons:
1) It prevents your audience from getting too tired to listen to you. The brain uses glucose for energy as it absorbs information, the supply of which is limited. Therefore, if you talk for too long, your audience will use up their energy partway through, and they won’t have enough left to hear your ideas in full.
2) It reduces pressure on your listeners. Studies show that the longer a speaker talks, the more anxious the audience becomes as they realize how much information they must absorb. As Rodriguez states, anxiety can leave an audience unable to hear your ideas.
3) It encourages discipline as you decide what information to include. If you give yourself a limited time to talk, you’ll be more likely to cut out the fluff and get to the core ideas of your presentation.
Further, according to other communication experts, you should consider the following criteria before deciding what communication method will work best for your ideas:
- Your relationship with the audience. Think about which methods of communication are appropriate for your level of acquaintanceship. For example, a phone call or an email would be more appropriate than a text message for communicating with a person you don’t know very well.
- The communication method your audience likes best. For example, if you know a certain client prefers speaking in person to talking on the phone, your communication will likely be better received if you set up a face-to-face meeting.
- The urgency of the message. If you need someone to hear your main idea right away, choose a method of communication that allows you to reach your audience quickly and reliably.
Step #3: Explain Why Your Main Idea Is Important to the Audience
According to Rodriguez, the final step for ensuring people understand and remember your main idea is tying it back to their specific needs and interests. How will your idea help them reach their specific aspirations? How will it benefit them to know and act on this information?
Connecting your main idea to your audience’s distinct interests ensures that it stands out among the countless other pieces of information they encounter every day. The human brain is constantly exposed to stimuli in the form of emails, text messages, television, colors, sounds, smells, and so on, so it has to quickly determine what’s important enough to be retained.
To effectively state your idea’s value, understanding your audience is key—listen to their wants and concerns and ask questions that help you get to know them and their interests. In this part of your communication, also clearly express what you want your audience to do with the information you’ve given them.
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Here's what you'll find in our full Amplify Your Influence summary:
- How you can help others reach their goals and improve their behavior
- How to use Aristotle's four rhetoric appeals to connect with an audience
- Tips on what to do before, during, and after a presentation