In a fair world, the ideas that can accelerate positive social or environmental impact would be the ones that shine out, get shared and acted on. It should be easy, right? You should be able to say, ‘Check out my great idea to make your life a LOT better’ and wait for people to sign up. Alas, instead, we live in a paradox.
Throughout the day we will have multiple conversations, send dozens of emails, make social posts and broadcast all sorts of messages through our beautiful body language. Anyone can quickly create a website, share a video or even just shout their beliefs out of their window if they wish. In short, it’s never been easier to communicate. And yet it’s also never been harder to connect. There is so much information out there that we are always competing to be heard. And we often end up just adding to the noise.
As a result, many people are struggling to cut through and communicate effectively. And poor communications is a recurring theme of failure or conflict in business, politics, society and even everyday life (including in our relationships). With poor communications, we will confuse, remove someone’s desire to act and - at worst - encourage advocates against our ideas.
Great communicators affect us whether they are on stage, in person or in an article. They are found in every field, at every level of an organisation. They are defined by their behaviour not their job title, by their promise of the future not by their past. But what is it that they are doing to really grab hold of us and inspire us to act?
I have studied a range of individuals and organisations in depth to find out what makes them such powerful communicators and I’ve decoded all these attributes into five core traits that every successful leader deploys to navigate the communications paradox. And you can follow them too.
The Five Traits of Influence:
1: Be purposeful
Put ‘why’ at the centre of all your communications. If your message is authentically driven by a bigger cause and relates to a clear vision for the future, people will better connect with it. Powerful communicators don’t tell us what to do, they make us want to do it.
2: Be personal
Develop an empathetic understanding of your audience if you want to inspire them. Then show how your message is not about you but about what you can do for them. Support this by finding ‘the others’, all the people who will help you along the way (collaborators, funders, mentors, connectors).
3: Be distinct
Build a strong personal brand to ensure your communications are catchy, credible and consistent. Your brand will become a magnet, bringing people to your mission by making your value clear. It also ensures that the value of each message is amplified by all that has gone before it. And when doing this it's essential to remember that just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so is your brand. You need to work to shape that perception constantly.
4: Be active
Don’t wait for change, lead it. Push people out of their inertia by revealing the problems of the status quo and pull them past their anxiety of change by showing the benefits of acting. Move people from being unaware to acting and then advocates, and then harness the power of your new tribe to influence others. Being active means strategic about what you say and do, when and where. And it means understanding that people won't always act in their own best interests - you need to craft your message to play with their inherent biases, not try and fight against them.
5: Be skilled
Review, reflect and rebuild your approach regularly. Preparation and practice will ensure conviction and confidence. Constantly build core communications skills in areas of body language, speaking (on stage and in person), PR and writing. And never be afraid to make mistakes - they can become your greatest teacher. Constantly ask yourself 'what else can I improve?', 'what can I learn next?'
All of these traits need to be embraced, developed and applied collectively if you want to have the greatest chance of success yourself. By following these traits you will stir minds, hearts and limbs; getting people to think, feel and do differently. You will become a more effective leader of purposeful change. And the world could certainly do with a few more of those right now.
If you want to build your five traits, download the Influence Canvas for free here. Use it to plot your plans for growing your influence. And if you want to go deeper into these five traits and how to build your competencies across them, well, that’s the focus of my book Influence: Powerful Communications, Positive Change. More info on that right here.