Great communication creates a strong connection between you and your audience. Unfortunately, if you’re self-conscious, ill prepared, or wedded to business school formality, you’re probably creating unnecessary distance that’s diluting the impact of your messages. It’s time to assess your own interactions and identify ways to make them resonate more strongly.

How You Increase Distance

Let’s start with what you should stop doing. These communication practices might be the norm, but they’re doing you no favors.

Physically separating yourself from people

If you want to make a strong connection with people, reduce the interference between you and them. Don’t stand behind a podium so all they can see of you is your head and periodic flashes of waving hands. If you’re using a podium to hold your notes, ditch the notes and actually talk to people.

Once you’re out from behind the podium, look at anything else that’s between you and your audience: a desk, a table, YOUR FOLDED ARMS! All of these interfere with the connection when you’re communicating.

One caveat. There are times when the message you’re delivering is too potent to deliver full bore. In those situations, creating a bit of distance can help the receiver feel more safe. In these cases, sit or stand beside the person you’re talking to and have the conversation facing parallel to them. (Ladies, this is an excellent technique for communicating with the gentlemen who get squeamish when you look them straight in the eye.)

Using jargon or highfalutin language

Distance isn’t just physical; it can also be intellectual. Have you ever listened to someone present using words that you just don’t understand? Does it make you think, “Wow, this is so important and compelling and I need to learn more?” Probably not. Strip out the jargon. Cash in your $10 words for a few $2 ones. While you’re at it, put the full words back in the acronyms. Choose language that conveys your messages without overshadowing it or obscuring it.

One caveat. Jargon creates distance from those who don’t understand it but it immediately strengthens the connections with people who do. When you use jargon with someone in the know, you use a shorthand that signals shared group membership. If you’re at the cocktail reception of your industry conference, you can let the jargon rip!  

Using Powerpoint

When you want to strengthen the connection with your audience, does it make sense to turn out the lights, deflect everyone’s gaze away from you, then read through a list of points they have already scanned? No, I didn’t think so. When you have to influence an audience and you’re trying to spur them to action, you need to talk with them, not present at them. Turn off the PowerPoint.

One caveat. Listening to convoluted, rambling monologues is not good for connection either. If you want to use PowerPoint to prepare and organize your thoughts, go ahead. Just print one copy and glance occasionally at it to orient yourself.

Tips for Decreasing Distance

Once you’ve cut out the bad habits, there are a few things you can do to strengthen your connection with your audience.

  • Communicate in unofficial spaces. Meeting rooms and offices are full of furniture, which are great at creating space between people. When you need to improve your connection with a colleague, find opportunities to interact outside these settings. Try the cafeteria, a bench in the foyer, or better yet, take a walk together.
  • Turn on the video. I’m constantly perplexed by the number of people who refuse to use the video function on their web calls. Stop being so self-conscious and give your colleague the chance to see your smiling face.
  • Use the first person active voice. If you don’t know the difference between passive and active voice, it’s time for a grammar refresh. Passive voice swaps the order of a sentence so the action is done to the object rather than by the subject. I found a great example of this online. The passive voice is “The road was crossed by the chicken,” whereas the active voice is “The chicken crossed the road.” There’s no faster way to sound like a pretentious clod than by using the passive voice. The first person active voice makes you sound present and accountable.
  • Be vulnerable. Where appropriate, share your humanness. Tell people what worries you or excites you. Be candid about how you feel, not just what you think.

The Exceptions that Prove the Rule

When you are trying to establish and strengthen a relationship with someone, it’s critical to use these approaches to create a strong connection. It’s worth noting that there are a few instances where creating distance between you and your audience is appropriate. For example, where you want to promote perceptions of objectivity or impartiality, a more detached communication style is fitting. Similarly, cool and distanced communications can effectively convey power or authority. If you’re not a Supreme Court judge, these shouldn’t be part of your normal repertoire.

Further Reading

Checklist for Effective One-way Communication

The One Thing You Can Do to Improve Communication Today

How Often Do You Communicate?