Someone asked me recently about how many workshops I’ve taught throughout my career. I probably should keep up with that number a little better than I do. With simple math, I think it’s somewhere between 3,000 and 3,200. It’s a lot of programs, but I don’t think I’ve ever taught two days exactly the same way. The foundational components are always there, and the exercises are always similar. But the way I engage with a group shifts based on my read of the room and the experiences each group brings to us.

Now, this isn’t how I started as a communicator. There was a time when I was focused on getting it right. In fact, feedback that I got early in my career changed the way I thought about communication skills. I gave a presentation, and the feedback I got afterwards was very positive.

“Wow, you’re really confident on your feet.”

“You really seemed to know your facts.”

“You got everything right.”

And, I took that as a very good sign. Until my mentor, who overheard a lot of this feedback, asked me how I thought I did. I replied that I thought I got it right and that I did feel confident in front of the group. He looked at me and said, “Well, that’s a lot about how YOU did. You’ll know you’re a good communicator when people begin to share feedback about how THEY felt.”

At the time, it felt like he’d thrown cold water on me, but it’s feedback that I’ve never forgotten. And as my journey took me into communication coaching, I developed my own beliefs between the difference in “getting it right” and “doing it well.”

Most presenters are focused on getting it right. They work hard on the details, knowing the facts and making sure they cover them well. There’s an expectation of accuracy that puts pressure on structure and organization. That requires memorization or a lot of support materials. I’ve seen it all. Note cards, a single page with small print, several pages with large print, notes on a slide, notes on a phone, notes on a hand … you get the idea. Success is in the details and defined by getting it right.

You’ve seen it, too. You just didn’t realize you were seeing it. Memorizing a series of points or remembering a lot of details keeps you in your head. So, the presenter seems uninterested. Their face becomes void of expression because their focus is in their head, not in the room.

Facts are important, but no one ever remembers them all. So, getting it right is a tough expectation on a presenter that drives little impact with an audience.

That audience impact is what I call “doing it well.”

Spoken communication starts with connection and engagement. Details are a part of the storyline, but they can’t become more important than drawing people into an idea.

Doing it well requires someone else to be involved, and that’s exactly what a listener wants. Listeners believe communication should be about them, adjusted to them and interesting enough to engage them.

But most presenters stop short of mastering communication. They develop an approach to organizing ideas and maybe a system for memorizing them, and they settle into “getting it right.” But those who continue to evolve their skills will shift their focus from how they’re doing to how listeners are reacting. And, that’s when presenters begin to “do it well.”

It isn’t easy, but learning to communicate to influence is one of the most critical skills an aspiring leader can develop.

I believe you can see the difference every time you sit in a company all-hands meeting or a customer conference. When you watch a series of presenters, you can tell those who are involved with the group versus those who are involved with their thoughts.

You’ll also notice it when you see a room of people introduce themselves. We’ve all been a part of a setting where people are asked to introduce themselves and speak on a topic or theme that’s assigned. Some people seem to struggle with what to say; others seem perfectly at ease when they get up. The difference is those who are trying to get it right are worried about what to say and they get caught up in saying the right thing. Even in this setting, you’ll experience communicators in their heads trying to remember their points. The more relaxed communicator is thinking about how to engage with the group. When they stand up, they’ll say something that establishes a connection. It may tie back to someone else, it’s often humorous or even sometimes a little self-deprecating. But their main thought is always to connect with the group.

Impactful communication is both art and science.

The science of communication is in the structure of content. I describe this as the difference between a linear approach to presenting point after point versus a more simplified approach that combines big concepts and objectives. A good presenter simplifies the way they organize ideas so that it’s easy to move through them. It also changes the way they talk through ideas.

The art of communication is knowing how to engage people and invite them into a conversation. Everyone knows how to do this because it’s a part of everyday communication. We talk with people, and work for their response. The misunderstanding about engagement is that we view it as a different skill when we’re presenting instead of a universal one. Connection remains a 1:1 skill that has to be leveraged, not changed, with a larger group. And when presenters learn to do this, they evolve from getting it right to doing it well.

We’ve evolved too in how we support the journey of the communicator. While our content methodology remains the same, we’ve expanded our approach to coaching presence. We know that it starts with personal confidence in yourself before it can move toward engagement of everyone else. And, it’s why we teach presence across two workshops today.

If you’re ready to evolve from getting it right to doing it well, we’d love to help accelerate the journey.

Call us when you need us.