March 15, 2013

Is your communication toolbox lacking?

Glenda Watson Hyatt, a web accessibility expert and motivational speaker with cerebral palsy, recently did an excellent job of illustrating the tools she uses to communicate with friends, colleagues and audiences while navigating a significant speech impairment, including navigating the speech, hearing and vision impairments of others.

She describes how she uses technology to help her communicate, for example, text chatting on Skype (typing with her left thumb) and using her iPad with text-to-speech software. And when technology isn't helpful, she goes manual: to finger-spelling! How many of us would know how to do that? I still remember the American Sign Language (ASL) alphabet that I learned when I was a kid, but spelling out individual words would probably take me all day.

Glenda figures out which communication method is warranted in each situation, and then figures out how to accomplish it.

Unfortunately, many speakers unconsciously impose communication impairments on themselves - figuratively speaking - and are either unaware of their condition, or are aware but too afraid or reluctant to branch out and add new tools to their toolboxes.

I don't mean pulling out your iPad and using text-to-speech software. Unless you need that to communicate, it's probably not appropriate.

What I mean is using your full range of vocal and facial expression, using your full range of movement and gestures, and using images, props, audio, video and other creative avenues to get your message across. This may include using technology, like PowerPoint, but not necessarily.

I wrote a post recently about how speakers rely too much on words to convey our messages. Words alone are not enough to persuade, educate or motivate your audience, and if you want them to retain your message and do something with the information afterward, you will need to use more of your communication tools.

1. Are you using vocal variety to bring the audience into your story, to add dramatic flair when needed or to make a point with different pitch, tone or volume?

2. Are you using your hands, arms and body to paint pictures in the audience's minds, to help them imagine sizes, shapes and distance, or to nail down an idea with a strong gesture?

3. Is your face animated and flexible, changing with the the emotional flow of your talk, or do you have the same frozen expression, smile or frown the whole time?

4. And how about giving the audience something tangible to look at, hold, smell, taste, hear or see that makes your topic more relevant and concrete to them?

Glenda isn't the only speaker with impaired communication, but she's aware of her challenges and uses all the tools at her disposal to communicate as effectively as possible.

Many speakers don't bother to vary their communication methods, due to fear, ignorance, or just plain laziness.

How about you? Are you making full use of your communication abilities?

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2 comments. Please add yours! :

Peter Billingham said...

Thanks Lisa, reading about Glenda Watson Hyatt is motivating and at the same time humbling. The challenges sometimes I face pale into insignificance ... inspiring to read about her life on her site. The tools that I am trying to add now are the various figures of speech using rhetorical tools. It's a bit like my took box at home. When you only have a hammer everything else is a nail! But I'm adding a few other tools and your tips on the physical side are very helpful - thanks.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

I'm glad you enjoyed reading about Glenda, Peter. I love her attitude. She doesn't let anything stand in her way!

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