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For better communication

by Matt Abrahams
Indian Management September 2023

Generative AI can help all of us to be more connected, clear, concise, and confident in our communication. By partnering with AI in our preparation and practice, we can better help our audiences to understand, remember, and act on our communication.

The ability to communicate clearly is critical to success in our personal and professional lives. Given the importance of effective communication, we have, over time, created tools to help us—from spell check to confirmation checks before sending emails to virtual reality speaking simulations. Tools can help us hone and develop our communication, and many of us have been saved from embarrassments of misspellings, sending messages with missing attachments, and even reducing our anxiety via practice. Yet, no tool, to date, has had the impact that generative artificial intelligence (AI) affords us. With generative AI, the likes of Chat GPT, Bard, and more, we now have the ability to enhance our communication in incredibly comprehensive and complete ways. In what follows, I will highlight the positive impact generative AI can have on four critical areas of communication: connection, clarity, concision, and confidence.

  1. Connection The fundamental mistake many people make when they communicate is that they start from the wrong place. We begin crafting content that focuses on what we want to get across, rather than consider what our audience needs to hear. In so doing, we miss an opportunity to connect with our audience and make our content maximally relevant and salient. Connection is critical. Research from multiple fields such as psychology, marketing, communication, and others have shown that audiences are more likely to tune into and process more completely messages that are important to them. By connecting to our audience, we are likely to improve the uptake, remembering, and likely acting upon of our messages. So how do we connect? We must take time to complete some reconnaissance, reflection, and research.

Generative AI is a powerful tool to learn about your audience and what is important to them. With the right queries and investigation, you can learn important information that will allow you to tailor your message to increase connection. For example, you can learn the following useful information about your audience:

Knowledge level and experience with your topic;

Likely attitudes around what you are suggesting;

Areas of resistance, concern, and hesitation. With this deeper understanding of your audience, you can adjust your communication to be targeted to the appropriate level and provide the detail that is most likely to be important to them.

For example, if I am proposing the implementation of a new customer resource management (CRM) system, I would benefit by knowing who in my audience has worked for companies that had CRM systems in place and what customer satisfaction scores looked like before and after the implementation.

Chat GTP prompt: Using these companies [enter your audience members’ former companies] identify which are Salesforce CRM customers. What are the JD Power and associate satisfaction scores for these companies for the most recent year and 5 years prior.

  1. Clarity

Whenever we communicate on a topic that we know well, we suffer from the ‘curse of knowledge’. That is, we know too much about the topic and, therefore, take shortcuts like using acronyms or leveraging a domain[1]specific lexicon full of jargon. Think back to when you first started your current job. How did you feel when you encountered terms and concepts that were foreign to you? It is uncomfortable, distracting, and perhaps off-putting. We certainly do not want these reactions for our audience. The only antidote for the curse of knowledge is empathy. We need to scrub our speech for likely unfamiliar terms and ideas. Our goal is to be clear and help our audience digest our content.

A tried-and-true tool for enhancing clarity is proof reading and focus grouping content. Generative AI can be both your proof reader and focus group. You can provide it your outline, scripts, or transcripts from spoken content and ask for output that informs you about your clarity:

Frequency of acronyms present;

Overall academic grade level of the content;

Number of complex sentences (i.e., sentences with multiple phrases or clauses).

The results will help you make decisions about how to make your content more accessible. Perhaps you will define your terms up front or leverage an analogy to clarify a concept.

For example, if I am walking through new regulations coming down from authorities, I might speak my guidance into a voice memo and load the transcript into an AI tool. I would ask for number of acronyms and approximate grade level.

Chat GTP prompt: Using this transcript, itemise the acronyms used, and identify what grade level this is written at.

  1. Concision My mother has a wonderful saying, which I am certain she did not create, that rings often in my ears when I speak: “Tell me the time; don’t build me the clock.” We often say more than we need either because we are discovering what we want to say as we say it. Or perhaps, we are trying to demonstrate our brilliance or cover all of our bases. Longwindedness can be seen by your audience as confusing, distancing, and a waste of time. Who among us has not thought at some point during a Zoom meeting: “Please get to the point!” We live in a world where attention is the most precious commodity. We cannot afford to bore or distract our audience because once we lose them, it is hard to get them back.

You need to be vigilant to focus your communication on the essentials. Concision is all about prioritisation. What is the bottom line for your audience. Using generative AI, you can input your outline, scripts, or transcripts from spoken content and ask it to truncate or paraphrase what you have provided while focusing on whatever your key take away is. This not only helps you to be concise in this particular message, but if you do this often, you will begin to develop concision reflexes that will help you be more focused in the moment.

For example, if I am detailing our implementation plan, I can ask AI to paraphrase what I have input while keeping the milestone dates highlighted.

Chat GTP prompt: Using this script, reduce the content by 20 per cent but keep the milestone dates at the start of each paragraph.

  1. Confidence We can have connected, clear, and concise content, but if it is not presented confidently, we can fall flat and miss an important opportunity. Most people—over half of us—are nervous in high stakes communication situations. Our anxiety can cause us to be flustered and to forget. Nowhere do we get more flummoxed and stressed than in spontaneous speaking situations where we have to respond on the spot (e.g., answering questions, giving in the moment feedback, fixing our faux pas, etc). Reducing our anxiety, not only increases the likelihood that our messages will land properly, but it also reduces the likelihood that our anxiety signs (e.g., stammering, shifting, saying, “um”) will distract our audiences.

I have written a new book Think Faster, Talk Smarter on the topic of spontaneous speaking, and based on my research for the book, it is clear that preparation is key to being more comfortable and confident. Taking the time to practise aloud is key. Of course, this begs the question: “How can I practise being spontaneous?” AI can help. You can ask AI to generate questions for you on a specific topic. When a question comes up, answer it out loud and record the answer. Take the transcript and enter it into AI to check for connection, clarity, and concision as mentioned above.

For example, if I am giving a presentation on a new strategic direction for my team, I can ask AI to craft likely questions from an engineering team when we make a shift like I am proposing. Chat GTP prompt: Generate three likely questions for an engineering team switching from a waterfall development approach to an agile development approach.

Generative AI can help all of us to be more connected, clear, concise, and confident in our communication. By partnering with AI in our preparation and practice, we can better help our audiences to understand, remember, and act on our communication.

Matt Abrahams Matt Abrahams is a lecturer, Stanford Graduate School of Business. Matt is also author, Think Faster, Talk Smarter: How to Speak Successfully When You’re Put on the Spot and Speaking Up Without Freaking Out, and host, Think Fast, Talk Smart The Podcast.

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