Being able to communicate effectively is an extremely valuable asset. Whether delegating work, asking for a favour from your boss or selling your skills to a client or interviewer, the probability of success is markedly increased by good communication. Here are some ideas you can adapt to enhance your communication:

Keep it short
Although your employer might appreciate attention to detail, they probably aren’t going to want to hear it themselves. Unnecessary information dilutes your message and makes it much more likely that you will be misunderstood. Think Hemingway rather than Dickens – although superfluous adjectives and anecdotes may show how eloquent you are, they are unlikely to enhance your message compared to concise simplicity. Whether verbal or written, succinct and short sentences are the way forward in business. Try to distil your message down into the basics – what you want done, who you want to do it and, if applicable, when and why. Each of these may be emphasised differently depending on who you’re speaking to.

Be specific
Despite wanting to keep your communication concise, you also need to ensure the person you’re communicating with knows exactly what’s required. If you are not clear, your audience cannot be blamed for misinterpreting you. For example, if you’ve asked a colleague to write a summary of a meeting, you are to blame if you get an essay back when all you wanted was a paragraph. You might think, assuming your audience is reasonably competent, that they will be able to make their own judgement and work out what you want. If you’ve worked with somebody for a while this may be the case, but you will be amazed how often people misinterpret what seem to be clear instructions. Break down your communication into easy steps and this should minimise any risk of misunderstanding. For written communication, putting in action points (highlighted in bold) will make it easy for the reader to tick off the various steps as they’re completed.

Plan and prepare
You might have noticed that the above two points are a trade-off. The more specific you are the longer your message is going to be. So how do you balance these two? There is no ‘right’ balance that will work at all times. If you’re asking someone to do the exact same thing they did for you last week, you can probably omit most of the details, unless they messed it up last time. Alternatively, if you are presenting your organisation to someone who knows nothing about your industry you will probably need some background explanation.

In each circumstance you should prepare beforehand to estimate the correct balance between detail and brevity depending on your audience. Often people do this in preparing for job interviews when planning how to answer the most likely questions. When talking about your last job you want to tell the interviewer about skills that will be relevant to the role applied for, not the day-to-day stuff. However, preparation is not just useful for job interviews but every professional interaction. If you can turn up to a team meeting and explain in 30 seconds exactly what you need and why, you will not only save time during the meeting but also time later on as your colleagues won’t need you to explain again.

So the next time you find yourself preparing for an interview or that important meeting (or even negotiating some extra cash from your parents!), take some time to think through what your goal is to make sure you give yourself the best chance of succeeding through effective and impressive communication.