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How to be a great communicator ...
How to be a great communicator

We could learn much from US presidents, say the experts. Ronald Reagan was known as the 'Great Communicator'. A winning technique of his, says Phil Hodgson, director of the leadership programme at Ashridge Business School, was to use visual images.

'When talking about a trillion dollar deficit, he talked about $100 bills stacked up as high as the Empire State Building. He wanted to reach out to middle America, where people are straightforward and down to earth. He used homely phrases to reach them.'

Mr Reagan, says Mr Hodgson, knew the first rule of communication: understand your audience. Another former US president, Bill Clinton, was very skilled too, he adds: 'I remember seeing Mr Clinton on breakfast television in the US and he was drinking a cup of coffee. He was actually slurping the coffee. It was all done for a reason.'

But reaching out to your audience does take some clear thinking, says Mr Hodgson.

'I worked with a commercial company in the US. On the last Friday of the month, we had 'red letter day' - if you were sent an e-mail or memo that you couldn't understand on the first read, you sent it back with a red mark on it and the message, 'Sorry, but this is not clear enough for my needs'.

'It is important to recognise it is the sender's problem if the receiver can't understand it. Good communication starts with the attitude that it is down to me to understand the receiver's needs.'

Of course, it isn't just about the way you communicate - you must have something to say. So ask yourself: 'What is the message I am trying to deliver?'

Mr Hodgson says: 'People can be ruined when they say something and don't then do it. It is good to offer people at least some certainties if you are communicating a change that will happen in the organisation.

'The worse thing would be to say, 'We were wondering if we should merge these two departments'.'

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