What makes a great communicator great?
One of the recurrent topics among my coaching clients is their communication styles.
Most of them want to discover the way they are perceived by others. Hence, the questions: Am I engaging? Charismatic? Do I have credibility? Am I attractive as a leader? Trying to answer these questions with my clients inspired me to analyse what makes an excellent communicator and answer the question: are we born as one or is there a secret recipe to becoming one?
Aristotle said that exceptional communication requires three things: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos.
- Ethos, meaning credibility
- Pathos, meaning emotion
- Logos, referring to logic.
So what do they mean? Can we learn these qualities or are we simply born with them? Believe it or not, I have found my answers in the field of neuroscience. Neuroscience has provided the most significant explanations about how the brain works and how to train certain parts of our brain to improve our Ethos, Pathos and Logos. Neuroscience can be complex so I have tried to summarise it below:
Our brain is divided into three parts: the instinctive brain (also called reptilian), the emotional brain and the logical brain. Each of these parts have a particular function. The reptilian is the part of our brain which ensures survival, i.e. when we are in danger, the reptilian brain will be activated. The emotional part of the brain is twenty times more powerful than the logical brain and when activated, it releases three different types of hormones: oxytocin (love/connection), serotonin (pride /esteem) and cortisol (stress/fear).
If you think about neuroscience in the context of communication, it is clear that to become a good communicator, one needs to create a response in each of these three parts of the brain. For example, Simon Lancaster’s brilliant book, Winning Minds: The Secret Language of Leadership (2015), suggests that a leader who provides security and hope is tapping into the reptilian brain by calming it down. For this same reason, when someone communicates a strong message through their voices, bodies, postures, and smiles, that is tapping directly into the emotional side of our brain. The empathy created through your body language can win people by creating a chemical reaction in their brains, leading to the release of oxytocin (remember the love hormone!).
Finally, there is the logical brain. Many people, including my clients, think that this part of the brain is the most important one, but the reality is that we do not use logic as much as we think we do. If you manage to convey security and empathy in your messages, half of the work is done. The role of the logical brain is not to overanalyse facts and figures, but to create patterns, balance, and structure of speech which are easy for the audience to understand and remember. Outstanding speeches generally share some common features such as sequencing arguments (people love patterns); balance arguments; use of rhyme (rhymes stick in our minds easily), short sentences (the “less is more” rule). Also, remember that people don’t understand numbers, so keep your numbers and stats simple!
Thus, let’s come back to the initial question: What makes a great communicator great?
There is not just one straightforward answer to this. However, if you are aware of the needs of your audience, and you tap into the three parts of their brain (reptilian for security and hope; emotional side for empathy, and logic for the arguments and style), you are definitely on the right track.