Last year, we set out to identify the communication traits our most renowned visionary leaders use to win the support of their communities and turn their loftiest ideas into realities.
We anticipated that the language these pioneers use would be complex and theoretical, difficult for the average educated adult to keep up with. But when we looked at the data — communication samples from thinkers, leaders, and inventors like Franklin Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr., Amelia Earhart, and Steve Jobs — we discovered we were wrong. These leaders were some of the clearest communicators we’d ever measured.
(Learn what else they had in common.)
Sure, their visions are highly complex, but these leaders have a knack for communicating their ideas in a way the average audience can wrap their minds around.
As a group, visionaries communicate 20 percent more clearly than the average person.
When we talk about clarity, the simplest way to think about it is the structure of the language: clear communication uses fewer words per sentence, fewer syllables per word, and lays out an unmistakable path of cause and effect.
To see the difference, try to parse the meaning out of this statement a CEO might make in a quarterly earnings call:
One visionary speaker who leads the pack in clear communication is Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.
Her 2016 commencement address at UC Berkeley demonstrates the simply constructed sentences Sandberg uses to lead audiences step-by-step from A to Z:
“A commencement address is supposed to be a dance between youth and wisdom. You provide the youth. Someone comes up here to be the voice of wisdom — that’s supposed to be me. I tell you all the things I have learned in life, you throw your cap in the air, you let your family take a million photos and hopefully post them on Instagram — and then we all go home happy.
“Today is going to be a bit different. We will still do the caps and you still have to do the photos. But I am not going to tell you today what I’ve learned in life. Today I am going to try to tell you what I learned in death.”
Ms. Sandberg has a skill for distilling complex issues and grand ideas so her audiences can easily grasp her message without feeling talked down to or insulted. In this address, she breaks down the overwhelming feeling of graduation day into a comprehensive roadmap. This speech, which goes on to deliver a touching reflection on the lessons Sandberg has learned since losing her husband, was widely regarded as the best commencement address of its season.
And it’s not just the commencement stage where she shines. Sandberg uses the same methodical approach in just about every setting. She delivers her messages 80 percent more clearly than the average communicator (48 percent more than the average visionary). That’s why people connect with her.
If visionaries can distill their most futuristic or abstract ideas into clear, easy-to-follow messages, you can, too. And, in fact, you must.
At Quantified Communications, we urge clients to focus on clarity in all their communications because no matter how good the news or how inspirational the message — no matter how transparent or authentic or persuasive — your communication will be ineffective if it’s unclear to the audience who hears it.