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Good Communicators Learn From Great Communicators


“Much of what you become in life depends on whom you choose to admire and copy."

-- Warren Buffett

One cool October day, a fox, a wolf, and a bear went on a hunting trip together. They were each lucky enough (or skilled enough) to get a deer, but the bear wanted to know how they should divide their spoils. He went to the wolf first and asked for his thoughts. The wolf replied that they should each take a deer home: three hunters, three deer. The bear nodded his head and immediately ate the wolf. Next, the bear went to the fox and asked how he thought it should be done. The fox, cunning as he was, suggested that the bear take all three deer home with him.

"Where did you get such wisdom?" asked the bear.

"From the wolf." replied the fox.

One of the key ways that we, as humans, learn is by observation; the same is true for those who are looking to improve their communication. The second law of communication is the Law of Observation.

This law teaches that to become a good communicator, you need to learn by exposing yourself to great communicators. "Who you will become as a communicator depends on who you choose to admire and copy."

Start Where You Are

Every communicator has to start somewhere, and it's always best to start right where you are. With modern technology, you can choose from countless speakers, writers, and influencers as you build your observation exposure. Start with someone you admire and respect in the area where you spend most of your time; for John Maxwell (when he first got started), this was pastors within his denomination; for me, it's leadership communicators like John Maxwell, Valorie Burton, and Simon Sinek. Identify your focus area and who the great communicators are within that area, then find ways to watch, listen, and learn from them. If you want to be a comedian, observe comedians; if you want to be a lawyer, observe lawyers; if you want to be a teacher, observe great teachers; if you want to lead a business, observe business communicators.

Ask Questions, Discover Answers

Observation without intention won't help you improve, so each time you have the opportunity to learn from a great communicator, ask these questions and write down your answers:

  • What did the communicator do to connect?

  • Why did the introduction work so well?

  • What made the structure work?

  • What was the best moment?

  • How did the communicator create it?

  • What made the communication memorable?

  • What was their best communication quality?

  • How much was personality, and how much was technique?

  • What did they do that I can try?

"If you are at the head of the class, you are in the wrong class." -- John C. Maxwell

Apply What You Learn

Once you begin to understand what works for others, you can apply the techniques you observed to your practice. Of course, not everything will work for you as it did for the one you observed (remember the Law of Credibility, too), but you can adapt and figure out your unique style. Speak as often as you can and learn as you go. One of the ways you can learn from your own experience is to have someone in the audience you trust answer some of the questions above and give you constructive feedback.

Enjoy the Journey

Communication is more of a journey than a destination. Even John Maxwell, recognized as one of the world's leading communicators, says, "I continue to study communication so I can learn and grow. I will do that until the day I die. Why? First, because I love communication and want to know everything about it. Second, I know there are communicators out there who are better than I am and from whom I can learn. Third, audiences continue to change. If I'm not continuing to grow, one day, I'll wake up and find myself irrelevant. I don't want that to happen."

This week, answer these questions:

  • What great communicators can you learn from within your focus area?

  • What is your strategy to learn from them, and when will you start?

  • How can you put what you observe and learn into practice?

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