Reviewed by Christopher Richards
Your message won’t speak for itself
Whether you’re speaking to a child about putting on her shoes, or you’re head of an organization trying to solve a global problem, you need to understand and be understood.
The Master Communicator’s Handbook, by Teresa Erickson and Tim Ward is written primarily for professionals who need to communicate better. Yet anyone can learn from this accessible volume.
All eighteen chapters are short, written in simple, plain English, and easy to understand. Subjects fall under six main headings:
- Communicating ideas
- Communicating with authority
- Answering questions
- Creating connection
- Changing minds
- Leadership communication.
Effective writers have empathy for their readers. They craft content with their audience in mind. And that means understanding the audience’s frame of reference.
Writing and speaking
Many principles and techniques in this book apply to both writing and speaking. Speechwriters understand that their words are written to be spoken out loud. Short phrases and sentences allow you to pause, breathe, and project your voice with power.
Chapter 5 explains how people often trail off at the end of sentences. They run out of breath. This used to happen to me. I’ve been asked to speak up. It’s all very well to tell someone to speak up, but no one had actually told me how to do it—until now. I learned that voice projection isn’t shouting.
The single most valuable thing I learned from this book is to take a deep breath, and then breathe out as I’m saying my words. For me, the effect was immediate and startling.
My local Toastmasters group appreciated the technique, too. The Master Communicator’s Handbook offers many ideas and practical exercises for ongoing practice.
One exercise is to diagram your network. Visually map out people you know with common values and shared purpose. These are your helpers. Another one is to write down adjectives you want other people to associate with you.
While the book is well-written, it’s not without its flaws. The weakest chapter is on compromise. This section briefly mentions two divergent author preferences.
Ms. Erickson has a broadcasting background. She wants to get to the point and keep it short. By contrast, Mr. Ward, a writer, favors a comprehensive explanation. Missing for me was how they used their own negotiation skills to come to agreement, given their stylistic differences.
For structure, I’m with Ms. Erickson. “Information should be practical, and any theoretical content must be followed by an example of its application.”
The Master Communicator’s Handbook could have said more about less. Strong examples from their own experience with NGOs worldwide make the book interesting. Yet some of their secondary research is lacking. The authors cite the famous thirty-year-old ad campaign, “Don’t Mess With Texas,” as an example of reframing. A fresher example would have been better.
Ms. Erickson and Mr. Ward can be dismissive. They write, “Salespersons and politicians are infamous for using their skills at faking rapport to achieve their ends.” Yet this whole book is about using technique to achieve ends.
That word “just”
There are inconsistencies. “A high pitch can often be lowered just by relaxing your throat muscles and feeling your voice resonate from deep within your chest.” In the very next chapter, the authors explain how the word just “devalues and diminishes the worth of what you will say next.”
And just relaxing your throat is no easy task. Try it. The authors tell you what, but not how. How much relaxation, or how little? How much of your vocal anatomy can you consciously engage? This is the domain of voice coaches, anatomists, and somatic psychologists.
There’s plenty to like. Examples and explanations deliver value, from creating your corporate narrative to becoming a confident presenter. This is a well-considered business book in its intent, structure, and content.
A business book’s purpose is to inform its readers, establish credibility of the authors— and may even directly motivate readers to become clients.
The Master Communicator’s Handbook succeeds.
Disclaimer: Christopher Richards is a business book ghostwriter, and has no affiliation with the authors or publisher of this book.