Transparency: Communicating Openly with Your Audiences

August 21, 2015


“Transparency” has become one of those twenty-first century buzzwords, used to measure how open, honest, and above-board corporate or government officials are. It’s an important word, and it has found its way into our common vocabulary with good reason: We want and need more transparency. Audiences demand it.

Transparency for business leaders is about being real and accessible human beings: sharing not just the business strategy but also the thinking and motivations behind it; sharing not just the quarterly or annual numbers but also the sense of pride or disappointment that goes with them; sharing not just the news of a big piece of new business but also the hopes and fears that accompany it. It’s the facts, the feelings, and the context.

Transparency in communication keeps the audience’s intuition filter clear, which means that what you say and how you say it has a better chance of flowing straight through to your audience the way you intended. Transparency is owning the good and the bad, saying what you mean and meaning what you say. It’s answering your critics not with defensiveness and counterattacks but with direct, open, honest truths and realities. It’s about being as open a book as you can be without jeopardizing your business or other people.

There are, understandably, barriers to being perfectly transparent. One barrier related to information is the need to maintain confidentiality or to use discretion, which is justified in many situations. Another barrier pertains to emotional transparency. Some people may resist it because the more traditional definition of leadership embraces stoicism over “opening up” or being vulnerable in any way.

Neither of these barriers is bad per se, and full disclosure is not called for in every instance, but a willingness to be open, honest, and forthright under the right conditions can be a winning proposition for a leader.

Practically speaking, here are some ways to employ transparency in your day-to-day business communications—for example, in a meeting, presentation, or speech:

In your opening. For any of these communications opportunities, you have a win, a desired outcome, or a hopeful takeaway in mind, right? There is something you would like your audience— even an audience of one—to think, or know, or do, or feel after you are finished talking. If so, then spoon-feed it, spell it out, tell them right up front. Otherwise, left to their own devices, audiences are unlikely to connect the dots—and if they do, they still may not end up where you want them to be.

In the middle. A simple call-out—for example, of a point with special significance or a certain feeling you get when you address an issue—is transparency at its best. Not only is it a matter of the speaker being real, it is also a helpful trail marker for the audience. For instance, letting an audience know that this next point you’re going to cover is one that gets you excited or frustrated helps guide the audience toward a better understanding of context and the relative importance of your point.

At the end. For your audience, listening to a speaker is a different experience than reading a document. Listeners will grasp what you give them, both in impression and information, but perhaps more in impression. Consider, then, how you might leave your audience with a positive impression or a good feeling. Wrap up with something personal about the experience of being in the room with them, by telling them how you have viewed them as an audience, or by sharing how you have felt about addressing them on your topic.

This post was adapted from Beth Noymer Levine’s book, Jock Talk: 5 Communication Principles for Leaders as Exemplified by Legends of the Sports World.

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About The Author

Communications coach Beth Noymer Levine is an expert in helping Fortune 500 executives, professional and world-class athletes, and other high-profile individuals effectively think about, prepare for, and deliver their messages to important audiences. The founder of SmartMouth Communications, Levine is also the author of “Jock Talk: 5 Communication Principles for Leaders as Exemplified by Legends of the Sports World" and the creator of SmartMouth OnDemand , an innovative online learning platform that offers interactive skill-building communications courses. She is a frequent speaker and workshop presenter at conferences and events nationwide.

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