Whether or not you are conducting a sales presentation, providing community information or other basics, there are a number of ways you can improve your person-to-person communications so an older adult is able to better understand your message.
As a rule, we know that an older adult’s ability to understand the information you are presenting tends to decrease with the complexity of what’s being presented, or the speed with which it is presented. Talking too fast, as younger people are more apt to do, can make understanding more difficult.
If you are able to control the setting, consider setting up in a well-lit area. Sit close to the person, face-to-face, if you can. There is the possibility he or she may be lip-reading and you make it easier for them to understand by facing up with them. Older males, more than females, tend to deny their hearing problems or get hearing aids. They frequently rely on reading lips.
Increase the use of appropriate hand gestures when talking to re-enforce your message points. Minimize unnecessary or quick movement on your part, even if you are under time pressure and tend to rush what you are communicating. This could send out a distracting signal that you are out of control….and no one wants to deal with someone who appears to be out of control.
Don’t look at your wristwatch while you are talking to a senior. It sends out a signal that you have more important things to tend to.
Speak in a slightly louder voice which helps older people understand better. Make sure you don’t shout. Choose common words in place of jargon. Emphasize words by enunciating words clearly. Speak more slowly without appearing to be patronizing.
Lower the pitch or frequency level of the voice and stay in a logical sequence. The older person may not hear all the words because of hearing deficits but still can understand because of the context of your words. Repeat or paraphrase what you are saying, if it appears that a person didn’t understand. Keep your hands away from your mouth when speaking because it may muffle the words. It’s also important not to change the topic abruptly – which is distracting.
Try to use words that depict older adults maintaining their personal independence – very powerful when talking to people of age. When possible, you should try to give them choices. Letting them choose between several alternatives helps them maintain their sense of independence and a feeling of being in control.
With advancing age, people have difficulty understanding new issues and concepts. Explain abstract concepts and issues using examples and things they already know from their experiences.
Continue to return to the basic points you want to make. Re-enforcing your points frequently helps comprehension and overcomes memory loss that often occurs with old age. It is also helpful to use their own words as they respond to yours.