8 Habits of Highly Effective Communicators

Winston Churchill giving a public speech.
Winston Churchill giving a public speech.

Communication is a skill we use every day. Yet, there is incredible room for improvement. Professional speakers, lawyers, and many others have long known that presenting and speeches bring more business. What about project managers? Improving your communication skills is one of the best training and development decisions you will ever make. As you continue to advance in your career, you will rely on communication and presenting more than technical skills. Communication makes you easier to promote and easier for you to lead.

Let’s explore a few of the benefits of better communication:

  • Respect. Delivering good presentations will win you more respect from your peers.
  • More Opportunities. Presenting well inside and outside your company sets you apart from everyone else, especially if you hustle for the speaking opportunity.
  • Income. Delivering presentations is a key sales skill that you can use in sales roles. Strong presentation skills are also needed to take projects through the full cycle.
  • Grow Your Network. When you deliver a presentation, people will often reach out to afterwards to follow up.
  • Improve Productivity. Strong communication skills means you will be understood the first time.

If there is still any doubt in your mind about improving your communication skills, consider the advice from billionaire Warren Buffet gave to business students. He suggested that skilled professionals can improve their value by 50% by improving their communication skills. Buffet himself credits the Dale Carnegie Course for much of his business success. That’s a compelling example that should inspire all of us to improve communication.

 Listening Skills For Communication

Listening well is the foundation of communication. While I have made progress in this area, I still see much room for improvement. Starting with listening is important because it helps you to connect to the other person. Listening well is also a way to signal respect. Unfortunately, a study from the 1980s reports that, “the average person listens at only about 25% efficiency.”

1. They Listen With Their Body Language

The way you move your body is a key way to signal your interest and respect while listening. For example, you may nod your head occasionally as the person speaks. You may also turn your head and torso toward the person who is speaking. I often like to hold a pen in my hand while listening in a meeting because it helps me to focus.

2. They Listen To The Words

The words people choose to use make a difference. Does a colleague use “we” and other team oriented language? Language use often signals a speaker’s level of confidence in what they are saying. If a person prefaces their comments with words such as “Perhaps” or “Maybe,” then they likely have low confidence in what they are saying. This is useful information because you can follow up for clarification. Likewise, if someone uses highly detailed examples and numbers in all of their comments, that is a cue that the person prefers to focus on hard numbers and data.

3. They Listen For Emotion

Listening for emotion adds a depth of understanding and connection to communication. Some aspects of this listening are likely to come to you naturally. If someone is yelling at you about a problem, they are probably angry. For further guidance on reading body language and voice tone, I suggest looking at the Science of People (e.g. 10 Ways Body Language Can Help Women Be More Powerful or 5 Nonverbal Blunders to Avoid in Your Next Sales Meeting.)

4. They Take Notes

Taking notes is helpful for several reasons. In order to take notes, you have to focus on the other person. Taking notes from what someone is saying also helps you to check your understanding. For example, you write down “software quality test report due on Aug 31, 2015.” You can then review that deadline and the scope of that activity later on. Taking notes for names, dates and tasks is a great way to get more out of meetings.

Presentation Skills For Communication

Presenting your message is an important way to communicate your message to the world. Whether you are leading a project kick off meeting or making the pitch to a customer, presenting well matters. Let’s consider a few habits that will improve your presentations.

5. They Focus on The Audience

Everything starts with the audience. Here are two ways to connect better with an audience. First, learn about their common language (e.g. accountants and bankers would like examples that spell out the dollars and cents of the message). You can find out their language by meeting with some of the people in advance (i.e. the pre-wire strategy). Next, seek to understand the audience’s problems. That’s another question to ask about

6. They Keep To Their Time Limits

In governments around the world, there is a tradition of filibusters to protest measures. In the 1950s, U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes to protest the The Civil Rights Act of 1957 (for more examples, read 5 Famous Filibusters from Mental Floss). Needless to say, 99% of the time, avoid filibusters! Instead, closely observe start and end times for communication. When you follow the time limits, your audience is more likely to pay attention.

7. They Study The Best Communicators

Leadership expert and author John C Maxwell regularly studies and observes top notch communicators and speakers. In the process, he has learned better ways to learn humor. He also learned how to communicate effectively with a translator. As a result of his studies and dedication to improvement, Maxwell has become one of the most popular and effective speakers in the world.

Where do you start? I recommend starting with one of my favorites – Winston Churchill’s “Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat” speech of 1940. I have learned the importance of repeating key points several times from Churchill. I have also learned the value of communicating with a memorable metaphor such as The Iron Curtain.

8. They Know How To Use Visual Aids

Sometimes words alone are not enough to communicate your message. That’s when it is time to use visual aids. Martin Luther King Jr used architecture – the Lincoln Memorial – to support and enhance his famous I Have A Dream speech. What if you have to give a presentation in an office building that may not inspire you? Read Presentation Zen (the blog and the book) for advice on designing visually memorable presentations.

9. They Prepare For Each Presentation

The Boy Scout motto of “Always prepared” is a great habit for effective communicators to adapt. How exactly can you prepare to improve your presentation? You can prepare speaking notes and make sure you have copies. You can give the presentation to a practice audience. Finally, you can visit the presentation room in advance and learn how it is laid out. In a pinch for time? Make sure to arrive early so that you can test the AV equipment and take a few deep breaths before you speak.

Question & Action

What will you will do this week to improve your communication?

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