Colin Powell once said, “Leadership is the art of accomplishing more than the science of management says is possible.” Nowhere is a leader’s art more evident than in his or her ability to communicate. Strong leaders can move and unite people to action with their words, and business communication is a cornerstone of true leadership. Good leaders must be able to communicate in ways that are alternately confident and humble, courageous and cautious, charismatic and pragmatic, decisive and responsive, and above all, credible. Effective communicators provide the vision, passion, and hope that drives a business from a good idea to a living, breathing success story.
We all communicate in many different ways every day without giving it much thought: Emails, texting, presentations, memos, explanations, training, performance evaluations, etc. Communication is a business necessity, but doing it well is
hard work and takes practice. Taking a purposeful approach
to improving your communication skills will strengthen your leadership skills, earn you respect, improve your relationships, and help you attract better customers and employees. You can start with these nine tips for more effective communication.
1. Conquer your public speaking fears. Great leaders do not fear public speaking, they embrace it. The first step is to adopt the mindset: Speaking in front of people is an honor. Make it your duty to put audiences at ease while stimulating them to action with your words.
2. Make your presentations sizzle. Whether presenting to a board of directors or simply explaining procedural changes to
three people, strive to make your presentations stand out. And remember, PowerPoint is merely an accompaniment—YOU are the presentation.
3. Use meeting time effectively. I have asked over 3,000 professionals: “What percentage of time that you spend in meetings is useful?” Over 99% of them indicated that less than 50% of meeting time is useful. These results highlight an opportunity—work to make meeting time as efficient and effective as possible. Prepare a detailed, time-sensitive agenda; start and end meetings on time; and use tools such as time-outs and parking lots to keep meetings from being hijacked.
4. Ask great questions. The information unlocked by terrific questions is rich and meaningful. Focus on asking conversational versus interrogational questions. Asking great questions gets team members thinking. It gives you an opportunity to truly understand difficult situations or solicit a team member’s candid opinion.
5. Listen like your life depends on it. Attentive listening shows respect for your team members and clearly differentiates a leader from a manager. Listen about twice as much as you speak, focus full attention on the other person, and listen completely.
6. Paraphrase, don’t parrot. This sounds easy, but it
is one of the most difficult verbal skills to master. An effective paraphrase requires using different words than the speaker’s while conveying the same meaning. Practice paraphrasing with your colleagues or an executive coach—it’s a great way to find your own voice and authenticity when paraphrasing, which helps the listener feel valued.
7. Develop an effective writing style. The Global Language Monitor points out that there are over one million words in the English language, not to mention the litany of convoluted spelling and grammar rules. Let’s face it, writing well is a challenge for most people. Good leaders elevate their writing prowess at every turn. The goal is to be thorough yet succinct in your expression. Develop a professional writing style that still reflects your personality. Write often, and concentrate on correctness. Whether constructing an internal memo or adding to your company’s database, practice good writing skills. The more you practice, the quicker you will attain excellence in written business communication.
8. Master good email habits. A colleague, while reflecting on his life, recently said to me: “I didn’t think there would be this much typing.” Funny, but true. Thanks to a seemingly endless barrage of email, our business world contains more and more typing, and it is easy to become casual with our responses. This can lead to correspondence containing spelling and grammar errors.
Studies show that our customers and important internal colleagues view our emails with similar importance to a letter from the U.S. Postal Service. These studies resonate with me. For instance, several weeks ago I received a proposal (via email) from a vendor with whom I was truly looking forward to doing business. At the beginning of their email they misspelled my name (Doug – they misspelled Doug!), and they ended the first sentence with a preposition. Immediately I knew I would not do business with them. Why? Because their email reeked of poor quality control! The lesson here is to be maniacal about proof-reading (don’t rely solely on spell-check), as well as to tailor your email to your audience. In other words, seek to gain mastery of good email habits.
9. Make your messages stick. Daniel Goleman once said, “The leader’s singular job is to deliver results!” Making a message stick calls for leaders to craft clear messages that resonate with their team members. And remember, important messages must be delivered multiples times—without sounding like a broken record—if the goal is to enhance or change people’s behaviors.
Mastering business communication is a life-long journey. View your professional growth in this area as essential. Plan your business communication development like you would a scholastic curriculum. And treat your development like a worthy cause. The better you communicate, the better your team members will perform and the better your business will run. All you have to do is practice and deliver!