15 Tips to Improve Your Communication Skills
By Jud Travis
It’s no secret. The most successful business leaders in the world are able to effectively communicate with others. Whether it’s Steve Jobs, Jack Welch, or Jeff Bezos—all leaders possess tremendous communication skills. Here are fifteen ways to improve your communication skills in the workplace and maximize your ability to become a stronger leader.
1) Learn to communicate nonverbally.
Nonverbal communication accounts for about fifty-five percent of how an audience views a presenter. Some researchers believe the number is as high as eighty percent. This means that the majority of what one says is not conveyed by words, but by physical cues. The first step you should take to communicate distinctly and confidently is to implement good posture. Never slouch, fold your arms, or accidentally make yourself seem smaller than you are. Instead you should attempt to maximize as much space as you are given, maintain eye contact, and confidently move around your space. Be sure to keep your body language consistent each and every moment.
2) Over-communication is necessary.
Scientific studies on communication have proven that presenters overestimate how easily an audience understands what’s being said. The studies prove that, not only is it important to communicate clearly, it’s just as important to over-communicate when sharing new information. Audiences will routinely fail to comprehend more than you expect. Plan ahead to go over details that may seem simple to you. Remember, not everyone is as knowledgeable as you.
3) Don’t rely on visual aids.
Steve Jobs created a rule at Apple that banned all PowerPoint presentations from meetings and events. He recognized that PowerPoint presentations can impede rather than enhance communication. Keep it simple and stick to using words, engaging storytelling, and nonverbal cues to get your points across to audiences. You will not need visual aids unless they are absolutely necessary to your presentation.
4) Seek honest feedback.
Receiving honest feedback from peers and members of your team is crucial to not only becoming a better communicator, but also a better leader. Regularly ask for feedback so that others will help you make improvements that you may have overlooked. Don’t just stick to the workplace. Ask your friends and family to give you advice. Most people from any background will enjoy helping you move towards self-improvement.
5) Engage with your audience.
Regardless of how great of a speaker you are, all audiences have limited attention spans and might get bored. Make presentations and dialogue interactive so you keep the boredom out of the room. Ask the audience questions, encourage people to yell out their thoughts, or at least ask hypothetical questions to ensure the audience stays engaged.
6) Begin and finish with key points.
Clear communication is immensely important, especially when you’re getting on and off the stage. Boldly discuss key points at the start and finish of presentations so you always begin and finish strongly. You can help ensure your points are made by giving the audience a one-page document before the presentation that features key points that the audience should keep in mind.
7) Utilize PIP.
A common method used by business experts is the purpose, importance, preview (PIP) approach at the beginning of presentations. By using this approach, the speaker begins by stating the purpose of the presentation and then reveals why the presentation is necessary by communicating implications and possible outcomes. At the end, the speaker provides a preview of the topics to be discussed. This scheme is a helpful way to get audiences enthused about the topic and help them focus on your messages and key points.
8) Record yourself on video.
It can take a great deal of time and energy to communicate well. So, if you feel you have the ability to communicate effectively, record yourself in video format so you can share it with whoever (in the entire world) you think needs to see it. There are plenty of online platforms, like Wistia and Zoom, that allow people to record themselves while giving a presentation. These platforms allow the speaker to edit the videos to make them more interesting and useful. They also provide the speakers with metrics pertaining to viewer engagement.
9) Improve your timing.
Turn to standup comedians as an example of effective communicators. Comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and Kevin Hart are able to perform engaging ninety-minute comedy shows largely because they have great timing. Excellent comedians, like excellent communicators, can feel out the audience to decide when to move on to a new topic and when to reiterate what’s already been mentioned.
10) Learn to speak extemporaneously.
Lawyers presenting a case in front of the Supreme Court speak extemporaneously. What does that mean? It means they write down a list of topics they want to discuss (in advance) but they don’t memorize what will be said word-for-word. This method of communication allows lawyers to convey all necessary points while keeping a level of flexibility for how to communicate based on how others in the room communicate. Business speakers should strongly consider utilizing an extemporaneous manner of speaking. It’s not something one can learn overnight, but it allows communication to simultaneously natural and engaging to the audience.
11) Know your audience.
Know who you’ll be talking to before you talk or even plan what you will be talking about. Always do research in advance to learn just who you will be talking to. Every audience is unique and will have different preferences and quirks that you’ll need to pay attention to when you communicate with them. A great way to read the audience is to ask questions at the beginning of your presentation and look around the room to see who’s engaged.
12) Be interesting.
Recent communication studies show that audiences usually retain more information when presented with something unique or out of the ordinary as opposed to a routine, run-of-the-mill situation. Help your audience members retain information by inserting a novel event into your presentation. The novel event could be something funny or a phrase that catches people off guard.
13) Earn respect, not laughs.
There’s virtue in communicating in a lighthearted way and generating laughter. It’s a great way to earn friends in a professional setting; however, the most successful communicators have earned respect, not laughs. While telling a few jokes to warm up the crowd is highly effective, avoid trying to be the next Jerry Seinfeld. You work in business for a reason.
14) Be a listener.
If you want to make connections with others, listen more than you talk. Listening to what others have to say will establish trust. Not to mention, you can then give a thoughtful answer that reinforces the fact that you have listened. It’s human nature to lose sight of the fact that communication is a two-way process. Don’t be a leader that simply broadcasts themselves to the world. There are already enough people in this world who are not really listening to what the other person has to say and are instead thinking about what to say next. Improving your listening ability will pay off by improving your relationships at work and at home.
Keep in mind that listening is different from hearing. Listening involves not only paying attention to the words you hear but also how those words are being spoken and the non-verbal cues that correspond to them. You must give your full attention to whoever is speaking and genuinely concentrate on what he/she is saying. Also, concentrate on what the person is not saying. Always clarify what the person has (and hasn’t) said to ensure you avoid any confusion.
15) Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Many people struggle with asking questions. It’s an important skill that ensures you correctly understand someone’s message. It’s also an effective way to gain more knowledge concerning a particular topic or just keep a conversation going. If you have good questioning skills, it means you’re probably a very good listener, which all effective leaders must be. Don’t worry, there’s always a time and place for you to broadcast your views to the world. But sometimes you must decide when it’s better to sit back and ask questions. The more you ask, the more information you’ll have to broadcast in the future.
Communicating in a clear manner is one of the most useful and important skills you can develop and utilize as a successful business leader. Remember, communication is about a lot more than just talking. A great deal of the communication process involves using both verbal and nonverbal cues. It also involves listening closely to what others are saying and over-communicating in interesting ways to make sure your content is engaging to the audience. Train yourself every day to utilize the fifteen tips above and you will maximize your leadership abilities.