What do Oprah Winfrey, Richard Branson, and Tom Brady have in common? They are all great communicators. Each has the ability to connect with an audience, engage and inspire. They can win over hearts and minds with their natural communication skills. You can bet that at some point each of them has focused on how to improve communication skills.
Being an effective communicator is critical to success, whether in the workplace or your personal life. Effective communication helps you translate your thoughts and intentions into easily understood messages.
And research tells us that communication skills are one of the most in-demand soft skills in the workplace. Pitching to a client, negotiating that deal, and leading a project team depends on good communication skills.
However, most of us overestimate how good we are at communicating. Effective communication is an art, and just like any skill, it gets easier the more you practice.
Do you want to get the most out of your professional and personal relationships? Here are 17 sure-fire ways to improve your communication skills.
1. Ask For Feedback
Asking your colleagues, managers, and direct reports for feedback is an excellent place to start. Honest feedback will help you understand how you come across in the workplace. And it will help you identify the areas you need to develop and improve.
Our top tip when seeking feedback is to use the ‘Start, Continue, Stop’ technique. Ask colleagues to identify a couple of things that you need to start doing, plus a couple that you should continue doing. Finally, ask them for one or two things you should stop doing. This approach ensures you get meaningful feedback that is action-focussed.
2. Learn To Listen
Effective communication is not a one-way street. The best communicators know how to listen. We have all come across co-workers who jump in with a response before the speaker has even finished their sentence. Don’t be that person. Instead, really listen to what the other person is saying. And ask for clarification to make sure you have understood. That way, your colleague will feel as though they have been heard. And you can provide a thoughtful response that shows you have listened and taken their views into account.
The brilliant communicator Richard Branson has summed up the importance of active listening nicely: ‘Listen more than you talk.’ Use this as a guiding principle, and you will be well on the way to being a better communicator.
3. Master Non-Verbal Communication
Too often, when we talk about communication skills, we focus on words. However, just as important is what our body language is saying. Non-verbal cues and signals can speak volumes. Whether you are in a face-to-face meeting or video conference, pay attention to your body language. Maintain eye contact, uncross your arms, try not to slouch in your seat, and avoid fidgeting with your hands. And be sure to put away your phone or other distractions.
4. Know Your Audience
The way you communicate with your partner is, of course, different from how you interact with a client. Knowing the audience and tailoring your communications is vital to success. The tone is important here too. Make sure you only use informal language when it’s appropriate. And try to avoid using acronyms or jargon so that there are no misunderstandings. Effective communicators know how to target their messages to the audience. So always have the needs of the other person in mind.
Furthermore, pay attention to the non-verbal cues of your audience. If the person you are speaking to is yawning, looking out the window, or avoiding eye contact, then take the hint!
5. Less Is More
We all have finite attention spans. For effective written and verbal communications, conciseness is a critical success factor. Be brief and specific. Laboring your point with waffle and too much detail dilutes your message. And will also see you lose the attention of your audience.
6. Keep Your Emotions In Check
The best communicators understand the importance of keeping personal emotions in check. They have well-developed social skills and know when to filter their thoughts and feelings.
This ability to understand our own and other people’s emotions is known as emotional intelligence. And some commentators argue that emotional awareness and empathy are just as important in the workplace as intellectual intelligence.
Most of us can recount a disagreement in our personal or work lives where we said something we later regretted. Next time you are dealing with a sensitive or difficult situation, take a step back. Think before you speak and double-check what’s appropriate in the context. That way, you will avoid any unnecessary conflict or embarrassment.
7. Maintain Eye Contact
Look people in the eye when both listening and speaking. Not only is it polite, but it also sends a strong non-verbal signal that you are fully engaged.
8. Take Notes
Got an important meeting with your top customer? Or perhaps you are in a one-to-one catch-up with your boss. Don’t rely on your memory alone. Instead, get in the habit of taking notes of what’s being said and agreed. Then follow-up with an email to make sure there is a common understanding of the conversation.
9. Go For Clarity
Whether speaking in public or drafting a report, have clarity at the forefront of your mind. Make sure that your narrative flows easily and follows a logical progression. And try not to get carried away with details. Only include what is necessary to enhance understanding.
Then, check that your audience has understood the message. Look out for any non-verbal cues and ask questions to confirm the message has got through.
10. Check Before You Hit Send
Typos and poor grammar are unnecessary distractions. And they also make you look unprofessional. Whether it’s an email, presentation, or report, be sure to use spell and grammar checks. It could be a lifesaver, but they are not foolproof. For example, the spellchecker won’t pick up on ‘manger’ when you mean to say ‘manager.’ And you certainly don’t want to send out a document with ‘pubic’ instead of ‘public’!
If possible, put your important document to one side and then review it the next day with a fresh pair of eyes. You could also ask a colleague to proofread your communication – most workplaces have a grammar nerd. Alternatively, for business-critical communications, engage a professional proofreader.
11. Format For Clarity
The presentation and formatting of your written communication make a big difference to how it is read and understood. Include paragraphs and bullet points to break up the text into bite-sized chunks. Also, add headings and bold font to aid navigation and draw attention to key points. And use consistent spacing, fonts, and font sizes for a more polished overall look and feel.
12. Practice Public Speaking
Even for veteran communicators, speaking in public is nerve-wracking and daunting. However, regular practice can make all the difference. Take your communications to the next level by actively seeking out public speaking opportunities. And it does not have to be to a large audience. Even regularly speaking up at project team meetings will help you develop great communication habits.
13. Record Yourself Communicating
And if you are making an important speech to a large audience, then record a practice run. Reviewing the footage will help you identify your strengths and weaknesses so that you can refine your presentation.
Capturing the attention of a large audience requires a unique skill set. Be confident, stand up straight, and speak clearly. Use silence for dramatic effect. A strategically placed pause helps hook the audience in, especially when followed up with an insight or big reveal.
Also, pay attention to your tone of voice, pitch, and speed. A monotone delivery is likely to send the audience to sleep. By contrast, a speech with a varied pitch and speed of delivery is more likely to engage listeners.
14. Avoid Prepared Speeches
Try to avoid reading out a prepared speech. Rarely does this captivate and enthrall an audience. Instead, prepare a note with headline topics you need to cover. Use the note to make sure you stay on track and mention all the pertinent points. Doing so will help ensure a more natural delivery. Plus, you can more easily maintain eye contact. And you scan the room for those essential non-verbal signals that let you know you are hitting the mark.
15. Use Visual Aids To Enhance Not Distract From Your Message
When making a presentation or speech, try not to go overboard on the visual aids. What you say should be the star. Resist the temptation to squeeze in every chart, fact, and figure that may be hard to read if you are sitting at the back of the auditorium. And if you are using visual aids, choose a theme and stick to it. Be consistent in your choice of colors, fonts, and clip art.
16. Select The Appropriate Communication Channel
Nowadays, there are a whole host of communication channels to choose from, including instant messaging, emails, face-to-face meetings, vlogs, and blogs. The best communicators know which is most appropriate.
For example, a face-to-face meeting is probably best if you are communicating a sensitive performance-related message to a direct report. However, an instant message to the team might be appropriate for an update on quarterly team performance. And a vlog is a great option to connect and motivate remote workers.
17. Be Positive And Smile
Our final tip is perhaps the most important. Maintaining an open-minded, positive attitude allows you to adapt when faced with new information or challenging viewpoints. And always remember to smile, even when talking on the phone. With a positive attitude, people are more likely to respond positively in return.
Make Communication A Priority
Most of us take our ability to communicate for granted. However, it’s such a vital skill affecting every aspect of our lives that it’s well worth working on.
Research from HR Technologist suggests that 69 percent of managers are not comfortable communicating with employees. And according to Gartner, businesses with more informed employees outperform their peers by 77 percent.
Effective communications are vital whether you are in a client-facing role or are more of a backroom manager. Even if you work on your own as a sole trader, you still have to interact with customers and suppliers.
Plus, your nearly enhanced communication skills may well impact your life outside work. Improved relationships with your family, friends, and kids make prioritizing your communication skills a no-brainer.
Improve Internal Communications With MyHub’s Intranet
And when it comes to improving communications in the workplace, MyHub’s intranet is a great place to start. Our cloud intranets make internal communications easy. Simple to set up and manage, MyHub’s intranet brings together a variety of communication tools under one virtual roof. Keep all staff informed and in the loop with the following great intranet features plus a whole lot more:
- Forums and blogs
- Digital newsletters
- Quizzes and surveys
- Corporate calendars
- Activity walls
- Instant messaging.