Communication is something we all do every day as business owners and CEOs. However, the great leaders inspire people to action through their style and compelling message of their communication. Improving your ability to communicate clearly and to a wide range of audiences could be one of the most important skills you might need to develop. However, we are all trapped by the urgent at the expense of the important. Putting our fires, attending regularly scheduled meetings, and other such activities seem to take priority over the important aspect of developing your communication skills. Communications is a skill developed over long periods of time. If we think about great leaders like Matama Gandhi, who led 800 million people in a quiet revolt against the British Empire, he did not develop his communication skills in Inda, but in the UK as a lawyer and in South Africa as a fighter for Indians rights.
Here are three high-level tips to sharpen your saw in the communications department. Keep them top of mind when you are preparing your next communications event.
Know and understand your audience.
The first matter to think about is your language. Are you using jargon from your industry? The simpler you can make it the better. Always pitch your language as you would to a 16-year-old. They are adult but you better not try to talk down to them as you will lose them instantly. Remember 100% of the communication responsibility is yours as the initiator of the communication. The way to ensure that engagement is by asking questions, telling stories and incorporating your message into the stories. I remember when I started public speaking to larger audiences some years ago, I asked almost everyone I met on the evening, what did you remember. It became crystal clear to me, that the only messages people internalised, was when I told stories. Some of the stories were real, others were constructed as the transport mechanism for the idea I was trying to get across. We have been communicating by stories for millions of years. The sequence of an engaging story with emotional twists becomes memorable. Our brains fill in the details.
Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse for the important speaking engagements.
Standing in front of your Peers in your industry or your city puts your brand in the limelight and is part of representing your company. Regardless of how strong a public speaker you consider yourself, it never hurts to rehearse your speech (or informal remarks) in front of others or before a small, select audience, like your family.
My first media training with Frank P Murphy back in 1987 taught me about practice. When on camera, I completely forgot line two of my introduction. I asked the cameraman, could he take it again. He said, no, this is a live practice. Internally I shocked, but my practice meant that I remember line 2 and the rest of my lines in that instance. I carried on as I had practised. The class reviewed the video after the session. Great hilarity broke out when I was heard to call “can you take it again”. The class broke down in stitches of laughter at my collapse. However, then they saw me proceed as if nothing had happened. They all said “what an amazing recovery”. I learned, no matter what you are feeling “inside”, people don’t know it. It’s going on in your head only. Be brave and go forward. You can do that when you are prepared. No one will notice your little fluffs, the things you forget to say, but they will remember that passion with which you said it. For significant speeches later in my life, even my daughter could repeat them as she heard them so many times. I could repeat some of Dan McInerney’s (Chairman of McInerney Properties PLC) big speeches because he too had practised them so many times in front of me.
Practice not just what you intend to say, but once you have internalised the message you must rehearse how you’re going to say it. Pay close attention to the speed with which you talk, the rhythm and inflection of your voice, how you use silence to land a point and the ways in which your body language reinforces your message. This takes a lot of time. You will observe that international expert speakers generally deliver versions of the same speech over and over again. I will tend to refuse speaking opportunities purely because of the amount of time it will take is significant. The amount of time you spend will be directly related to the value your audience will get from it.
Speaking of public speaking, you can enhance your efforts through these venues:
- Quarterly company town- hall meetings. Schedule events at which all or most of your staff can attend. Share as much as you reasonably can about the state of business operations—recent wins, challenges, opportunities, etc. Leave time for a question and answer session with staff. Prepare yourself, as much as possible, to be thorough and honest in your responses. Sometimes there will be personal issues which you need to close down quickly. A good phrase to close down a difficult question about a departing executive for example.”That is a personal matter between X and the Company and it would be unfair of me to make a public comment on that matter”. Prepare for the types of questions and prepare draft answers. In fact to get engagement going, you can have a difficult question planted.
- If your staff are distributed in various locations, it can be good practice to send a weekly video update to staff. You will not appear to be so remote and people will realise the effort you have gone to make that weekly communication. Make sure that you are thanking your people and recognising big events in their lives.
- Volunteer for industry-related, trade shows, Chamber of Commerce speaking opportunities. You are the principal ambassador of your brand and the “face” of your company’s brand. Making clear well-constructed presentations to audiences beyond your office walls helps build brand awareness and can lead to more business opportunities. As you gain more experience your confidence will grow and you will be invited to more public events to further improve your communications skills.
Work on your one-on-one skills.
Most CEOs are more comfortable in a one-on-one conversation with people they connect well with and feel they are on the same page with. However many avoid the difficult conversations with those, who express themselves differently and avoid direct communication at all costs. “Difficult conversations” are part of the essential ingredient of leadership. Becoming familiar with NLP techniques, the universal communication languages of DISC, and Coaching style conversations are all very useful tools in developing your one-2-skills. Being able to stand in the shoes of the other party and being able to use their language is a particularly useful skill when dealing with difficult people. It’s amazing how many times communication issues with partners, staff, shareholders, key customers come up at TAB Boards. Gaining perspective of how other business owners would handle the situation is incredibly valuable. Invariably a new found language, settings, tactics and approach is evolved from the discussion at Board. All board members are inducted in the science of DISC and the behavioural styles of their colleagues. It makes for much stronger teams, collaborations and getting to results and real conversations much faster. It is no wonder that over 90 of TAB members report that they have improved their ability to address personnel and organisational issues since joining TAB. If you want to become better at high-level communications, become a better CEO and a more effective leader it’s never too late to start on that journey. People want to hear what you have to say. Saying it clearly, the right way, can inspire and motivate them to follow you. That’s how you move from being a leader to being an inspiring leader.
Want to learn more about the power of communications? Find out if a TAB Board is right for you!