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How to be a Better Communicator

How to be a Better Communicator

If you could choose one ability to excel at to help you succeed in your career and life, what would that be? Earlier on, I might have said leadership, judgment, confidence, or any number of equally credible choices. But with the benefit of hindsight, the capability that makes the biggest difference to career advancement is being a great communicator.

What It Means to Be a Great Communicator

Being a great communicator means being able to read your audience, get your point across in a way that lands with others, and influence outcomes. Communicating is something we do every day — in person, in writing, on social media. Yet, most of us are not even thinking about all the interactions we have; we’re just doing it. That means we’re leaving a lot on the table and there’s significant upside if we can improve.

[Related: How to Display Your Soft Skills as Coveted Leadership Traits]

Why It’s Important to Your Career

Communication is a fundamental capability — one that has an effect on just about everything you do. I think of being a great communicator as a “Super Food” that boosts your entire system by helping you:

  • Build relationships and influence at every level of leadership.
  • Create buy-in for the projects you lead.
  • Negotiate effectively for what you want and need.

Communicating effectively is a crucial aspect of your success, but, just because you can talk doesn’t make you a good communicator. What does it take to be great?

3 Things You Can Do to Be a Great Communicator

The difference between being good versus being great comes down to whether or not you do the following three things: Notice, Practice, Invest.

1. Notice

The first thing is to notice how you’re doing on the communication front. I’ve become more conscious in the moment of how effective I’m being in my communications in personal as well as professional settings. I also do a periodic “check-in” on whether I’m improving. Here are some useful questions to use to help you notice in a productive way.

What you’re doing:

  • Are you taking up your space, whether it’s at a table or at a cocktail reception?
  • Are you hunched over the phone?
  • Are you making eye contact?
  • Do you have nervous habits like adjusting your glasses or twirling your hair?

What you’re saying:

  • Are you using positive words or negative ones?
  • Are you using powerful language or weak “apology language”?
  • Are you using too much jargon or too little?

How you’re saying it:

  • What’s the tone of your voice?
  • Can they hear you clearly or do people strain?
  • Are you talking non-stop, or too fast for your audience to absorb what you’re saying?

Your mindset and attention:

  • Are you coming at this from your perspective, or thinking about what’s in it for your audience?
  • Are you paying attention to how your message is landing?
  • Are you listening to what the other person is saying?

It’s about forward progress, not perfection. So don’t be afraid of noticing how you’re doing and stop worrying about whether you’re falling short.

[Related: What's the Difference Between Constructive Silence and Hesitation?]

2. Practice

You can’t become great at communicating without practice. That’s what gets you comfortable with communicating when the stakes are high and helps you to make the most of unexpected situations. And while it’s clear that you need to practice the set piece presentations — think TED Talks or addressing the executive committee — it’s equally important for being effective with informal interactions. In fact, it can take more effort and thinking to be effective at the informal conversations.

The key to useful practice is preparation and feedback. If you don’t prepare your message, then you’re just talking. And if you aren’t open to and seeking feedback, then you’re just talking to yourself.

Preparation doesn’t have to take a long time. It’s often just about gathering your thoughts and reminding yourself of your objectives. As you do your practicing, you’ll benefit from getting feedback. Be fearless about it. Others see and hear you anyway, so you may as well have the benefit of learning from it. You may even be pleasantly surprised!

When getting feedback, dig deeper beyond just the overall impression of whether your part of the communication was “great,” “good,” or something else. Find out which parts were most effective and why. Ask what would make you more effective next time. By creating a feedback loop each time, you’ll bring your practice up another notch in terms of usefulness.

3. Invest in Yourself

We’re not born great communicators. You can learn techniques from a variety of sources, but I’ve found that the best way is to learn from professionals. It speeds up your learning and builds confidence in a way that’s hard to replicate.

Early in my career, I lucked out and got one-on-one presentation skills coaching. A managing director had to drop out five minutes before his session was due to start, and the department head pointed to me and said, “You. Go!”

This coaching made a huge difference in my career. I was better at presenting pitches to clients, speaking in those dreaded team meetings, and briefing senior management on my business. It helped polish my brand and gave me a greater ability to influence others and deliver results.

But investing in yourself is not a “once and done” event. With communicating, you can always be better. And as you progress in your career, the bar just gets higher: there’s more at stake, there’s greater complexity and you need to be more nuanced. You can be sure that CEOs and heads of state are continuing to invest in this skill.

What Will You Do?

So, to have the success you want in your career and to be the kind of leader you are capable of being,

  • Take some time to notice how you communicate,
  • Practice your craft purposefully, and
  • Invest in yourself.

Being a great communicator will pay off tremendously when it comes to your career advancement and success in all areas of life.

What will you do to become a better communicator?

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May Busch is a sought-after executive coach, speaker, advisor, author, and former COO of Morgan Stanley Europe. Her passion is helping people succeed in their career and life – to be better, do more, and make the difference they are meant to make. Find her on MayBusch.com and follow her on Twitter at @maybusch.


Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.

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