Originally published with the Forbes Coaches Council November 22, 2017.
When we think about how to become better communicators, we often think about the tools we use: our data, our PowerPoint deck, our posture and poise. And these are crucial. But the real keys to sustained, long-term improvement and success as a communicator might surprise you, in part because they are simple, easy to implement and available to everyone.
Think of training for a sailing competition. You have your gear, teammates and past experience to draw on. But to succeed, you also need to set ambitious goals, adhere to a training plan and practice assiduously until you’ve perfected all the necessary skills. Otherwise, you’ll struggle to push yourself beyond your comfort zone and truly advance to a higher level of competition.
The same concepts apply to honing your communication skills. You need to turn on that mental switch that says, “I want to improve, and I want to be the best I can be.” When you turn on this switch, you activate three important spheres:
Attitude (positive and proactive): Every opportunity to speak becomes an opportunity to persuade your audience. A meeting with colleagues, a phone call with a client or a formal presentation — no communication is without a challenge to be clear, confident, and persuasive.
Commitment (total and persistent): Challenge yourself on every skill, and be deliberate about how you seek to improve.
Training (thorough and long-term): Go after challenging communication opportunities. Ask your colleagues for feedback and provide constructive, honest feedback in return. Seek out mentors and recognize that as your communication improves, so will your career trajectory.
Now you have the right attitude, commitment and training — what next? This is when you can successfully implement a metrics-based, tool-rich system for approaching communication. In The Latimer Group’s model, we focus on four major skill sets to improve communication:
Assess: Analyze honestly your own skill and the challenge in front of you.
Message: Craft a clear, persuasive argument.
Document: Support that message with slides or other supplementary media.
Deliver: Present your message with confidence and clarity.
In these areas, we can use measurable data and skill assessment to improve every communication opportunity, both in challenging the speaker to hone her skills and achieve her persuasive goal.
The best part of this system is that it not only can transform an individual’s skill set but, when spread throughout an organization, it can transform an entire way of doing business. One person can use these tools effectively, but the benefits compound when a team uses them. And if an entire team commits in attitude, commitment and training (if I encourage you and you support him and he inspires me) the effect is exponential.
So what’s the first step? Try. Commit to becoming a better communicator. Persist. Improvement won’t come all at once. Focus on one skill at a time, be patient with yourself, and see how each presentation or call changes some aspect of your skill set. Share. Get your team involved, ask and give feedback, and push each other to improve. The further these tools and attitudes cascade through a company, the greater the value. When we communicate effectively as an organization, we sell better, produce better and grow better.