Becoming a Next-Level Communicator

Originally published with the Forbes Coaches Council October 20, 2017.

To be a powerful communicator, you have to be brutally honest. You need to look critically at how great a change you are suggesting and how much you are asking of your audience. But perhaps the most important place you must look is within yourself. How skilled are you as a presenter? (Be honest!)

The answer to that question will affect how you approach every communication, how you prepare and how you aim to do it better the next time.

After all, being aware of your skill level doesn’t only affect the presentation or the phone call at hand. If you can be honest about your current level, you can hone in on where you need to work hardest to get better. You can actively improve your ability or stay great at it. (Sometimes the hardest work is in maintaining our skills at their highest level.)

We devised a skill matrix to help clients identify their accomplishments as a speaker and where they can work and improve:

  1. Executive: Inspiring an audience to act.
  2. Leadership: Enabling an audience to care.
  3. Professional: Allowing an audience to hear.

We break down these levels across four distinct skill areas:

Skill No. 1: Assess

Before you start to pull together your slide deck or gather up your best anecdotes, you need to understand the context in which you are speaking. What does your audience care about the most? What do they need from this communication?

  • If you are at the professional level of this skill, you understand what your audience will be listening for: Do they want hard data or personal stories? Are they an audience that needs to approve or execute a decision
  • At the leadership level, you can identify your audience’s priorities and speak to how your proposal fits into them.
  • At the executive level, audience objections are identified and resolved and consensus is built through leadership.

Key questions for improvement:

  • What does my audience care about?
  • How can I personalize my message?
  • How much detail do they need or want?
  • What do I bring to the table?

Skill No. 2: Message 

Once you’ve gathered your information, you’ll need to craft a message that is powerful, persuasive, and holds your audience’s attention.

  • At the professional level, you achieve a clear, well-organized presentation that is easy to follow and gets across the key points. Every audience member will leave the room knowing what you need and what they need to do — but they may not be compelled to do it.
  • At the leadership level, your well-organized presentation also targets key areas of interest to your audience and convinces them that the issue at hand is vital.
  • At the executive level, each piece of information presented feels important, necessary and persuasive. Audience members leave with a clear sense of what needs to be done, when it needs to be done and why. Listeners feel connected and inspired.

Key questions for improvement:

  • What is the goal of this communication?
  • What is the key information this specific audience needs to know?
  • What are the main objections to my proposal?
  • How do I make my audience feel connected to my subject?

Skill No. 3: Document 

You have a strong, well-crafted message. Now you need to pull together the visual support that will reinforce that message.

  • At the professional level, your slides are clean and coherent — no typos or inconsistencies to distract the audience. They follow the logical progression of your presentation.
  • At the leadership level, your slides will make the key ideas of your presentation stand out. This visual representation will help your audience retain your message.
  • At the executive level, your slides not only make your key ideas stand out, they sell those ideas. The visual presentation of your ideas engages the audience and speaks to their interests and needs.

Key questions for improvement:

  • Will my audience be distracted in any way by this slide — by a typo, blocks of text, a too-small graphic?
  • Does every slide express a key idea?
  • Do my visual elements serve the message?

Skill No. 4: Deliver 

In many ways, this is the most intimidating aspect of communicating: standing up in front of an audience and speaking with confidence and authenticity.

  • At the professional level, you’ve worked to eliminate most, if not all, verbal pauses, you’ve calmed your fidgets, and you use eye contact to connect with the room.
  • At the leadership level, you use speech patterns to emphasize important information: inflection, pauses, “What’s in it for you” statements (such as “The key point here is…”), bullet points.
  • At the executive level, your command of the room and the material is evident. Objections and questions are handled calmly and thoroughly, and you are clearly as willing to listen as to speak. Your demeanor and vocabulary are powerful and appropriate for the message.

Key questions for improvement:

  • Am I speaking in a way that is natural and true to myself?
  • Am I connecting with my audience?
  • Am I emphasizing the key points in a way that is memorable?
  • Does my energy match my message?

It’s important to recognize that an individual can be wonderful at one aspect of presenting and not so great at another. They are intertwined, however, and it’s very rare to find someone who has executive-level messaging skills and professional (or not yet professional) delivery skills. Improving in one area will likely improve your skill across all areas. If you feel confident and clear in your message, you’ll likely reflect that confidence in the way you speak.

At The Latimer Group, our individual Coaching services are highly customized and designed to help you achieve your specific goals. Typical engagements focus on developing skill sets in Leadership Communications, Public Speaking, and Executive-Level Business Presentations. To learn more, e-mail us at




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Dean Brenner

A book about change

The Latimer Group’s CEO Dean Brenner is a noted keynote speaker and author on the subject of persuasive communication. He has written three books, including Persuaded, in which he details how communication can transform organizations into highly effective, creative, transparent environments that succeed at every level.