10 easy ways to develop communication skills
In the words of Carmine Gallo, “Ideas are the currency of the 21st century.” But ideas alone are not enough. As leaders and speakers, we need to be able to communicate our ideas effectively – clearly, confidently, convincingly – to an audience who wants to listen to the message we want them to hear that leads to action. When we succeed, change happens.
Dale Carnegie wrote the first mass-market public speaking and self-help book as long ago as 1915, The Art of Public Speaking. His three key principles remain as relevant today as they were back then:
1) Keep your speeches short;
2) tell stories to connect emotionally with your audience and
3) use rhetorical devices such as metaphors and analogies.
Here are my top 10 tips to help you develop the skills you need to wow your audience and get your message across with:
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- Know yourself. It sounds obvious, but is it? Knowing yourself will make sure you’re telling the personal story you want to tell at the right time, in the right place, to the right person to get you what you want. How will you answer their question, ‘What do you do?’ It will either lead you into conversation, or not.
- Less is more. When we’re passionate about a topic we have so much we want to say. Stick to the big picture and don’t get lost in the detail. People won’t remember a long list of facts and figures. What’s your key message you want them to take away? Be able to write it down on the back of an envelope in 140 characters, or less. If you can’t, keep working on your message. Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Speech message was reduced to only four words: ‘Do what you love.’
- Follow the rule of three. Divide your speech into three things to talk about. It will help you stay on topic, remember your key points and be memorable. People can remember three pieces of information. You can tell three stories. Give three examples. Share three lessons. Steve Jobs’ three headlines in his Commencement Speech: Connect the Dots; Love and Loss; Death. The rule of three is everywhere. In stories – three little pigs, Aladdin’s three wishes, Macbeth’s three witches. In religion – the holy trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the three Kings. In brands – UPS, BBC, CNN. In time – morning, noon and night, past, present and future, yesterday, today, tomorrow. Christine Lagarde’s 3 Ls for Women Empowerment, ‘Leadership, Learning and Liberty.’ 3 Plus International – Career, Leadership and Women.
- Engage with your audience. Hold their attention so they listen by asking questions. Add humour when appropriate. Be friendly, using open gestures and smile. Maintain eye contact for a few seconds with as many as you can. Move around the stage. Stay close to your audience. Lean forward towards them. Recognise them, share a birthday, and get to know them. It’s easier to speak to a group of friends than to strangers. Always make sure what you’re talking about is relevant to them.
- Be prepared. Take the time to plan, present and get feedback before you speak. Pick people you trust to test your ideas on, especially if you plan to add humour in your speech. Find a mentor and ask them to share their ideas and experience with you. Arrive early, walk around the speaking area and practice using the microphone, and with any visual aids you have.Relax your throat and facial muscles before you speak, do voice exercises, stretch out your arms.
- Manage your nerves. Breathe deeply. Speak slowly. Pause often; silence is powerful and will help you stay focused and maintain your confident composure. When speaking in meetings, start by addressing the audience; it buys you time and calms your nerves. Smile, and count to three before speaking; it transforms nervous energy into positive enthusiasm.
- Find your voice. Be your own conductor. Speak too softly and no one will hear you. Shout and people will tune out. Instead, learn to project your voice to the back of the room, especially when speaking in front of a large audience, so everyone can hear you. Practise breathing from your diaphragm and not your throat. Vary your tone; go deeper for more authority, higher to motivate, softer when compassionate. Vary your pace to avoid monotony; it will stop people from nodding off. The faster you speak, the more energised your audience will be.
- Don’t apologize. Your audience will not notice your nervousness unless you tell them. Nor will they notice if you forget your outline. Sorry is a weak word. Choose instead assertive language to empower your message and come across with confidence.
- Be authentic. Whenever you speak don’t leave your personality behind. Tell a personal story. It’s the best vehicle you have to carry your message across. Stories are more memorable, more emotional and more convincing than mind numbing data and statistics. Get into a positive mind-set and have a conversation with your audience. Engage with confidence, impact and empathy.
- Practice, practice, practice. In front of mirror. On video. In a recording. Watch, see and hear yourself. Get feedback from others. Keep refining your script. Cut out what’s not core to your message. Keep practising as many times as you can until you know your content so fluently you’re no longer searching for that next word, worrying about which next slide’s coming next or remembering your next transition.
The more hours you invest in perfecting these skills, the more confident you’ll be with your delivery, the more clearly your message will come across. and the more convincingly you’ll persuade as a leader and communicator.
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