Communication Skills Overview

This is Thursday, so this post is on communication skills.

All people with good communication skills share at least three things in common:

  1. Good communicators are excellent conversationalists.
  2. Good communicators write in a clear, concise easily readable manner.
  3. Good communicators are excellent presenters – to groups of two or 100.

In this post, I will look at each of these in detail.

Conversations

You never know when a conversation can have a big impact on your life and career.  Career and life stars are good conversationalists.  People want to engage them because they are warm, gracious, pleasant and sensitive to the needs of others.   

Brian Tracy, a well known motivational speaker – and with whom I share the cover, along with Stephen Covey, of the recently published book Conversations on Success – has some interesting things to say about conversation.  (I will send a complimentary copy to the first 10 people who send me an e mail Bud@BudBilanich.com, requesting one.)

  • “There are three aims and purposes of conversation.  The first is the plain enjoyment and pleasure of self-expression and interaction with other people…The second aim or purpose of conversation is to get to know another person better…The third aim of conversation is to build trust and credibility with another person.”

I agree with Mr. Tracy.  Conversations are a great way of getting to know other people and in building trust with them.  Even more important perhaps, is the sheer joy you can get from having a conversation with an interesting and stimulating person.

On a visit to Loren Ekroth’s website, www.ConversationMatters.com, I came across an interesting article Six Common Mistakes That Spoil Conversations.

  1. Blabbermouthing
  2. The “take away” and “me-too” syndrome
  3. Unsolicited advice
  4. Interrupting
  5. Contradicting
  6. Stingy contribution

I suggest you go to his site and read the article, and several others he has written about conversation. 

Now that I’ve highlighted things to avoid in conversation, I’d like to give you some of the tips that have helped me in my quest to become a good conversationalist.

  • Be honest.  When you’re honest, you don’t have to remember what lies you told to what person.  Honesty, besides being the best policy, makes your life easier.
  • Be humble.  Braggarts generally don’t fare well over the long run.  Remember the old saying “lions don’t need to roar”.
  • Be courteous.  It cost you nothing, and it can mean everything to the other person.  Courtesy also helps you get what you want.  You really do get my flies with honey than vinegar.
  • Look at the person with whom you’re having a conversation.  People like it when you look them in the eye.  They trust you more.
  • Use a person’s name when you are in conversation.  Everybody likes to hear their own name.
  • Let people finish what they are saying.  When you interrupt, you run the risk of annoying the other person; but more importantly, you run the bigger risk of missing something important that he or she has to say.
  • Keep your cool.  Any fool can get upset and angry.  It takes a real lady or gentleman to handle difficult situations calmly and with aplomb.
  • Be responsible for yourself.  No one can make you angry.  No matter what another person does, you can always choose to act in a civil, forthright, constructive manner. 
  • Build and nurture relationships with other people.  Extend yourself.  Show some initiative, introduce yourself to people you don’t know, engage them in conversation.
  • Work hard at relating to all kinds of people.  People who are different from you might make you feel uncomfortable at first.  However, they are the people from whom you are likely to learn the most.
  • Listen well and demonstrate your point of view.  Ask questions if you don’t understand.  Repeat your understanding to make sure you got it right. 
  • Be receptive to feedback.  Thank the other person for his or her feedback.  Use it as you see fit.

Writing

Good communicators write clearly, succinctly and in an easy to read manner.  Shaun Fawcett’s Top 10 Writing Tips really capture the essence of writing for success.

  1. Preparation Is the Key.  Do all of your research first, before you start to write. Even a letter normally requires some minor research such as making some phone calls or reviewing a file. It’s also very important to prepare yourself mentally before writing. So, don’t sit down to write too soon. Mull it over for a while, sometimes a day or two, sometimes an hour or two, depending on the complexity of the job at hand. It’s amazing how the sub-conscious mind will work on the problem “behind the scenes” and when you finally do start writing, it will flow.
  2. Always Use a Sample.  For me, this is critical. No matter what I write, it helps tremendously if I have some visual stimulation. If I’m writing a letter I post a copy of a similar letter, or the one I’m responding to, somewhere in my direct line-of-sight. It helps me focus and keeps my mind on the subject at hand, minimizing the tendency for my mind to wander. No matter what it is, I always make a point to find some previous work or a sample of work similar to what I’m doing. It really stimulates the creative writing process and increases productivity significantly.
  3. Shorter Is Always Better.  Whether you’re writing a report or a letter, look for ways to cut it down in length. Concentrate on conveying the essential message. If something you’ve written does not enhance the core message, or doesn’t add value, consider cutting it. These days, you have to be “short and to the point” to get your message read.
  4. Use Concise and Appropriate Language.  Your letter or report should use simple straightforward language, for clarity and precision. Use short sentences and don’t let paragraphs exceed three or four sentences. As much as possible, use language and terminology familiar to the intended recipient. Do not use technical terms and acronyms without explaining them, unless you are certain that the addressee is familiar with them.
  5. “Be” Your Addressee.  A key technique to use when writing anything is to clearly “visualize” your audience. As you write, try to imagine in your mind’s eye the specific person(s) to whom your written product is directed. I often imagine that I am sitting across the boardroom table from my addressee, trying to explain my points in person. Make an effort to see the situation from the other person’s perspective. What would you be looking to see if you were the recipient of the letter or report?
  6. Do the Outline First.  Even if it’s a one-page letter, it doesn’t hurt to jot down a few quick notes on the main points that you want to cover. This process forces you to think logically about exactly what you want to cover and it helps you decide in which order you will approach your subject. For a letter this is helpful. For a report, this is absolutely essential. In fact, I believe that you should force yourself to go through the entire thinking process that is required to develop a complete draft Table of Contents, before you start to write any report.
  7. Write and Then Rewrite.  No matter how much preparation I do, I always find that I can improve on the first draft. That’s partly because when I’m writing that first version, my main focus is to get the essence of my thoughts down on paper. At that stage I don’t worry about perfect phrasing, grammar or logic. My main mission the first time through is to make sure that I capture the critical words and phrases that form the core meaning of what I want to communicate.
  8. Format Is Important.  Whatever you are writing, make sure it looks professional. This is where proper formatting comes in. Your credibility, and/or that of your organization, is on the line, with your report or letter serving as your representative. If it is not professionally formatted, it will reflect negatively on you, even if the content is good and it is well-written. Rightly or wrongly, the value of your work will diminish in people’s eyes if the formatting of your document is shoddy or amateurish looking.
  9. Read It Out Loud.  Some people who haven’t tried it may laugh when they read this, but it really works. At any point during the drafting process, but definitely at the draft final stage, read your report or letter to yourself “out loud”. It’s amazing what one picks up when they actually “hear” their words as if they were being spoken to them as the addressee. I find this helps me the most in picking up awkward phrasing and unnecessary repetition of words or terms.
  10. Check Spelling and Grammar.  Last, but far from least, make sure you double check the spelling and grammar in your document. These days, with spell-checkers built into word processing programs, there’s really no excuse not to do this. Once again your document is a direct reflection of you and/or your organization. If it is riddled with spelling mistakes and obvious grammatical errors, it will appear unprofessional and your credibility will suffer. Watch out for the words that sound the same but have completely different meanings that a spell-checker won’t pick up. Words such as “four” and “fore”, for example. Your final read-through out loud should catch any of these.

Shaun’s Bottom Line: Whether you’re writing a letter, a memorandum, a report or an essay; if you follow the above tips and you won’t go wrong.

Presentations

Presentations are an important communication skill.  Many careers have been made on the strength of one or two great presentations.  Here are some of the ideas I find most helpful when it comes to making presentations.  You can control stage fright and your nerves by learning and using a presentation preparation and delivery process.

Here is a five step process to effective presentations that I find helpful.  While I have modified and enhanced these steps over the years, I originally learned them from Steve Roesler presentation guru extraordinaire.

  1. Determine your message.
  2. Analyze your audience.
  3. Organize your information for impact.
  4. Design supporting visuals.
  5. Practice, practice, practice.

Ask and answer these questions to help you determine your message:

  • What do you want or need to communicate?
  • What information does the audience need?
  • Why do they need it?
  • At the end of the presentation, what do you want the audience to: Understand? Remember? Do?

Determine the best way to communicate your message by analyzing your audience by asking and answering the following questions:

  • Who is the audience for this presentation?
  • Why are they attending?
  • What is their general attitude toward you and the topic?
  • What is their knowledge level on this topic?

Use the golden rule of journalism – tell them what you’re going to tell them; tell them; tell them what you’ve told them – to organize your material and presentation.

  • Begin at the end.  Write your presentation closing first.  This will keep you focused on where you’re going.
  • Prepare your presentation opening next.  A good beginning does two things: it grabs the audience’s attention, making them want to listen to you; it teaches the audience how to listen to what you’re going to say, by providing them a roadmap of your talk.
  • Fill in the blanks with your content.

Design visuals to support and enhance what you are saying.  Good visuals support your points, create audience interest, improve audience understanding, are great memory aids, and save you time – a picture is worth a thousand words.  Your visuals should support and enhance your words.  They should not drive your presentation.

Practice, Practice, Practice.  There is an old saying, “practice makes up for a lack of talent”.  Prior to getting in front of an audience, practice your presentation – out loud – several times.  Listen to yourself.  Get comfortable with your words.  Consider video taping yourself.  If you don’t have video equipment, practice in front of a mirror, or your spouse, or your dog or cat – just practice.

When you are in front of the audience:

  • Center yourself, get balanced, have your weight evenly distributed on both feet.
  • Pause for a couple of seconds.
  • Smile.
  • Take a deep breath.
  • Begin the talk that you have practiced so many times that you are really comfortable with what you are going to say.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading.  Log on to my website www.BudBilanich.com for more common sense.  Check out my other blog: www.CommonSenseGuy.com for common sense advice on leading people and running a small business.

I’ll see you around the web, and at Alex’s Lemonade Stand.

Bud

PS: Speaking of Alex’s Lemonade Stand – my fundraising page is still open.  Please go to www.FirstGiving.com/TheCommonSenseGuy to read Alex’s inspiring story and to donate if you can.

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