Improving Communication Skills {Part One}

Part One: Define Exactly What You Want to Improve

The umbrella of “communication skills” encompasses quite a bit. It can come down to every aspect of how another person receives a message from you and this can be everything from your nonverbal cues to the tone in which you use to speak to someone. For me a skill is something that can always be improved and should be evaluated periodically. For example, I’m a good writer, but I just started a writing improvement course, because writing is a skill. I need to practice, define some strengths, identify weaknesses, and work to improve them in a practical way that I can incorporate to my daily life.

Communication skills are the same. Even the seasoned and experienced public speaker or presenter can find things that they can improve on. A lot of speakers chose to tape their events and much like a coach or player on a sports team, will go back after the game and see where they could use improvement. No one is going to be 100% perfect every single time and professionals know that.

So if you’re looking to improve your communication skills you have to first be able to define exactly what needs to be improved, otherwise you’re simply going to be all over the place. A pitcher will work on getting his fast ball perfected, then his slider, and so forth. He won’t try to perfect all of his pitches at once and any skill that needs to be improved needs to be approached in the same way.

I recommend recording your recent speeches or presentations and then reviewing them so that you can spot areas of improvement. Some things to be on the lookout for when you’re watching your video:

  • Are you reading the text from your PowerPoint slides? This should be avoided because it doesn’t encourage the audience to listen to your every word. There’s no fear that they might miss something amazing because you’re just reading something they could read on their own. Use your slides to enhance your presentation but don’t let it steal the show from you.
  • Watch to see if you’re standing in one place or dancing around like an extra from The Nutcracker. If you’re not moving enough then you’re not doing enough to visually stimulate your participant’s brain. If you’re moving around too much then you make it difficult for the audience members to keep up with you. There needs to be a happy medium between the two.
  • On a conference call or a webinar the power to stimulate your audience visually is almost completely gone. If you’re lucky you have your PowerPoint slides to back you up, but it could all come down to the way you sound when you speak. Do you speak too fast and make it difficult for participants to understand you? Are you speaking in a monotone and boring voice that almost always guarantees your audience is going to do something else? When the audience can’t see you, you have to use your voice to mimic the same kinds of movements they would be exposed to – and too much or too little of a good thing is never a good idea.
  • What’s going on non-verbally? The way your body looks on stage or on a video conference can be a huge factor in how much your audience retains. You want your body to be open to the audience and you want your arms to move in a comfortable fashion. If you are standing in front of the audience with your arms crossed over your chest, you’re basically throwing up a wall between you and them and indicating that you don’t care if they listen or not.

Those are just some of the communication improvements that you might notice you need to address. The next part of this series will talk about identifying your strengths and weaknesses within what you want to change so that you’ll know exactly what needs to be fixed. And I’ll tell you what I’m going to work on improving.

What are you going to work on?

{Image Credit to West Point Public Affairs on Flickr}

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