This is part eleven of twelve. We’re almost done with the habits of high performers, but if you just got here, make sure you check out these other posts:
They are Continually Developing their Communication Skills
If you spend time on my blog, chrislema.com, you know that I write about three or four topics often (WordPress, New Product Development, Leadership/Start-Ups and Sticky Teaching). Three of them often make sense to people because New Product Development is my “what,” while WordPress is my “how,” and Leaders/Start-Ups are my “who.” But then people get to the Sticky Teaching stuff and wonder – “What’s this doing here?”
It’s easy to think there’s no rhyme or reason to the topics on my site, but that’s not the truth. The reality is that very little can be accomplished in today’s world without the ability to clearly articulate the main point. Very little can be accomplished without the ability to get your point not only heard, but understood. Very little can be accomplished without the ability to make sure your point is remembered after you’ve left. That’s what Sticky Teaching is all about – the ability to get an idea to have traction.
I work a lot on making sure my presentations are as effective as I can make them. Often it takes weeks for a 40-minute presentation. It requires time to find the right images, time to get at the core of what my main point is, a lot of thinking about transitions and examples, and time to pull it all together. But you know what happens right after I’ve presented something? People walk up and thank me, and then add that I’m a natural communicator.
It’s Never Natural
No one is a natural communicator. At least not how we mean it when we say it. Sure, we’re all driven to try to get a message out there. But no one delivers great material by chance simply because they were born talented.
Because it’s political season, I’m reminded of how great Ronald Reagan was in front of people. Regardless of what side of the political spectrum you’re on, you’ll find someone in your party trying to claim their ideas match Reagan’s. Why? Because people remember him fondly. Because of his policies? Unlikely (though there are some). No, the reality is that we remember him because he was a gifted communicator. But you remember what he did before he went into politics, right? He was an actor. A person who spent a lifetime practicing his lines.
Just to make sure I engage or offend everyone equally, let me bring up another politician and my all time favorite President – Bill Clinton. I’m not very political, so I’m not making a statement about his policies. Or his morals. Don’t get me wrong. But for me, Bill Clinton was and is a master communicator.
But was it natural? No. Want proof? Check out his speech at the 1988 Democratic Convention. Pretty sure you’ll agree it was horrible. Now compare it with his 2012 Democratic Convention speech. Can you see the difference? Like him or not, Bill Clinton is one of the most effective communicators out there. But it wasn’t something that happened by chance. And it didn’t happen overnight. Instead, he focused on his communication skills consistently. And because of that continual investment, the two speeches are nothing like each other.
Three Tips to Improve Your Communication
1. Don’t write your speech down.
Do you know what happens when you write down what you’re going to say? It’s pretty easy to predict. You end up reading what you’re going to say. And that results in poor performances. So since you know you don’t want to read your message to people, don’t write it down.
I asked you to watch part of Clinton’s message in 2012. Some of you may not know this, but almost 50% of the text of his message wasn’t on the teleprompter. He was creating as he was going. You can’t do this if you are limited to reading something you’re already written down..
2. Tell Stories
Few people remember facts and figures on their own. It’s just not natural. A good story, on the other hand, can not only be remembered but also re-told over and over again.
When looking at habit nine, I introduced you to the Ritz-Carlton. I told you about their own daily huddles. And I told you the central office would look over all the submitted stories to pick a few “wow” ones for that day. Do you know why they do it? Because people will remember and even share those stories over and over again – and it will influence how they think and how they act.
3. Speak More
I could give you ten more tips about Sticky Teaching, but only one more thing is critical – and that is that you have to keep practicing. I try to present in front of people at least 20 times a year. If I could, I’d push it even higher.
Continual improvement comes from continual practice. So keep practicing and make sure your staff has opportunities to practice.
At the company where I work, because it’s a software company, one of our divisions has a user conference every year. It brings all the customers to a single location for learning, networking, keynotes and classes. With 6-8 tracks, and 8 classes in each, it’s not surprising if I’m asked to present 10-15 different sessions during the conference. I love doing it. I enjoy it. And most importantly, it gives me energy and an easy way to connect with people.
But a few years ago during the staff evaluations I mentioned that I wanted everyone on my team to get better at presenting. These are serious software engineers, but it’s my take that all high performers have to continually develop their communication skills. So I put it on their list to learn. Of course just assigning it to someone doesn’t make sense. You have to create the space for them to practice. You have to create the space for them to try and shape (and deliver) key messages and then provide feedback.
So after a year or two of having them present more and more, after a year or two of having them lead phone calls and demonstrations for one client or another, I decided that I wouldn’t give any talks at the upcoming User Conference. Instead, I assigned them every talk that would have been assigned to me. Even if I was better. Even if I liked it more. Creating space was more important.
The Eleventh Habit of a “Done Done” Culture
You can’t just tell yourself you’ll get better at communicating. You have to practice. You can’t just assign your team the task of getting better and hope it happens. You have to create the space for them to test and try.
When you want to propose a new project – you need great communication skills.
When you want to reject a new client– you need great communication skills.
When you want to raise your rates – you need great communication skills.
When you want to disagree with customers – you need great communication skills.
When you want to close the deal – you need great communication skills.
When you want to deal with conflict – you need great communication skills.
When you want to recruit the best – you need great communication skills.
When you want to let the bottom 10% go – you need great communication skills.
In everything you do, especially if you want to be and want to lead high performers, you’ll need great communication skills.
So practice. Create chances for you and your team to present. And whatever you do, don’t give all the important talks to the same person over and over. Because people don’t learn if they’re not given a chance.
What would happen if you thought about that “fear” before speaking as adrenaline that was there to help you get motivated to succeed?
What new meetups can you attend and present at?
How can you get more chances to test out the stories that go with what you’re selling?
What fears do you have and how can you move past them with help?