It doesn’t matter how great your idea is if you can’t communicate it effectively. There was a time when communication occurred naturally, almost effortlessly, in the workplace. A short conversation in the elevator. A debate at the coffee bar or water cooler. A meeting in a conference room.
Today things are very different, which leaves many wondering how to improve their communication skills in a virtual world.
There are a lot of different skills necessary for effective virtual communication. And truthfully, you can work a lifetime at honing those skills, but if you want to improve communication quickly here are a few simple, powerful ideas.
Don’t be sloppy.
Imagine being on a Zoom call or in a Teams meeting and you’ve just come in from working in your garden or riding your bike. You probably don’t look too professional. Some might say that is OK, and it is acceptable in today’s work-at-home world. I disagree, however, and the statistics bear that out. According to SMARP and others who have studied this over the years, “7% of communication is verbal, 38% is the tone and inflection, and a staggering 55% is body language.”
What you look like does matter. It tells others you care about the interaction or it’s not that important. Of course, there are exceptions but don’t use that as an excuse.
Sloppiness isn’t just about how you look, it is also about the preparation. If you want to improve communication, be prepared. How much time have you wasted recently waiting for someone to find a document or pull up a presentation? If you are fumbling around looking for assets to share on your screen, you risk losing people’s attention. Take everything you need and load it into one easy to find, accessible location. Anticipate questions or concerns and have back-up materials available.
“Meet and Greet”
If you were meeting or presenting face-to-face you wouldn’t jump right into your content. You would chat, get to know the person or group, and you should do the same in the virtual world. As a former broadcaster, I know the value of asking open-ended questions. Be curious about people and their organizations. Not only will it set the tone for your interaction, it will give you some great ideas about what is important to them so you can improve your communication. Things to avoid: questions that are too personal, politics and (my new one since COVID-19) health.
Cut out corporate speak.
It’s very normal for companies to develop their own way of speaking or a vocabulary that means little to those outside their organization. Think of all the buzz words and acronyms you hear daily:
- Big data
- New normal (really?)
- Customer journey
- Deep dive
- Adding value (what does that really mean?)
Overused words and “corporate speak” get in the way of great communication. I like to encourage people to use easily understandable words and terminology. Or at least explain a term, say “AI or artificial intelligence.” You don’t need to try and sound smart. Be smart. Present thoughtful, concise ideas in a conversational manner. Imagine you are talking to a family member or friend. This is especially important in virtual communication.
Listen intently. Speak sparingly.
Most people think improving communication has to do with being able to speak and present confidently. I would disagree and so do most experts. The best communicators are good listeners. It does not just happen, you have to work at it. Here are a few tips to help you be a better listener:
- Focus on the person speaking. Really look at them and try to tune out everything else.
- Be physically still. Movement causes us to lose focus.
- Avoid the urge to jump in. (This one is really hard for Type A people like me, but it is doable). Instead, wait for someone to stop speaking, breathe, and then begin talking. After awhile it becomes second nature.
- Be aware of your perceptions. The words from a popular Simon and Garfunkel song, The Boxer are, “a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.” When you listen, are you really hearing what the person is saying, or what you want to hear? It makes a difference.
Do a 180-degree turn
In an era of selfies and shameless self promotion, it might be wise for all of us to repeat this phrase.
“It’s not about me.” Do a 180-degree turn and consider others needs. Good communicators know their “audience.” They can understand their concerns, what keeps them up at night, what gets them excited. If you can get to the heart of your audience’s needs and wants, you can connect with them. That’s when you are on the right path to improving communication skills in the workplace. Even better – that improvement spills over into your personal communications.