“In general, those who have nothing to say contrive to spend the longest time in saying it.” — Abbott Lowell, early 20th century American lawyer and president of Harvard University

There is no one best communication style or magical speak-by-the-numbers formula that will make you a compelling verbal communicator. However, if you master the following steps, you’ll become an above-average communicator and leader:

  • Steven Covey’s principle “seek first to understand,” is an important starting point. In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People he writes, “If you want to interact effectively with me, to influence me. . . you need first to understand me.”
  • Everyone is tuned into the radio station WIFM — What’s In it For Me. Talk in terms of my — not your — interests.
  • Keep it simple, direct, and conversational.
  • Never hide behind a written speech that you read. We want to see and hear from the real you.
  • Be clear what your communication objectives and main points are before you open your mouth. Start by giving them to me.
  • End by summarizing what you’ve told me and outlining what I should do next.
  • Illustrate your presentation with personal anecdotes, examples, and stories. Talk in the first person. Go light on generalities, theories, and philosophies.
  • Where possible, support your main points with facts, data, or research.
  • Use occasional touches of relevant humor (don’t tell old jokes) to lighten things up and show your humanness.
  • Prepare an outline of your key points.
  • Use short, action-oriented words. Don’t perpetuate polysyllabic obfuscation!
  • Put passion and energy into your presentation. Keep linking back to the team, organization, or personal Context and Focus (vision, values, and purpose) that’s most meaningful to your audience.
  • Get reactions to what you’ve presented. Try to lead a discussion around your main points.
  • Continually get feedback on your presentation skills, style, and approach.
  • Take training in public speaking. Find safe environments and forums to practice and get coaching on your presentation skills. Increasingly, your speaking and presentation abilities (verbal communication skills) will determine just how effective a leader you will become.
  • Do you keep your spouse or life partner informed? Would he or she call you a good communicator? You use the same pattern, frequency, and quality of communications with work partners. Set this as one of your improvement goals if it’s an area that needs work.
  • Return phone calls the same day or immediately the next morning. When you don’t have an answer yet, call and say that you don’t have an answer, but you’ll get back to them by a certain time. Then do it. On such leadership examples are trust and strong communication cultures built.
  • How much do you communicate? What do you mainly communicate? What portion of your communications reflects your Context and Focus, strategic imperatives, and core measurements? Who says so besides you?

George Bernard Shaw once observed, “The greatest problem in communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished.” It’s an important reminder. Education and communication — like so many aspects of personal, team, and organization improvement — are never finished.