“For a business leader, building reputation and trust IS the day job, which makes communications the day job too.”
That quote is by the former head of Marks and Spencer, Stuart Rose, who knows a thing or two about the importance of good communication skills to protect and enhancing your reputation.
It is vital for CEOs to be able to communicate well –
- With customers & clients
- With staff
- With stakeholders such as politicians, regulatory bodies
- With wider public
If you do it well, it will:
- Enhance your reputation
- Make you seem credible
- Calms any nerves about your business and your abilities
- Increases sales
- Persuades people to your cause
But if you do it badly, it can have a devastating impact on your reputation. Who can forget Tony Hayward from BP? And more recently, the Thomas Cook chief executive Peter Fankhauser. Every day, there are more examples of poor communication skills affecting how companies are perceived.
This is Gary Southern, the boss of Freedom Industries, a chemical firm which had a spillage last year which left 300,000 without water for four days – and which has since gone bankrupt.
Gary Southern is really under pressure here.
His big mistake isn’t what he says, but how he says it – the fact he is sweaty and fidgeting, and of course that he swills water throughout the interview.
So it’s his body language and appearance that are the problem. And this is the most important part of being a good communicator – studies show appearance contributes 55% to good communication, your voice is 38% and just 7% is what you say.
So, thinking about your appearance, pay attention to:
- Facial expression – be interested, alert, positive and responsive & listen to your audience.
- Maintain eye contact – if you don’t, you’ll seem uncomfortable or even shifty
- Be natural – if you don’t naturally gesture, don’t do it, and if you do, don’t try and suppress it
- Body language – be positive, be open, sit up straight, don’t slouch, don’t be too tense and don’t invade your listener’s space
- Look right – make sure you are wearing appropriate clothing and are groomed. You need to look like a credible representative of your company. Distraction of wearing inappropriate dress.
- And finally be confident – go into every communication with the right mindset, knowing your material, know how to control your nerves, be that sipping from water, or deep breathing or another technique
Now, the second important thing to consider if you want to improve your communication skills is your voice.
The most important thing is to sound like you mean what your saying – to convey passion – after all, if you don’t sound like you’re interested in what you’re saying why should anyone else be.
But there are a few other factors – neatly all beginning with P. Use all of them, and vary them all to make your voice interesting and your comms effective.
- Pitch – the level, or pitch of your voice makes a difference to how you are perceived. A high squeaky voice it can be unconvincing, and doesn’t necessarily command respect. A deeper tone is more reassuring and authoritative – remember Margaret Thatcher changed her voice when she became leader of the Conservative Party.
- Pauses – these add impact, they give people time to absorb what you are saying, and they also encourage other people to speak.
- Pace – if you speak too fast, you can sound nervous, and people can’t keep up with what you are saying. If you speak too slowly, there’s a danger you might become boring or sound too laid back. The trick is to varyyour pace can add interest to what you say. You might pick up the pace when you want to convey excitement and slow down to add emphasis
- Projection – give your voice some power, but don’t overwhelm your listener. You need to tailor this to the circumstances and your audience. But remember people must be able to hear what you are saying or they may get annoyed or simply stop trying to listen – don’t your voice disappear into you
- Personality – which is all about being natural and using your own personality. If you are trying to be someone you’re not, you won’t sound convincing
Listen to this speech by Steve Jobs, widely acknowledged as a master of communication skills, to see if you can spot him using all these techniques.