“I used to be good at delivering my message and now I am out of practice.”

That is what a smart and innovative CEO told me recently as we discussed preparation for a significant pitch. 

Pandemic hibernation and a move to virtual meetings, rather than being in the room, has wreaked havoc on basic communication skills. 

Communication is a contact sport. To be a good communicator requires continually building your skills and developing muscle memory. Just because you know the tools to communicate, doesn’t mean you are using them well. In fact, despite the plethora of ways we have to communicate, many people lack or have forgotten basic skills and practices. 

So how do you find—or relocate—your communication groove?

1.) Clarify your purpose. 

As in sports, there are rules for engagement. In sports, the goals are clear–get the touchdown, get the puck into the goal, hit a home run. When engaging with others, you have to have equally clear goals. Be clear in your own mind why you are communicating? Are you informing?  Sharing a new idea? Seeking buy-in? 

2.) Understand the other player.

Too often we speak from our own point of view without regard for our audience’s needs, wants and understanding. Ask yourself some key questions: Are their objectives in line with yours? Why is it worth their time to hear what you have to say? How can you add value? Why should they care?

3.) Test your message. 

You know what you want to communicate. But are you expressing what you want to say in a way that others can understand? Middle message syndrome is something we see often where clients, particularly those in technical fields, describe how the product works or provide mind-numbing detail about the minutiae of a policy, without first describing or explaining why it is meaningful to the audience. Sharing your thoughts with others ahead of time and asking for some feedback can give you valuable insight on whether you will be connecting. And if that isn’t possible, watch the reaction of your audience closely.  Do they look confused? Are they looking down at their phones? Are they nodding with understanding? Stop and check in with your audience to ask for feedback and be prepared to pivot if something isn’t working. 

4.)  Train and practice. 

Proficiency in any sport requires training and practice. You don’t one day wake up and run a marathon. You carefully build your endurance. With communication skills, you must invest the time to develop and hone your skills. Practice in front of a mirror or record your presentation on your phone to observe your stance, voice, and expressions.  It can be painful to watch yourself. But it’s only by seeing and hearing the ways in which you’re expressing yourself that you can make adjustments. And make sure the practice you do moves you forward and away from bad habits. Enlist those in your organization’s communications department or colleagues who are excellent speakers, writers, or presenters to help you. And consider investing in communications training. A third-party nonjudgmental expert can enhance your skills. 

5.) Avoid the PowerPoint trap. 

PowerPoint can be an effective tool in supporting your presentation but only if you use it correctly. Don’t overload your slides with words or charts filled with data. Pull out words or numbers that convey and reinforce your messages. Use images and pictures to illustrate your points and make sure they are large enough to be seen at the back of the room or on a phone. And lastly, don’t overwhelm your audience with too many slides.  You want to engage—not put them to sleep. 

Being an effective communicator doesn’t happen by accident. It’s also not one and done.  Achieving the mindset and skills for exceptional communications is a lifelong endeavor. 

If you think you or your team could up their communications game, Wainger Group can help.  We offer customized virtual, in-person and one-on-one workshops, trainings and coaching on communications skills building–from how to write engaging and persuasive copy in any medium to making the perfect pitch to running a meaningful meeting. Reach out to schedule a consultation. For more tips and strategies, sign up for our newsletter