How (and why) to Improve Your Communication Skills
What comes to mind when you think about communication? Confirming plans with friends? Emailing a teacher for help with an assignment? Understanding what your parents want from you?
Communication is all these things. But good communication is so much more than a simple transfer of information.
What does good communication mean? It means making yourself understood. It means including all relevant information in a concise and efficient way. It’s getting your message across and feeling certain that the right people are truly getting it.
Good communication also means really listening to your audience and responding to what they’re trying to tell you, both verbally and non-verbally.
Good communication is not only an important skill for young entrepreneurs to grow and develop, it’s an essential life skill. By learning the art of communicating well, you help decrease misunderstandings, frustration, and confusion. When people understand you and feel understood by you, it builds mutual trust and healthy relationships.
BE A GOOD LISTENER
The first step in improving your communication skills is learning how to be a good listener. Good listening means:
- Giving your audience your full attention (put away the phone!)
- Asking questions if you don’t understand something they said
- Watching for non-verbal cues – does the person seem timid? Distracted? Tired? Excited?
- Trying not to interrupt
If there’s one thing that connects nearly all human beings in the world, it’s that they like to talk about themselves. Show your customers, business partners, and potential investors that you care about what they have to say by learning how to be a good listener.
YOUR NON-VERBAL CUES
Practice paying attention to your facial expressions and body language. Do you slump down in your seat when you’re bored? Do you look over someone’s shoulder when they’re talking to you? Do you fidget?
This part of communication will take some practice, but you can start right this second. What’s your posture like as you read this? Does your gaze keep leaving the article to glance at your phone? Are you bouncing your leg or tapping your fingers? Are you furrowing your eyebrows or tensing your jaw? Cracking your knuckles or playing with your hair?
A good communicator develops the muscle memory it takes to get people’s attention and keep it. As you build this muscle memory, ask people you trust to give you feedback on what they see and how they feel as you talk to them. You can also watch yourself in the mirror or record yourself on video. You might be surprised at the number of things you do without even realizing it!
YOUR TONE OF VOICE
Let’s face it: there are certain stereotypes regarding how people think teenagers like to talk. They expect sarcasm, disinterest, or irritability. Make this work in your favor by not being those things when you talk!
Show others that you care about what they have to say and what you want them to hear from you. Everyone enjoys feeling appreciated. Speak with respect no matter your audience’s age, gender, or position. Teachers, investors, kids, parents, and friends all deserve the same amount of respect when you speak to them.
Talking to adults, especially ones in positions of power, can feel intimidating. Therefore, it’s worthwhile to practice speaking in a way that shows you are a serious young entrepreneur. Investors want to know that you can be a boss. Mentors want to work with someone who believes in themselves. This means enunciating your words, controlling your pitch, and controlling your volume.
CONSIDER THE CONTENT OF YOUR COMMUNICATION
Once you have your audience’s attention, what are you going to say? This is where a little bit of planning comes in. For instances where you will be addressing potential investors, possible mentors, and curious customers, it’s a good idea to prepare by:
- Having a pitch ready to roll off your tongue
- Considering possible questions and having your answers ready
- Practice saying, “I will find out and get back to you,” for questions you may not have the answers to
- Staying positive! Avoid words like, “can’t,” “won’t,” or “don’t.” Focus on the potential of your business, rather than the negatives
- Making your audience feel good about themselves with sincerity
- Not taking too many detours to get to your point
- Making sure your quotes are correct – the correct words and correct attributions
- Looking through your prepared pitch or speech and taking out filler words
- Practicing eliminating words like, “um,” or “uh” from your speech
When your conversation, pitch, talk, or email has reached a natural conclusion, give your audience a call to action. Have business cards at the ready or, with emails, make sure you include all your contact information. Some people prefer phone calls, some prefer texts, and others like using email. Make it simple and painless for your audience to contact you.
Similarly, if you tell someone you’ll get back to them, or will follow up, then make sure you do so in a timely way. Now is not the time to distract yourself by worrying about whether you’re annoying them. People can’t respond to an email they never get! One email, text, or phone call is not spam and may be the difference between doing business with this person or having them forget all about you.
Think of it like this: when you’re at a convention, conference, or other networking events, you’re probably going to meet dozens of different people. Will you remember them all? Following up with someone you meet in a business capacity is a gentle way of putting yourself in front of them again, only this time they can give you their full attention.
Good communication is like instructions or directions. When you want others to help you, you need to give them the specific steps it’ll take to get you what you need. It’s the difference between someone saying to you, “Let’s meet up sometime,” versus “I’ll be at Suzie’s Coffee Shop on the corner of Avenue A and 1st Street tomorrow at noon if you want to meet up to discuss your business.” Let people know exactly what you want and exactly how you can help them, and you’ll find yourself living a much smoother life.
Florida’s young entrepreneurs are encouraged to apply for a Kantner Foundation college scholarship. Learn more by clicking here!