Far from being a soft skill, verbal communication is a critical factor in any organization’s success. Speaking clearly, concisely, and persuasively will help you find clients, build professional and personal relationships, and manage staff or volunteers. It’s an important skill whether you’re a business owner in the United States or anywhere else in the world.
Last month, I had the pleasure of teaching public speaking and business networking to a group of women entrepreneurs from Rwanda and Afghanistan. These women were attending the PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS training boot camp in Dallas, TX hosted by The Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women. Through partners like Bank of America, the program provides training, support, and mentorship to help women grow their businesses and strengthen their communities. These women then return to their countries to become change agents, using small business to revitalize their economies.
Their industries ranged from retail to catering, from tourism to energy, and, like all business owners, they recognized communication as a critical skill necessary for success. In my work coaching men and women around the world, I’ve learned that no matter where we come from or what language we speak, we all get nervous before a presentation, we all feel anxious about difficult conversations, and we all dread speaking to larger and larger audiences.
Every time you speak, you have the ability to influence people’s thoughts, actions, or behaviors.
Here are 5 steps to communication success:
- Visualize your audience. During our training, Jeannette Nduwamariya, who has spent 15 years working in women’s empowerment and also owns and operates a company that sells fuel products in Rwanda, talked about the importance of addressing rural women with different life experiences by saying we need to meet people where they are. Whether you’re in Rwanda or the United States, would you speak the same way to your colleagues as you would to your friends? How about to your clients? Before a speech, presentation, or strategic conversation, start by identifying your target audience. What language do they speak? What cultural differences do you need to take into consideration? How do they feel about your subject?
- Consider the power of your words. Every time you speak, you have the ability to influence people’s thoughts, actions, or behaviors. History has shown that communication can be used either to inspire and unite or manipulate and divide. Look at your speech or conversation as an opportunity to build people up and inspire them to greatness. Set a clear goal for your message and use it to keep you focused and concise.
- Ask yourself, Why you? Why are you passionate about the work that you do? What makes your eyes light up? The answers to these questions provide you the energy and confidence to inject personality and enthusiasm into any speech or conversation. When we relate to one another on a personal level, we push past the business veneer (or cultural differences) to build authentic, durable relationships of trust.
- Practice, practice, practice. We are all busy and may feel that we don’t have time to prepare our communication in advance. But would you go on a client call without any pre-call planning? Would you walk on stage without writing a speech in advance? The more strategy in your preparation, the better the communication will be. Find a practice buddy from your organization and practice your speech or conversation in advance.
- Take up space. As a former opera singer, I know the effect posture has on our voice and on our stage presence. Whenever you give a speech or presentation, stand tall and let yourself take up space. Florence Uwicyeza, who owns a stationary store in Rwanda, talked about the importance of body language when she said, “When I stand tall, I feel like I mean business!” The research behind Amy Cuddy’s book, Presence, shows that our posture actually affects how confident we feel.
In any organization, verbal communication matters. Whether you’re giving a speech or holding a difficult conversation, take the time to visualize your audience, use your words to build people up, connect with your authentic drive, make time to practice, and finally, stand tall. While women entrepreneurs from Rwanda and Afghanistan will use these skills to grow their business and invest in their communities, we can all use these skills to help us find our voice and our courage to speak.