Being able to communicate with confidence is a game changer. It’s the difference between getting people to believe in you, or causing people to forget about you. If your customers believe you, they’ll buy your product. If venture capitalists are inspired by your passion, they’ll invest in your company. If your staff trusts your vision, you don’t just have a team — you’ve sparked a movement.
As an executive coach and business correspondent, I’ve worked with and interviewed scores of top entrepreneurs. Though they excel at building businesses, one thing many struggle with is basic interpersonal communication skills. In fact, many can be painfully awkward in public.
Is this you? Do you have a minor case of social anxiety? Are you more comfortable online rather than off?
If so, take a deep breath. No, really, take a deep breath: I have good news.
Being less awkward is easier than you might think. When you build your confidence, you can become a better leader and form deeper relationships, both of which can generate success for your company. Here are five surefire steps you can take to improve your communication swag and become less awkward.
Use the One-Out Breath Rule
People are always going to ask you some version of: “What do you do?”
Have a clean answer ready to go – with one caveat: exhale only once.
By the time you run out of breath, you should have completed your answer. If not, you’re blabbing. If you’re clear and concise, your reward will be hearing, “Tell me more about that.” That’s your cue, and permission, to go deeper.
Winging It Is for Amateurs — Stay on Message
Be like a politician and, come hell or high water, stay on message. Have you ever noticed that regardless of what politicians are asked by reporters, their answer is often unrelated to the question? This is because they have an agenda. So do you.
I’m not asking you to be inauthentic. Just know what’s most important to you and what you want your listener to remember.
Politicians typically have three to five talking points and they don’t stray far from these. You can use this same approach whether you’re speaking with investors, customers or employees.
Listen — People Love to Talk About Themselves
The easiest way to build immediate rapport with someone is by being interested in them. So take some pressure off yourself when you meet a stranger by being a good listener.
Here’s the deal: people love to talk about themselves. Take advantage of this. If you want to be the most interesting person in the room, play the role of journalist and be a great listener.
Try paraphrasing someone’s answers back to them for clarity. Provide guiding cues like, “tell me more about that.” Listen closely enough to create value. Don’t be afraid to make an offer like making an introduction or suggesting a book or app they may like.
Get Your Non-Verbal On
Nothing is worse that being perceived as indifferent, unless you’re a hipster living in Williamsburg. So elevate your communication skills without even opening your mouth.
Use your hands to make points (but be careful not to knock anything over) and make firm eye contact with others when they’re speaking. If you’re interested, nod your head to show you’re in agreement or smile. A little goes a long way.
Do Your Research (Ahead of Time)
Whether you’re meeting someone for coffee, attending a dinner party or having drinks, learn all you can about him or her in advance via LinkedIn, their website, About.me or articles that mention that person’s name.
If you’re attending a conference, find out who else is attending and make sure to follow the conference’s hashtag. Get in the loop.
This creates an opportunity to form context and an alleyway to success. There’s more connective tissue out there than you can imagine. So find the connections and use them to feel familiar.
Antonio Neves is an executive coach, speaker and award-winning business journalist. He’s the founder of the consultancy THINQACTION and the co-founder of international accelerator, The Ignition Lab.