How to communicate with impact

By Anna Jester

Years ago, I was working for a communication consultancy in London and I visited a big construction project that one of our clients was leading. I was there to spend some time with the CEO, working on thought leadership and messaging. He was there for a variety of reasons that day, including the half an hour with me at the end of it all.

I remember the day so well because it was one of the first times I had been truly wowed by the power of great communication. Whether it was chatting with the site workers in the mess room, motivating the senior management team at what was a very difficult time for the project or simply listening to the concerns of the project manager – this guy was like a communication chameleon. He found a way to communicate exactly what the person or people in front of him needed – in the way they needed it. And the effect was palpable.

When it finally came to my 30 minutes with the CEO at the end of the day, I had to ask him how he did it and I’ll never forget what he said to me. He said “with immense difficulty.”

The secret to communicating with impact

Jane Sparrow | The Culture Builders | Purpose & Values

Many of us will look at brilliant communicators and feel in awe at their ease of delivery, natural style and instinctive nouse for a great opportunity to land their message. Often we think something along the lines of, “I’d love to be a natural communicator like that.”  

The thing is – 99 per cent of the time, the reality is that there’s not a fat lot that’s natural about it and it’s actually down to years of practise, rigorous self awareness and meticulous planning. That whole thing of winging it? I’m afraid it’s a myth (in the main). If you want to communicate with impact, you’ve got to put in the graft.

As my CEO proved on that site visit, great communication is so much more than landing a presentation once a month – it’s about continuous exchange, moments of connection, mastering nuance, the said and the unsaid. It’s about the first word you say when you walk into your place of work in the morning to the way you sign off at the end of the day. And everything in between. In other words, brilliant communicators are what we like to call ‘always on’.

Top tips for communicating with impact

So what’s the key to ‘always on’ communication? Here’s my top ten tips to get you started.

  1. A man/ woman with a plan
    Don’t leave communication to chance. Who’s on your hit-list to influence? Who might you see today? Be ready with a communication intervention that’s right.
  2. Consider every communication opportunity
    The water cooler, before and after meetings (whether face to face or virtual), the mess room, the canteen – look up from your emails and work on your small talk (it can lead to some pretty big talk).
  3. Get off autopilot
    How are you doing? I’m fine thanks, you? Yeah all good thanks. Sound familiar? Get off the autopilot and say something interesting. I’m actually great because…you’ll be amazed where it leads.
  4. Great communication goes beyond the verbal
    Make an impact across every communication platform – that includes email, text and more. Remember that 93% of the impression we make is based on the non-verbal too.
  5. Think sideways
    There are so many other ways to deliver content and messages than PowerPoint. Enough said.
  6. Watch and learn
    Deliberately spend time around those who inspire you from a communication point of view. Watch what they do, the impact it has, how they engage. Capture it too.
  7. Fail to prepare
    That CEO I told you about? He mastered his stakeholders, actively trained to listen and never, never delivered content without practising it. Fail to prepare…you know the rest.
  8. Brevity is king
    The ‘simpler, clearer, shorter’ litmus test. If a ten year old child couldn’t understand it, you’re on the wrong track. Less is more – but it takes more time. The really smart stuff? It’s short.
  9. Put yourself out there
    The more you do it, the more you learn – about you, about audiences and about flexing (think chameleon). Lean in when it comes to comms opportunities – and always be brave and ask for feedback.
  10. Connection over communication
    Plenty of people ask for more communication, no-one ever asks for more emails. Remember that great communication is first and foremost about connection. Create connections (think stories, human approach, empathy, face to face) and you’re onto a winner.

Being a brilliant communicator is never about not being you. It’s about being your very best you, and always being self aware. A little bit like what they say about running a marathon, anyone can become a brilliant communicator – by working at it, working at it, and working at it a little more. And when you do become a brilliant communicator, it will undoubtedly change your career – but it will also change your life.

If you’d like to explore communication development and leadership development for your team, get in touch.