John William Gardner (Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under President Lyndon Johnson) said, "If I had to name a single all-purpose instrument of leadership, it would be communication." As a student of leadership, this means understanding and internalizing the importance, and nuance, of communication as a resource in our leadership toolkit.
I remember learning a long time ago that only a small percentage of communication involves actual words: 7%, to be exact. In fact, 55% of communication is visual (body language, eye contact) and 38% is vocal (pitch, speed, volume, tone of voice). Suggestions to maximize each of these percentages:
Successful leaders understand the power of words. If only 7% of our communication is verbal, we must employ every effort to make each, and every word pack a punch. Think about leaders you admire, they simply do not stumble for words. They don't pause in the middle of a sentence to search for the best way to say what they mean. Like these leaders, if you speak with intention, your actions take on a new purpose. Speak with power, and you act with power.
Use power words to be most effective. These are words that your listeners already know their meaning, and they will know how to react. They'll understand precisely what you're saying when you deploy them. Which sounds stronger? "This new program will be money-making," or "This new program will be lucrative." While the meaning is similar between the choices, the second one leaves nothing to interpretation.
This is non-verbal communication, otherwise known as "body language" or “visual.” Confidence is used to describe those with a strong visual presence. Characteristics of confident people include:
- Posture – standing tall with shoulders back
- Eye contact – solid with a 'smiling' face
- Gestures with hands and arms – purposeful and deliberate
Video tape yourself to ‘see’ how others ‘see’ you. Video small group meetings, 1:1’s with your boss / employees or even your practice time. With attention on the previous characteristics, you will find opportunities to improve 55% of your communication style.
What are your listeners hearing? These tips will help your communication vocals:
- Practice! The more prepared you are, the more confident you will sound. Preparedness for all meetings, big and small, will be reflected in your tone
- Tone. People will respond better if you have a pleasant, down to earth tone
- Communications will be less effective if you sound arrogant or too soft
- Passionate. There’s nothing more compelling than a speaker who is obviously passionate about the topic!
- Rhythm. Vary the rhythm of your voice to keep it interesting and pause to emphasize a point
- Speed. Aim for about 100 words per minute
Placing emphasis on honing your communication skills is a great deposit in your leadership bank. I've written here on how to communicate effectively and persuasively.
Question: What communication skills are in your leadership toolkit?