Communication is all about giving your audience something they haven’t got. An answer to their pressing questions. A quicker way to get what they want. A better way to improve their lives.
Entrepreneurship is much the same: identifying something the marketplace hasn’t delivered. A process with too many steps. An objective with too many obstacles. Anything desirable that’s too expensive.
Thus, successful entrepreneurs are always thinking of ways to improve their communication skills. It’s just good business. They usually try to improve in five areas: presenting, writing, negotiating, persuading and cross-platform collaborating.
Before we dive into these critical business communication categories, let’s focus on a few core essentials for effective communications:
- Put your audience first. Forget about what you want to say.Focus on what your audience needs to know.
- Establish a goal. What should your audience understand when you’re finished? What bullet points should they take away?
- Create an outline. Use your bullet points to break down your message into chunks that are easy to understand.
- Keep it simple. Avoid complications that tax your audience’s patience and understanding.
(Related: What happens when business communications go bad? Learn from others’ goof-ups in these eight epic communication breakdowns.)
OK, let’s start looking at ways to polish your communication skills.
Writing: credible and professional
You don’t need the skills of a reporter for the Wall Street Journal or the Harvard Business Review. But you do need a few essential qualities:
- Brevity. Slash unnecessary words, phrases, or sentences. Avoid cliches and redundancies.
- Credibility. Base your arguments on reliable research from authoritative sources. Never lie or plagiarize. Help the reader trust you.
- Tone. Tune your writing voice to your readers’ expectations. Executives appreciate a formal tone, while salespeople probably want a conversational tone that excites and inspires.
Remember that the best writing creates an image in the reader’s brain. Find ways to make your writing visual. (Need more help? Check out our 10 tips for improving your business writing skills).
Presentations: clear and confident
All the advice on writing applies to public speaking. But there’s another wrinkle: your body language. Of course, you want to convey confidence and authority. But it also may help to learn a few savvy non-verbal cues telling people you’re intelligent.
The folks at Fast Company magazine published 15 tips for better public speaking. A few highlights:
- Dump the note cards. Prepare, research, and rehearse until you can cover your topic from memory.
- Get personal. Add stories from your life to make emotional connections with your audience.
- Use video. Record yourself to find ways to improve.
Negotiations: effective and reciprocal
Negotiation is the art of creating win-wins. You maximize your rewards while delivering maximum value to your counterpart. Every successful negotiation strengthens business relationships, giving people incentives to see things your way.
The experts at Harvard Business School, which trains titans of industry from around the world, shared a half-dozen winning negotiation skills. Their advice: Always come to a negotiation prepared, knowing what you need and how you’ll deliver value to your counterpart. Set the stage with a “zone of possible agreement” — a range of acceptable outcomes. Then develop strategies and tactics based on an honest analysis of your strengths and weaknesses and your counterpart’s needs and expectations.
(This syllabus from a Harvard negotiations class gives a good overview of essential negotiation skills.)
Argumentation: reasonable and persuasive
People are bound to disagree because you can’t see the world from somebody else’s perspective. But sometimes you’ll have to overcome disagreements and get people to embrace your perspective.
Start with basic debating principles: build your case on facts, logic, and reason while avoiding fallacies and stereotypes. Attack the argument, not the person making it.
And take this advice from those who study the art (and science) of persuasion: people’s emotions are far more important than facts or logic. These persuasion tips from Inc.com can help you learn to understand people’s inner motives and discover ways to get them seeing things your way.
Collaboration: Strategic and tech-savvy
Finally, you need technology to streamline communications with clients and colleagues. Mobile devices and cloud-hosted applications make it easy to collaborate with partners, customers, and experts around the world. These tools run the gamut from voice to text to video.
One of the most useful tools for solo entrepreneurs and owners of micro-businesses is a digital phone. It’s not a device. It’s software that runs all the operations of a telephone on any internet-connected device (smartphones, tablets, PCs). This software is economical and full of features that give you the credibility of your own business phone line.
Check out the Grasshopper app to see why a digital phone is a good idea.