3 Ways to Improve Your Communication Skills
You may be the most accomplished, write the cleanest code and have an amazing vision for the product but unless you can effectively communicate with both senior management, customers, and team members your ideas are not going to be heard, limiting your career potential.
Being an effective communicator can increase your career (and earning) potential. You need to be able to speak to senior management, customers and team members in ways that resonate with them. Style and content need to be tailored for your audience. Flexibility and preparation are essential.
Let’s face it - technical people aren’t always the best communicators. Sure, watching a software architect is like being at the symphony seeing them arrange all the components together and it is amazing what a software engineer can do with code but then ask them to present to senior management and it isn’t always a success.
If you search popular sites for jobs that include “excellent communication skills” you are going to see over 250,000 results. Communication skills are not just something nice to have, they are essential skills to propel your career forward.
Here are a few tips to help you communicate more effectively.
Simplify Technical Concepts
One of the key skills of effective leaders is their ability to take complex technical topics and present them in a way that management, customers, and team members can understand. Not from a teaching perspective, though that could be part, but in such a way that decision makers can feel comfortable making decisions based on the information presented.
Clear and Concise
For example - take a cybersecurity incident. When an incident occurs, the majority of senior management is not going to want to do a deep dive into the origins of the attack. Nor are they going to want a detailed explanation of how your team found it using various SIEM, IDS, EDR tools.
The message being communicated must be clear and concise. Delivering effective communication to senior management responsible for business continuity is essential in order for them to make the best decisions.
Having ambiguity in your communication to stakeholders directly increases the incident mitigation time. As a result, your message needs to state the issue, business and technical impact, along with the high-level remediation plan and timeline as well as eventual plans to prevent similar incidents in the future.
As a leader managing the incident you would need to translate all of the technical details into clear effective communication up to senior management and across to other teams in your organization.
This in reality is not a common ability. Developing this skill can provide a great path for career advancement. Some of the best leaders that I have worked with had this ability. You want to be the person that others go to to help them understand a topic and empowers them to do their job more effectively.
Tailor Your Message to Your Audience
You need to know who your audience is and tailor your message. Sounds obvious, right? But how many times have you been in a meeting and someone speaks, (and won’t stop speaking) and you wonder what they are trying to say or who they are trying to impress.
Establish Credibility and Connection
You need to establish credibility and a connection with your audience, and this involves engaging with them with the level of detail they require and in a manner they can understand.
For instance, you are leading a team developing a product for an external customer. The status that you provide them should be very different from what is discussed at a daily standup.
The customer is more concerned about feature development milestones, release dates, financial and production operations details. In contrast, your team members are focused on grooming the backlog, capacity to resolve technical debt, and preparing for the latest end of sprint demo.
When you provide stakeholders and team members the information they need in a way that they can easily consume it, you have solidified yourself as a valuable member of the team. This skill is so important yet so often overlooked.
Have Your Message Prepared But Be Flexible
You are all set - have your slides, talking points and you’ve prepared some answers for likely questions. You start your presentation and are on slide 1 when you notice that some of senior management flipping through the slides and are now back at slide 1 staring at you!
What do you do? Well - you spent all that time preparing the slides, stayed up late practicing and you are confident once they see the data on slide 10 they are going to be so impressed with you and your knowledge so onward you go…
This is one of those times where you need to be flexible. I would suggest summarizing some of the information and reducing the time you planned to speak. Rest assured that if information isn’t detailed enough, they are going to ask questions and you can go back.
Everyone is so busy, and it is your job to tailor detail and the length of time you speak to what your audience is expecting at that moment.
On the other hand, sometimes you may find yourself in a meeting where you are scheduled to speak for just a few minutes and find yourself in the spotlight for 30 minutes. Again, you need to be flexible - can’t stop answering questions because you were only scheduled to speak for 10 minutes. This is why being prepared is a given but being flexible in your approach is critical.
I think we can all agree that effective communication is a requirement for career advancement. There are courses available to help with public speaking and of course Toastmaster, but the key is to practice.
Take topics and “present” to coworkers, friends, or family. Get comfortable speaking and articulating your ideas even if your practice audience has no idea what you are talking about 🙂 Ask for constructive feedback to use to refine your communication skills. The key is to find your voice and your style.
You can also record yourself to see how you present yourself and observe your body language, hand movements, and how many times you use filler words umm…
You might also want to consider joining Meetup groups or professional organizations where you have an opportunity to practice your communication skills. You can volunteer to give a talk on your area of specialty. The more you practice, the more comfortable you will become and soon you will be a rockstar communicator!
Christine has 15+ years in the technical industry developing software, leading teams along with extensive experience as a hiring manager. She found that she really enjoyed the process of building teams and interacting with candidates and business customers. As a result, Christine decided to make the hiring process her focus and started Vector Recruiting.