In my last article, Two Simple Ways to Become More of a “People Person”, I talked about two techniques that will ease your discomfort of meeting new people and relieve you of the burden of thinking you have to be charming or conversational. But at some point, you will probably be expected to actually open your mouth and speak. Being a great listener is a wonderful thing, but if you never have something to contribute to the conversation, people will view you as secretive and not to be trusted.
There are those who are naturally gifted speakers and communicators. Then there are the rest of us. Here are two things that have helped me develop better communication skills.
From blogging, I’ve realized that people who disagree with you will sometimes resort to personally attacking your character. (Gee, sounds like real life, doesn’t it?) While it’s tempting to respond in kind, knowing when and when not to respond is an important communication skill, both online and off. When I do choose to respond, I try to overlook the unkind statement and provide some meaningful feedback—if not for the person I’m replying to, then at least something others will find helpful.
Writing clarifies my thoughts and helps me be a better communicator overall. I find the more I write, the better I’m able to express myself verbally. Because writing forces me to think about what I’m going to say, I find myself thinking about what I’m saying aloud before (and even as) I’m saying it.
Who would have imagined that speaking could actually improve your communication skills? I’ve heard that the ability to speak in public is one of the key ingredients of success. Given that fear of public speaking is listed as the #1 fear, and fear of death is #6, it’s safe to say that most people would rather die then speak in front of a group. If you’re determined to overcome your fear and master this important skill, here are a couple of organizations that can help.
Toastmasters International is a non-profit organization that helps people develop public speaking and leadership skills through practice and feedback in local chapters. This type of training will help you with all your presentation skills, whether that’s a job interview, proposing a new idea to your boss, a sales presentation for a client, or selling your wife on the idea of buying that new motorcycle you’ve had your eye on … the list is endless.
One thing I liked about Toastmasters is that, at least once per meeting, they will throw out a topic at you, and then give you just a short time to think about it before you have to give a brief talk on it. This teaches you to “think on your feet”—an invaluable skill I sometimes lack.
A more expensive option is Dale Carnegie Training. While you can learn a lot from his books, the extended course provides valuable ways to help you apply what you learn.
Can introverts be successful in careers that require extrovert skills? I know of two such self-described introverts: Dr. Ivan Misner, founder of the worldwide, 120,000 member networking organization BNI; and Alan Weiss, business consultant and author of Money Talks: How to Make a Million as a Speaker. Neither of these men let their introversion get in the way of becoming successful communicators and businessmen. And neither should you.
Former owner and partner of web firm Jenesis Technologies, John is currently Director of Digital Strategy at Haines Local Search, a company providing local search marketing solutions to SMBs, including print and Internet Yellow Pages, web design, and local SEO. When not working or spending time with his family, John offers great sales and marketing advice on his blog, Small Business Marketing Sucks.