Lead, network, grow: 6 communication skills every entrepreneur should master

“The art of communication is the language of leadership.” - James Humes, author and presidential speechwriter

Communication drives every single aspect of a person’s life, from small things like giving directions to an Uber driver to the more important, like the strength of personal relationships.

It’s also the oft-overlooked component that decides if an entrepreneur is successful. Or not.

Learning how to interact and converse with others not only helps entrepreneurs get a business off the ground, but also keeps it going and growing. Having an effective conversation, learning to negotiate, understanding how to listen and knowing how to convey your thoughts allow you to manage conflicts, secure deals, lead employees and so much more. All of which is essential to building a successful brand.

But you have to put in the time and effort to master those skills.

6. The art of conversations

Whether you’re chatting with a supplier, making small talk with a prospect or networking at an event, learning how to carry on a conversation is essential to building your business. Your ultimate goal is threefold: Be approachable, friendly and purposeful.

Tips for success

Avoid SAT words and err on the side of succinct. On average, people don’t listen well—especially when they feel they’re being talked down to or on the receiving end of a speech masquerading as a chat.

Think through important conversations in advance. Consider your end goal for the talk and work backward, considering potential objections and questions while thinking of ways to clearly get your point across.

Study people you respect. Whether you read books and articles written by clear communicators or spend time watching speeches and debates during a lunch break, reading and listening to seasoned communicators will only improve your own skills.

Resources to get started

E-course: Speak English Professionally: In Person, Online & On the Phone

Book: Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, Second Edition

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5. The power of body language

How you speak, and the words you choose, are important. But nonverbal communication has a much greater impact on how you’re perceived and interpreted than anything you actually say. Mastering body language improves everything from how your employees perform to how easily prospects become customers. And understanding others’ body language helps you steer conversations in the direction you need them to go.

Tips for success

Understand the basics. Listen to grandma and purposefully avoid slouching: Keep your head high, shoulders back and spine straight. Make eye contact when speaking one-on-one and look individuals in the eye when addressing a room. And seriously: Don’t fidget.

Learn how to tell when someone is experiencing negative feelings. A crinkled nose, constant touching of the eyelids, furrowed brow and looking away when answering a question all indicate a person is displeased.

And pinpoint what people do when they’re happy. Consistent eye contact, a tilt to the head, leaning forward and a slight outward twist of the hands that exposes the palms indicate a person is interested and engaged.

Resources to get started

E-course: Body Language for Entrepreneurs

Book: What Every Body Is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People

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4. The practice of writing

In today’s business world, a significant amount of communication is done via email, text and social media. Unfortunately, the written word can often be misinterpreted. Learning how to write directly and concisely is an essential component in your arsenal of communication skills.

Tips for success

Eliminate unnecessary words. Nobody has time (or wants) to read through a multiparagraph email when the point could be made in a few sentences. Before you click send or post, wait 15 minutes and read through your work to find words and sentences that don’t add pertinent information. Then click that delete button.

Brush up on grammar basics. You aren’t expected to have perfect sentence structure, but basic mistakes like confusing to and too—or they’re, their and there—reduce readers’ trust in your ideas and capabilities.

Incorporate one pleasantry in written communications. Whether you sign off with “Thanks!” or start with something simple like “Hope you’re doing well!” adding a short bit of small talk relaxes the recipient and eliminates the appearance that you’re cold or upset.

Resources to get started

E-course: Grammar Boot Camp: Easy Lessons for Common Writing Mistakes

Book: The Elements of Style

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And as a bonus, check out this Biz.me article: 9 tips to make every word count.

3. The skill of presenting

Engaging a crowd while concisely relaying information isn’t for the faint of heart. From hosting staff meetings to pitching to investors, you need to simultaneously maintain interest and state your case in a persuasive manner. Clarity, confidence and poise is required.

Tips for success

Devour amazing speeches so you can write your own. Think of public figures who’ve managed to convince you and others of something and read the transcript and watch their speeches. Note how they organized their thoughts, the words they emphasized when talking and their body language. Then, incorporate those tactics into your own presentations.

Speak slowly and with intention. Instead of running through points at a rapid pace, let your words flow like a wave to carry listeners to the understanding you want them to have. This not only helps you guide them to your pre-designed conclusion, but also maintains their interest so they digest the data you’re presenting.

Review your previous presentations—the successful and the not so successful. Even the best public speakers have hiccups. But they learn from them. Thoughtfully review the presentations that netted you results and those that ended up being duds to find areas where you’re doing well, and areas you need to work on.

Resources to get started

E-course: Presentations: Speaking so that People Listen

Book: Storytelling with Data: A Data Visualization Guide for Business Professionals

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2. The craft of negotiation

You know how important effective negotiating is—it’s part of the foundation of building a successful business. From securing deals on services to working out a partnership with a supplier, negotiating is all about the give and take.

Tips for success

Tone down your ego. You can’t expect everyone to give you everything you want, need or ask for (even if your reasoning is solid). Before working out a deal, consider the areas where you can give a little and those that are firm.

Remain confident but approachable. People don’t make deals with someone who seems unsure of themselves. Likewise, you won’t be able to secure a mutually beneficial agreement if you’re cold and distant.

Know your facts top to bottom. Misstating a statistic, making false claims or over-exaggerating benefits opens the door for the other party to back you into the corner or leave the table all together. Do your homework before you meet and write down the facts you want to use so the information you toss out is factual and reliable.

Resources to get started

E-course: Business Negotiation Best Practices

Book: Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It

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1. The necessity of listening

Learning how to listen—not just hear—is the foundation of effective communication. It ties into everything from how you converse to how you negotiate, giving you the information you need to lead employees, manage conflicts, make deals and network with worthwhile connections.

Tips for success

Eliminate distractions. If you’re constantly looking at your phone while chatting with your partner or reading through notes while a prospect is talking to you, you miss essential information. This not only leaves you at a disadvantage, but makes you come across as uncaring. And people don’t listen to those who don’t listen back.

Verbally recap the points the other party is making. This can be as simple as saying “OK, so your primary concerns are X, Y and Z” before proceeding to respond. But that simple step not only shows the person you’re speaking to that you’re paying attention, but also allows you to better retain what you’re hearing so you can have a worthwhile, productive discussion.

Practice empathetic listening. Instead of just actively listening, show the person you’re talking to that you’re on the same page and see what they’re getting at. If someone is concerned, use body language to show that you’re concerned as well. When someone is excited, get excited with them.

Resources to get started

E-course: Active Listening Masterclass

Book: Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone

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Communication—whether you’re naturally gifted at it or have to actively work to improve it—is a skill worth focusing on and sharpening. It might take concerted effort, but that effort will pay off in every single aspect of your journey as an entrepreneur. You’ll be grateful you put in the work.

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