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Five steps to make the leap and become a more compelling communicator in the Covid era

By 26th April 2022May 16th, 2022Blog, Developing communication skills
Business Woman Jumping

From Churchill to Obama and most recently Zelenskyy, great leaders all share something in common – they are always great communicators.

In times of crisis and change, effective and compelling communications make or break our spirits and ultimately determine our success.

We live in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world and Covid has further accelerated the pace of change. Simply put, communication has never been more important for business leaders.

Yet while tech is transforming how we can communicate with each other, we must remember that tech offers tools to facilitate a compelling communicator, not the techniques to become one.

So, to help ensure communications delight rather than disengage in our virtual and hybrid working world, here are five ways to be a more compelling communicator in this covid era…

1. Make a meaningful connection first

When was the last time you changed your view or actions for someone you didn’t trust? Whether we’re meeting someone for the first time or have worked with them for years, we need to build and rebuild trust and rapport before we can effectively communicate.

In person interactions are so rich. Connection and culture are the reasons so many employers are keen to get their people back into the office – at least some of the time. We get to see the whole person, to read their entire body language, to chat about the weekend and build relationships.

Making that connection is much harder when we’re working remotely. Microsoft’s 2022 Work Trend Index reports ‘only half of remote workers say they have a thriving relationship with their direct team and fewer still with those outside it. Yet more than half of hybrid workers are thinking about shifting to remote working in the year ahead.’¹

Meaningful connections precede meaningful communications, even though making those connections virtually requires greater effort.

One thing we can do to replicate what happens when we meet in person is to make eye contact. Looking directly into the camera, rather than at pictures of participants on screen, helps those we speak with feel like we are looking directly at them. This works best when the camera is eye level – we don’t want it lower than that, otherwise it appears we are looking down on people.

Another thing we can do is avoid launching straight into a meeting. Just think of all those in person meetings before Covid. We never took our seats in silence and waited for its convener to launch into the matter at hand. Build in some time to check in, or even try holding meetings for no other purpose than to get to know each other better.

2. Don’t ignore the broader context

Things feel challenging right now. We’re into our third year of Covid, yet much of the world remains unvaccinated and even in highly vaccinated countries, infection and hospitalisation rates seem stubbornly spikey. The war in Ukraine is incredibly unsettling and is impacting those far beyond that country’s borders. There’s also an unprecedented rise in the cost of living around the world – people are beginning to worry about paying essential bills.

We live and work in an interconnected world, our teams are often global so we can’t afford to ignore the wider context when we communicate. We don’t need to have all or any of the answers, but it is important that we acknowledge our difficult macro environment and let people know that it’s okay to talk about what’s going on and how they are feeling.

We know external factors can impact productivity. Yet we also know the most productive people are those with purpose, so we mustn’t forget to help our teams see how their work contributes to the wider mission and vision. More than ever in challenging times, people want to understand their work matters and is meaningful.

Compelling communicators remind people of what they are working towards. They connect the dots, so everyone is clear how their work contributes to the bigger picture. They do that while acknowledging the wider context because they understand the work we do doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

3. Be clear, concise and consistent

Even when we’re communicating live on camera, so much is hidden from view it can be easy for our messages to be misunderstood. But whether written or spoken, keeping our words, sentences and paragraphs concise and jargon free is important. In a busy world people value clarity and respect for their time.

There’s also no such thing as overcommunication. A series of short snack-size communications are better than a single supersized one. We consume far more soundbites than long reads, and we need to hear something multiple times before it sticks.

As George Bernard Shaw perceptively pointed out:

“The biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

Compelling communicators resonate because they are clear, concise and consistent.

4. Get creative with the content you want to communicate

Messages alone aren’t enough. Great communicators think about the how as well as the what. Tone and technique matter. And one of the most engaging techniques is storytelling.

Before written language, we told stories. We’ve evolved with story, which is why we’re mesmerised by them. Whether used in written or verbal business communication, good stories grab and hold our attention. They simplify the complex and help us connect on an emotional level. All great communicators understand they need to employ Pathos (emotion), Logos (logic) and Ethos (credibility).

Tone matters too, especially when sharing difficult messages. Empathetic rather than evasive (or abrasive) language determines how others react to what we share.

One of the most recent and impressive examples of great tone and storytelling is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ‘message to the Russian people’. ² Without wishing to stray into politics, from the outset, Schwarzenegger maximises his tone and use of empathetic language in his bid to connect with his intended audience. Throughout he also shares several personal stories, weaving them with fact. It’s a beautiful example of how to blend pathos, logos and ethos to communicate about something that’s raw, difficult and emotive.

5. Create two-way communication

And last but by no means least, compelling communicators involve their audience and evolve their communications. They appreciate communication is two-way, that they need to balance broadcasting their messages with listening, then refine their future communications accordingly.

Great leaders don’t shy away from this critical step even when they know they’ll be unable to act upon everything. We may not entirely agree with every outcome, but we’re far more accepting of it when we feel our input has been genuinely heard and considered. Compelling communicators excel at the art of listening, then agilely adapt and refine their future communications in response.

Clear, consistent and compelling communication has always been important, never more so than now. These five steps will help you make giant leaps forward in these challenging times.

Axiom offers practical, proven and creative ways to partner leaders to develop, design and deliver compelling communications that secure results. We partner leaders to develop their writing, speaking or storytelling skills; can help them create engaging and psychologically safe virtual meetings that promote two-way communication, and can simplify complex change, strategy or vision messaging to put everyone in the big picture

¹ Work Trend Index 2022, can be found on Microsoft’s website and downloaded via the article ‘Great Expectations: Making hybrid work work’, 16th March 2022.

² Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ‘A message to the Russian people’ is available on YouTube. The full 09:16 clip, published on 17th March 2022, already has over a million views.