“To communicate well is to run the world … ”
… is what I would’ve said if someone had asked my opinion of the most important skill you can possess.
Maybe it’s an overstatement, but there is a nugget of truth buried in it that’s worth exploring as you prepare your resolutions for 2017.
Good communicators are deeply valued by their employers, and for good reason. Being a good communicator means you can pitch a new project, mediate disagreements, lead a team, and advocate for yourself and your abilities in the interest of a larger paycheck. And who doesn’t want to be able to do all these things?
Regardless of your career and job title, communicating well will serve you … well. So in the name of New Year’s resolutions, commit to upping your communications game in 2017.
Here are three steps to get you started.
Step 1: Join Toastmasters.
Public speaking is listed as the No. 1 fear. Greater than the fear of sharks, spiders, heights, and, yes, even death. And yet public speaking is required by most job titles—i.e. the boss asks you to present at an all-staff meeting, make a donor pitch, be a panelist, moderate a panel, speak from the stage at an annual conference, attend a networking event, etc.
The best way to get over a fear? Do it. Practice really does make perfect ( … or close enough).
If you’re unfamiliar, Toastmasters is a membership organization that teaches you how to speak in front of crowds. Over and over again, you’re asked to present to a group of your peers (other members of Toastmasters) and then receive feedback on your performance.
There’s no better way to improve than by practicing, or trying and failing and trying again. Toastmasters lets you do this in a safe space (in this case, “safe space” is a good phrase). Also, you can definitely add this club membership to your résumé and LinkedIn profile.
So again I say, join Toastmasters.
Step 2: Use social media … effectively.
We’ve known for a long time that traditional broadcast media is out and social media is in. Citizen journalism is legit and breaking news happens instantaneously in 140 characters or less. A recent stat claims that 62 percent of adults get their news from social media.
It’s a big change, but it’s happening. And in order to engage, you must understand how it works.
Numerous articles have outlined why social media has made us worse communicators, but hear me out. Like many things in life, social media has its pros and cons—I’m asking you to capitalize on the pros.
Social media allows you to reach out and communicate to a broad audience with very little effort. It also gives you immediate access to breaking news and other people’s opinions—it’s hard to claim ignorance after scrolling through your Twitter/Facebook/Instagram feed.
Knowledge of what the other side is saying about a certain policy issue enables you to better communicate your angle on the same policy issue and influence undecided.
But also, social media is where millennials live. And if they’re the next generation, you probably want to engage with them. Communicate your ideas to them. Persuade them.
Step 3: Always be learning.
By “always be learning,” I mean listen to and read how others communicate. Podcasts of all kinds are numerous and not only give you a chance to hear how others speak and form thoughts and arguments, but an entire genre exists to teach you how to communicate. Think TED Talks, talk radio shows (that you can stream online), digital media podcasts, etc.
Please expand outside your Twitter feed and the self-help section at the book store to find pieces to read. Be a student of the world around you, including pop culture. Read opinion pieces via news sites, journal articles, great books, etc. Though it’s tempting to glance at a headline and assume you understand its contents, you likely don’t. Open the link and read it.
Also, the more you learn, the better you are at small talk, which is a useful form of communication at networking events and parties. Anything you can do to connect with the person on the other side of the conversation is worth the effort. Not only do you gain knowledge, but you form a connection too. And sometimes that connection can lead to a job offer or a new hire for your team.
With only a few days to go in 2016, consider the current state of your communications game and how you can improve it by this same time next year. The steps are few and pretty easy to follow—join Toastmasters, use social media, and listen to and read how others communicate. Not only will you reap the benefits professionally, but personally too.
And if “become a better communicator” is too boring to add to your list for 2017, feel free to hide it under “run the world.” Same thing.