How leaders can develop strong verbal communication skills

“You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get them across, your ideas won’t get you anywhere.”

The words of Lee Iacocca, the visionary car executive, who led both Ford and Chrysler.

They were said many years ago, but they seem even more pertinent in the modern world, where strong verbal communication skills are increasingly viewed as a must-have 'power skill' for CEOs and business owners.

Whether speaking at a face-to-face town hall meeting, talking to the media, delivering a speech, taking part in a Zoom meeting or giving feedback to team members, good communication styles and skills are pivotal.

And, with more of us working remotely in hybrid models decreasing opportunities for verbal communication, these skills will only become more crucial.


Why are verbal communication skills important in the workplace?

Good oral communication skills are needed to avoid confusion, misunderstanding and delays. They enable work to get done better and faster.

They also prevent arguments and relationship breakdowns, keep morale high and staff turnover low.

And good oral communication skills help leaders build the connections that enable businesses to thrive.

Poor communication, on the other hand, is costly. A survey in the US estimates a $1.2 trillion annual loss among businesses in the country due to poor communication.

But don't just take our word for it. Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, believes verbal communication skills are the "most important" skills a leader can possess.

"Communication makes the world go round," he said.

"It facilitates human connections, and allows us to learn, grow, and progress. It's not just about speaking or reading, but understanding what is being said - and in some cases what is not being said. Communication is the most important skill any leader can possess."


So, how can you develop effective verbal communication skills?

Here are some tips to help with your verbal communication techniques and skills from our leadership communication training:


Keep it simple

Simplicity is a crucial component of oral communication.

There is often a fear simplicity means dumbing down.

But if leaders want to persuade, influence, convince, inspire and convey information successfully, people need to be able to understand what they say. Remember, not everyone has the same knowledge and background.

The Washington Post has a rule for its opinion columns that applies perfectly to leadership communication - "The more complex the thought, the shorter the sentence".

Whether you need to deliver messages verbally or through written communication, long sentences with complex language make sentences hard to understand.

Simplicity is inclusive. It saves everyone time. And it means the audience is more likely to remember what you have to say.


Be transparent

Complexity is not the only barrier to effective verbal communication.

Lack of trust is another big issue.

So, a leader's verbal skills must include transparency for workplace success.

What does that mean?

Well, it means employees want to feel like they are in the loop. They want to feel leaders are communicating the good and bad news with them.

To achieve this, leadership communication must be consistent, open and honest.

But it is a little trickier than that. Although it sounds contradictory, leaders also need to develop an understanding of when not to be transparent and when to communicate different types of information.


Be human

We want our leaders to be human.

That means you should be willing to share vulnerabilities, mistakes from your professional life and what keeps you up at night in your verbal communications.

We all have struggles and uncertainties. We don't always know all the answers. Sharing this is not a weakness.

Instead, speaking about these vulnerabilities helps build connections by showing more of your personality and story. It helps help leaders resonate with those they lead and build trust.

And it removes the burden of leaders feeling like they need to be perfect.


Embrace the power of storytelling

There is a lot of hype about storytelling. It has become a buzzword.

But it is not new - people have always told stories, verbally or in writing.

It has, however, become an increasingly crucial verbal communication skill for business leaders to master. And use in their written communication.

Storytelling helps create credibility and build rapport. In presentations, it enables leaders to find common ground with their audience.

Stories capture attention, entertain and keep people engaged.

They evoke emotions - vital for persuading and influencing.

And stories are memorable. Your audience might struggle to remember facts and figures. But a story can stay with people and impact what they think.

The best stories are human - people are fascinated by stories about other people, not policies and procedures,

You can learn more about storytelling skills in this recent blog.


Use metaphors

We often stress the importance of using metaphors during our media training courses.

And they work just as well in business meetings, verbal communications and public speaking.

Leaders are sometimes reluctant to use them because they feel it might seem unprofessional or not work in formal communication.

But metaphors help people grasp ideas and main points and can make the complex understandable by comparing them to everyday situations.

They make messages memorable, help build rapport and stir your audience into action.

Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer during the pandemic, became well known for using metaphors in his media briefings.

Here's how he explained why it made sense to give booster jabs early rather than wait for more evidence on post-vaccination immunity.

“I don’t know if many of you are used to crawling into small tents on mountainsides," he said.

“But if you know a storm’s coming up in the night, it’s better to put some extra guy ropes on there and then, than it is to wait until it’s the middle of the night, it’s howling with wind and rain, and you’ve then got to get out your tent and make your tent secure and by the time you crawl back in you’re soaking wet.”

That is a far more memorable way of saying, ‘it is better to be pre-emptive and prepare for the worst’.


Practice active listening

Being an effective communicator isn't just about what you say.

Leaders also need to be excellent listeners.

Listening is a vital part of oral communication. And it is vital skill for leaders that helps build relationships and develop trust.

It shows you care about the other person, their ideas, knowledge and insight.

So, when others speak, show you are engaged in the conversation, remove (or turn off) distractions like laptops and mobiles, and ask open-ended questions that help uncover further information.

“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said."

That's a quote from Peter Drucker, a leader in the development of management education.

People rarely fully share everything that is going on. Listening also involves observing body language, facial expressions, and eye contact to understand what support might be needed.


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Watch your tone

That subheading sounds like a threat rather than the start of some verbal communication advice, doesn't it?

But leaders looking to improve their oral communication skills need to consider their tone of voice and the impact it can have on their audience.

The way someone speaks can convey meaning beyond the words used.

Someone who speaks in a monotone way is more likely to bore the audience than communicate effectively.

A warm, friendly tone can make leaders appear approachable and convey empathy to the audience.

An assertive tone can suggest confidence and authority.

Varying tone can add emphasis to important points.

If you want to persuade people of a new idea or initiative, a passionate, enthusiastic tone can help turn doubters into believers.

Good leadership communication skills include the ability to vary the tone of your voice for a range of business situations and audiences.


Non-verbal communication skills speak volumes

We all use a lot of words.

But much of what we communicate is not verbal.

Experts believe between 70 and 93 per cent of communication is non-verbal.

So, it is not just what you say, but how you say it.

It means that to improve your verbal communication, you must master your body language.

For example, not maintaining eye contact when you speak during a business meeting or presentation can make you seem untrustworthy to your audience.

A smile can help show you are passionate and enthusiastic about a new initiative or product rather than just telling people you are excited. Animated hand gestures can also help here.

Slouching can suggest you are not interested in what others are saying and does not convey active listening or focus.

The role of emotional intelligence in verbal communication

Like storytelling, emotional intelligence has become something of a leadership buzzword and receives plenty of focus.

The phrase was first coined in the 1990s, and it means leaders having the ability to understand and manage your emotions and recognise and influence the emotions of others.

In terms of effective communication, this means knowing your emotions and how they impact the way you communicate with different audiences, reducing your chances of becoming flustered or saying something you regret.

But it is also about understanding the views, ideas and positions of others - and different situations - and adapting what you say and how you say it.

Need some help with your leadership verbal communication skills?

Our leadership communication courses help leaders develop their verbal communication skills, find their communication style, develop emotional intelligence, give better feedback and improve their body language so they speak with clarity and confidence.

And become a good communicator.


Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers. 

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