Five essential business communication skills you need to know

Business communications are becoming more monotonous these days. Briar Goldberg, Director of Speaker Coaching at TED shares a few essential business communications skills.

By Briar Goldberg | Director of Speaker Coaching at TED

I’ll never forget the moment I realized just how monotonous business communications have become. At the time, I was an executive communication consultant. It was a busy month so I had back-to-back meetings helping people prepare for board presentations, town halls and keynotes. The first meeting was with the CEO of a manufacturing firm. He handed me his keynote script, which started with the quote, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” That seemed fine, and, if I’m being honest, I didn’t give it a second thought. That is until my next meeting the following week. This time, with the CFO of a large retailer. She gave me her outline for a board presentation and in the middle of the page was “culture eats strategy for lunch.” “That’s strange” I thought. “What are the odds that silly quote comes up twice in a week?” Turns out, the odds were pretty good, because, I kid you not, three days later, I was watching as another client dropped “culture eats strategy for breakfast” into a speech at a tech conference.

Freak coincidence? I’m afraid not. These days, especially in business, so many of us are saying the same things without even realizing it! This is a huge problem especially when audience attention span is so limited and you’re trying to stand out!

So, how do you rise above the noise? I have a few thoughts that will help:

1) Frame your communication around a unique idea.

At TED, we think a lot about spreading ideas. So trust me when I say that the best way to stand out is to frame your communication around a single, unique idea. In order to do that, you have to understand the difference between a topic and an idea.  

► A topic is the general guidance given to you before a speech or presentation. Topics are high level and meant to point you in the right direction. Here’s an example:

     • “Could you give us a presentation on the future of work?” 

► An idea is a unique angle of your topic. When you share your idea, your goal is to make your audience see your topic in a new way. For example:

     • “When robots take over our jobs, we’re going to be happier and more creative.”

2) Make sure you tell the right stories.

I’m sure you’ve heard the story about storytelling.

Our ancestors sat around the campfire telling stories. As a result, we’re “hardwired” to connect with each other through stories so you must tell stories in order to connect with your audience.

Yes, stories help us connect. But I’ve met so many speakers who feel they must tell very personal stories in order to create that connection. The truth is, telling a story about your grandmother during a strategy meeting is just distracting! So, if you’re going to tell a story, it’s critical that it be apropos to the idea you are presenting. The real reason we’re “hardwired” for stories is because it’s easier for our brains to understand information in narrative form vs. a list of facts. Which means that good stories don’t always have to be personal or emotional.

3) Always speak like a human.

Seems obvious, right? But in business, many of us write and speak more formally than we do with our friends. These days, your audiences want AND expect you to sound conversational. So, when you’re preparing to speak, stop and ask yourself if you’re using the same language and sentences structures you’d use if you were having coffee with friends.

4) Eye contact is important, but do you know why?

Eye contact and audience participation are highly correlated. When you look at your audience, they stay engaged. When you don’t, they’re more likely to tune out. Think about it this way, if you were in a conversation with two other people, and both stopped looking at you, do you think you’d speak more or less? Making real eye contact (no forehead scanning, please) means you actually look someone in the eye, long enough to share a moment, before moving on to someone else.  

5) Build-up your own credibility by taking charge of the way you’re introduced.

If the audience knows they’re about to hear from the best possible messenger (i.e. you), they’ll be more likely to pay attention and pass your message along! This is why you should never leave the introduction of your expertise to chance. Instead of trusting the conference organizer to find and regurgitate your LinkedIn resume, offer to draft your own introduction! That way, you can make sure the audience gets the most important information in the most engaging way!

Try these tips in your next presentation, speech or meeting and I promise you’ll stand out from the crowd!




Briar Goldberg is TED’s Director of Speaker Coaching and is a public speaking and strategic communications expert. She’s worked with executives and CEOs from some of the world’s largest companies and has taught business communications at Stanford University and Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.