The ability to effectively communicate the vision, issues, and current status of a project is key to being a successful project manager. Unfortunately, I have seen many projects go off track or perceived as a failures because the communication around them was less than effective (to be nice). For this post, I decided to reach out to an award winning, certified Toastmaster and Area Governor for Toastmaster’s International, Jasmin Kelly, for some advice on being a better communicator.
Recently, KPS analyzed over a dozen resources/studies in order to identify the top 5 reasons for project failure. One of the items that consistently showed up on that list was poor communication. Does this surprise you? Surely college graduates, some with advanced degrees, and senior managers must communicate well, no?
JK: “Over 80 percent of our waking life is spent either sending or receiving information. The ability to communicate effectively at work and in our personal life is perhaps the most critical skill for everyone – especially senior management and those in and a position of authority. Communication, in its best form, is the ability to pass on ideas, discovery, experiences and feelings, information, and knowledge. Poor communication leads to poor performance, relationships, lack of production or advancement. Yet the latter may be more common in the workplace.
Some studies have shared that often times many senior leaders don’t realize that communication is a two-way process. In addition to getting your own message across, it is also important to listen to and understand what others have to say…a technique known as “active listening.” Position doesn’t automatically grant access to great communication. Skill is very much required.
Sometimes, an person may assume the listener knows part of the communication and only shares a third of what needs to be shared. Then, they walk away and feel as if the listener didn’t understand and that it is no longer their problem. Other times poor communication is a result of the fact that the people with the information are still processing it themselves. They have not distanced themselves enough from the problem to discover that there are other people around them who will also be requiring that information.
Sometimes poor communication is a result of people speaking too quickly or even too slow (which is one that is usually overlooked) for us to properly absorb what is being said. They may be too loud or too quiet, use words that we don’t understand, or use words that are so juvenile that they don’t express the importance and details required for the statement. These forms of bad communication cause individuals to lose the information before it enters our minds.
Ideally, people should communicate clearly, at a comfortable rate, with a practical vocabulary, and in an engaging tone. They need to get to the point before the listener can lose interest or miss the point altogether. There are no degrees or leadership positions that will allow you to attain this skill. It’s one that must be worked on by everyone.”
As a certified competent communicator, award-winning member and Area Governor of Toastmasters International, what are the common mistakes you see people make on a daily basis?
JK: “The most common mistakes individuals make during communication is assuming and not asking enough questions to understand. It’s okay to ask for clarification regardless of one’s job title. Also, being a naysayer towards others’ opinions is not the right position to take. At times, some individuals might assume that being negative (they call it challenging) and over analyzing someone’s comments or suggestion might allow them to appear more intelligent. However, it only makes the pessimist look like a smart aleck, a poor listener, and worst case the “know –it– all”. Lastly, talking in circles and not really making any sense. Sometimes, less is more. Know your audience. People can tell when you are trying to talk yourself into the right answer.”
What is it that Toastmasters does to help individuals become more effective communicators?
JK: “The key to being great at anything requires practice, practice, practice. That’s exactly what Toastmasters allows the members to do. It fosters a friendly and warm environment where members can practice and learn together. It teaches how to be mindful of your audience, learn to get your message across in a matter of a few minutes and most importantly it teaches you how to listen. Also, as shared on the Toastmasters website, “There is no instructor in a Toastmasters meeting. Instead, members evaluate one another’s presentations. This feedback process is a key part of the program’s success. With over 13,000 clubs in 100+ countries, I am sure you can find one near you“
Is it your experience that this translates into stronger leadership? Why?
JK: “Toastmasters not only helps an individual grow in their communication abilities through active listening, but also teaches the members to learn how to share vision, information, knowledge, motivation, collaboration and team spirit. Additionally, it teaches planning and goal setting, delegating authority, team building, giving feedback, coaching team members, motivating people, working for the team, and resolving conflict. Moreover, it allows a leader to focus the team so they can ignore distractions and pay attention to what’s most important. These are all essential characteristics of a great leader.”
Doesn’t Toastmasters focus only on giving a scripted speech or can the skills taught be transferred to other modes of communications (i.e. – written, meetings, etc)?
JK: “While some may think that, it’s not entirely true. There are opportunities where members need to practice making presentations via power point. It teaches the importance of using PowerPoint as a tool not a crutch. Also, there are opportunities to work on impromptu speaking. This is done through table topics. An individual will ask you a question and you have to think of something to say well in 1-2 minutes. The objective is being a better communicator off the cuff. There are also advanced manuals that will allow a speaker/presenter to work on a specific skill; i.e. adding humor to their presentations, or becoming a great story teller, etc.”
Project managers spend a lot of time sharing status updates that can often be dry content…dates, dollars, etc. How can the add some color or make this a more interesting delivery to capture the audience’s attention?
JK: “Jokes or questions are definitely the best way to capture the reader off the bat. These hold very true for presentations or speeches however, you may do this for social media as well. BIG Fish presentations share 5 best ways to open up a statement or presentation.”
Toastmasters is an ongoing program, but you offer your clients a condensed workshop called “Toastmasters in 10”…can we ask you to squeeze that even more and get us to the top 3 things folks should work on today, in order to be more effective communicators in the coming week/s?
In no particular order the top three things folks should work at is:
JK: “1. Active listening. Communication is more than talking. Listen very well and ask questions.
2. Clear and concise communication. Know what you want to say and say it in a concise manner, making sure that your audience understands.
3. Body language. Your eyes, hands and facial gestures are a vital part of what you have to say. Be cognizant of your body gestures and others when you are communicating. Often times, it’s easy to see that you have lost your audience by their body language.”
Jasmin Kelly is a passionate speaker that engages her audience with a conviction and energy that is second to none. Whether she is delivering a faith-based message at your church or an effective communications seminar for your company, Jasmin will draw you in with her transparent and light-hearted personality. With over a decade of experience at some of Fortune 500′s top companies, Jasmin has extensive experience working across every function and at every level of the corporate environment. This exposure to world-class organizations has provided her the tremendous opportunity to develop skills in leadership, communication, and personal development.
To formalize her skill-set, Jasmin has been an active member of Toastmasters International, previously serving as the chapter’s VP of Education, then chapter President, and now Area Governer. Through these efforts, she has developed an extensive skills-set to analyze and coach others to become exceptional communicators. Additionally, Jasmin has trained and earned her certification as Community Chaplain via Corporate Chaplains of America. In 2004, Jasmin earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Organizational Management & Leadership from Nyack College.