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  • Writer's pictureMaddie West

Why you need to communicate better, and 4 skills to get you there

Too busy to think about #communications? Your job, and the success of your organization, might suffer for it.

In addition to hampering global #outreach efforts, those unable to communicate what they are doing, and (more importantly) why they do it, are not effectively demonstrating the importance of their work to their bosses, colleagues, clients and donors.

Failure to champion your own value can result in your work not getting the recognition (or funding) that it deserves.

Regardless of your job title, it’s worth a little effort to develop some basic communications skills. Here are four good communications practices everyone should work towards mastering:

1. Explain what you do and why you do it, clearly and concisely.

Too often we are afraid of ‘dumbing-down’ our work, so instead we complicate it to the point that no one understands our message - let alone remembers it.

Learn how to summarise your work or arguments clearly and concisely, so that a 10 year old could understand before losing interest.

You probably tell people what you or your organization does all the time. Do you also tell them why you do it? People care more about impact then processes, so be sure to highlight yours every chance you get.

A key point to keep in mind is to always remember the “so what?”. Whether writing a report, doing an interview, giving a presentation or talking to a potential partner or donor, the most important part of what you’re saying is always why it matters.

"...the most important part of what you’re saying is always why it matters."

This goes for #writing too. Learn to express yourself in fewer words, and you will reach more people with your message. Could your sentence be shorter? What about your paragraph? Have you repeated yourself anywhere? Challenge yourself to write better, and don’t be afraid to ask for input from others.

2. Give a presentation that gets the audience to focus on you - and remember what you said.

Many people use PowerPoint as a crutch, but that doesn't mean you have to. We have all seen - and some of us are guilty of delivering - crowded #presentations loaded with bullet points and crude graphics. Not only does this look unprofessional, it’s ineffective. A crowded or text-heavy slide distracts from your voice and muddies your message. Your audience will read ahead and tune you out.

"A crowded or text-heavy slide distracts from your voice and muddies your message. Your audience will read ahead and tune you out."

If using #slides, ensure they emphasize or frame your point, rather than repeat or distract from it. Use visuals, and don’t be afraid of white space!

Use speakers notes to include additional information if planning to distribute the presentation. Finally, when representing your organization, be sure to use the most recent slide deck and/or logo.

If you are giving presentations regularly, talk to your communications team and think about doing some training on how to be a great presenter, or how to design a better presentation. These skills will serve you well!

Bullet-point boycott anyone? Keep slides clean enough that the audience can digest the content in a couple seconds. If they are struggling to read or understand the slide, they are definitely not listening to you speak.

3. Get familiar with your organization’s communications guidelines and resources.

Taste is personal, but good #design is not - and it’s more important than you think. The way an organization is represented visually can impact it’s reputation, influence and reach.

"Taste is personal, but good design is not - and it’s more important than you think."

While there are many right ways to do design, there are also ineffective ways. Your communications team is trained to identify design flaws that can impact effectiveness, from a logo that won’t display properly in a single colour or at high resolution, to fonts or colour contrasts that will render a product illegible at print.

This is why organizations have corporate #branding guidelines. Guidelines remove personal preference from the equation and focus on what works for the organization, based on proven design methods and standards.

Ask your communications team for any guidelines, templates, or other resources that will save you time and ensure you are always on brand.

4. Keep your communications team in the loop.

If we don’t know what’s happening, we can’t share or promote the great work you’re doing. Let us know about upcoming events, publications you’re cited in, interesting news and advances in your area. Think of communications as part of your job, with your communications team as an expert resource to help you showcase your value and work.

Your communications team is for more than just making things look pretty! Make sure you keep them in the loop and make the most of the support they offer you.

While this list is far from exhaustive, they are four simple communications skills that you can work on today to help you reach more people with the messages and impressions you want them to take away.

Let me know the best communications tips you've received in the comments!

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