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How to improve your communication as you move up in leadership...

Updated: 2 days ago

This week, I hosted a media training session with three C-level executives at my day job and let me be clear, it is not often that you get three executives willing to give four hours of their day solely dedicated to focusing on their communication style. The fact that our executives gave us their time - and had an extremely engaging session - is a testament to this group’s willingness to continue learning and developing, even as leaders.

The training was focused on their media-readiness: education about journalism, how to interact with reporters, how to speak to our key messages, and mock interviews to get the feeling for an interview in general. 

All of that is extremely important - but during the session, it also got me thinking about communication style in general. And specifically, how your personal communication style may shift as you grow in your career. 

I’ve seen good examples of this, and bad examples of this - and after being in front of three C suite members for four hours in a conference room, I thought I might share a few reflections with you as you’re continuing to grow in your own career. 

Giving Direction: There will be a tipping point in your career where you go from individual contributor to management. You may not have direct reports, but you will start recognizing natural areas where you are influencing the conversation more than usual and giving direction to people who are supporting a project you’re leading. Quickly, you’ll have to identify things like:

  • What aspects of the project should I be passing on to someone else?

  • How much information do they need to get the job done? 

  • How can I empower them to feel excited about the work I’m asking for?

Presenting in Meetings: As you move up in leadership, opportunities to present will come up more often and it will feel different from when you presented as an individual contributor. Not only will you not necessarily have your leader to lean on during the presentation, but the stakes will be higher knowing that you are likely representing work done by a team of other people. A few things that I love seeing leaders do for presentations:

  • If someone else did a substantial amount of work on the project you’re presenting, ask them to present their slide. Not only does it show humility as a leader, more importantly it earns respect from your team members by simply giving them an opportunity to present the work they did. 

  • If you’re unable to bring team members into your presentation, call them out by name and thank them for their contributions during the meeting. 

  • As you grow, presentations will likely be more strategy-based. It’s important to present a thought-provoking strategy while also gently leading the group to the desired outcome.

  • Grab my “Presenting Strategy in Corporate America” to learn more about creating an effective strategy. 

Speaking with the media: As you become more well-versed in your area, you may also start to get tapped for media interviews. This means that you are a well-respected subject matter expert in your field and the company feels confident in your ability to represent their viewpoints. A few things to consider:

  • Speak with your PR team before ever saying “yes” to an opportunity with a reporter

  • Understand who you are speaking with and the story angle they might be looking for ahead of the interview

  • Have a mock interview with someone you trust before diving into the real thing

  • Understand that there is no such thing as “off the record.”

  • Have a PR representative with you when interviewing

Small Talk: Communication styles carry in and out of professional settings. Even if you are simply walking the halls of your workplace, in the break room, or waiting for a meeting to begin, communication as a leader still matters. You are someone many young professionals are looking to as an example so it’s important to hold yourself accountable for those moments as much as you do for a presentation. A few things to remember:

  • You are human. Whether you are the CEO or just starting out in your leadership career, you are human first. So, asking about the weather is a perfectly acceptable way to make small talk. 

  • Creating relationships with people at all levels of your organization is important.

  • Sharing a conversation ahead of a professional meeting can diffuse the tension or nerves that other people in the meeting might be feeling. 

Maybe this blog is more about leadership presence, but I think it’s important to emphasize that a lot of leadership presence is centered around strong communication with everyone around you - regardless of their level in the organization. 

So as you find yourself in positions of leadership, I would encourage you to remember the first time that you sat in a room with people who were much more seasoned than you in their careers. How did they speak to you? To others? To the group? Is that how you’d like to be remembered as well? 

Want to take the first step on your own journey to finding your voice? Download my ebook! "Public Speaking, Womansplained."

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