One of my golf coaches once asked me how often I play. When I answered honestly that it was two or three times a month (which I thought was a good answer), he guffawed. “Well, then you’ll never get any better.”
He was right; that was not enough practice to master golf—or any skill. However, being good at golf not only requires practice but other factors.
You need the right gear, from properly fitted clubs to gloves, shoes, and balls. You need know the rules of the game. (As the great Phil Mickelson learned on live TV, you can’t hit the ball while it’s still rolling.) And if you’re playing team golf or scrambles, you need to be able to trust your team. Course knowledge is also incredibly helpful. That’s where caddies and course books come in handy.
How does all this translate to building or protecting your company reputation? It comes down to applying these same principles to communications. It’s called becoming a communications PRO: Practice, Rules, and Organization.
Practice: If you think that just because you know your business better than anyone else you can communicate it well, think again. Whether you are doing a sales pitch, presenting your company plans to shareholders/investors, answering questions from the media, or speaking to employees at a town hall, you need to practice your delivery. Nothing says unprofessional”like looking at your PowerPoint slides and skipping a slide because you are not sure what you meant to say. Nothing says unprepared like when you quote certain stats in front of investors but can’t answer their follow-up questions. Nothing says untrustworthy like when you answer your employees’ inquiries with “I don’t have those figures.”
If you think that just because you know your business better than anyone else you can communicate it well, think again.
Get a coach or use your leadership team to practice. But make sure they are leaders who can push back, ask you tough questions, and challenge your assertions. And you want their input on your delivery as well. Pro golfers practice before they play—and then they practice afterward to work out any inconsistencies.
Rules: Believe it or not, there are rules of business communication.
- Know what you want to say. Whether you’re writing a memo or magazine article or talking to a crowd, know in your mind what message you want them to take away. (And this goes back to “Practice”—you can share the speech or memo with someone you trust to make sure that what you want to say is actually what you say.) What are your one or two points?
- Keep it simple. Don’t fill your communications with big words or acronyms unless you know the audience can follow them easily. One of the quickest ways to lose your audience is to talk above them. And you don’t need to give every detail about studies, surveys, or research that you reference. Provide links at the end or offer to send them out if anyone is interested.
- Give them a reason to care. Why should they read this memo/article? Why should they listen to your speech? Is the information important to them in some way? Is there some action they’ll need to take? And to make sure they know what’s coming, tell them what you’re going to say, say it, and then tell them what you said. I’m not saying repeat yourself three times but tee it up with “In the next 15 minutes, I’m going to lay out for you the exciting plans we have for Volterra Communications between now and 2025.” Tell them the plans. Then finish with “In the next four years, our growth projections are strong, we are regularly adding strategic partners, and our clients are crediting us with their success. This is where you come in …” and get their buy-in.
- Edit. Above all, review your communications. Don’t take 10 sentences to say what can be said in one. Reread it in addition to using spell check. Talking about supporting underserved communities is very different than undeserved communities. Have someone else review. You know what you mean, but can it be misinterpreted?
Pro golfers know the rules and they typically know the courses they play. Yet they carry a course book with them, have a caddy by their side, and call on rules officials whenever a situation needs review.
Organization: Being a good communicator takes an entire organization or team. You may be the one who is front and center, but behind you are the numbers people, the IT department, your employees (read: ambassadors), and, importantly, your communications team. If you don’t have one, hire someone! Your team makes sure you are prepared, you have the information you need, your message supports your company values and stated goals, and it is distributed to the right channels. Sending out a press release that no one reads is pointless. Your communications directly impact your reputation—so don’t wing it.
Pro golfers have caddies, managers, trainers, coaches—an entire team. Listen to anyone who is interviewed after winning a major. He/she says, “We worked hard for this; we’ve been working on my swing. It has taken us a very long time to get here.” Only one name is on that trophy, but it’s a team effort.
You may never be a professional golfer. But with Practice, following the Rules and having the right Organization behind you, anyone can become a communication PRO. These principles can help you climb the leaderboard of your career.