Growing up, investor Warren Buffett was terrified of public speaking. As a result, he decided to sign-up for a Dale Carnegie speaking course while attending Columbia for his MBA. He realized he would never make the type of impact that he wanted to if he did not improve his communication skills.
On the first day, Mr. Buffet’s nerves got the best of him and he did not attend. Months later, after seeing another advertisement, he gave it another shot. This time when he registered for the course, he paid in advance to ensure that he showed up.
Today, in Mr. Buffet’s Berkshire office you won’t find a diploma from Columbia, but a certification from his speaking course. This is because developing the confidence to speak in public changed his life.
Why is This Important?
If you cannot communicate your ideas effectively, it’s like smiling at a girl in the dark. You can have the best ideas in the world, but you have to be able to communicate them. Successful people have passion, grit, and persistence. However, these traits are moot if we cannot effectively communicate our ideas, thoughts, and feelings.
As someone who grew up shy with a stutter, I spent the better part of my life improving my speaking and writing skills. Now, I make a living conveying investment ideas to investors and speaking with CEOs day-to-day.
Below are some exercises that will improve your communication skills:
1. Write Daily
The habit that shows up repeatedly in some of today’s most successful people is some form of journaling practice. Being successful demands clarity of thought, and few exercises accomplish this faster than getting your thoughts on paper.
If you are prepping for interviews, write your answers on a piece of paper. Put down your favorite stories, take notes on a book you are reading, and notate what you are learning daily. Jot down every business idea you would like to get off the ground.
If you reserve time to write out your thoughts, you will be more confident when it comes time to verbally express them. On a personal note, my stutter decreased significantly when I began writing, which was at university. It makes perfect sense: I no longer worry about what I am going to say, since I have already written it down.
2. Watch Monologues and Speeches on YouTube
In order to be an effective communicator, you have to see what effective communication looks like. Watching monologues from Conan O’Brien or Jay Leno is a great way to get started. My personal favorite is Craig Ferguson and his “best moments,” which you can find on YouTube. He is one of the most quick-witted comedians I know of.
Taking a deeper look into the nuances of these monologues go into being an effective communicator. Some people may make it look easy, but no matter how “natural” they may appear, you can be sure each of them has put hundreds of hours into practicing.
3. Observe the Strong Communicators in Your Own Life
Watching speakers on YouTube is good, but observing effective communicators in your life is equally as effective. Every work meeting, encounter on the street, or coffee chat is an opportunity to learn from the effective communicators around you.
(1) What is their body language like when they approach you?
(2) Do their eyes make you feel comfortable? Do they smile?
(3) Do they listen more than they speak?
(4) How quickly do they speak?
(5) How do they structure their complex ideas?
4. Record Yourself Using a Camera
When it comes to improving our communication, the webcam is the best tool at our disposal. Start with the dreaded question, “tell me a little bit about yourself?” Do it again the next day. And then do it every day for a week. After about 8-10 takes, you should be able to answer that question without any hick-ups.
After you are confident with this answer, grab another interview question. Move onto telling your favorite stories and take what you learned from YouTube and the people in your own life to make necessary adjustments.
5. Reach Back Out to People You Admire
Proactively putting yourself in front of people you admire will force you to do your homework beforehand. It will also speed up the learning curve in regards to asking engaging follow-up questions. You will be much more comfortable talking about your values, experiences, and what you want.
6. Teach People Whenever You Can
When I studied abroad in Brazil seven years ago, I taught English at an American school to earn extra cash. It turned out to be one of the best decisions for my career. I had to create engaging lesson plans and present the material in an effective and succinct manner. It was also the ultimate lesson on simplification. If I wanted my students to understand me, I had to speak clearly, BOTH in English and Portuguese.
Today, I teach entrepreneurs how to manage their business finances and offer services in investment banking and private equity interview preparation. Not only do I earn $50-100 an hour, but I am also sharpening my “own” ability to explain the material.
Opportunities to teach others will improve your ability to simplify complex thoughts while learning keep people engaged. Warren Buffett puts it best – “If you can’t communicate and talk to other people and get across your ideas, you’re giving up your potential.”