If 22 years of coaching international professionals in public speaking, relationship building, conversation and presentation skills has taught me anything, it is that communication is an art. In its simplest terms, communication is the act of transferring information by speaking, writing, or another medium. Mastering this skill is no longer an option but a crucial part of working and leading in today’s world.
But how do you as a leader communicate information accurately, and as intended? What happens when your audience is simply not in a state to receive your message, and how can you pick up on the nonverbal cues that the audience is relaying in response?
Truth be told, communication skills are not hard to develop, but they must be developed correctly. People need to be taught to know why they have chosen to speak. This needs to manifest itself in their choice of words, their tone and mood. Most importantly, as effective communicators they always need to be aware of the needs of their audience. According to recent studies from the United States, we are on autopilot more than 90 per cent of the time, 95 per cent of us think the same thoughts we thought yesterday, and our attention wavers 46.9 per cent of the time.
This builds a case for permeating the mindlessness fog of your audience to communicate in a way that engages them and makes you feel seen, heard, respected and understood.
Together with the UNSSC, we have had the pleasure of developing and delivering leadership communication trainings for the UN at large. We have supported the building of skill competencies for behavioural sciences, strategic thinking and stakeholder mapping. During this period, one of the most interesting sessions we have delivered is the “Communication, storytelling and public speaking as your leadership tools” module on the UN Emerging Leaders e-Learning (UNEL-e) Programme where we get to meet inspirational mid-level UN managers who have realized that as their career progresses, the importance of communication skills increases.
So, we teach them what we like to call the “Communication Code”.
Unlocking the Communication Code
Our teachings revolve around our proven model, the “Communication Code”– which is broken into three phases to guarantee that UNEL-e participants are equipped with the foundational communication skills that are conducive to their professional success at the United Nations.
We believe that the ability to prepare for communication is one of the most effective skills that leaders can cultivate, because in their roles they often have to explain complex strategies, or new approaches in a simple way. For most leaders, it can be tempting to ignore this first step, running the risk of regretting things that were said or not said. To avoid this common mistake, we teach participants how to assess the resources that they have at hand, to ensure that they are prepared to use compelling information, facts and sometimes visual aids to communicate their points effectively. In preparing, leaders also need to be mindful of the fact that they can be very compelling, but still lose their audiences. As such, our team of experts also guide UNEL-e participants on how to anticipate their audiences’ reactions, and make their presentations novel, interactive and stimulating.
Whether you’re sending a reply to an email, or presenting a new strategy, effective communication will determine how you are perceived as a leader – do you know how to prepare? We have taught this to hundreds of mid-level managers on the UN Emerging Leaders e-learning Programme.
The human brain is wired to receive and process information in the form of stories. Therefore, one of the most effective ways to engage your audience is through storytelling. Stories, as we have come to learn, help your audiences become emotionally receptive to the facts, as opposed to just consuming the information you are sharing. They are useful for building trust with your audience and making them more willing to process the information and take action where it is required. Effective leaders understand this, and are able to engage their colleagues on a personal level, inviting them to hear their story and move towards a desired action. On the UNEL-e programme we teach aspiring UN leaders how to find the human aspect of every communication engagement, they are trained to find the story that will engage their audiences and make them want to hear more – and finally make them remember their messages. We also take a dive beneath the surface of stories, and show leaders how they can apply them to their work environments.
Sometimes communicating with a small or large audience can induce pressure, and all the good preparation and storytelling techniques you have incorporated can be worth absolutely nothing, if your nerves get in the way. As such it is important learn and practice how to communicate well when it matters most. There are many ways to achieve this – doing breathing exercises before the you speak, adjusting the volume of your voice to match the environment, making eye contact when you are addressing a specific person, avoiding slouching and adopting good posture. All of these factors allow you to deliver your message with confidence, which is important for leaders, as people are more likely to take to their ideas if they are presented with confidence. There are plenty of lessons to be learned about communicating well when it matters most, we cover these and more with leaders during the UNEL-e Programme.
There is, as you can see, much to learn about the “Communication Code” and how to develop your own way of working with this vital part of your workday. Learning how “cracking it” can save a lot of energy and help you become and even more effective UN leader. If you are interested in sharpening your communication and presentation skills, I invite you to look no further than the 2022 edition of the UN Emerging Leaders e-Learning Programme (19 October-1 December, 2022). Should you wish to see the testimonials of our alumni please have a look at the trailers and testimonials here, the graduation speeches from the last cohort here, read spotlight interviews here or search for #UNELE2020, #UNELE2021, #UNELE2022, #UNELEeca across social media.