Written by Michelle Riklan
Managing Director of Riklan Resources LLC and expert in employment, employee relations, and training and development coaching.
Millennials like to communicate using texts, emails, chats and emojis. They rely on technology so much that 83% of millennials surveyed in a Nielsen study admit to sleeping with their smartphone, while more than 30% use social media in the bathroom.
It’s hard to blame them — they’re the first generation who grew up with social media and smartphones. So it’s not surprising that 64% of college students consider social media access important enough to ask about it in their job interviews. Some young employees (45%) are even willing to accept a lower-paying job if the employer is more flexible in terms of social media access, mobility and choice of device for work.
Comfortable Behind A Screen
Preference for on-screen communication also affects young people’s career choices, with 70% of college students believing it’s not necessary to be in the office all the time unless there’s an important meeting.
While their communication and social skills are debatable, it’s no question that there are countless situations when a person’s communication skills will affect their career. It could be an interview, networking event, sales pitch or important meeting. In any case, it pays to pay attention.
Five Hacks To Improve Your Workplace Communication Skills
1. Reframe the negative questions in your mind.
It’s easy to get worked up when you’re worried about a meeting. Negative self-talk like, “What if I stutter?” or “What if I forget my materials?” will make you even more anxious and jittery. Why? Because these questions prompt negative answers such as, “I won’t get the promotion” or “They will decline my proposal.”
I often coach new managers and executives who are not used to the spotlight, and the first thing we work on is changing their mindset — specifically the questions that pop up into their heads moments before they present to an audience. Here’s how that works:
First, list three to five positive “what if” questions you can ask yourself. Examples:
- “What if my boss likes my idea?”
- “What if they laugh at my opening joke?”
- “What if I nail the presentation?”
- “What if they ask me questions instead of immediately rejecting my idea?”
- “What if they pay attention instead of checking their emails?”
These questions prompt positive responses, and some of them even trigger your brain to plan ahead. It diverts your attention from all the things that could go wrong, to the things that could go right so your nervousness turns to excitement. Tackle nerves by having a powerful opening to your presentation or speech.
2. Focus on your fans.
Ignore the people who are not paying attention to you — the guy with his arms crossed, the lady busy checking her emails and everyone else spacing out while you’re talking. You’ll just get discouraged if you look at them while delivering an important presentation.
When you’re talking to a crowd, whether that’s a group of five or a seminar with 100 attendees, your best bet is to concentrate on the people paying attention. Find the nodders, smilers and note takers, then focus your attention on them.
3. Be mindful of your body language.
This one is obvious but it bears repeating. The way you stand, how you place your hands and your facial expressions all affect people’s perception of you. Take note of these basic body language tips you can apply in different situations at work.
At a meeting:
- Don’t fold your arms. It signals that you’re not interested or don’t believe in what you’re hearing.
- Lean in to show that you’re listening.
- Smile and make eye contact with whoever is talking. Remember to blink so you don’t look like a zombie.
In a presentation:
- Don’t be afraid to use hand gestures to make a point
- Walk around the stage or in front of the table if you’re presenting during a meeting. Sticking to one side shows you’re nervous.
- Don’t hunch. Stand up straight with your shoulders relaxed. This stance boosts your confidence without making you look stiff.
- Make eye contact with people in your audience when asking questions. Remember to focus on your fans.
4. Accept people’s facial expressions.
Not everyone will agree with what you have to say during a meeting. Accept it. If it’s your boss who doesn’t look pleased, just carry on and know that you can address negative remarks or questions they have at the end of the presentation. You can redeem yourself then.
In big audiences, it’s impossible to get everyone’s approval so don’t let the audience’s blank stare lower your confidence. Sometimes, they’re just trying to process your message.
If someone keeps interrupting you or shouting negative remarks, don’t let it faze you. Let them share your spotlight or stop talking entirely until your audience turns to them.
5. Stop hiding behind a screen.
If you expect your first in-person meeting or presentation to be perfect, I wouldn’t be surprised if you never spoke up and just continued relying on emails and texts to communicate. It’s such a huge loss, though.
It doesn’t matter if your presentation is a bust, or if your comment doesn’t make you look smart in a meeting. What matters is that you stepped outside your comfort zone and spoke up. Your anxiety and mental insecurities will diminish as you get more comfortable talking in meetings and giving presentations in person.