I’ll bet that you didn’t take up your technical profession because you were a good communicator right? Most engineers, technical professionals, and project managers started out the same way I did – in an engineering, computer science, math or other science based curriculum to which communication skills were an add-on. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever met a technically trained professional who got a minor in communication!
BUT, communication accounts for over 80% of our professional jobs as project managers (PM’s) and technical professionals – especially once we start managing people and working with stakeholders to get projects done. And, if you are like most managers who started out in a technical position, it’s likely that you’ve never stopped to think about the top 7 communication skills that can make or break your career today.
So, as a refresher to those whose training includes communication and as guidelines for the rest, I present the Top 7 Communication Skills for PM’s (project managers) and technical professionals in the 21st Century: (that is, if you want to convey professionalism)
#7 Email etiquette:
One might argue that body language and tone do not translate well in e-mail communication, however, the use of “all capital letters” conveys yelling, as does the use of red type font. Ensure that all email is written with the same level of professionalism used for formal memos including a formal opening (Dear xxx) and closing (Respectfully, Carol) with proper paragraph spacing. Spell checking is a must, and shortcut texting and emoticons do not belong in office emails. Don’t email anything without reading it through at least twice before hitting send.
#6 Good meeting manners:
So much of our working life is spent “meeting” and while meetings can and do offer opportunities for effective problem-solving, too often they evolve into dysfunctional wastes of time. Be aware and respectful of attendees’ time by providing agendas (with topic items that include subject, person responsible for the item, outcome (decision, discussion, for information only, etc.), and time allotment) and follow-up with meeting minutes within 24 hours. It is also a good idea to summarize action items in the last 10-15 minutes of a meeting to make sure that those who took on assignments understand the actions they committed to do. An effective and humorous video outlining good meeting plans and featuring John Cleese (of Monty Python fame) is available in many corporate libraries (google: Meetings Bloody Meetings video).
#5 Public speaking skills:
Whether a presentation is an informal 10 minutes during a staff meeting or a formal town hall address to the corporation, nothing says professional better than a practiced presenter. If the thought of formal presentations scares you, find a local toastmaster group in your neighborhood and overcome the “Um’s” and “Ah’s” that cripple technical mobility. It’s a common fact that public speaking ranks in the top five of worldwide fears (just below fear of death) so you’re among millions (if not billions) if public speaking is not one of your skills. And, toastmaster’s is for people just like you who want to get better at speaking in public settings.
#4 Presentation prowess:
“Death by PowerPoint” is one of the worst conference situations – especially when a technical or project management professional addresses an audience and reads their slides. Powerpoint should never be a crutch for your presentation – rather use it as your backdrop to reinforce important keywords and concepts. Find a good presenter (and a good website) and emulate their style and soon you’ll be presenting with prowess. As in all new skills, practice makes perfect – so make sure that your presentation is practiced, timed, and moves well.
#3. Avoid TLA’s and FLA’s:
(TLAs are Three Letter Acronyms and FLAs are Four Letter Acronyms). It is said that English is a common language that separates us – and it is even more true when acronyms are used. I don’t know of a quicker way to alienate an audience than to throw around a few TLAs or FLAs – especially when the same letters are used to mean different things in different subject areas (think “AMA” – it means American Medical Association and many, many other variations).
#2. Respect that English happens to be THE language of business – worldwide!
As such, if English is your first language it is important to recognize that many worldwide citizens speak English as their second (or third or fourth) language. It is common courtesy and respect for Americans to speak English so that it can be understood by non-native speakers. This includes curbing our use of slang, colloquialisms, idioms, and other local nuances of American, British, Australian, Canadian, and other English variations. We don’t have to avoid these localizations, just be aware that they are not easily understood by those who are not native English speakers. Speak slowly and enunciate – your listener will appreciate it.
#1. Networking savvy:
Far too often, technical professionals forget that the outside world often sees you as the face of your company at networking events. When out in public – especially when wearing corporate logo apparel, realize that you are showing your brand to the world. It’s always best at networking functions or other meet-and-greet events to stay professional in both conduct and communication. While it’s acceptable to have a drink with peers at an after hours mixer, imbibing too many and making a fool of oneself is better left to the suburbs on weekends far away from maddening crowds (and the ears and eyes of other professionals). There’s a skill to effective networking (complete with how-to meet the right people, measuring success, ways to break the ice cleanly with both genders, and keys to success). “Walking into a room full of strangers” joins public speaking as one of the biggest fears today (according to Networking Guru Susan RoAne), so you’re in good company if you need to learn this skill.
As a seasoned presenter who has spoken internationally to audiences spanning 25 countries on a myriad of topics, I’m considering offering communication workshops for PM’s and technical professionals. We’ll focus on these top 7 skills among others. Do you think this is a good idea and needed? And, would you or your colleagues be interested in this type of training in a city near you (or at your site)? Let me know your thoughts (please!)
To your successful projects!