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6 Ways to Improve Your Communication Skills and Make a Better Impression

Executives who lack proper communication skills may fail to get their message

In a recent survey by the American Management Association, executives slammed their subordinates for lacking communication skills. Just over 60 percent of the respondents told the AMA their employees are average or below average in this critical skill. Could those employees be following in their leaders' footsteps?

To be sure, even business leaders need a refresher on how best to communicate, whether it's with investors, their own boss, customers or staff. During tough economic times, when most everyone has their head down working as hard as they can to keep the business humming, communication between managers and employees and between employees themselves often fall by the wayside, even when it's needed most. We've put together the following list to make you think about how to enhance the way you communicate with others and improve the likelihood that what you mean to say (or don't say) comes across clearly.

1. Take the time to listen to others:
Communication isn't just about talking - it's about listening as well. Sometimes what you don't say can go a long way in telling others about the kind of person you are and your respect for them. Pay close attention to what others are saying, as it may be valuable and help you see things from another perspective or gather insight as to how your teams perceive a situation. You may feel tempted to interrupt if you see things differently than a speaker or if you know what the person is saying isn't entirely correct, but sometimes there's a need to hold back.

2. Consider your audience:
Giving a presentation to your board calls for different language, metaphors and vocabulary than you would use when you've speaking with general team members. Keep in mind the interests, knowledge and concerns of those you'll be speaking to, as this can significantly alter the content of a speech and language you use, as well as how you present any supplementary material. Not everyone lives in the same world as you and may not use the same terminology - for CFOs this is a key issue when talking to employees who don't work in the finance organization but that expect to get clarity from those who do.

3. Learn how to tell a good story:
Whether you're schmoozing with board members or just killing time with a colleague in the elevator, you should know how to carry a story and clearly explain complex topics. Knowing how to get your point across without confusing or boring your listener is absolutely essential, particularly if you're looking to advance your career or make a strong impression on others. Explanations that aren't concise or interesting may leave a listener confused or frustrated.

4. Increase your knowledge:
You're not likely to make a great impression on others if you make up facts or stretch the truth during a business discussion, especially if an associate calls you out on it. Stay updated by subscribing to industry news, speaking with other professionals and seeking out new information regularly. This will not only ensure board members and the CEO know you're knowledgeable, it will help you communicate complex or touchy subjects with the correct information, ensuring you get the right message across.

5. Ask questions:
As a finance executive, you're likely looped in on all company news, but it doesn't hurt to ask questions. This not only furthers your awareness, it shows you're sincerely interested in the conversation and eager to learn more about a topic and how it will impact your company or industry. A willingness to learn and absorb more information is often a coveted trait, and this could help you stand out in board meetings as well as in the office.

6. Pay attention to your nonverbal cues:
These are just as important as spoken communication. You can take every step possible to impress a board and other executives with your verbal communication skills, but if you're neglecting to pay attention to your nonverbal cues, your hard work could go unnoticed. Communication is largely nonverbal, and if you're giving off physical hints that suggest you're disinterested, anxious or irritated, people may take those indicators more seriously than what you're saying. Take the time to consider your posture, expressions, hand gestures and movements to ensure you aren't giving the wrong impression.