communication skills helpHave you ever found yourself tongue tied? Maybe it happened in an interview, or during a one-on-one meeting with your executive. Or worse yet, it was in front of a room full of people. There you stood with all eyes on you, and you couldn’t coherently articulate what you wanted to say.

It has probably happened to everyone at some point in their career. But there are a lot of things you can do to become a better communicator – both in private conversations and public situations.

Regardless of whether you plan to speak in front of an audience, you must develop your communication skills to advance your career. Every interaction you have throughout the course of your workday is a communication opportunity – whether it’s by phone, email, or in person. Are your communication skills helping or hindering your career?

I recently received an email asking for advice on this very topic. The writer had interviewed numerous times with the same company and kept coming up short on a job offer. She felt the main reason she never moved beyond the interview phase was because she couldn’t articulate well. She also believed this might be hurting her chances of internal advancement in her current position.

She asked what she could do to improve her communication skills and ability to hold a conversation without being nervous and rambling. She also wanted to know how to promote herself and her skills. This person was confident that she had the right skills, since her executives always gave her rave reviews and made positive comments about the support she provided. So, what could she do to jump this communication confidence hurdle?

As I evaluated my own experiences, I identified several key factors that have contributed to improving my own communication skills — both in personal interactions and public situations. Each one helped advance my communication skills and overall confidence in myself.

Taking speech and writing classes.

It’s too late to take high school speech and writing courses like I did. But you can always take a speech course or writing course at your local community college – no matter your age! I strongly encourage you to start there. Written communication is just as important as verbal communication. In fact, one helps you with the other.

Getting a public speaking certificate.

Toastmasters International is a leader in communication and leadership development. I took classes with the organization years ago, and they did wonders for my public speaking skills. Even if you don’t want to be a public speaker, you can still learn to become a more effective communicator by taking a course.

Being a tour guide.

I was a tour guide at one of my former company’s corporate headquarters, giving tours to campus visitors and dignitaries. I had to memorize countless facts and statistics about our organization, as well as the historic buildings on our campus. I also had to be able to recite the information the instant someone showed up at my desk requesting a tour. I used cue cards at first, but eventually I gained more confidence and didn’t need them. Look for opportunities to be the unofficial tour guide for new employees or visiting executives. It will boost your communication skills and increase your exposure throughout the company.

Selling Tupperware for 13 years.

I never would have imagined that signing up to sell Tupperware (to get the consultant discount) would be a life-changing decision. I never had any intentions of doing an in-home party because public speaking terrified me. I simply wanted a discount on my Tupperware orders. Looking back, this was one of the single most important things I have done to develop my leadership skills, communication skills, and confidence in public speaking. I went from praying no one would ask me to do an in-home party to leading a team of more than 60 consultants, conducting my own team meetings, and holding training sessions at distributor-wide sales meetings. And I started to love doing in-home parties, too! Don’t let selling something scare you. Find a product you love, learn it inside and out, then share it with others. You don’t have to do it to “make a living,” do it to develop your speaking and communications skills.

Joining professional associations and getting involved.

If you want to develop your communication and leadership skills in a non-threatening, supportive environment, I recommend checking out local professional organizations. Join a committee and get involved. Being an active member in professional organizations catapulted my career in ways I never imagined. After joining a committee, I eventually joined the board of directors and became a chapter president. These roles elevated my speaking skills, gave me additional visibility in my professional networks and at the office, and led to one of the best corporate job opportunities of my career.

Leading charity drives.

Does your company do an annual charity drive or fundraising event? Volunteer to help. I was the project manager for a charity cookbook at one of my corporate positions, and it gave me the opportunity to prepare meeting agendas, lead the meetings, and manage a team of volunteers. It was valuable in developing my verbal and written communication skills, and I had a lot of fun doing it.

Attending professional development conferences, webinars, teleseminars, and training sessions.

I’m a huge believer in professional development. There is something available at any price point, so stop making excuses and sign up for some communication training.

Reading Crucial Conversations, TypeTalk at Work, and StrengthsFinder 2.0.

These books helped me understand how I communicate in relation to how others communicate. They also gave me the words and phrases I should use to articulate the true essence of who I am to others. This is critical to your career advancement. If you don’t understand your own strengths, personality type, and passions in life, how do you ever expect to be able to tell someone else when they ask you in an interview?

Practicing!

I practice before every interview. I practice having important conversations. I practice having crucial conversations. When my husband was preparing for a major career transition several years ago, we practiced interview questions for months. I would spring a question on him at any given time, and he had to respond as if he had just been asked this question in a real interview. Practice makes perfect. In time, he got better at articulating his thoughts at a moment’s notice, and eventually landed the perfect job for his skills, personality, and strengths. Find a friend, mentor, or coach and ask them to practice with you so they can give you productive feedback on where you can make some improvements. If you don’t know what to fix, it will probably stay broken.

Pick one or two of these strategies and give them a try. I’m certain you’ll discover new ways to become a more effective communicator no matter what situation you find yourself in! Your career depends on it.