Developing Communication Skills: Part One
Series Note: Career Girls founder and CEO Linda Calhoun shares insights distilled from her in-depth interviews of over 800 women role models. Each article is dedicated to exploring the skills and attitudes that advance girls’ intellectual, social and emotional learning for success in both life and career.
At our core, Career Girls crowdsources the hard-fought lessons learned by an inclusive and diverse group of women. Our Role Models define the skills you need to be successful, not only in the world of work, but in your life as a whole. Communication is one of those key skills. It’s empowering. Good communicators build credibility and trust — and can even bring about positive change in the world.
Communication. You talk. You text. You’re communicating, right? Actually, communication is more complex. It’s not a single thread; it’s an entire tapestry. In this two-part series on developing your communication skills, I’ll delve first into the world of the spoken word. In my next article, we’ll explore the written word.
Here, our role models share their strategies and tips that will help you sharpen your communication skills. You’ll come away with practical tips on ways to expand your communication bandwidth and apply those skills to just about everything you do in life.
1) Begin by Listening.
Communication isn’t only about speaking. It’s important for you to really listen to others and understand the messages that you are receiving so you can respond effectively.
“Let’s break down communications into a formula. The absolute best way to communicate with someone is to listen. Listening is your first wave of communication. When you listen to people, you understand where to bridge that gap and meet them halfway.” — Myra Jolivet, Public Affairs Vice President
“Communication is a two-way street. You have to understand and empathize with the other person in order to have your ideas heard.” — Ella Peinovich, Social Entrepreneur
2) Consider Your Audience.
Whether it’s one person, a small group, or a packed auditorium filled with people, how can you make your message relevant to them?
“Ask yourself, as you’re preparing to present, why is this important to my audience? What is the glue that makes the information stick? Why is it important for them to listen to me convey that information? Answer that.
“Once you have the reason that’s very concrete for you, it becomes much easier to communicate, to talk to, to tell people what you’re trying to convey. Give them the glue to make that information stick.” — Almetria Vaba, Media Supervisor
3) Strive for Clarity.
Know what you’re talking about. The more you understand your subject matter, the more confident you’ll be in your presentations, whether you’re asking for the keys to the car or pitching a proposal at work.
“Speak clearly. Use proper grammar. Respect that using communication is a vehicle for really effecting change. Honoring it and being disciplined will really help set you up for success.” — Jen Esch, Senior Program Manager at Microsoft
“When you’re communicating, remember to be clear in what you want. That’s a great skill to have in friendships and all kinds of relationships, so that everyone is on the same page. It doesn’t mean you have to be mean or you have to be rude… It just means be clear what your end goal is.” — Tyler Harrison, News Reporter
4) Paint Pictures with Words.
Help your listeners imagine themselves in your message. Using analogies helps to change your audience from passive to active listeners.
“A technique in communication is to use what we call analogies. We advise people to — as much as they can — paint pictures with their language. When you’re describing things, give somebody a visual or say: ‘It’s like this; it’s like x, y, z.’ Those are good communication skills.” — Myra Jolivet, Public Affairs Vice President
5) Speak With Conviction.
Take yourself seriously. When you talk, your body will automatically lower the pitch of your voice.
“One seemingly simple skill that any woman who wants to be taken seriously in the world is developing the capacity to use her natural voice. Your natural voice is lower. When people hear a low, authentic, confident voice, they trust the speaker. So, first and foremost, learn where your real voice is.” — Susan V. Booth, Theater Director
6) Speaking in Public? Start Solo.
Public speaking is an important part of your communications toolkit. Before you’re in the spotlight, look for ways to improve your delivery. Practice public speaking by recording and then listening to yourself. Or, talk to yourself in the mirror.
“You want to get comfortable sharing and speaking in public as soon as possible. One of the things I started doing when I was younger — and I still do today — is I actually share in front of the mirror by myself.
“That has taught me to smile more, to work on my facial expressions. Because if you stand there and you look very serious the whole time, it’s not fun. You don’t enjoy looking at that in the mirror and your audience wouldn’t enjoy that either.” — Rovina Valashiya, Senior Manager, Product Management, Amazon Web Services
7) Always Be True to Yourself.
If your message comes from your heart, you won’t go wrong.
“Understand what you really want to relay. It’s not just bullet points that are out there. Your message has to resonate with your core and what you truly believe.
“When you can master that and understand the language of the fundamental need that you’re trying to relay, people will listen. Your message will come across, and you’ll be seen as sincere and authentic.” — Debra Kimberling, Mechanical Engineer
The Last Word
We’ll let our Career Girls role model Rachel Micah-Jones have the last word:
“You’re never too young to raise your voice. Speak up if you want to change the world.”
— Rachel Micah-Jones, Attorney, and the Founder and Executive Director of Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc.
About the Author
Linda Calhoun is an entrepreneur, activist, and community leader based in San Francisco, California. A graduate of Boston University with a B.S. in Mass Communication, Linda’s career path led her to work in international policy coordination, media, technology, and data management. Her work has met the unique and increasingly important intersections of STEM and Social Justice.
Linda is the Founder and CEO of Career Girls, a nonprofit that was created as a response to the inequality of opportunity that Linda encountered in her story. Linda is the President of the Career Girls board and Co-Chairs the board for the Alliance for Girls.
My own lived experiences as a Black woman today, and as a Black girl growing up in the United States, shape how I see the world — both its problems and potential solutions.
The problem I most wanted to address is what I’ve come to call the Imagination Gap. Something was holding girls back from meeting their full potential — and it wasn’t a lack of ability. For many girls, the dots were simply not being connected.
My solution was the creation of Career Girls, a nonprofit organization that now has its wings throughout the world. Its global platform speaks to girls around the globe and empowers them to take control of their lives. And, it offers useful tools for the adults and educators in their lives.
I conducted video interviews with over 800 women and now share the hard-fought lessons from this inclusive and diverse group of women we call the Career Girls Role Models. In down-to-earth, realistic videos, these accomplished Role Models clearly explain the skills needed in an array of careers. They take a deeper dive into the concepts behind these skills and provide insights gained from their own education and careers. Ultimately, they answer the all-important question as to why those skills are needed to be successful in work and in life overall.
Career Girls is founded on the dream that every girl around the world will have access to diverse and accomplished women role models — to learn from their experiences and to discover their own path to empowerment. Our mission is to Close the Imagination Gap™ for girls everywhere.
To all of the women who contributed to this article, we are inspired and grateful.
Our contributors to the ‘Developing Communications Skills: Part One’ article are: are: Myra Jolivet, Public Affairs Vice President; Ella Peinovich, Social Entrepreneur; Almetria Vaba, Media Supervisor; Jen Esch, Senior Program Manager at Microsoft; Tyler Harrison, News Reporter; Susan V. Booth, Theater Director; Rovina Valashiya, Senior Manager, Product Management, Amazon Web Services; Debra Kimberling, Mechanical Engineer; and Rachel Micah-Jones, Attorney, and the Founder and Executive Director of Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc.
Contributors to the Career Girls Communications Empowerment Video are (in order of appearance): Myra Jolivet, Public Affairs Vice President; Almetria Vaba, Media Supervisor; Susan V. Booth, Theater Director; Yvette Huygen, Strategic Communications Executive, Advisor, and Coach; Leah McGowen-Hare, Computer Scientist; and Anne Feighan, Advertising Director.
And… You’re not on your own! Visit the Career Girls website for the Communications Empowerment Video and related discussion guides, activities and resources. There are no ads, and everything is completely free.