Some might argue that the most important subject in an MBA program is business communication. After all, no matter how knowledgeable you are about finance, accounting, marketing, information systems or any other aspect of business, you must be able to communicate that knowledge to be successful.
“Year in and year out, we see communication skills at the top of recruiter’s lists of desirable traits in candidates,” says John Krajicek, coordinator of business communications studies at Mays Business School. “Simply put, the better you communicate, the more successful you will be in business.”
Smart Business talked with Krajicek for more insight on how to increase your proficiency in business communication.
What exactly are we talking about when we say ‘business communication’?
In a broad sense, we mean a business world communication situation, in which there is a sender, a message and a receiver. With this general definition we’re talking about anything that potentially communicates, including such things as facial expressions, font types, logos and clothing styles. But a more limited and much more useful definition would be ‘writing or talking in a business setting.’
What specific tips do you have for more successful communication?
In general, keep in mind that effective communication never happens in a vacuum. It is always and everywhere connected to a specific audience, message and situation. These three factors dictate tone, length, style and format. Always think through what would best serve this particular audience in this particular context for this particular message.
To get more specific, let’s think in terms of writing first and oral communication second.
The business world wants writing that is active, natural and concise. By active I mean verb-dominated, rather than noun-dominated passive prose. In other words, rather than write ‘the decision has been reached,’ write ‘we have decided.’ By natural I mean write in a voice that is not stilted or overly formal. Write in a style that captures the natural rhythms of speech. In other words, rather than write ‘in general, it can be said that things have a tendency to happen,’ write ‘things happen.’ And by concise I mean get to the point no long windups, no beating around the bush. Write what you mean, and get to it quickly and clearly.
Try to write like Buffett (Warren, not Jimmy). He is an excellent model of effective, fresh, engaging, natural business writing.
How about tips for public speaking?
The same advice works here as well, with the addition of three more points.
One, make sure your audience feels as if you are talking to them, rather than regurgitating a memorized speech. Engage them. Capture the feel of a conversation.
Two, be absolutely certain that when you finish your presentation your audience is not thinking, ‘What was he talking about?’ Make sure your audience can summarize in 20 words or less the substance of what you just said.
And three, grant yourself permission to be nervous. We’ve all heard that a significant number of people fear public speaking more than they fear cancer. Being comfortable on stage isn’t easy. Too often when speakers are nervous, they get nervous about the fact that they are nervous … and then they get nervous about that. Soon you have a hall of nervous mirrors. Don’t try to deny that you are nervous just tell yourself, ‘Yes, I’m a little nervous and that’s okay.’ And a wonderful and ironic thing can happen if you just acknowledge it and give yourself a break you end up being less nervous.
Any final advice?
To move back to a more general definition of business communication, one thing that I challenge my students to think about is presence.
Take the concept of stage presence and expand it. Drop the stage, and just think about presence. Think hard about how you carry yourself, how you interact with people, how you move through the world. When you stop at your usual coffee shop in the morning, how do the employees and patrons see you? How do you interact with people on the elevator in your office building? At the airport? With hotel staff when you’re traveling? If you think in these terms and become very attentive to your presence in the world what kind of image you project, how you are communicating with those around you in every public moment of your life then your more formal communication practices will automatically become much better. And so will your business.
JOHN KRAJICEK is coordinator of business communications studies and lecturer for the MBA and EMBA programs for Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School in College Station and Houston. Reach him at (979) 458-4323 or JKrajicek@mays.tamu.edu.