One, out of many, criteria we use to evaluate candidates for positions at Remote DBA Experts (RDX) is their communication skills. Because we are a remote services provider, our ability to have “face-to-face” communications with our customers is somewhat limited. Most of the communications that occur are through e-mails, ticket comments and conference calls.
As a result, it is critical that all folks that join our organization possess more than just high-quality technical skills. They have to be able to communicate effectively to our customers or they are of no use to us.
However, possessing excellent communication skills is not just limited to technicians that work for remote services providers. The importance of improving your communication skills cannot be understated. I don’t care how strong of a technician you are, if you can’t communicate effectively with your peers, you won’t be able to succeed in this profession. In the old days, you might have been able to get by with just your technical skills. That is definitely not the case in today’s business world.
In a recent interview with Bill Gates and Warren Buffet at the University of Nebraska, Buffet was asked what one piece of advice he would give to others wanting to be successful. He stated that students “should polish their public speaking skills.”
Take a look at your last performance appraisal forms, I’m betting that a lot of the criteria you are being judged upon focus on communications. The key words and phrases to look for are “ability to work in a team environment”, “keep supervisors informed”, “maintain good communication with the user community”, “ensure the content of the communication is at the appropriate level for the intended audience”, “provide system and user documentation for projects and system enhancements.”
So, let me get off my soapbox and get to the topic at hand. How exactly do you improve upon your verbal and written communications? If you don’t have good communication skills, all is not lost. Like anything else, these skills can be learned.
Improving Written Communications
Have you ever read a document or e-mail that was so poorly written that you had a hard time understanding what the writer was trying to convey? Maybe the document or e-mail contained numerous spelling and grammatical errors. What was your opinion of the author? Not good, I’ll bet. Whether we like it or not, we will be continuously judged upon our written communications throughout our careers. From entry-level to CEO, you will be judged on the words you write.
You’ll find that my recommendations on verbal and written communications have a common theme. They focus on formal education, gaining experience and best practices.
Formal Classroom Education
Universities, colleges and high schools all offer adult night classes. You will be able to find a local educational institution that offers classes on effective writing skills or public speaking. I still have a couple of my college textbooks on my desk that I still use as references.
Books and Websites
You need the tools of the trade to write effectively. As I stated previously, I still use a few of my aging college textbooks as references. I also have Anne Stillman’s book appropriately titled Grammatically Correct: The Writer’s Essential Guide to Punctuation, Spelling, Style, Usage and Grammar. This is the book I refer to about 90% of the time when I am attempting to improve my grammar, spelling and punctuation.
I also visit one website regularly when I write. If you hop on to your browser of choice and navigate to http://www.thesaurus.com/ or http://www.dictionary.com/, you will go to the same website. This very helpful website allows me to quickly find definitions, synonyms and antonyms. If I want to obtain information specifically on grammatical rules and concepts, I’ll visit the Guide to Grammar and Writing website. The numerous dropdown lists allow me to quickly navigate to the topic I am looking for.
You can also take advantage of Microsoft’s Spelling and Grammar Checker tools in Word. You will need to be careful with some of the recommendations. Use Anne Stillman’s book or the Guide to Grammar and Writing website as a reference if you suspect that the Microsoft tool’s recommendation is incorrect.
Obtaining Assistance from Accomplished Writers
When I first started working in a corporate environment, over 25 years ago now, my writing skills were terrible. But I had the good fortune of having a manager that understood the importance of both verbal and written communications. I would write a memo, she would correct it with her red pen and send it back to me for a rewrite. Many of them had a “Nice Try!” and a smiley face on top. Even though all of the rewrites (and smiley faces) were somewhat exasperating, her persistence forced me to become a better writer.
It’s relatively easy to find fellow technicians that excel at written communications. Think about all of the e-mails and documents that come across your desk on a daily basis. You can read the content and also review the text for ease-of-reading and grammatical style. Find the folks that are good at written communications and ask for their input. I think you’ll find that most of your requests will be warmly received.
Practice Makes Perfect
Like public speaking, the more you write, the better you’ll get. That’s one of the benefits of writing articles, blogs, books… It keeps your skills sharp.
You also can become involved with company newsletters and related communications. When I first started my quest to become a better writer, I took on as many writing tasks as possible. When I asked to join a newsletter, I always started with “I’m not the greatest writer, but I’m trying to learn.” I also asked my peers that worked on the newsletter to critique my work. The more I was critiqued and the more I plugged away at writing, the better I became.
Improving Verbal Communications
We have all heard that speaking in front of an audience is the number one fear for most folks, surpassing both financial and health problems. Let me give you a couple of hints and tips that have helped me throughout my career.
I cannot recommend this organization highly enough. Toastmasters International is a non-profit organization that focuses on improving communication and leadership skills. Toastmasters is also a great place to network and advance your career (it makes for an impressive bullet on your resume).
Toastmasters International consists of hundreds of Toastmasters Clubs that are governed by a Board of Directors that is elected by Toastmaster members. The Toastmaster website provides a search function that allows visitors to find nearby clubs. If you want to learn how to speak effectively in public, do yourself a favor and search for the clubs in your area. I think that you will be surprised at how many clubs there are.
You are not only taught the skills you need but you are also provided with the opportunity to showcase your new found talents by giving speeches to fellow members. The key benefit of speaking at Toastmasters is that you are giving speeches to others in a supportive environment. Everyone there wants to improve their communication and leadership skills.
Formal Classroom Education
It would be a rare event indeed if you found an institution of higher learning that didn’t provide classes on public speaking. If you are attending school to obtain that next degree, you need to make sure one, or more, of those classes pertains to verbal communications. Many colleges offer adult education curriculum at night. Review the night class curriculum for local colleges. I would be surprised if you didn’t find one or two classes on public speaking.
Amazon’s rating system makes it easy to select books on public speaking. Do a search and check out the reviews. Two of my favorites are The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking by Dale Carnegie and Presentation Skills 201: How to Take it to the Next Level as a Confident, Engaging Presenter by William R. Steele. Amazon carries both of these books in stock.
Here’s a quick list of recommendations that have helped me improve my own public speaking skills:
When you attend presentations from others, pay attention to both the material they are presenting and how the present it. I once saw a representative from Microsoft give a presentation on their new operating system to a group of 700 people. By the end of his speech, he had the entire audience “high fiving” each other on a regular basis. I thought to myself, “he generated this much enthusiasm over an operating system?” I stayed right where I was and watched him give the presentation to a second group of 600 with the same result. The second time I paid close attention to his presentation style and stage mannerisms. I’m not saying that you should attempt to clone your presentation style from a particular speaker, but you can improve your own communication skills by learning from accomplished speakers.
The more you speak in front of an audience, the better you will become. Absolutely, positively “practice makes perfect” in this case. Start your public speaking career by starting with a small audience. Maybe you know a particular database feature or a tip or trick that you think your fellow technicians may benefit from. Invite them to a meeting, create a presentation and present it! Work your way up to larger audiences. Join local users groups and ask if they would allow you to give a presentation. When I was speaking regularly, every time there was a call for presentations from a user group, I would submit several presentations.
I have found that the more prepared I am, the less I am affected by anxiety before and during a speech. I always present a speech to myself, my wife, my dogs numerous times before I give the speech in public. The more times I do it, the more confident I become.
I always visit the room I am going to speak in. It makes me more comfortable when the time comes to stand up in front of the audience. I also stand right in the middle of the aisle and introduce myself to as many participants as I can. It helped me to feel more comfortable when I step up on stage.
IT shops are no longer evaluating technicians purely on their technical skills. It is the total package of technical and soft skills that you bring to the table that you are being evaluated upon. We all know the importance that our technical skill sets have upon our success in this field. But you also need to be well rounded in all of the skill sets your managers are looking for.
Thanks for reading,
Director Of Service Delivery