Telling your story well can be the most productive and efficient way to build a rewarding and productive career. Telling it poorly can be incredibly costly, both to you and to your firm.

Every time you communicate to people you’re being judged, and in this case perception truly is reality. If an audience, whether of one or hundreds, doesn’t perceive you as an effective person, then you’re going to fail in your main purpose-- which is to persuade.

Why was Bill Clinton able to win two elections with the odds stacked against him while John Kerry couldn’t pull it off even when incumbent President George Bush seemed ripe for the taking? Well, one major factor, perhaps the most important one, is that Bill Clinton is a master communicator. John Kerry is not.

            Sit through a dozen similar presentations and you will find them pretty much indistinguishable. Many business presentations are too long, poorly delivered, and completely forgettable. This is mainly because the people designing and doing them aren’t sufficiently trained in these particular skills. Another problem is that they often lack objectivity. Many flawed presentations could be rescued by listening to some objective, outside help.

            Properly prepared presentations, delivered in a professional manner, remain memorable. If you have something worthwhile to say, and you know how to say it well, the whole world will listen.

Taking the time to properly and adequately prepare and deliver a presentation or proposal may make your firm more money in an hour than is made in a year of routine work. Superior communications lead to such increased profitability that it’s impossible to put a dollar value on them. The next time you attend a business presentation, make a guess at the salary cost of having all those people attend (not to mention the cost of preparation) and consider what the lost cost is if the presentation is not as effective as it could be. 

Competent, well-educated, talented people often find their career paths blocked because they can’t effectively communicate their ideas. How well you communicate determines whether you’re memorable or forgettable, boring or interesting, and whether people will ignore or listen to you. Poor eye contact and mumbling have ruined careers.

            People are attracted to articulate, well-organized, forceful speakers. Communicate well and do well; communicate best and thrive. Effective communication includes looking, sounding, and acting like someone worth listening to and following.

            Effective communicators will become today’s leadership elite. Business leaders can no longer maintain low profiles. They have to function effectively in a communications environment very much like that which politicians have had to endure for decades. Today’s business leaders are wide open to public scrutiny and will, like politicians, have to gain the support of a number of different constituencies, such as peers, employees, clients, suppliers, shareholders, regulators, consumer activists, and, most important of all, the media. Today’s business leaders must have the ability to relate to people both within and outside their organizations.

           You can’t be a real leader if you don’t have the power of persuasion. It’s no good to know how to solve a problem if you can’t communicate the solution in a way that will cause people to act. To have the power of persuasion you must be able to organize your thoughts so as to present your case most effectively. If you can’t communicate effectively you can’t make things happen, and you certainly won’t be able to make them happen the way you want them to..

           To be an effective communicator you first have to know what you’re talking about. You have to earn the right, through experience or study, or, preferably, both, to talk about a particular subject. Then you need to understand everything you possibly can about your audience, whether that’s one person or one hundred. Next, you have to craft your message in their terms. To persuade an audience you have to convince them what’s in it for them, not what’s in it for you. And to do this you have to present your message in a way which they understand and can relate to. Finally, you have to develop a winning style. This includes everything from how you look to how you sound.

           Very few of us are born with the ability to achieve all of this; but, like skating, swimming, or riding a bicycle, these are skills that can be developed through coaching and practice. There are numerous public speaking courses and coaches available to help you learn and hone communication skills. But just as you can’t learn to swim without getting into the water, there is no substitution for first-hand experience. Look for, and never turn down, opportunities to get up in front of an audience and “say a few words”. You can find such opportunities in the work place, community organizations, service clubs, and professional and industry associations.

           Poise makes you a master of any situation, and poise can be learned.