Leaders must communicate effectively in all situations—whether with teams, other leaders, key stakeholders or media. However, not all leaders receive proper training and communicating might not come naturally.
Part of the communicator’s job is helping leaders develop skills so they can convey authenticity, confidence and clarity. Communication training empowers leaders as they share stories and information clearly and effectively. Raising trust in leaders with employees and other stakeholders is one the goals here.
Perhaps you're thinking, Wait. We schedule prep sessions with our leaders before all-hands meetings and significant media interviews. We're covered.
However, those sessions may not build skillsets. Consider this–you can cram the night before an exam and pass, but it’s unlikely what you learned will stick long-term. The same is true with leadership communication.
Below are key areas communicators can consider when developing training opportunities for an organization’s leaders:
Communicating with media is daunting at times. As noted above, proper training—beyond prep sessions for a Town Hall or a media opportunity—can help leaders make the most of an interview.
Hosting mock interviews with leaders provides a tangible training opportunity—but in a safe space with a trusted guide. Mock interview training can include:
- A recording: Use a mobile phone, Zoom, Teams etc. Playing back video and audio of a 10-minute mock interview lets leaders pick up on where their delivery was strong and areas for improvement. Provide the recording as a follow-up via email with written feedback.
- Homework: Base the ‘assignment’ on the leader’s feedback and your input. This can include rehearsing talking points in front of a mirror, making eye contact with the reporter and repeating key messages.
- Interview next steps: If there’s an upcoming interview, consider staging a second mock interview, a few days after the first. This gives the leader time to digest initial learnings, do her homework and prepare for round two.
In the second interview you might include a few unexpected questions. This will measure the leader’s ability to navigate curveballs and redirect an interview back to key messages.
As we said earlier, leaders must communicate effectively in a range of settings.
Flexing to an audience’s needs is a skill acquired through practice and coaching with a communicator. Pivoting skills include:
- Tone adjustment: Is the audience nodding off? Are there a lot of blank stares? A strong leader reads the room and adjusts her tone, lightening and uplifting the audience’s mood.
Turning up the microphone’s volume, moving on the stage, using appropriate humor and inviting participation from audience members are adjustments that help.
- Going off-script: Has an event occurred (inside or outside the organization) that is distracting employees? It will be more distracting if it’s not addressed up front, as opposed to ignoring it and proceeding with a speech or meeting as originally planned.
Leaders can work with communicators on promptly addressing unexpected occurrences and navigating next steps.
Organizational changes can create disruption and challenge employee engagement. Communication is an essential component of effectively managing change and maintaining trust.
A proper communication plan involves:
- collaborative key message development
- identification of change champions and sponsors and
- the importance of two-way dialogue with staff
In addition, it means communicators having a seat at the table during change-planning sessions.
Leadership communication for connection
Communicators know that connection counts—between team members, partners, customers and other audiences. Consider coaching leaders on effective connection-building in a hybrid world. Remember, the hybrid environment is here to stay in most organizations and communication practices can adapt to meet audiences where they’re at—online, or in the room.
Accordingly, share tools and tactics that work in your organization. Things like open, virtual office hours can ensure leaders make time and space for fostering one-on-one connections and answering questions for team members across the organization.
Set up these sessions as open-invite Teams or Zoom meetings, where leaders remain on-screen and attendees can hop in and out as they participate.
Moreover, leaders using home offices can demonstrate an adoption, appreciation and acceptance of hybrid working.
Strengthening communication skills is important for leaders at all levels. Supporting leaders through communication training can increase their confidence and ability for effective message delivery. The result is trusted leaders who demonstrate a positive impact on employee and stakeholder engagement.
Abigail Greenheck is a group SVP at Beehive Strategic Communication