Investing in your team: why communication skills will pay big dividends

With all eyes on the unsettling news from Wall Street these days, decisions on where to invest to get the greatest return on your investment have become complicated. To invest your money wisely, analysts generally recommend doing research then investing in companies that show promise in order to get the most return on your investment.

The same principle applies when companies hire recent graduates or promote junior staff members; smart leaders seek out individuals in today’s crop of Millennials who show promise and who can help their company grow. The Millennial generation is reshaping the workplace today, and will continue to do so for many years to come as they enter into the workforce. The wise manager will enhance their return by enriching the value that these junior team-members bring to their company by providing a variety of professional development training programs. But, what kind of training should a company provide that will give the best return on their investment?

While there are some obvious choices like, new software training or new product or service training, investments in public speaking and presentation skills can be more versatile and help improve performance and the bottom line in any job function. Whether speaking to internal colleagues or external customers, the ability to communicate clearly, succinctly, and persuasively is the foundation to success. As Warren Buffett said, “If you improve your communication skills, I guarantee that you will make at least 50% more in your lifetime.”

Today’s young, bright, professionals have grown up using technology as their primary way to communicate. These advanced technology skills are valuable; however, many corporate managers report that strong, verbal communication skills of Millennials often fall short. The failure to communicate effectively when speaking to others can directly impact a business’ bottom line. Whether making sales presentations to new clients or explaining a software program to co-workers, clear, confident and persuasive speakers motivate others into action – and that action contributes to company profits.

Like any other skill we master, strong public speaking skills are developed through training and practice. High-quality, professional public speaking training is extremely beneficial, but there are things managers can do internally get the process underway before sending staffers to a formal training program. For example, including presentation skills as an area for development in everyone’s quarterly performance evaluations. The strategy is to start small and take away the “fear factor” of giving business presentations initially. Each week a different team member is selected to give a brief presentation at the end of a weekly staff meeting — and the topic can be something fun, such as a hobby, concert they recently attended, a movie they saw, a favorite vacation spot, etc.

Presenter’s guidelines for this exercise are simple but crucial to the exercise: Presentations must be five minutes or less, have a clear goal, and the speaker will stand when presenting. The presenter is evaluated on conciseness, eye contact with the audience, and staying on time. After each meeting the manager should meet with the presenter privately and provide brief feedback on what the speaker did well and what he/she should work on before his next presentation.

One client repeated this exercise with her staff for six months and reported this informal training approach helped her junior team members feel more comfortable giving presentations, more readily spoke up to share ideas in meetings and, as a side benefit, fostered a stronger workplace camaraderie among them.

So, if sales are stagnant, internal productivity is slow, or morale is low, it’s a good bet the source of the problem may be a line right out of the old Cool Hand Luke movie: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”