If we only remember 10% of what we hear, why do we spend 99% of the time worrying about the words we say instead of focusing on how we say them? We’ve all heard the clever adage, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” Effective communication skills are vitally important in today’s business culture. Whether you’re coaching a team member, proposing a new product idea, or making a presentation in front of hundreds of people, the way you convey your message, present your ideas and ask for your teammates input is critical. Let’s take a look at the four main ingredients of effective communication.

Create an open environment for communication.

The foundation for good communication anywhere is an open environment to communicate. As a leader, it is your job to create this. Others must feel confident that they can share ideas and speak freely to engage others. If people hold back and feel they can’t speak their ideas, the communication of the group will be hindered and people will naturally shut down.

Sharon Schuster says, “When we have the courage to speak out – to break our silence – we inspire the rest of the ‘moderates’ in our communities to speak up and voice their views.”

The “courage” that Schuster speaks of is easy to draw from when the environment is conducive to open communication. Creating this climate is the first step!

Keep it simple.

The phrase, “simple is better,” applies to many things and it especially applies to communication. John Kotter puts it like this, “Good communication does not mean that you have to speak in perfectly formed sentences and paragraphs. It isn’t about slickness. Simple and clear go a long way.”

People only remember 10% of what they hear. Using a complex vocabulary and explaining things in a very complicated way can leave your audience bored and confused. Whether you are speaking with someone directly or a large group, you have to know your audience. Explain things in a way that they will understand. This will keep their attention, help them communicate with you, and allow them to use the ideas you are sharing and put them into action.

Non-Verbal communication.

Another key element is non-verbal communication. How we say things is extremely important. We’ve all seen the classic movie, Ferris Buehler’s Day Off, and remember the teacher calling roll saying, “Buelher…Buelher…” His mono-tone voice makes your body kick into screensaver instantly. Even though the topic might be exciting and the facts could be very interesting, his lack of body language and tone cripple any presentation.

Non-verbal communication means body language, energy level, and the presence your audience feels when you are speaking. A great communicator eliminates any visual distractions and uses his body language to keep the audience engaged and excited. Carl Buechner remarked, “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

Listen with your ears, heart and mind.

The last and most important element to great communication is listening. We have two ears and one mouth, use them proportionately. Being an effective listener is one of the most difficult skills to master. Most of us struggle at listening because we are so focused on trying to figure out what to say next while the other person is talking. Asking the right questions and then listening effectively can provide you with all the tools to communicate the right ideas with someone. If you don’t listen to your audience you will never know what they want and you won’t know what to say to gain their interest, trust, or business.

Leaders know how to listen to their people and then provide the exact advice, recommendation or idea they need to succeed. This is what sets apart average communicators from great communicators. Author Peter Drucker says, “The most important thing in communication is to hear what is being said.”

Communication is essential to success. Like any other skill, communication takes practice and work. The great communicators have mastered this skill through experience and constant reform. Remember to allow others to be open, keep it simple, bring energy, and listen to your audience as you grow and perfect your ability to effectively communicate with those around you!