Keeping Oral Communication Skills Fresh Even in a Virtual Workplace

A recent (2023) survey by the Conference Board of well over 1,000 corporate executives around the world, revealed only 3% of them are planning to implement full return to the office policies anytime soon. Even fellow CEOs in the US are apparently reluctant to follow the lead of companies like Starbucks and Amazon in issuing return to the office mandates, with only 3% of the 24% US executives responding they planned on limiting remote work options going forward.

While the debate over return to the office policies rages on, communication training firms like The Pincus Group have heard from more and more clients who worry about oral communication skills suffering over time. After all, like any skill, confident oral communications including briefing and public speaking require practice to stay at their best.  So, what’s a remote executive to do to keep these skills top notch?

Here are some tips to consider, whatever percentage of your work is now remote.

Everything is an opportunity to practice

Every phone call and every virtual meeting gives you a chance to keep your communication skills sharp. Don’t allow yourself to begin thinking of these communications as unimportant because they’re not in person. Show up and use the same discipline you would in preparing for an in-person briefing or meeting. That means thinking about who you’ll be speaking with, why and what you have to say before every communication. Take time to write that information down so you make sure you stay on track. You don’t want to be known as one of those people who wastes the time of others. Keep your communication focused and concise, regardless of the mode of communication you use.

 Keep it professional 

One of the many reasons senior managers dislike remote work is because they suspect the quality of the work product suffers when people are surrounded by the distractions of home. Every study on productivity published in the last year and a half has not shown that to be the case, but that doesn’t prevent people from believing it. That means when you are communicating with a higher up, act like it. If you’re joining a web conference, keep your camera on and be aware of what others are seeing. Mind your tone of voice, pace and projection to compensate for not being in the same room. Don’t let your communication get sloppy (lots of “ums”, “ahs,” asking others to keep repeating information, or allowing distractions that others can hear or see). Show up. Be your best self..

Prepare and participate

If you’re asked to return a call, or join a virtual meeting, do your due diligence. Find out what’s on the agenda and figure out what you can add to the discussion or what questions you might have. Come prepared to comment on topics, even if asked to provide written comment during a remote discussion. Look for ways you can follow up with key players after the meeting or conversation, particularly if there’s a task you can take on or issue you can work on. Pay attention during the discussion and jot down key points that you might want to comment on, ask about, or follow up with later.  Spend a few moments before every conversation reviewing what you’d like to add to the discussion or how you can “show up” in a direct, concise way.

In short, it’s the communication, not the mode of transmission that makes all of the difference in keeping your skills sharp and enhancing your professional reputation. Yes, it can be harder to make sure you’re being heard and heard correctly when you’re not in the same room as others. If you take your preparation seriously though, you can keep your skills sharp, even when at a distance.

Aileen Pincus is President and CEO of The Pincus Group, Inc., providing tailored presentation training and media coaching to executives worldwide, with headquarters in Washington, DC.


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