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Communication

The CEO is the leader of the business and as such, is expected to be an excellent communicator. This means more than just being eloquent, it means delivering meaningful content as well. The effective use of language is a challenging skill which many of us poorly develop as we go through school (or so our teachers would tell us). But proper use of language will go a long way to influence people to get the things done that are important to the business.

In a business setting, people are prepared to fore give communication deficiencies when using a second language but mostly expect some level of correctness when using your native language. Given that many young businesses are founded by entrepreneurs with primarily technical backgrounds who can communicate well-enough to get the business going (and perhaps funded), few are appropriate to be the guest speaker at a Gartner Group conference. For the entrepreneur to remain in the CEO role, it is important to develop effective communication skills to meet the demands of the job.

The CEO needs to be able to communicate the essence of the business strategy and equally important, the methodology for achieving it. The CEO needs to be approachable -- every encounter should be a memorable one, even at the coffee machine. The CEO is expected to be able to receive critical input and understand how to deliver critical output without being offensive. The CEO is expected to be able to run a meeting efficiently, illustrating how to respect time.The CEO is expected to understand when positive contribution is being made and so recognize it. The CEO is expected to be able to stand in front of the team and deliver motivating presentations (and show how to be brief). The CEO is expected to be able to lead sales calls, develop partner relationships, discuss pricing and deflate critical support situations. The CEO needs to be able to use communication skills for many things.

Not everyone is born with the capability to be an excellent communicator -- in fact, few people seem to have this as a natural skill. It does not mean you will fail in taking on the CEO role, it means you have to work hard to be an effective communicator and more importantly, understand how to use the team around you to compensate for any weaknesses. This section addresses the many aspects of communication the CEO should be aware of as well as a variety of ways communication skills can be improved. It should be no surprise, that practice does make perfect in this instance, but even endless practice will not turn a poor communicator into an eloquent one, especially in spontaneous scenarios.

Establishing Communication Rhythm

Communication is a challenging aspect of business behavior that is rarely perfected. In fact, you should never become complacent about communication always striving to use communication as a way to better integrate teams working together. One of the most effective ways to plan communication is through a defined rhythm -- making communication predictable in terms of the who, what, where, when and why people will hear things -- from the CEO, in this case.

Predictable communication sounds easy at first glance -- but over time it can fall into the background as noise that people don't pay attention to. It's important that the content be fresh, ideally interactive when appropriate and most importantly contain value to everyone listening (that's the hard part). The benefit of rhythm is that the team comes to expect and anticipate certain opportunities to connect with the CEO. It reduces the feeling that no communication is happening, it increases the comfort that the team will be kept informed authoritatively. It reduces the impact on rumors.

Here are some ideas about the types of rhythm to establish from the office of the CEO:

A subtlety to keep in mind is even though something is communicated, it does not mean everyone has heard it. Sometimes people are absent or do not have time to attend the communication event (or can't hear it because it is not broadcast clearly (a common problem for remote office workers)) -- others did not appreciate the written delivery of a message (e.g. yet another email) so are also looking for the achievement to be recognized the next time the team meets more formally. Don't hesitate to repeat certain messages using a variety of communication methods (email, video or audio conference, post on internal web, hang message in lunch room, etc) -- sometimes just the repetitiveness helps (or hinders). Winning at communication is not easy.

Perception of Excellence

Setting a high standard for effective communication is an important element of being the CEO. If you don't check spelling or grammar, why should anyone else? If you are not prepared with your speech, why should the team act any differently. If you can't form a proper sentence in a public setting the embarrassment for everyone else may be too much. It may all sound obvious, but requires a bit of extra time to do well so surprisingly does not get done as often as one would think.

Some obvious hints in the right direction include:

If proper communication rhythm is established, the time needed to achieve a degree of excellence can be planned in. If communication is often ad hoc, it's hard to have it all come out right.

Practicing

If you are one of those who feels uncomfortable with communication, practicing helps. Some straightforward (and hopefully somewhat safe) venues and methods include:

In the end, you'll likely find you're not as poor a communicator as you may think. Your passion for the business tends to uplift the way in which you talk about it which will come across when communicating. The important thing is to be prepared, take your time and use the team around you to illustrate your ability to get the message across.

Communicating with Customers

For the most part, customers would not often have a chance to meet with the CEO of a Company. As such, you should treat the opportunity with equal respect and use as many skills as you can to make sure the customer finds the encounter the strongest reason yet to do business with you. You need to establish a variety of things when communicating with customers:

The role of CEO will certainly put you in touch with customers regularly (it should). You need to be prepared, well practiced and confident. You are the business leader and the customer wants to feel they are being led down the right path for their business needs.

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