The Art of the Master Communicator
34 things you can do to become a more articulate, confident and effective communicator
I want to solve big problems in the world.
I recently wrote out a long list of the skills I need to develop to one day make a big impact.
One of the bullet points at the top of the list was “a great communicator”.
I’ve been lucky enough to speak on stage at the largest tech conferences in the world, speak with CEOs and executives of multi billion dollar companies (and the most impactful companies of our generation), and learn from some of the best communicators alive right now.
And from conversations with some of the most influential people in the world right now (who also happen to be amazing communicators!) I’ve compiled this list of 34 things you can do to become a more articulate, confident and effective communicator, and eventually become a Master Communicator!
*I reserve the term Master Communicator for the best communicators I’ve met, heard or come across. There are very few people that have truly mastered how to connect on an individual amongst a crowd, and convey strong emotions through words. One day I aspire to be a master communicator.
Great communicators can communicate emotion. They make you feel something when they talk, not just leave you feeling “impressed” or “happy”. But educe strong feelings of sadness, joy, fear, anger, or evoke a powerful and emotional memory.
This is very hard to do.
Anyone can relay facts and statistics, but not many people can communicate the emotion tied with the topic. Great communicators don’t explicitly say “this is such a frustrating problem”, but frustration is the emotion audiences immediately feel as they talk.
Great communicators spark either reflection or action in your life.
This is different from a “call to action” where an action item is explicitly given. After listening to or talking with a great communicator, that emotion you feel is the driver of your action. You choose to do something, opposed to being told to do something.
You either examine your own life and change how you live and act. Or you do something, like take a sabbatical from your job to travel the world, or donate a large amount to a cause.
Engaging or entertaining
While talking with great communicators I always have the biggest smile on my face. I have so much fun. They have funny jokes, tell interesting stories and are so engaging.
Great communicators capture their audience and have them completely engaged the entire time.
Master Communicator’s have breadth and depth in their knowledge. Depth is what makes them “legit”, but breadth is what makes them great communicators.
Breadth means that they know about all different industries in tech/science, history, policy, geopolitics and everything in between. Knowing about a lot of different things means that great communicators can connect the dots between industries and problems.
They have very interesting, well developed ideas on topics, and have examples from all different industries to contextualize and support their point.
They have knowledge in so many areas to draw upon, so they have insightful ideas.
This also means that the best communicators are very intelligent. They are deep in a few areas, but know a lot about (basically) everything. Because of this, they can have conversations and talk about any topic (they are adaptable).
Other things Master Communicator’s do:
- They make complicated topics sound easy. Everything clicks right away in your brain.
- Even when they talk to a large audience (like on a podcast or give a talk on stage), it feels like they are talking directly to you.
- Their passion and excitement is infectious, and after talking with them/listening to them, you feel just as excited about the topic as they are.
- When talking one-on-one, they leave space for you to interject and ask questions. They want to make sure you understand, and have zero ego attached to re-explaining something if you seem lost.
- Presentations do not sound formal or rehearsed. It sounds conversational. If you talk with that person 1–1, you’ll see that they act the exact same when talking on stage in front of 3000 people as they do when they talk to just one person.
34 things you can do to build the skill of communication (and one day become a Master Communicator!).
I was at a conference (Villars) and sat in the audience listening to several mediocre presentations. The content was interesting, the delivery was not, and my mind wandered.
And then, Meagan came on stage and told a story of her time in India. I was engaged the whole time.
The difference was that Meagan (and all great communicators) tell irresistible stories. Stories that make people listen.
Always think how can I show, not tell? Don’t spew facts about the amount of people who don’t have access to clean drinking water, tell a story. And intertwine the facts into the story.
Crack a few jokes. Don’t take yourself too seriously. One of your top goals as a communicator is to make sure your audience is enjoying themselves. If not, they will not listen to or retain anything you say.
We all love to laugh, so utilize this as your superpower and make jokes.
The best conversations I’ve had are when both parties are vulnerable, and willing to share something about themselves that they normally don’t tell anyone.
I’ve had great conversations at conferences where full grown adults tell me about their deepest insecurities and life fears.
Vulnerability is the baking soda that sparks the reaction. If you want people to resonate with your message, you need to share something that ties them emotionally to you. Like a fear or insecurity.
It is through vulnerability that you spark reflection and emotions in your audience. By sharing the deeply personal story, every person in the audience will feel something. Some may feel sadness, others sorrow, some rage, some pity.
The stronger the emotion you convey, the stronger the emotion will be felt by the audience.
What makes a great speaker memorable is their vibe. As humans, we only retain 10% of what we consume, so I’m sorry to say, but your audience will not remember even the top line of your great speech.
But they will remember your vibe.
The same goes for all conversations. If you want to be memorable + leave an impression, your delivery (which comes down to vibe) is the best way to do that.
To be authentic to who you are, you first need to accept your authentic self and learn to love it. Once I did this (it was a long process) I’ve become way more confident, and am now fully and authentically me whether I’m having a phone call with a friend, talking with a successful CEO or speaking on stage.
The best communicators I have talked with talk with me in the exact same way that they talk to thousands of people on stage.
If you want to be a great communicator, you need to make people want to listen to you and keep them engaged. How do you do this? You 1) tell stories, or 2) compare complicated topics to an everyday concept everyone understands.
Using comparison (analogies) makes it easy to understand. And it’s more fun than a long, boring lecture:))
Don’t use huge hand movements
People use big hand movements to make up for their lack of articulation (they’re trying to search for the right word, or illustrate something with their hands instead of through words).
Try to keep (big) hand movements to a minimum. It’s distracting and comes off as incompetent. Instead, talk slower and take pauses to collect your thoughts.
Look people in the eye
It sounds simple, but not many people do this. Most people feel uncomfortable by looking others in the eye, or feel intimidated.
But by not looking people in the eye during conversation, you seem 1) uninterested 2) not confident and 3) uncomfortable.
When you talk with someone, look right into their eyes. Don’t glance at the ceiling in the middle of every sentence or stare at a painting on the wall behind the person.
When you’re talking one-on-one, look at that person. When you’re talking in a group, make sure you look at everyone and be mindful about not maintaining eye contact with only one person in the group.
I follow this when I give presentations. I gave a talk last year at SXSW, and I looked at people’s eyes in the audience. I didn’t skim the audience or focus on imaginary people at the back at the room, I made eye contact with everyone sitting in front of me.
Train yourself to look people in the eye when you talk. It will make you seem way more confident.
This one little thing has been a game changer for me — if you do one thing from this entire article, look people in the eye.
*It is important to note that you will look creepy if you stare into people’s eyes and don’t look anywhere else. That will make the recipient uncomfortable! So you need to find a happy medium and make this natural. But I can almost guarantee that if you try maintaining eye contact with someone as you’re talking, you won’t be able to hold it very long. Most people will air on the side of too little eye contact than too much.*
Don’t have a dull face
Don’t blindly stare or frown when someone else is talking. Be mindful of the expression your face naturally falls into. So many people actually frown when someone else is talking without even realizing. Keep your face neutral and interested.
Own your space
How would you stand if you were a successful CEO?
I call this my power stance — whenever I’m having a conversation I naturally fall into my power stance: wide stance, shoulders back, head up, (+ my hands are usually in my pockets).
I respect myself and my space, you could say that I own my space. Because of this, some people are scared or intimidated by me. But I also gain a lot more respect from people because they see that I respect myself, and will not let anyone walk over me.
Instead of talking about acting confident and respecting yourself, show this! I bet you will feel uncomfortable uncrossing your arms and opening up your shoulder — this forces you to be more vulnerable — but people will respect you if you seem confident.
Especially as a girl, finding my “power stance” has helped me to be more confident when I talk with important people, and has helped me to gain more respect from others.
Be honest/speak your mind
Don’t be afraid to be controversial. Speak your mind. People will respect you for having contrarian views and engaging in a conversation with views you disagree with.
Especially as a girl, voicing opposing views than the rest of the room has made a big difference in how people see and treat me.
Be a ninja. Become hyper aware.
Being a great communicator means that you pick up on tiny social cues. You can sense the moment when others are getting antsy and want to leave the conversation, you know when someone has something to say and wants to jump in, and you can pick up when someone doesn’t understand what you’re saying and is feeling lost.
To do this, you need to be aware. Of the people around you, their faces, body language and energy.
Becoming a ninja (aka being hyper aware of what’s going on around you at all times) just takes time + practice.
Start by paying close attention to people’s facial expressions when you talk to them. Watch when and how their expression changes, and match this change to what they’re feeling (are they bored? or confused and want more explanation?)
You may think that you can hide your intentions, but it’s pretty hard. If you’re only talking with someone to get their email, or a recommendation letter, or get a shortcut to success, it will show.
And on the flip side, if you genuinely are interested in a person’s journey, their personal life and story, it will also show.
Actually care about the person you are talking with, regardless of their position or experience. Use facial expressions and body language to show interest in what they are saying. Ask questions about things that they are passionate about, even if it doesn’t interest you.
This is what builds meaningful connections — connecting on a human level, not just based on topics and job titles.
One of the worst feelings is to feel like no one is listening or interested in what you’re saying. Subtle things like looking around the room, shifting weight on your feet, cracking your knuckles or scratching an itch signals that you are not interested.
Stop doing these things.
They might feel small or insignificant to you (you probably don’t even realize how much you actually fidget because it’s so natural), but the human brain registers all of these little fidgets. The person you are talking with will pick up on every fidget you make.
This also goes for zoom calls and online meetings. You can tell when someone if flipping between tabs, reading something or typing a message as you’re talking. Treat zoom meetings with the same respect as in person meetings. Close your tabs, don’t try to multitask, and give your full attention to the person(s) you are talking with.
Stand up straight
Your body language says everything about you. Standing up straight with your head high and shoulders back shows that you are confident. Slouched shoulders, crossed arms and twisted legs signal the opposite.
What do you want your first impression to be? Use your body language to embody this.
I know for me, when I have conversations, I want my first impression to be “wow she’s a confident bad b*tch.” So I use my body language to show this.
Know numbers/have data
I used to think that it was enough to have general knowledge in one industry. But I’ve realized that it is the specifics that make you a really good communicator.
This comes down to retaining all the information you read. Remembering the numbers.
The difference between people who say:
“I remember reading about that in an article…I forget the exact number though…”
And people who say:
“I read a photojournalism piece from the Times on that. It said that 64% of plastics are single use, and of these single use plastics, only 2% are properly recycled.”
is the difference between a poor and great communicator.
Knowing the numbers of big problems, understanding the specifics and business plan of a company, and remembering the exact wording of that great quote you heard on a Ted Talk, are the things that allow you to connect dots. Most people “forget” all the content they consume, so when you talk with people who know their stuff, they are memorable.
When I listen to someone talking too fast, it makes my head spin — I can’t understand everything that they are saying and my brain isn’t registering all the words.
I know that it’s hard to talk slowly (I’m guilty of talking too fast!), but that just means that you have to be even more intentional about slowing down. Intentionally pause after each sentence, actually think about the words that you are saying, instead of solely focusing on what you want to say next.
Talk with intense passion
I can tell right away if someone is passionate. Not just “interested” in what they’re talking about, but has strong feelings and a genuine connection to the topic.
It is the people who are intensely passionate about the topic that are great communicators.
Passion can’t be forced. It must be genuine. If you genuinely care about a topic, it will show when you’re talking about it.
Passion is what makes people want to listen to you, and then makes your message stick with them afterwards. The best communicator could write an incredible speech, but if it was read by an AI algorithm it would not have the same effect. It is the passion of the speaker that is what moves an audience.
The stronger the emotion you speak with, the stronger it will be felt by the audience.
Make your voice engaging to listen to. If you talk monotone/are not interesting to listen to, everyone will tune you out.
The first step in being a great communicator is getting people to want to listen to you. How do you do this? You be engaging. How do you be engaging? You make your voice interesting to listen to.
Use your eyebrows
By naturally moving your eyebrows (not forcing it), your eyes will become more expressive. This is an important element of communicating emotions — there are different eyebrow movements associated with all emotions, like passion, joy, surprise, anger, and annoyance.
Experiment with moving your eyebrows more, and notice how often others move their eyebrows. You’ll find that those who don’t move their eyebrows are more monotone and less interesting to listen to and talk with. And people who move their eyebrows more are interesting and engaging.
I now use eyebrow movement instead of excessively nodding to show my support of someone when they’re talking.
“I care about sustainability.”
“I value transparency.”
What do these statements even mean? “Sustainability” and “transparency” are buzzwords. People use them to fill in the void of their own knowledge. Instead of saying what specifically they care about in sustainability, they group their interest under the ambiguous umbrella term “sustainability”.
Listen to the best speakers of our generation. I bet you will not hear a single buzzword.
Say what you mean. Don’t dance around the tree.
Cut out filler words
Basic, but so important. Cut out “um”, “ah”, “like”, “uh”, “so”. Replace all filler words with a pause. If you feel yourself searching for the right word and wanting to fill the silence with a “like” or “um”, stop yourself and take a breath.
Don’t use big words
You don’t need to use big words to sound smart. The best communicators don’t use big words because they can explain complicated topics simply.
Don’t underestimate small talk
Let’s be honest, “small talk” gets a really bad rap.
But I love it! This is how you connect with people on a human level. If the moment you start talking with an expert it’s right ‘down to business’, the relationship will be surface level and they will forget about you within a few minutes.
I can tell you stories of talking with really cool people (like Uma, the CEO of UPSIDE Foods), and during our “small talk” I learned that he used to live in the same small town I do! We bonded over the town and how it’s changed. I am still in touch with Uma today. If I had only talked about cell ag with him and didn’t ask where he grew up, he wouldn’t still pick up my calls.
Ask good (specific) questions
Be curious and show interest in the other person. Keep your talking to a minimum. If they want to hear more about you, let them ask you instead of you rambling on.
Have conviction in what you say
Cut out hedge words! “Maybe”, “possibly”, “might”, “pretty sure”, “I think”, these all make you sound like you don’t know what you are talking about and are not confident.
These words are used when people are trying not to say something outright — if someone feels intimidated by being in a room of people smarter than them, they might start to doubt themselves and use passive phrases like “I’m pretty sure”, instead of “I’m certain”.
We don’t want to upset people, so we use passive language. Especially as a girl, talking with conviction has made me sound more confident and gained me respect.
Leave an interesting insight
What does every great presentation/conversation/speech have in common
They leave you with an idea. A new way of thinking about something.
Your job as a communicator is to leave everyone with an insightful idea.
Don’t just “chime” into a conversation when there’s a break. Be the interesting insight that people think about days afterwards.
Say people’s names
We all love hearing our names. And we love feeling like a conversation is tailored and specific to us.
So indulge others in this simple joy. Learn (you have to ask, then remember!) how to say their name properly, and address others with their name often.
Don’t rant or ramble. This isn’t a matter of using fewer words. It’s a matter of being more efficient with the words you use.
Most people say the same thing over and over because they can’t properly articulate their thoughts. They end up rambling for minutes and not making any sense.
Number your points
If you’re all over the place, jumping from one idea to the next, no one will understand what you’re saying. Get into the habit of numbering your points. Example:
Question: “Why is there so much concern with AI being in classrooms?”
Answer: “This comes down to three main things: fear, biases, and stigma.”
This makes it so much easier for others to actually understand what you’re saying.
Anyone can regurgitate information they read in an article or watched in a YouTube video.
Very few people (only the best communicators!) can connect the dots between dozens of articles, papers, conversation, YouTube videos, problems and solutions! People who are great communicators can connect these dots, during any conversation.
To become a great dot connector, you need to have a wide breadth of knowledge and a long depth of understanding (aka know about a lot, and know specifics in many areas). When you know about a lot of different topics (history, psychology, science, policy, technology) you can make connections between all of these areas.
Then when you have depth in many topics, you can come up with insights from each of these connections, and use a problem in one industry to solve a solution in another.
Don’t interrupt or interject
It seems like a no-brainer, but we all do it. If you were talking with Elon Musk or David Attenborough, would you interrupt them? Probably not. So why do you interrupt everyone else you talk with?
It’s a respect thing. Hold the same value in what your friends, family and co workers are saying to what Elon or David would say. Because they are just as valuable.
Have pauses so others can interject
We all love talking and being the center of attention. So intentionally pause as you’re talking so that others can interject with their thoughts.
I know that this is hard, but conversation is back-and-forth, not just a rant by you!
We all do this — as someone speaks, we are prepping what we will say next. Stop doing this. Give people the respect they deserve and fully listen to what they are saying.
People will notice and respect you for this. And you will pick up on the details that our brain skims over. So you will have more data points to connect the dots with and ask questions about.
Remember the details
People are used to not being listened to. So when someone remembers a detail (like the name of their kid, or where they were going for a vacation), they will be impressed that you heard and remembered that detail. Specific (usually personal) details are the best way to follow up with people.