October 01, 2017

Building a Practice: Six Steps for Developing Extraordinary Communication Skills

Kimberly Alford Rice

Thirty-four gigabytes. That is how much data Americans have been estimated to consume every day via all forms of media: TV, newspaper, Internet, radio, e-mail, podcast, text, you name it. How does that equate to words? Statistically, Americans consume about 100,000 words per day.


These numbers illustrate how noisy our world has become, even in the last five to ten years with emerging technologies that place us in the middle of broad communication networks spanning the globe.

Recognizing that our world is indeed a very noisy place with essentially an infinite amount of data and media messages bombarding our every move, we must be highly sensitized to our communication styles if we ever want to be heard and perceived as an effective communicator, a persuasive speaker, and someone others seek out.

Below are six concrete steps lawyers should take to step up their game in successfully being heard and understood in their communications. After all, with more than half of a lawyer’s job relying on the spoken and written word, perfecting your communication style is a wise investment in your future.

1.  Think before you speak. No, really. Human beings have a tremendous capacity to listen, absorb, and respond to messages at a relatively high rate. Because of this, it is very tempting to be caught up in the fast-paced process (depending on the area of the country where you live) of volleying back and forth with your audience, sometimes faster than your mind can compute, rather than actively listening and absorbing your audiences’ message.

To become a more effective communicator, you must demonstrate a disciplined approach in your oral communications. Before you pop off a quick response to anyone, stop yourself to consider the impact of your words, verifying whether it is in your or their best interest to respond so quickly that you either short-circuit the communications process and/or suffer the consequences of an ill-timed response.

Adopt a ten-second rule: Before you respond, take ten seconds (at minimum) to consider the implications of your words. Remember, what goes around comes around . . . you will reap what you sow . . .what you give is what you get . . . karma. You have a choice, make the right one.

2. Consider your audience. Just as important as it is to be mindful of our words, so, too, should we be mindful of our audience. The same message is not appropriate for every audience. What do I mean by this?

As a practicing lawyer, what you say to a referral source about your practice should be different from what you would say to a client or client contact about your practice. Because we create impressions, and, yes, visual images in the minds of our listeners, we must be purposeful and careful of how we relate to our audience with our words. Practice (and often, professional coaching) is required to perfect this skill.

3. Listen first and second, and then speak. We have all heard that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Simply put, we do not learn when we are speaking. It is imperative that as professional services providers we actively listen to clients, colleagues, referral sources, networking partners, and so on, to learn how we may support and help them (i.e., business opportunities). As impossible as it is to spew out all the ways we are qualified to “help” others, it is just poor form to do so before understanding their needs. Listen up, and you will be surprised by what you may learn and by the opportunities that present themselves.

The next time you are engaged in a business discussion, take notice of the impact of your words on your speaking partner. What is their non-verbal communication saying to you? “You have some very good points—I like your ideas?” or “Wow, why am I listening to this person?” Be cognizant of how your message is being received, then tweak your message and delivery; your impact will certainly increase.

4. Mind the communications gap. Too many miscommunications occur when we “think” we told someone (message sent) but found out later the listener did not remember it (message received) as we remembered communicating it. It doesn’t matter where the miscommunication occurred but rather how to avoid miscommunications initially. First, refer to tip 1 above: Think before you speak to ensure that you are in control of your message. Second, confirm with your audience that the message received is the message you intended to send.

How do you do this? Ask for feedback: “Are you with me?” “Does this make sense?” Adapt these feedback questions to your natural communications style, and you will likely see eyes light up when you speak.

5. Accentuate the positive; look inside first. Individuals who choose to lead with the negative often find they are talking only to themselves. Nobody wants to listen to negativity, especially when there is so much coming at us in the media that can be negative. To become a more effective communicator, check that you are not guilty of spreading negativity to others in your conversations, presentations, with clients, or in networking situations. Learning the positive approach can be accomplished via disciplined practice and/or having a pal send you a signal if you start going negative.

6. Make every word count. Remember the acronym KISS (keep it short and simple). Do not belabor a point. Do not offend your audience by offering too many examples when they understand your point in one. Treat words as the golden charms that they are. There is no glory in pontificating your message to feed an ego or merely to fill space. We simply have too many words in our day to add to them unnecessarily.

Becoming a more effective communicator requires concerted effort, practice, and a willingness to adapt to new ways of thinking. There are few things more impactful than to present your well-crafted message and to be understood through the spoken word across all platforms.

Making a presentation to an audience of clients and compelling people to action based on your words . . . that is success.



Kimberly Alford Rice

Kimberly Alford Rice is president/chief strategist of KLA Marketing Associates (klamarketing.com), a business development advisory firm focusing on legal services. As a legal marketing authority, Kimberly recently published Rainmaker Roadmap: A Step-by-Step Guide to Building a Prosperous Business, which outlines a guide for how she leads lawyers/law firms to greater success. She may be reached at 609/458-0415 or via e-mail and Twitter (@rice_kimberly).