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How to improve communication skills

Written by MG (Manish Gupta)

Communication SkillsFrom the image you already have the answer, but let’s ask the question to go with it.

Pop quiz: When making a presentation, how much importance would you give to the content, voice/delivery and the non-verbal cues?

When I first learnt about it, I was almost shocked to note that 55% of a presentation’s effectiveness is determined by our non-verbal cues. This means your facial expressions, how you maintain eye contact, how you connect with the audience etcetera etcetera. How you say makes up for another whopping 38% while the actual content is a measly 7%.

How to improve your communication skills

This article is about the 45% of communication effectiveness as we believe the non-verbal stuff can hardly be learnt using books. I am sharing a list of my top 5 favorites both for the written as well as spoken communication skills. Of course merely reading them wouldn’t help, the trick is to read these books and apply them in your daily life. Only then will you realize the magic effective communication can create for you.

The best books for improving communication skills | Voice

Since the content is the most structured and objective part, the number of books on that is huge. So we’ll start with the 38% first.

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

This is the classic from the master himself. This is a book about adaptability and teaches you the art of surviving and thriving. Though not directly a treatise on delivering presentations, this four part book comes close to demystifying the 55% non-verbal as well as verbal part of communications. Read more.

The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking by Dale Carnegie

This short book is another excellent one from Dale Carnegie. The book explains the importance of knowing and connecting with your audience and adapting your style. Dale Carnegie himself admits that no book can teach you speaking; you have to go out to listen to effective speakers and learn from them. This book or any other book can hardly be a substitute for the learning process to be complete. But it does elucidate the speaking process nicely and in a well structured manner. Read more.

Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time by Keith Ferrazzi

Like Dale, Keith too had humble beginnings. A Harvard MBA, Keith stresses on the importance of building relationships to achieve mutual success. Read more.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Public Speaking (2nd Edition) by Laurie E. Rozakis

This book goes beyond just tips on speaking and explains the importance of stuff like adding humor to your presentations. There are also some useful pointers on areas such as dressing to the occasion, and effectively using non-verbal cues through body language. The recently revised version also covers powerpoint presentations delivery. Read more.

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler

An excellent resource to manage emotionally sensitive situations where tempers can fly. This book will give you a technique to take charge of difficult situations and adapt your communication style to create a risk-free environment. Read more.

The best books for improving communication skills | Verbal/Content

Though of seemingly lesser importance, the content is indeed the king. Remember, the other two aspect, build on the foundation that is provided by content of your presentation/delivery. Unless you have the point, you may merely end up damaging the furniture by banging your fist. It is a nuance, but one that cannot be overlooked.

So here’s another list to get you started. Unlike the other two, this is also the aspect which you can learn a lot through books and reading. Practice of course is the key to mastering this as well.

Say It with Charts: The Executive’s Guide to Visual Communication by Gene Zelazny

This may be a biased opinion, but not without reason. Having worked with McKinsey and its world class visual aids team, reading the master himself is a treat. Apart from McKinsey & Co, Gene frequents most top bschools globally to present his ideas. Starting with the basics, Gene explains how to use the building blocks to create sophisticated charts that immediately capture the reader’s interest. This is the mother of all in creating impactful presentations. Read more.

Write to the Point: How to Communicate in Business with Style and Purpose by Salvatore J. Iacone

A management training consultant, Dr Iacone has had clients such as Duracell, IBM and Pfizer. This book is of immense relevance in today’s email age. There are many amongst us who have not adapted our writing style to the needs of the new digital age. This book provides a step-by-step guide to email etiquettes and avoiding common errors. Read more.

Plain English at Work: A Guide to Business Writing and Speaking by Edward P. Bailey

The book is an effort to cut out the clutter and jargons that creep into our everyday parlance. Bailey presents a simple yet effective model for creating any written content. This framework can be applied across a plethora of situations. In addition, you get useful and critical skills of using correct English. Read more.

Business Grammar, Style & Usage: The Most Used Desk Reference for Articulate and Polished Business Writing and Speaking by Executives Worldwide by Alicia Abell

An Editor by profession, Alicia Abell draws from the experience of business leaders and industry experts. A concise text, this is a handy book to keep by your side at all times as a short reference guide. Read more.

Business Writing: What Works, What Won’t by Wilma Davidson

Another gem from a veteran, this book is a great contemporary resource for business writing. The book has been written in a funny and engaging manner – this makes up for the bland topic at hand. Learning from someone who consults the Fortune 500 companies is always a treat. Read more.

Any other book you’ve read that had some real good ideas? What about inspiration from real life? Have you come across anyone in your personal or professional life who has blown you away with his/her communication skills? What was that one quality that impressed you? It’ll be great if you can share that story to help other readers who are wondering how to improve their communication skills.

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MG (Manish Gupta)

About MG (Manish Gupta)

As a principal MBA admissions consultant & career counsellor with MBA Crystal Ball, MG has helped many get into the top B-schools from ISB to Wharton. He is an IIT topper, an ISB alumnus (Dean's list honors) and a former McKinsey strategy consultant.


  1. Ashutosh Tewari   |  Thursday, 11 July 2013 at 7:12 am

    Pretty comprehensive list, thanks for sharing.

    I personally gained a lot from just one book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. Its a masterpiece and surely a must read (multiple times) for almost everybody.

  2. Naveen   |  Sunday, 14 July 2013 at 5:42 am

    Looks like a big list for almost a couple of months or half a year.. thanks for sharing..

  3. MG   |  Sunday, 14 July 2013 at 12:50 pm

    You are right , Naveen. It’s best not to look at these as part of a syllabus to be completed in a short span of time. Space them out over time and try to implement the ideas :)

  4. Joel D'Souza   |  Friday, 19 July 2013 at 2:29 pm


    If I’m not mistaken, I’ve read a lot of rave reviews about ‘Minto Pyramid Principle’ by Barbara Minto. I haven’t read the actual book but a .pdf summary on the net somewhere. It’s pretty technical it seems but it teaches you to communicate in a ‘structured’ way.

  5. MG (Manish Gupta)   |  Tuesday, 23 July 2013 at 5:12 am

    That is absolutely right Joel. The Pyramid Principle is something that is very frequently used in management/strategy consulting industry to present a complex topic in a structured manner.

    Many of the books listed here would also capture the main thought in some way or another. But if you do like to get into the thick of theory and get a solid hang of the concepts, this book is a pretty interesting read.

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