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How to improve communication skills

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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Manish Gupta
About Manish Gupta
Chief Consulting Officer at MBA Crystal Ball, ex-McKinsey, IIT & ISB topper. MG can help you get into the top B-schools. Read more about this top MBA admissions consultant. Connect with MG on Email. Or follow on Linkedin, Facebook.

26 thoughts on “How to improve communication skills”

  1. 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. 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 🙂

  3. MG,

    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.

  4. 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.

  5. I request for your advice please on the right direction I should take on career progression. I have tried to portray my career landscape below.
    1. For last 11 years, I have been into multiple roles around project management, programme management. Total experience is 19 years.
    2. Some statistics: All these years, I have been into Telecom domain. Scale of project budgets managed by me have been upto 5 Million USD. Direct & indirect reportees managed were fleet of 50 people.
    3. I worked across different categories of employers: Software services & Systems Integrator (8 years), Software Product (Oracle 2 years), Telecom/IT Service provider (3 years).
    4. I have good exposure of directly working with customers – where I worked at customer sites at UAS and Europe for 3 years
    5. I possess good communication & inter-personal skills. I am moderately extrovert and believe in taking charge of things. I prefer to take calculated risks and if leadership is supportive, I feel excited to venture unknown waters.

    For now, I feel stuck into delivery management roles. Could you please how should I progress my career further.

  6. @suresh – you have a lot of years of experience. Any knee-jerk and drastic changes may prove futile. The best bet would be to try to sell yourself within the firm and then gradually move towards a role you prefer.

  7. Hi Sir
    I have done bcom(p) In 2012 and m perusing company secretary course and in final of cs now m findings it difficult to peruse it I m 23 (age) now I am really confused that what I shoud do next
    I have 2 options
    To prepare for government jobs like ssc exam and banks political (where their is a risk tht I would have attain job
    And I have another option is to go for mba. M nor really good in English nd my communications skills are not soo good
    I m hardworking nd can clear cat bt m bit insecure about GD/pi
    Pllllzzzz help me

  8. @Aditi. You are still starting off on your career – dont get too bogged down by apprehensions. It is better to try and then fail then not to try at all. Go ahead and take a shot at CAT. In the meanwhile, attempting to get a job will be a good strategy to hedge your risks.

  9. Hi MG,

    I found this blog very useful. I am also going through mid life career crisis. I have completed BE in computer science in 2004. After that I have worked as a Graduate Apprenticeship Trainee in a govt telecom sector.

    After that I did SAP-ABAP training from Bangalore from a private institute and worked as ABAP trainer.

    After that I got job in a fertilizer company and working as a in-house SAP ABAP consultant and maintaining SAP applications there. Now I have complete 7 years in the same organization.

    Now at this point , How to proceed further in my career.

    I have good academic record but my weakness is I am not a risk taking person and communication skill is not good. I am introvert in nature and working in rajasthan at my home town.

    Now I am looking forward to do some certification course for learning and career advancement.

    I am thinking for either PMP or post graduate diploma 1 year course in supply chain management.

    Please suggest and advice for my career.


  10. @Anubhav. It is not clear if your total experience is 7 years or only at the last recruiter. Nonetheless, you seem to have had some disconnected job changes. It will be better to stick to your job. A PMP certification will certainly help if you want to become a Project Manager. Dont waste time in a diploma frankly

  11. Hi MG,
    Right now I’m too much hesitated in planning my post graduate program. I am studious student from my school life and I’ve topped in my school throughout and managed a very good percentage in board exams. Now I’m in nation-wide famous engineering. college in 3rd year and and usually manage a position within top6. But my limitations are poor communication skill and don’t have capability of having conversation in English fluently and I lack confidence in facing people while meeting them for the first time and if they are much more street smart than me,no matter how much internally smart or capable in doing things they are,their appearance someway frightens me,forces me to keep myself hindered,unexposed and not participating. This limitations make me afraid of GD& PI. General awareness is another weak point of me.I am very hardworking and have high expectations from myself in terms of salary and happiness.
    But i cant decide one of the following options
    1.a PSU job. So get prepared for GATE2016. I think after putting a sincere effort in that i can crack GATE with a rank good enough to get interview call. But again GD PI frighten me. Besides i think the salary will hardly touch 8 l.p.Below that it’ll be hard for me to be satisfied with the salary. But i know job security and other perks should be taken into account. Nevertheless can these all sum up to 80000 p.m??
    2.Go for an M.B.A from one of the 7iims or XLRI or IIFT.So i have to take a CAT coaching right now.But as per my limitations can i make a flourish career in management with a poor communication skill and poor leadership quality? MBA is a very expensive course you know.Unless being very sure about my placement(with that attractive package in contrast with a shy ,reserved personality), i being from a middle class family, cant opt for an MBA.

    So I’m now quite bothered about taking a cat coaching which is also expensive. If i go for this will it really help me in overcoming that sorts of shortcoming within me? will it help me clearing the GD and PI ?If i give up my MBA dream will it help me in other aspects regarding my career? or i should go for other alternatives? Should i prepare for GATE seriously while I am not sure to the job satisfaction? should i postpone the MBA plan? Its a high time for me to take the crucial decision- GATE or MBA or anything else? Please help me at this moment. I need your help advice opinion for my success in future life.

  12. @Karan – the GD/PI in GATE are fairly technical in nature. The one for MBA are very different. If you know this is your weakness – that’s great because then you can put a focused effort on it. Read some of the books in this article and work your way in upskilling. GATE or CAT will really depend on what you want to do. Only making money should NOT be the way you decide your career!

  13. I am Btech in Computer science in 2005,i am working in MNC from 2005 working with same company.
    arround 8 years exp and salary package 6.5 L.


  14. I can understand the importance of soft skills for research students. To convince the world about your research needs it. I took a professional course to work on it which helped me. The blog is of great nature.

  15. sir i am doing 3rd btech with CSE.I dont had any stage fear.But if i want to talk with others i am getting a lot of tension.I am getting a lot of fear.I have the reason with me that is when I was in my 5th class my close friend left me, i got a lot of situations like that then i took a decision that no one on the earth was permanent with you.You and your soul only permanent with you,so i decided that why i want to be happy when they were with me and why i want to cry after they left me so i decided to stop talking without need whenever there is a need then only i want to talk but when coming to debits,presentations i would like to participate in those.Up to my 10th class all my teachers liked me a lot they used to say a student should be like Niharika .It became a habit to me.If i want to talk with new persons i am getting a lot of fear.It is effecting me a lot.I came to know the importance of communication now but i was unable to come out of that.I want to become a software engineer because of my communication i was in a dilema that whether i could get a job or not,please give me valuable suggestion
    Tell me as I was in 3rd btech how to plan my career.

  16. @ Dhanesh – thanks for your kind words.

    @ Nikarika – what you are experiencing is something that is very common. We are not an expert but keep yourself motivated, participate in activities that force you to work in small teams and you should be fine.

  17. Hello sir, i am a graduate in bba. i wish to crack cat and go for the iims..but i do fear regarding the gd and pi rounds that needs to be cleared to get through it. Would u please suggest some general topics asked..also, how to prepare for such

  18. @ambari – We work mainly in GMAT/GRE based schools but the basic principles are still the same. Practice, practice and more practice. Seek as many opportunities as you can to improve your communication skills for GD/PI. If required, go ahead and signup with one of the professional coaching centers that will help you get access to a lot more people to practice with.

  19. Hi,

    I have 8 years professional experience in Domestic BPO sector and 1 year experience in Pharmaceutical sector. Unfortunately I am trying for job in both sector but due to lack of communication skill I couldn’t succeed because every company wants professional candidate with good communication skills. There is no issue in my work. I have done everything in past and got various rewards for the same but due to weaken in English every time rejected in Interview. I tried to solve this weakness but not successful. If my schooling happened in Hindi medium then its my fault. If I can not speak fluently in English does I am not capable for any work. Why I am struggling in life due to this weakness.
    Please suggest me what to do and how to do.


    • Rajiv,

      With those many years of experience, it is not uncommon to overcome the handicap of having no education in the English Language. You can consider some of the books here but also explore a specific course in the language. There are a lot of options for online courses which you can take and pace them as per your requirements. Also reflect on factors that may have impeded your ability to pick up proficiency in the language in the past 9 years – maybe there are some more reasons for it?

  20. hi,
    i have done my in civil engineering (2016 pass out). i scored 86 percentile in CAT 2015. i scored decent in both quants and di but could not clear cut off in english. this is because i come from hindi medium background also i am not so good at communications. I am confident about CAT but not so sure about gd/pi. should i try for CAT 2016 i.e. should I pursue an MBA?

    • Deepak,

      We aren’t the experts on CAT related matters. But if you haven’t tried the route, check some GD/PI coaching services. They help you a lot and prepare. 86 percentile won’t help you make the cut at the IIMs, but perhaps at some other programs that use the CAT score.

  21. i did bachelor in arts and want to do mba but i sucked at the group discussion and my communication in english is weak too. i am frustrated, unemployed and staying at home for 1 year now ,what should i do???

    • This is a pretty tough one Bedanga and am afraid, we aren’t really the best folks to comment on it. I can only state the obvious here – try to get employed and start your career journey asap. Good luck


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