Billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson is a student of communication. In a blog post listing his favorite quotes on the subject, Branson calls communication “an art.” He’s right. We can use science to study why certain techniques are more effective than others, but ultimately communication is more art than science and, like mastering any art, it takes practice to sharpen the craft.
Quoting business author Brian Tracy, Branson writes, “Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life.”
Communication levels the playing field. If you can speak well, you can outshine the competition in so many ways. Every week I receive emails and comments from our readers who have found uncommon success almost immediately upon improving their communication skills. Among them:
About six years ago Tesla CEO Elon Musk was interviewed on stage for Silicon Valley’s Churchill Club. “I’m not a naturally extroverted person. I used to be horrendous at public speaking, and sort of shake and be unable to speak. I’ve learned not to do that,” he admitted.
In my experience with senior leaders, I’ve found that very few people like delivering presentations or speaking in front of groups—at first. But after enough practice, they get better at it. In many cases, they learn to enjoy it.
Great performers understand that communication is an art and takes practice to refine. When Jay Leno was hosting The Tonight Show, he would leave the taping on Friday and head to Las Vegas or another city for a series of standup shows. Leno would do 100 to 150 acts a year even when he had a full-time job because he had to stay sharp. When is the last time you practiced any presentation 150 times, or even 20 times? Speaking of The Tonight Show, Jimmy Fallon rehearses his monologue in front of a live audience earlier in the day. He has a pen and paper in hand and makes notes of what gets a laugh and what doesn’t. These comedians do not rely on a scientific algorithm to develop their jokes.
Although I’m a big believer in studying the science of persuasion, there’s no question that communication—like Branson suggests—is more of an art. Mastering any art requires time, dedication, and practice. Master the art of communication, however, and a new world opens where you can influence people, sell products, and inspire others more successfully than you’ve ever imagined.