Poor communication costs businesses millions. David Grossman reports the average cost of inadequate communication — to and between employees — is $62.4 million per year (based on a survey of 400 companies with more than 100,000 employees). For smaller companies, the annual loss amounts to approximately $420,000. By wasting hours editing presentations and memos, misaligning expectations, or requesting follow-up meetings for clarifying questions, poor communication hits you right in the bottom line.
If you spend hours reworking decks created by your team, and you cringe at emails you’re copied on, you’re not alone. In a study surveying more than 650 employers, 54% of respondents said it was very or somewhat difficult to find qualified applicants with communication skills.
To cover for your team’s poor communication, you may find yourself painstakingly making slide-by-slide edits and always being the one to present — while also wishing that your team had the confidence to craft and tell compelling, data-backed business storytelling.
So how do you know when it’s time to invest in communications training for your team to empower creative business storytelling?
The Business Cost of Poor Communication
It can be difficult to calculate how much poor communication costs an organization, but its effects are innumerable. Sometimes it’s implicitly understood that poor communication adds up in myriad ways, like deciphering a poorly structured email, or shaking your head at an employee’s slides, spending precious minutes trying to decode what you’re supposed to know or do with the information.
But we do know this: Poor communication leads to less productive employees, less innovation, and less credibility when trying to move forward in your career.
Studies show that effective communication produces a 47% higher return to shareholders over a five-year period . That’s because the organization gets out its messages and turns the gears of the machine much faster than with sloppy communications, ultimately creating higher value in the long run.
Clients have told us, “I spend a lot of time reviewing and reworking presentations, sometimes until one o’clock in the morning. I find myself spending hours making drastic edits, slide by slide.” Sound familiar?
You see, organizational efficiency isn’t just slowed down by the lack of clarity. Employees are also slowed down by reworking communications to better appeal to executive stakeholders, suppliers, and more. That’s time wasted that could’ve been better spent providing additional value for the firm.
One head of supply chain told us, “I see many powerful ideas get lost behind a spaghetti pile of a presentation.” Have you seen that too? Clients also say, “Imagination, creativity, and collaboration all suffer because [some employees] don’t know how to communicate better. People can’t communicate their ideas in a succinct way.
If you’ve ever lost a deal or a project approval because of miscommunication or by the audience not getting what you’re saying, you’ve been there too. Maybe you’ve had a great idea that would save the organization money or propel a product forward, but the idea got lost somewhere between the employee’s mind and the PowerPoint slide.
A great story starts with a meaningful insight, drawn out by what’s going on in your audience’s world and how you can help solve their business challenges. Stories like these move readers of Malcolm Gladwell books or listeners of Freakonomics podcasts. Can your employees tell stories that capture their audiences and compel them to act? Or are the most innovative ideas trapped like marble inside Michelangelo’s visions?
Think about the soaring heights the best orators have taken you. Have you ever been stirred by a speech or late-night dinner party conversation? Or consider a Michelin-star culinary journey and how it sweeps you into another place: It’s all a matter of presentation.
Research shows that “[e]ffective and appropriate communication [is] positively related to perceptions of credibility (competence, goodwill, and trustworthiness). Many L&D leaders want training to instill a sense of executive presence within their teams. If midlevel managers could confidently sway the senior leadership with great business storytelling, the organization could be that much more effective.
We’ve heard from clients the difficulty of subject matter experts explaining complex ideas in a simple way: “When my team starts interacting with our internal customers (senior-level executives), our acronyms muddle the conversation. They’re clear to us, but they’re just words to our customers. They don’t know why they need us.”
You know there’s a better way. So, how do you know when it s time to invest in communications training for your team?
8 Dark Secrets of Poor Communicators
Often, organizations experience issues that they don’t even realize are the result of communication gaps. Here are eight signs of poor communication — signaling that it’s time to invest in communications training for your team.
Half of the signs relate to communication that happens behind the scenes while the other half show up on the spot in meetings or presentations. Let’s look at them one at a time.
4 secrets of poor communication that occur behind the scenes
When the team experiences analysis paralysis while building presentations
You’ve likely been here before: analysis paralysis. You analyze a million things because you’re so close to the problem that you can’t reason your way to a solution.
Without clarity about what to communicate, and confidence about how to communicate it, teams can experience analysis paralysis where they struggle to make decisions.
We’ve heard that teams “get caught in analysis paralysis and chase data trails, although ultimately it hits the cutting room floor — they spend a ton of time chasing down the data only to not use it.” If this is you, it may be a good time to invest in communications training and push your teams forward.
When teams struggle to collaborate on presentations
Collaboration isn’t easy, especially in global enterprises when much of the work happens across languages and culture, and all on video or online tools.
Consider a typical quarterly report or investor presentation. The output requires statistical analysis, writing, creative, and management support. Teams of five, 10, or 15 people have to build and approve the work before it hits the stage, where even the smallest misalignment can push deadlines back days or weeks.
We’ve heard that, “Collaboration on a large presentation is one of the hardest parts of my job. For example, every month we have a presentation that’s 20 pages long, and I’ve got eight people collaborating to provide content. They’re not on the same page as far as format and style, or even the story they’re trying to tell. Consistency would be a huge time saver.
Consistency amid collaborative communication tasks can be a killer, but some effective communication training upfront can save weeks on the timeline.
When leaders spend hours reworking presentations
Let’s be honest: When you have a big presentation coming up, you make a copy of the last one and start editing, right? We all do it. You might grab slides from another deck, make some adjustments, and pray it gets the job done. We call that a Frankendeck. Unfortunately, most people can tell that the creature recently crawled out of a lab. The fonts are different sizes or colors, the charts show irrelevant data, and there’s no clear storyline or compelling journey with which the audience leans in and acts on the message. Ultimately, the team has to say, “Um, in the interest of time, let’s skip to this slide.”
We get it. Time is precious, so you gotta do what you gotta do.
But your audience — and your calendar — are less forgiving. One client said, “I have 5 million things to do. I don’t have time to spend 20 hours editing and re-editing this PowerPoint deck, but I know it needs to be good, so I need to know how to do it better so I can do it faster.”
The thing is, spending quality time building your story, and not creating a Frankendeck, will end up saving you hours and hours of reworking in the future. Like the Navy SEALs say, “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.”
When speakers struggle to distill data into a compelling story
How many times have you seen chart after chart trying to figure out what’s important to know or remember? Too many communicators think that the more data you show, the better. That’s a lie. Most of the time, you need one good stat to provide an interesting insight, and then build a story around that stat to help explain it.
One client needed help “turning the story into something compelling and trying to teach our team to be compelling. I would have four or five prep calls [before a client meeting].” Another asked, “How do you distill it down to the key points and focus on insights and implications instead of regurgitating raw data?”
4 dark secrets of poor communication in meetings and presentations
It’s not just the 1 a.m. rework (that few people see, but everyone knows) that gets communicators into trouble. It’s also the raised eyebrows in the boardroom or distracted audiences on a Zoom call. If you’ve experienced any of these signs, it’s time to invest in communication training.
When audiences are bored or not engaged
The dreaded glance away from your gaze, down toward whatever just popped up on their screen. It’s a communicator’s worst nightmare. You know you’ve lost your audience. Conversely, you’ve probably attended a meeting or event where the keynote speaker captured the audience in such a way that you could’ve heard a pin drop. You’re almost afraid to breathe and lose focus. Do your people have that skill?
Maybe that’s an extreme scene, but that kind of focus is critical for convincing influential executives and moving large projects forward. When meeting participants are distracted, it’s bad news for everyone. Data compiled by BOOQED shows that 91% of employees have daydreamed during meetings, 39% have slept during meetings, and 73% have worked on other things during meetings.
We know. It happens to the best of us. But when distraction becomes routine, it’s a sign communication training is beckoning.
When prospects don t understand why they should work with you
Marketers know that your value proposition is key to getting others to say “yes.” If they can’t understand why you’re different or why you’re special, it’s hard to convince anyone to invest in you. The trouble is that most professionals aren’t marketers and haven’t been trained to understand their audiences and deliver the message that answers, “So what?”
A client once said, “We’re not marketers. We’re not good at presenting our story and we’re not good at simplifying the message for the audience.” We completely understand. It’s a skill you must practice.
However, with some basic training, employees at every level of an organization can learn how to distill their audience’s pain points and present their ideas and recommendations in a compelling way, even if it’s for a small task. The time spent in training will pay dividends over the weeks and months to come.
When the same people (or person) always present
You’ve got that go-to rock star who knows how to start the presentation with a low-key joke to break the ice, then get straight to the point, then outro with a scintillating question to pique the audience’s interest. But what happens when she’s on maternity leave or out sick?
Forbes reports that “20% of respondents said they would do almost anything to avoid giving a presentation, including pretending to be sick or asking a colleague to give the presentation, even if it means ’losing respect’ in the workplace.”
Many employees have a debilitating fear of public speaking. However, like anything else, the more you learn about your fear — and the more skill you grow in that area — the less fear you eventually have. When you were starting out in your career, you may have been afraid to say the wrong term regarding your industry to your boss’s boss. But the more you understood about your industry, the more you understood about the nuances between the different terms, and the more confident you became in talking about it.
The same is true of communicating important information to executives. And building that skill across your team — and not just that one superstar on staff — will make your entire department more confident going forward.
When attendees ask you to define buzzwords and acronyms
They call it “the curse of knowledge” when you forget what it’s like to not know something. Deep in their souls, designers know about color theory, space, and balance; financial executives know balance sheet ratios, profitability, and macroeconomic impacts; and a thousand other employees know the acronyms and tacit knowledge that keep them sharp.
But does your audience?
They may be unfamiliar with internal or industry jargon. Acronyms that are second nature to you may be completely foreign to the readers of your emails. You might think it’s common knowledge, but it’s hard to know for sure. Additionally, some acronyms mean one thing in one industry but something else in another, or even two different meanings within the same industry: For psychologists, does the ACA mean the Affordable Care Act or the American Counseling Association?
Clients have told us that they “need a compelling way to cut through terminology buzzwords.” If that’s you, it may be time to… you get the picture.
Now that you know the signs, it’s time to evaluate whether you’re ready to get started with communications training.
How to Come into the Light of Business Storytelling Today
If poor communication is costing you time and leaving you frustrated, it’s time to invest in communications training for your team. A lack of communication skills can also materialize in meetings and presentations, confusing prospects and boring attendees.