Robots don't have a heart; humans do. The line sounds trite, but it's the key to standing out and getting ahead at a time when automation and artificial intelligence threaten to eliminate millions of jobs. This is the conclusion of the recently released 2018 LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report.

LinkedIn surveyed 4,000 professionals globally in four categories: talent developers, managers, employees, and executives. The survey found that developing soft skills is the number one priority for businesses that want to stay ahead of the curve. The most critical soft skills were leadership and communication.

Business professionals need to know the technical aspects of their jobs, of course, but the pace of change is happening so fast that they also need to be critical thinkers, communicators and collaborators to fuel growth. These skills apply equally to you as an entrepreneur on the path to leading your own brand and a career-minded professional on the path to a corner office.

I've spent two years working on a new book where I've interviewed billionaires and CEOs, entrepreneurs and scientists whose companies are in the leading edge of technology and Artificial Intelligence (AI). To a person they told me that great communicators stand out, get noticed and get ahead. Surprisingly, communication skills play a more important role in the most technical and scientific fields.

"Science left in a drawer doesn't benefit anyone," Anders Sahlman told me. Sahlman is the founder of a year-long pitch competition for Swedish scientists held at universities across the country. The finalists get four minutes to present their research to a panel of experts, journalists, and a general audience. They're judged on vocal delivery, the structure and content of their message, and their overall performance.

Above all, they must tell the story behind their research and be clearly understood by scientists in other disciplines who know nothing about the subject. The winning ideas get funding and are soon implemented in the marketplace.

As globalization brings in the world together and automation eliminates millions of jobs humans did by hand, ideas are more important than ever. But if you can't sell your idea, it doesn't matter.

This is the first time in human history when someone who is a little better at expressing an idea can see an enormous gain in wealth and/or influence that is unprecedented in civilization. So, here are three ways to sharpen your communication skills:

1. Add stories to the mix.

I recently wrote an article about Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos who replaces PowerPoint in meetings with memos in a "narrative-structure." He likes to hear stories and anecdotes, because he believes that's the best way to learn.

Science proves that he's right. Researchers who look at the human brain say we are wired for story. We process our world in narrative, talk in story and, most importantly, want to consume our information in story. Even in a highly technical presentation, stories will bring the content to life.

2. Watch and learn.

You have an amazing tool that you can use to improve your speaking skills. And it's free. It's called TED Talks.

I know the folks at TED and have been behind the scenes. The speakers--especially on the main TED stage--prepare extensively with coaches. Just by watching them, you can learn about storytelling, delivery, conciseness and the visual display of ideas.

3. Read books on the subject

You can find several of my books in the public-speaking category of Amazon, but there are many others that you should read. Here is a very short list of some of my favorites:

  • Resonate by Nancy Duarte
  • If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? by Alan Alda
  • Captivate by Vanessa Van Edwards
  • Shortcut by John Pollack
  • Houston, We Have a Narrative by Randy Olson

These books will introduce to you a range of tools in the communicators toolkit. You'll learn more about storytelling, communicating science, building great slides, and improving your body language.

The hard data shows that soft skills are in short supply. Build your communication skills to stand out.

Published on: May 8, 2018