Successful business leaders are able to effectively communicate with others. This makes communication one of the most important skills to develop in not only business but in life.

Here’s how you can significantly improve your communication skills.

Practice listening

One thing that is often overlooked when your improving communication skills is your ability to listen. We focus so much on ourselves that we forget that communication typically involves multiple parties. How can you provide a thoughtful and effective answer to someone if you don’t listen to what they have to say?

If you work in sales for example, listening is more important the speaking. Any great salesperson knows that you listen 80% of the time and talk the other 20%. The key is you want to ask questions. You want to learn as much as you can about the other person. Why are they interested in your products or services? What solutions do they currently use? Without the answers to these questions you simply won’t be able to give them the right information.

Whether you’re closing a multimillion dollar deal or talking to your buddies about where they want to eat, take the time to practice listening. The better you get at picking out key points from others the better you’ll be at communicating.

Know your audience

If you want to communicate effectively you need to truly understand your audience. The tricky part about this one is every audience is often different. Different audiences will have different preferences and sometimes different cultural norms altogether.

This also doesn’t have to be viewed on such a large scale either. It can simply be a one on one meeting with a client. In this case, you could do a simple LinkedIn search to learn about some of their history. For larger groups, take the time to learn about some members of the organization. When you’re actually speaking to them, you can also ask questions or ask people to identify the best communicators within the organization.

Learn about nonverbal communication

Some studies say that nonverbal communication accounts for nearly 55% of how an audience perceives a presenter. What does that mean? The majority of what you say is actually communicated through your physical cues, not your words.

If you want to clearly communicate from a nonverbal standpoint, you need to adopt good posture. You should standup straight and always avoid slouching or making yourself appear smaller than you are. Folding your arms or having them in your pocket will make you seem uncomfortable. Whenever you’re presenting or communicating to a group, make sure you truly fill the space you’re given. Walk around the room or stage and always make eye contact with your audience. This will show confidence and your audience will be much more engaged.

Try to forego the visual aids

When giving a presentation it’s common to bring a visual aid along. Whether it’s a powerpoint or a few simple graphics we feel more comfortable with the visuals behind us. Sometimes these aids are very necessary. If you’re a startup giving a presentation to potential investors, you definitely need to have a slide deck put together. If you’re holding a team meeting or giving a sales presentation however, it’s often a good strategy to forego the visual aid.

You may think this sounds silly but some of the greatest leaders in business actually banned PowerPoints at their companies. Both Steve Jobs and Sheryl Sandberg instituted a PowerPoint ban at their respective companies. The way Jobs puts it, “People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint”.

Rely on using words, nonverbal cues, and compelling storytelling to communicate with your audience. This allows them to connect directly with you, not the bar graph on the projector.

Record and listen back

Many of us don’t like to sound of our own voice. For some reason is just sounds different when we listen to it played back doesn’t it? While that may be the case, you need to start liking it because listening to yourself is a great way to improve your communication skills.

Platforms like UberConference and Zoom allow you to record your conference calls. Not only is this a good way to listen back for key information, but it gives you a chance to listen to yourself deliver your message. I bet you’re going to hear a lot of “umm”, “uhh”, and a few unnecessary “likes”. Play a game with yourself and count the number of times you use this kind of language. Try to get it down to zero. Pausing and saying “umm” on a call only makes you sound less credible.

Get your audience involved

Regardless how funny you are or how good of a storyteller, you’re going to lose your audience at some point if you keep on talking. The reason is because people just have short attention spans. After a while, they’ll start thinking about their next meal or what they’re going to do on the weekend. If you want to avoid this, try turning your presentation into a discussion.

Ask your audience questions and encourage them to share their thoughts on some of the topics you bring up. If you want to take it a step further, you can prepare your presentation to engage the audience at certain points. Propose two options and start a discussion on which is better and why. The more creative you get with this, the more engaged the room will be.

Always get feedback

As with any leadership skill, asking for feedback from the people you respect is crucial to becoming better at communication. If you constantly ask for feedback others will feel invested in helping you improve. That’s because it shows you value their opinion.

At the end of the day, communication skills aren’t developed overnight. In fact, some people avoid learning they never become effective at communication. Follow the seven strategies above so you don’t become one of those people.