Three Communication Principles Every Manager and Teacher Should Use

Communication skills matter.

High school finals are coming in our house.  It’s been a long time since I last took a final exam, and it’s hard to imagine having the mental discipline to study for one today.  But I’ve been called in to help prepare The Boy for his Pre-calculus final (I’ve been assisting all year, usually summoned at the last minute the night before a test or quiz).

math problems on graph paper with pencil

Fortunately, this is not uncharted territory for me.  In what now seems like a previous life, I got a graduate degree in mathematics, and taught college pre-calculus (and calculus) for several years.  But that was over two decades (and three careers) ago.

I don’t remember everything.  It took a refresher in the text to conjure up the proper technique for Descartes Rule of Signs, completing the square, polar coordinates, and Pascal’s Triangle.  But my son was amazed that – more often than not – I knew the right technique, the right answers, and could spot his mistakes before he finished writing the line.  What enables me, after 20+ years, to still retain a skill I have used sparingly in that time?  (Please stow your “see!  Math is useless!” comments.  Math teaches a way of thinking, and those that need to use it every day are good enough at it so you don’t have to be.   Soap box dismount complete…)

I had some great teachers/professors in my days in the classroom.  And I had some poor ones.  I was definitely a pitiful teacher in the beginning, but would like to think I ended up better than I began.  I dream of teaching math again in an emeritus status when a contract and a salary aren’t needed.

But for now, I teach speaking, which at first seems very different from the Law of Cosines.  But it is more applicable than it seems. There are three principles that make great math lessons and also make great quarterly updates, fantastic sales pitches, compelling interviews, moving speeches, and engaging conversations.

Communication Principles for Effective Managers and Teachers

  1. People don’t tune in (learn) if they are not interested.  In the speaking world, we call this CONNECTION, and it’s the first thing that matters to a listener.  In the math world, it’s called “Why you should care?,” and it’s one of the reasons I was so glad I had an engineering degree to build math instruction on top of.  Students learned to stop asking me, “When would I ever use this?” in my classes.  If you start a speech or a meeting, you need to keep this in mind.  Opening with a story or an alarming fact (“Hermann Ebbinghaus suggests we forget 90% of what we learn over the long haul!”) is much better than “Today we’ll go over our quarterly figures and compare them to our goals…
  2. A litany of facts and rules are not easily remembered.  In math, we repeated rules until they were quoted in unison in class or created a mnemonic to help clarify a confusing topic.  If you ever were asked to Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally or could quote “if you add the square root sign, add a +/- to your answer.  If the problem already had the square root sign, assume the positive root only” then you were given an external method to remember something important.  Before your meeting, ask yourself, “What do I want people to remember and repeat from this?”  And if it’s that important (“Little things make the biggest difference”), then employ a technique other than just telling them to get them to remember it.
  3. Learning will be retained much longer through discovery than through discourse.  When people already know the material or could figure it out on their own, let them participate in the process.  The temptation for a tutor/teacher is to just do the problem.  I’m good at it.  I know I can get it right.  But then if I ask, “Do you see that?” the student will always answer “yes” even if they do not.  Far better to get them to do the problem, and talk through their attempted solution.  Same in your staff meetings or conference presentations.  Even in my keynotes, I like to get people talking.  In small audiences, this can be a group discussion.  In larger groups, I might have them turn to a neighbor to discuss an important truth, or have them write down what they just learned.  A professor once said in class, “The person who talks the most, learns the most.”  Learn to facilitate and draw out learning, not just speak.

One of the tenets of our model and methods at MillsWyck Communications is that we teach communication skills, not presentation skills, interview skills, meeting skills, or debate skills.  The environments are certainly different, and the constraints may dictate a slightly different approach, but a great teacher is likely to also be a great speaker, who is also ready to become a great meeting facilitator and a great leader of men and women.  It’s all in your communication skill, something everyone can learn.

There’s a final exam coming in the form of your annual review, your presentation, your sales pitch, or your big chance on the stage… are you ready?

Communication Skills Matter!  What are you saying?

Bonus Math Quiz:


then the function is called ___________?!  Hint: it’s the mindset we teach in our workshops on how you should practice your speaking/communication skills!

Bonus Quiz for the math-impaired:

If you want to get better at something, you need to practice, because practice makes ______________.

(see answers below)

This article was published in the January 2017 edition of our monthly speaking tips email, Communication Matters. Have speaking tips like these delivered straight to your inbox every month. Sign up today and receive our FREE download, “Twelve Tips that will Save You from Making a Bad Presentation.”  You can unsubscribe at any time.

Answers to Bonus Questions

  • Continuous.  The layman’s definition is to draw a function without lifting your pencil.
  • Permanent.  The WAY you practice determines the outcome.  It’s why most people aren’t great communicators, because they have not changed their behavior with intentionality.  The answer “perfect” is only true when you practice perfectly, despite our wishes to the contrary.