Leverage recorded video: As I mentioned before, this is a powerful tool to deliver concise, consistent, and thoughtful messages while demonstrating poise and confidence. Keep these videos short (just a few minutes at most) to keep people’s attention. And don’t be afraid to use this tool more than once in your communication plan.

We are all competing in an attention economy. From pings and dings to blinks and rings, companies and content constantly compete for our limited time and attention. How do great leaders turn down the noise and tune in to the messages that matter most? What does it take to be heard above the noise? And how do we create communication that cultivates community and connectedness in a distributed, distracted world? To address these questions, we started an interview series called “Can You Hear Me Now?: Top Five Strategies Leaders Use to Diminish Distractions & Win in the Attention Economy.” As a part of this interview series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Kevin Gyolai.

Kevin Gyolai, PhD, is the CEO of Gyolai Consulting, where for over a decade he’s helped clients identify and focus on the handful of things that really matter to their success. His passion is helping people and organizations reach their full potential. Kevin has helped clients around the world improve their businesses and their lives.

Thank you for making time to visit with us. Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is one of your most memorable moments, and what made it memorable?

I first got into organizational performance when I was working as a scientist and educator over a decade ago. Higher education found itself in a position it was unprepared for; a highly competitive, market-based economy where customers had many fine choices and easy access. Additionally, customers began asking if we could prove the student outcomes we claimed. At my college, we knew we needed to adjust quickly to this new paradigm, so we joined a pioneering organization that guided us in bringing robust business principles into the non-profit world. That was a very formative time for me professionally.

One of my favorite career stories comes from my time in higher education. In my capacity as Dean of STEM I had the honor of leading one of the most respected cybersecurity programs in the USA. As part of that work, I partnered with representatives from the federal intelligence community, and other government agencies, to train and deploy the next generation of cyber warriors. The program I helped create and nurture lives on. I feel humble and patriotic about that time of my career.

What is the most unexpected twist in your career story, and what did you discover from your detour?

That is an easy one — when I left higher education to become an entrepreneur. I didn’t see that twist coming! It can be a difficult leap to make going from academia to owning your own business. The learning curve was steep, but I was used to that. I discovered that much of what I would eventually do as an organizational performance consultant was really teaching and coaching, which I was good at. Once that paradigm shifted for me, I found my path.

According to a recent Harvard Business School study, the most essential communication skill for leaders is the ability to adapt their communication style. How do you adapt your communication style?

I adapt my communication style to my audience and to the nature of the work behind the communication effort.

For example, I once helped the primary owner of a large construction company bring on private equity partners. There were multiple constituencies involved, and all of them had a point of view on the new partnership. Many of them were personally and financially affected by the decision, so effective communication was essential to a successful transition. In fact, we managed the sale without the loss of key customers or employees.

We worked hard to anticipate roadblocks and points of tension. And we adapted the messaging to each constituent group, using written, video, and face-to-face communication techniques. This multichannel approach was especially important because the company had a highly distributed workforce.

Clarity is critical as well. What lessons have you learned about how to communicate with clarity in our distributed world of work?

Staying with the example from the last question, we used recorded video to manage consistent messaging and demonstrate emotional intelligence and confidence during the sale of the company. This proved to be a critical decision because we were able to squash rumors and correct misunderstandings by referring to the video and what was communicated there.

We often discover what works by experiencing what doesn’t. Tell us about a time when your communication didn’t lead to the desired results and what you learned from the experience.

I worked with a nationally recognized nonprofit to transform their business operations by implementing and integrating our proprietary business operating system. It was an aspirational project for the nonprofit and a challenging initiative for us both. The CEO didn’t seem fully on-board (what we didn’t know was that he was planning to leave the organization), which meant we were unable to appropriately leverage him as the project’s leadership sponsor and figurehead. What that meant tactically was that certain important messages were not coming from the very top but from a C-suite subordinate who didn’t have the political clout to pull it off. Strategically, our messaging tools failed to fully rally the organization, and the project didn’t meet its potential.

What we learned from that experience was to trust our instincts, which told us that something was off about the CEO’s attitude toward the project; he said the right things, but his heart didn’t seem in it. I should’ve dug deeper into that.

What advice would you offer to other leaders who are struggling to have their messages heard and actioned?

Create a communication plan that leverages multiple communication channels over time to drip messaging out, especially during change initiatives. My days as a college professor taught me that people have short attention spans and need to be communicated with repeatedly for the message to sink in.

Leading a distributed team requires a different communication cadence and style from leading a team in person. What are five strategies any leader can deploy to improve communication and clarity when leading a distributed workforce?

1 . Create a communication plan: Beginning with the end in mind, what are you trying to communicate and how can you design the messages to be received by the most people? For example, during a change initiative, address the what, why, and who of the initiative in the first message and provide details in subsequent messages.

In my experience, leaders tend not to communicate enough, or said differently, employees want leaders to communicate more. A communication plan allows the leader to create a roadmap of messaging efforts with different tools along the path.

2 . Leverage recorded video: As I mentioned before, this is a powerful tool to deliver concise, consistent, and thoughtful messages while demonstrating poise and confidence. Keep these videos short (just a few minutes at most) to keep people’s attention. And don’t be afraid to use this tool more than once in your communication plan.

3 . Hold open forums: Like recorded video, open forums are a great way to add a personal dimension to a communication effort. Whether virtual or live, an open forum can be powerful, especially in circumstances where people have questions or a particular need to be heard. This tool requires a humble, calm demeanor. If you can’t control your emotions and keep your cool when being challenged before a live audience, don’t hold open forums. If you can keep an even keel, here is a pro tip — you don’t have to respond directly to everything that’s said by audience members.

4 . Experiment with infographics: Sometimes people need to visualize what a leader is trying to communicate. Others are naturally visual learners. Infographics are a wonderful tool for breaking through all the noise and reinforcing a consistent message to distributed teams. There are a lot of templates and models available, and easy to access professional help, so don’t be shy about experimenting with infographics.

I often create infographics as part of communicating change initiatives to frontline employees, and I encourage them to keep the infographic handy for easy reference. This helps keep everyone on the same page and drives a consistent, clear message.

5 . Make yourself available to your people: For many, impromptu conversations at the office have gone away or never existed. This means leaders must be intentional about making themselves personally available. If you happen to be in the office, walk around, stop by workspaces, or have coffee in the breakroom. Increase your presence and you’ll gain opportunities to communicate. Since many teams are distributed, communicating by walking around may not be an option, so hold virtual office hours and specifically invite people if you must. You don’t need an agenda. A great way to start the conversations is to ask, “What have you been thinking about lately?”

What are the three most effective strategies to diminish distractions when there is so much competing for attention?

Have a strategy for communicating specific messages, like a plan or roadmap, and work that plan. Try something that’s new or different for your organization, like recorded video or infographics. And lastly, don’t be afraid to communicate more frequently. While this won’t diminish distractions, it will help get through the chatter.

What is one skill you would advise every leader to invest in to become a better communicator?

I would advise leaders to develop the skill of presenting key messages by recorded video. This is a highly effective tool to communicate a clear, consistent message, and to provide a human element. It is important to remember that these videos don’t need to be highly refined, just be yourself.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I am thoughtful of how we can better honor and support the elderly. It feels like our society devalues them, which is a mistake because they have experience and wisdom, knowledge and perspective. We can all benefit from that.

How can our readers stay connected with you?

They can visit Gyolai.com or follow me on LinkedIn.

Thank you for these great insights! We wish you continued success.

Of course! It was my pleasure.