Trust is key. Wherever your team is, establishing and earning trust has to come first. People want to work with those they like and trust.

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 Shannon Alter.

With a degree in theatre arts, Shannon Alter, CPM® uses her experience as a Certified Property Manager to leverage her presentation skills and engage with a range of audiences from real estate to hospitality and beyond. Shannon speaks internationally and trains leaders around the world on how to boost their communication, presentation and leadership skills. She is a multi-published author and member of IREM’s Academy of Authors. Her next book, ‘Be Influential: Surefire Ways to Improve your Presentation Skills’ will be published in June.

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 love to travel internationally and always find that it broadens my perspective and that I always learn something new. Most recently, I had the pleasure of facilitating in Ghana, West Africa to a group of new leaders. This was memorable because through them, I had the opportunity to experience a new culture and different perspectives on real estate. Their culture is very relaxed when it comes to time- I was reminded that although this is entirely different from an American perspective of time (much more in a hurry), this approach is a good thing!

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

My most unexpected detour was switching careers from hospitality to commercial and retail real estate. The “product”- hotels vs office buildings and shopping centres was different, but the concepts and skill sets are the same: excellent customer service and superb communication skills. What I didn’t realize then was how well my university theater background would help me, not only in hospitality and real estate, but in my current business speaking, training and executive coaching.

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 feel listening well and being flexible are critical to being able to adapt my communication style. When you do that, you learn to understand your audience and what they want. I have been fortunate to teach and speak here, there and everywhere. Flexibility, and having a Plan A (and a B and a C) are so important.

You have to be able to think on your feet, pivot quickly and roll with it.

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

Communicating with clarity is indeed critical. In fact, you will see this in my positioning statement. I feel communication is a bit awkward today as we all determine if/when/how we are going to go back to working in an office, or how we can continue to work remotely etc. Communication with our teams and leaders must be both clear and empathetic. People want to be seen by their leaders. Often, when there’s a distributed workforce we communicate less often, when in fact, we need to communicate more. Don’t let go of those one to one conversations or casual conversations as they help with connection and a sense of belonging.

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

When I work with leaders I focus on helping them listen actively and include context and color to what they want to convey. There is a fine line between offering too much information, which can be a bust as you lose your audience, or too little information where you don’t hook your audience in the first place. For example, if a manager or leader is presenting a business case to their leadership team, it’s helpful to convey what the problem is, why they should care about it and what solution you recommend. It needs to be just enough to be actioned.

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? Please share a story or example for each if you can.

1 . Onboarding is key and can be difficult in a hybrid or remote work environment. What you want is to get new hires’ buy-in quickly and in advance. Don’t wait until the day they start to bring them into the fold. Send them a little company swag or have “thank you” notes sent by their leaders-to-be, for example.

2 . This sounds simple, but often we forget to provide people with the who/where/what and they may be too shy or hesitant to ask. This works for both new and existing employees. Let them know how communication works in your environment, how decisions are made, and what you’ll need to do to be able to do it quickly for them.

3 . Providing a mentor or “buddy” can be key. Again, this works for new and even existing team members, especially with a distributed workforce. You have to figure out how to replace or add onto that “water cooler” effect when there is no water cooler. It’s great to offer a peer buddy across departments, for example. You can also mentor both ways. Have younger professionals mentor seasoned professionals in certain areas too.

4 . Especially when working with newer leaders, it’s critical to help them understand that a big part of their job is to pave the way and remove obstacles for their team. To do that, their ability to communicate with clarity is key. The transition from manager to leader can be a tough one and it often shows up right away when their teams aren’t right in front of them; they are in another city, or their only contact is on a screen. Often, the key is simply to ask “how can I help you today?”.

5 . Trust is key. Wherever your team is, establishing and earning trust has to come first. People want to work with those they like and trust.

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

Decide how you will cull your ideas to focus on the most important things. Often, we have so many ideas that when we try to convey all of them, we’re scattered and less focused. I use a few top strategies with my clients and leaders I coach. One of these is using a white board and Post-it notes. This is a great way to get all of your ideas out of your head and in writing. Then, the next step(s) involve culling those ideas down to focus on what you actually want to convey.

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

Listen up!

Here’s an example: A few years ago, I decided to take an acting class at a regional theater near me. I was an acting major in college and I speak and train others for a living, so I figured it would be easy. Not so much! When I walked into the first class I realized these were professional actors. They all had headshots, and experience (I did not!). Our instructor wanted to highlight the great works of Shakespeare and Chekov. If you know these wonderful playwrights, you know the language can be difficult by today’s standards! I’m more of a modern girl, so this was definitely a challenge. What I discovered was that listening actively and carefully was an absolute must. If I didn’t, I would flub my lines or worse yet, could cause the other actor(s) to lose their own train of thought.

Sometimes we are so focused on what we want to say that we forget to listen to whoever our audience is. This is key. We can’t be thinking of our grocery list, or what we have to accomplish the rest of the day. Listening up is a must.

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.

Don’t be afraid to talk with people! You never know what connections, relationships and great communication can come from just reaching out to someone else.

How can our readers stay connected with you?

I’d love to stay connected with them and can be reached at [email protected] or on LinkedIn:

My website is: I can also be reached at 714–833–6797.

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