Impactful Communication: Kelsey Kloss of Kloss Creatives On 5 Essential Techniques for Becoming an Effective Communicator
An Interview With Athalia Monae
Resist Reacting: When you’re listening to someone else, you may hear things you don’t like or agree with. It can be easy to jump to defensiveness, annoyance, or rambling as a result. However, if you can maintain your stability and answer criticisms or volatile remarks in a calm manner, you’ll change the mood of the entire room.
In an age dominated by digital communication, the power of articulate and effective verbal communication cannot be understated. Whether it’s delivering a keynote address, leading a team meeting, or engaging in a one-on-one conversation, impactful speaking can open doors, inspire change, and create lasting impressions. But what truly sets apart an effective communicator? What techniques and nuances elevate a speech from mundane to memorable? As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Kelsey Kloss.
As the CEO of Kloss Creatives — a top-rated PR agency serving clients worldwide, with a focus on health and nutrition — Kelsey’s passion is uncovering and telling stories. She started her career as a journalist and editor for brands like Reader’s Digest, ELLE Decor, Good Housekeeping, Prevention, Woman’s Day, and beyond. Later, Kelsey shaped marketing strategy for global corporations like Scholastic and AT&T.
In addition to helming Kloss Creatives, Kelsey is an Emerging Leaders Board Member for the North San Diego Business Chamber and editorial contributor for brands like Entrepreneur, Runner’s World, Livestrong, and Linkwell Health.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion about communication, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Absolutely! When I was a freshman in college, I took a Journalism 101 course as an elective without thinking much about it. I never planned on pursuing it until I unexpectedly fell in love with the process of interviewing sources, learning their stories, and sharing their expertise with new audiences. That led me to work for newspapers, regional magazines, and ultimately as an in-house editor for global media brands like Reader’s Digest, ELLE Decor, Prevention, Redbook, Good Housekeeping, and Woman’s Day.
After several years as a magazine editor, I shifted into marketing and oversaw Content Operations for Scholastic. That involved managing projects with a wide variety of marketing channels, from content marketing to social media and paid ads. Later, I took on the role of Senior Content Strategist for AT&T.
During the pandemic (when I was still at Scholastic), the company was partially and temporarily furloughed. That meant working just four days per week, so I used the extra time to bring on PR and marketing clients through my own company, Kloss Creatives.
Today, our company is truly rooted in those principles of journalism I feel in love with so long ago: to educate and tell a great story. Interestingly, I found that these strategies were also the ones that really moved the needle in marketing for the corporate companies I worked for — and eventually the clients that I brought on through Kloss Creatives.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
The most interesting aspect of my career, at least in my opinion, has been the transition from journalism to marketing to PR. I never knew one would lead to another, but learning how to tell a story for millions of readers in national magazines was an incredible foundation for telling corporation’s stories through marketing and ultimately PR.
Now, when I oversee my team’s pitches to the media, I’m able to read them as the journalist on the other side. In fact, as a contributing writer, I still receive several pitches! This perspective is incredibly helpful when bridging potential gaps between journalists, PR professionals, and clients.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
First and foremost is balance. At Kloss Creatives, we say that we’re fast, but calm. We’re direct, but kind. When I launched my agency, the first clients we brought on were small businesses or solopreneurs. Because these individuals are usually working alone and have invested so much personal time and money in their companies, this stage of business can understandably bring with it many ups and downs, and I always empathized with that. It wasn’t unusual to receive urgent emails and texts late at night or on the holidays.
Although the clients we now bring on are larger companies that have teams to help weather the ups and downs, and less pressure is put on a single individual to do it all, that experience taught us how to stay balanced through every storm. We acknowledged the feelings of urgency a client may have around a given dilemma in their business, but we also put issues into perspective for them and helped them approach those situations in balanced ways. This was reflected in how we approached our own business. We also learned to set boundaries, which can be done kindly.
Second is kindness. While I consider myself a firm, direct leader, I never forget that I’m working with wonderful humans with large, vibrant lives of their own. I scaled my first corporate team during the pandemic and started my own company in the latter years of the pandemic. This time period called for more understanding and empathy than ever, which was an important foundation to build leadership on.
Third is clarity. As you scale, it can become more difficult to keep track of every element of your team’s day-to-day work. However, I aim to ask questions and get clarity on each part of their workflows so that I can support them in the best ways possible. Often, I’ll find that there is a roadblock that’s simple enough to fix or that can make their daily work more efficient. As you move from working in the business to working on it, you may not be as hands-on with every element anymore, but it’s key to still understand how all the gears of your business operate.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Let’s begin with a basic definition so that we are all on the same page. How would you define an “Effective Communicator?” What are the characteristics of an effective communicator?
An effective communicator is someone who educates clearly, without giving into the temptation of sacrificing clarity for wit or self-promotion. The main purpose of communicating is to share information, but often speakers get hung up in the need to “sound smart” or use big words to prove themselves. Those things often just make their message murkier. Effective communicators know that the keys to success are providing value and keeping it simple.
How can one tailor their communication style to different audiences or situations?
Just like journalists would when writing an article, think about what information and details would serve your audience the best. Also, consider what language they use. When you lead from a place of service and speak the same language that your audience does, your content will naturally connect to them.
A common strategy we use in marketing is to conduct customer research and document phrases and words our target customers use — then, we speak those back to them to create relatability and a meaningful connection.
Can you provide an example of a time when you had to adapt your communication style to reach a particular audience successfully?
When I worked for a large media company, one part of our job was repurposing content to cater to different audiences. This saved the company quite a bit of money on creating new articles! Each time we did this, we had to change the way we spoke to our audience, even though we were sharing the same information.
As an example, we might republish an article about skin cancer that was originally published in a magazine for women ages 50+, but adjust the voice and tone to cater to another magazine for men ages 20–30. Doing this involved thinking about our target customer, their pain points and triumphs, and the vernacular they used.
How do you handle difficult or sensitive conversations while maintaining open and effective communication?
Remaining calm and balanced is one of the biggest lessons a CEO needs to learn, but it pays off in dividends when you’re making a business decision or handling difficult or sensitive conversations.
Speak gently, ask for the other person’s feedback often, and directly but kindly explain your point of view. Often, being vague or beating around the bush leads to the most confusion and misunderstandings in conversations. Directness is valued and can be done gracefully.
In your experience, how does storytelling play a role in impactful speaking? Why do you think stories are effective in communication?
Research from journalist Robert Walker and writer John Glenn shows that storytelling can increase a product’s perceived value by up to 2,706%. I believe the same is true of impactful speaking! When there’s a story behind your message, you give it meaning. Recently, I was speaking at a Los Angeles business show about the impact of public relations for companies. But instead of just sharing the numbers, I told my audience the personal stories of my clients, how they got to the point of using public relations in their business, and the effect it had on both their revenue and on them personally.
The human brain is wired to respond to storytelling, according to research reported by the Harvard Business Review. Engaging narratives can actually trigger the release of oxytocin, a hormone that boosts feelings of trust. In particular, character-driven narratives seem to be particularly effective.
What are your “5 Essential Techniques for Becoming an Effective Communicator”?
1. Lead With Value: Many speakers start by introducing themselves, their merits, and why what they have to say is so important. But if you can flip the script to immediately address the listener’s challenges or pain points, they’ll become invested in your speech much more quickly. Research ahead of time and frame your first sentence to speak to the listener, rather than about yourself — as much as possible, you should be using “you” rather than “I.”
Once I was attending a seminar on successful negotiations. The seminar leaders challenged everyone to introduce a topic without saying “I” or “me” once. It was nearly impossible for the participants! Leading with our own intentions (even if it’s as simple as “I wanted to start by saying…” or “I’m happy to see you…”) has become second nature, but when you can stay focused on the listener, you’ll be far more impactful.
2. Speak Calmly and Intentionally: Your message can get lost in a whirlwind of unnecessary words. Audiences respect speakers who can deliver their message succinctly, without flowery language. Remember, your goal isn’t to showcase how much you know, but instead to communicate a message or information clearly.
Part of achieving this clarity is by speaking slowly, calmly, and choosing your words wisely. There is never truly a need to use jargon or clunky words like “utilize,” “strategic alliance,” or “incentivize.” As Oscar Wilde put it, “Don’t use big words. They mean so little.”
Plus, speaking too quickly can make it difficult for you to catch your breath or cause you to trail off into vocal fry (that low, crackly sound that often comes at the end of a sentence). When you’re gasping for air, your audience will be too distracted by that to hone in on the message.
3. Listen More Than You Talk: Whether you’re chatting with someone 1–1 or speaking to a crowd, this principle applies. Recently, I attended a seminar led by a well-known AI investor. Before the speech began, he walked to each table and asked us what our professions were, how we used AI, and what we wanted to learn about. It wasn’t just for show: After speaking to attendees before the seminar, and asking more questions at the beginning of his speech, he actually nixed the presentation he was originally going to give and pulled up a different slideshow.
Likewise, when you’re meeting with someone 1–1, you should lead by asking what is a priority for them (and avoid monologuing at all costs). This can even apply to speaking to the press: Ask a journalist what they believe would benefit their readers the most and how you can best serve their audience.
Not only will this help you tailor your messaging appropriately — after all, not every audience is the same — but it will earn you respect from your listener. That trust is key for getting any message across successfully.
4. Include Details: One easy way to make storytelling more effective is to include the little details. Once when I was writing an article for a magazine, I included a line that was to the effect of: “When you’re eating ice cream on a Saturday night…” My editor crossed out “ice cream” and replaced it “Rocky Road.”
The more details you add, the more impactful your narrative is, she added. It’ll make your communication feel more personal and vivid.
5. Resist Reacting: When you’re listening to someone else, you may hear things you don’t like or agree with. It can be easy to jump to defensiveness, annoyance, or rambling as a result. However, if you can maintain your stability and answer criticisms or volatile remarks in a calm manner, you’ll change the mood of the entire room.
As is true for anyone in the professional services world, I’ve had my fair share of meetings with frazzled, excitable, or flat-out angry folks. However, matching their energy level doesn’t help anyone communicate better. Be the leader in the room by directly but calmly saying what you need to say, even if you need to take a deep breath first.
How do you integrate non-verbal cues into your communication? Can you provide an example of its importance?
In my opinion, eye contact is one of the most important non-verbal cues, because it shows that you’re attentive and listening. Often, this is lost in our world of video calls, where eyes can dart across screens and attention is divided between browser windows. At least for me, when I see this in someone else, it immediately lowers feelings of trust and connection.
During video calls with team members and clients, I aim to stay entirely focused on them — which automatically helps me listen better, too.
How has digital communication changed the way you convey your messages? Are there any specific challenges or advantages you’ve encountered?
The advantages of digital communication include being able to rethink and polish your messages, as long as you do so in moderation (occasionally, we’ve all probably analyzed the same email over and over again before clicking “send”).
The disadvantage of digital communication like text or email is that you miss certain cues — like facial expressions, tone, body language, and even eye contact — that can completely change the meaning of a message. That’s why I recommend a blend of written and video (or in-person) communication when possible.
Public speaking is a common fear. What techniques or strategies do you recommend to manage and overcome stage fright?
It can be helpful to first acknowledge that you’re worried — and accept it. Next, turn the focus away from yourself and instead hone in on why you’re speaking. Chances are, it’s because you want to deliver value to the audience. You can deliver this value in the most effective way by speaking slowly, staying calm, and not distracting from your message.
Also keep in mind that your audience wants you to do well up there! When you’re relaxed and enjoy the process, they will mirror that.
What additional resources do you recommend for individuals looking to improve communication skills?
While I’m sure there are numerous books and other content about this topic, practice makes perfect! Getting out there to communicate is the most effective way to improve.
Go to networking events, volunteer to speak when you can, and reach out to more people. Pay attention to what you like about messages (both written and verbal) that you receive — including what makes you immediately feel listened to and welcomed. Then, aim to authentically incorporate those aspects into your own communication skills.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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 truly believe in the power of storytelling — not just for entertainment, but for better understanding each other and fostering compassion. A story about someone a world away can stir up empathy and connection. These ties created through storytelling ultimately affect the way we see each other. That’s what drives change and is why I’m passionate about supporting journalism that responsibly sheds the light on untold stories.
How can our readers further follow you online?
Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!
About the Interviewer: Athalia Monae is a product creator, published author, entrepreneur, advocate for Feed Our Starving Children, contributing writer for Entrepreneur Media, and founder of Pouches By Alahta.
Impactful Communication: Kelsey Kloss of Kloss Creatives On 5 Essential Techniques for Becoming an… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.