How to Develop Effective Communication Skills

How to Develop Effective Communication Skills

June 3, 2016 - Sophie Thompson

Effective communication skills are essential for success in the 21st century. There are many different aspects associated with communication – in this guide we focus on 4 key topics: Mind, Body, Voice and Breath.

The power of the mind

Often we talk while we think. This reduces our credibility as what we are saying is usually meaningless. We also come across as nervous. So much of presence is about stillness, listening and thoughtful response. When answering questions and during conversation, keep the following formula in mind and answer in a short, clear and concise way:

  • Think
  • Breathe
  • Speak

When speaking, understand exactly what message you are trying to get across. If you are unclear about your message, your audience will have no chance.

Positive visualisation

This tactic is employed by athletes before a race, they visualise themselves winning and focus on this idea intensely. This gives them a mental boost which translates into a physical one.

You can use this technique before a big presentation – imagine standing on a podium in front of hundreds of people, imagine delivering your speech and the audience looking engaged, imagine finishing up your speech and the audience applause. Repeating this several times, immersing yourself in the event and emotions, will build effective communication skills.

Exercise - Positive Visualisation

  1. Find a quiet place to sit down and relax
  2. Close your eyes
  3. Think back to an experience you have had that made you feel really good. It can be anything - a personal accomplishment, a youthful memory, a successful project at work.
  4. Take yourself back there and replay the sequence of events.
  5. Be as detailed as you can in reliving the moment for yourself.
  6. Hear the sounds, see the sights and feel the emotions.
  7. Replay this a few times until you are immersed in this event.
  8. Now open your eyes.

This is a great technique to do before a presentation, it will help you control your nerves for should build up your confidence for the event.

Don’t speak for no reason. Think before you speak and deliver your message in a precise way.

Body language and posture

Your posture has the greatest impact on your communication. The impression you have on others is split:

  • Body (visuals) 55%
  • Voice (sound) 38%
  • Words (content) 7%

Folded arms, crossed legs, hunched shoulders, hands in pockets, looking down – these are just some of the protective measures that make us feel safer, and should be avoided when giving a presentation or speech. Appearing relaxed makes us exert dominance and authority.

If you watch politicians speak, notice how relaxed and confident they appear, talking slowly and making positive body movements. Use your arms to emphasis a point and illustrate the message.

Read our 8 Elements of Confident Body Language.

Exercise – Posture

  1. Place your feet the same width apart as your hips.
  2. Feel your weight at the heel of your foot on the floor
  3. Think of your shoulders expanding out from one another.
  4. Do not hunch forward or pull your shoulders back - allow them to rest centrally.
  5. Hold your head level.
  6. Let your arms hang relaxed by your side.
  7. Spend a moment getting used to this position.
  8. Do a mental check around your body and make any adjustments you need to get comfortable.
  9. Try moving to another spot and regaining this relaxed position.


When a person is centred, they are balanced and relaxed. Getting used to placing your attention in your centre of gravity will help you achieve an open, relaxed posture, and make room for deeper, freer breath.

Think about the place half way between the front and back of your body, and just above your waist. Stand with your feet a shoulder length apart and let your arms hang loosely by your side. Try and put all your attention at this centre before an important meeting or presentation, it will increase your presence and bring you into the moment.

Visual rapport – things to consider

From top down: head, eyes, expressions, shoulders, posture, breathing, energy, arms, hands, gestures, movements, stance, legs and feet.

Using the full range of your voice

The human voice is capable of 24 notes on a musical scale. We use about three of these in everyday speech. Think about this next time you speak, as using a wider range will allow you to quickly develop effective communication skills. This will help enthuse, persuade and excite the person or people you are talking to.

Sound resonates in the mouth once your breath has delivered air to the vocal chords. Your tongue manipulates and shapes the sound, giving us speech, pitch and tone. The more air in your lungs, the better the sounds resonate, giving us a wider range of audible voice. Most of us use less than a third of our vocal capacity and the reason is usually because we do not use our breath as well as we could.

To further understand how to use your voice, read the Toastmasters Speaking Voice Guide.

Breathe deeply to communicate effectively

Every time you think, you breathe. Every time you speak, you breathe. The fact that we breathe subconsciously, means we often don’t think about it when speaking. When we get nervous our breathing becomes shallow. Combine this with overlong sentences, which usually accompany speaking in public, and words begin to trail away at the end.

Maximising your breath and filling your lungs when speaking is very important for building effective communication skills. It makes you sound influential.

Remember to pause for emphasis, pause to take in a breath and pause to allow your message to sink in.

Exercise – Breathing

  1. Stand in the Neutral Position and put your hands on your stomach.
  2. Breathe deeply.
  3. Try to push your hands out as you breathe in by filling your ribs.
  4. Increase your awareness of this happening as you breathe - the movement and expansion of the ribs.
Communicate effectively to become a successful person and have your voice heard.

Follow this guide to have your voice heard and confidently express your ideas.

Controlling your nerves

The key to controlling your nerves is preparation. Spend plenty of time preparing your material, make sure you know it really well. While practicing, get someone to interrupt you at various points, then try to continue the presentation – this is a great way to make sure you’re not just presenting a rigid script.

Knowing your subject well will also help with answering questions afterwards, often the most nerve wracking part of the presentation. The final presentation the audience sees is only a small percentage of the work required to get to that point with the planning and preparation.

Read our article on overcoming your presentation nerves.

8 rules for effective communication skills

  1. Think about both your content and your audience. Is your speech suitable?
  2. Understand the core message you are trying to get across and the three points you want your audience taking away with them
  3. Have an overview of your speech in mind before spending time on details
  4. Have a clear presentation structure and show it repeatedly to your audience so they know which section they are on and how long left
  5. Rehearse aloud. Record your voice and present to friends (if possible) to get feedback
  6. Try and keep your speech simple, focus on only a few points and explain them clearly
  7. Be enthusiastic, move around the stage and use body language to convey confidence
  8. Make a list of possible questions and rehearse answers for them