Verbal communication skills are essential for a successful career in the 21st century. Your career progression can be determined by how well you interact with customers, colleagues, people at networking events, trade shows and so on.
In this article, we discuss techniques for developing your verbal communication skills so that they don’t hold your career back.
An effective communicator's attributes include:
Communication is a skill which means that you can develop and improve it. Here are some techniques which can refine your skills.
Often we talk while we think but this can reduce our credibility because what we're saying is usually meaningless and we come across as nervous. Much of presence is about stillness, listening and providing thoughtful response.
When answering questions and whilst engaging in conversation, keep the following formula in mind and reply in a short, clear and concise way:
Don't just say the first thing that comes to mind, instead be thoughtful and concentrate on the meaning of what you wish to communicate. When speaking, understand exactly what message you're trying to get across. If you are unclear about your message then your audience won't understand either.
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.
This is a great technique to do before a presentation, as it helps you control your nerves and will increase your confidence for the event.
Don’t speak for no reason. Think before you speak and deliver your message in a precise way.
You must understand your audience to communicate effectively. By having this understanding you can tailor your communication to suit them so your message has the most impact.
To develop this skill you must imagine yourself in the audience's position - think of their demographic and shared characteristics. Ask: why are they attending? What do they want to find out? What level are they in terms of knowledge and experience?
Active listening is when you listen beyond the words being spoken - you understand the message being communicated. During conversations, a lot of the time the "listener" is thinking about how they're going to respond rather than concentrating on what the speaker is saying.
By really listening you can provide a more thoughtful answer that takes the speaker's thoughts and opinions into account. Like Richard Branson said "Listen more than you talk."
To develop active listening you should practice the following:
Give the speaker your complete attention:
You need to ensure that you understand what the speaker is saying without your judgments and beliefs getting in the way:
Interrupting is not helpful as it's irritating for the speaker and it reduces the time for you to understand the message:
These are the most common obstacles to active listening:
To be empathetic means that you are able to identify and understand others' emotions i.e. imagining yourself in someone else's position. Understanding how people feel will help you communicate your thoughts and ideas in a way that makes sense to others and it helps you understand others when they communicate.
To develop empathy:
Your posture has the greatest impact on your communication. The impression you have on others is split roughly:
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.
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.
From top down: head, eyes, expressions, shoulders, posture, breathing, energy, arms, hands, gestures, movements, stance, legs and feet.
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.
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.
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.
Practice your verbal communication skills in everyday conversations so you can make them habitual and ask for honest feedback from others so you can focus your learning.
A particularly helpful setting for practicing communication skills is in meetings. In these situations people often have the tendency to think that their opinions don't matter or that people will negatively judge them if they speak up. But this isn't the case and it's likely that others in the room will also feel too afraid to say anything so they'll respect you when you do speak up.
What is valuable to you will be valuable to another person - at the end of the day your input matters so get comfortable sharing your opinions and ideas.
You should be aware of potential communication barriers so you can try to manage them, such as:
Communication is one of the most effective skills that you can cultivate for work so it's worth the effort to develop it. It's also helpful to keep in mind the following when working on your communication: