6 Ways to Practice Oral Communication Skills
January 31, 2018 - Sophie Thompson
Oral communication skills are more important than ever. Countless meetings, presentations, code reviews, conferences and networking events mean that clear and assertive oral communication are essential for current and future jobs.
Good communication skills can be the difference between getting a promotion or moving laterally, selling your product or struggling with slow growth, influencing colleagues with your idea or doing what you are told.
Why are oral communication skills important?
Communication skills are important to many aspects of your life and career, including:
- Managerial role - how do you command respect from your colleagues while building a strong culture and team spirit? How do you deal with an unexpected crisis and communicate your action plan to your team? Oral communication skills are essential for many areas of management.
- Workplace success – you’ll frequently be talking to clients, customers, talking in team meetings, requesting information, giving feedback and discussing problems. All require strong communication skills so that your are understood clearly without any misinterpretation.
- Secure a new job – in employer surveys, communication skills consistently rank amongst the top soft skills companies look for. They want new employees to be able to speaking clearly, concisely and confidently.
- Advance your career – it’s important to be able to communicate your thoughts on how the processes, products or services can be improved. Business value these skills in management positions.
Why is it important to practice communication skills?
Studies on the benefits of practice
Many studies have taken place on the benefits of practice. We've summarised two key benefits for you.
Benefits of practicing communication skills:
- Practice greatly increases the likelihood that you’ll remember new information (Anderson, 2008).
- Practice increases your ability to apply knowledge automatically, without reflection. This is usually only achieved through extensive rehearsal and repetition, and frees up your cognitive resources to handle other tasks. (Brown & Bennett, 2002; Moors & De Houwer, 2006).
You should think of practice not as rote repetition, but as deliberate, goal-directed rehearsal paired with reflection on communication skills.
Learning vs. practicing
You may be accustomed to being good at what you do. Learning something new is hard, especially at the beginning when we’re likely to struggle and make mistakes. The reality is, the only way to learn something new is to practice.
In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell suggests that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become expert at something. Perhaps more of a realist, Josh Kaufman, author of The Personal MBA, writes that to go from “knowing nothing to being pretty good” takes about 20 hours of practice. So whether you aspire to be “pretty good” or an “expert,” practice is essential.
Some people believe that intellectual understanding is enough for skill development. However, many studies have shown this is not that case – we need to practice, get feedback, refine our approach, practice again and generally apply the knowledge we learn. This is hard to do.
You can spend hours learning about communication skills, but without actually practicing what you learn, you’ll only have an intellectual understanding as oppose to skill development.
6 ways to practice oral communication skills
After learning how to communicate, you’ll need to practice what you’ve learnt in order to develop the skill. We’ve listed both traditional and new methods you can use to practice your communication skills.
1. Training days and seminars
Whether you are able to attend one of these depends hugely on location. We’ve listed a few popular ones to give you an idea of the content, cost and time associated with them.
- Advanced Public Speaking Course - interactive training that provides individuals with many opportunities to practice oral communication. This includes feedback for each individual speaker, which is interspersed with short presentations on advanced concepts of public speaking and communication.
- Communication Skills Course - this one-day communication skills course provides an insight into the way communication works. It's a practical day, filled with exercises, games and discussion. You'll practise ways to handle difficult situations, body language, empathy and more.
- Magnetic Delivery Boot Camp - master your delivery skills and increase your confidence. Surprise your colleagues the next time you present with your improved speaking skills and confidence.
- Communication Skills Training - RADA in Business’s approach to professional development trains the whole body, breath and voice. By paying attention to how you communicate a message, you’ll are able to enhance your overall presence and better connect with your audience.
2. Professional coaching
This can be in person or through a phone / Skype call. We’ve listed two examples of communication skills coaching which you can do over Skype.
- Public Speaking and Presentation Coaching - get a tailored presentation skills coaching program to your skill level, over the phone or through Skype, so you achieve your goals as quickly as possible.
- Public Speaking and Communications Coaching - personalised sessions of communication skills, presentation skills or public speaking coaching to help you to develop your self-confidence, focus on specific issues or prepare for a particular event.
3. Virtual reality environments
Virtual reality (VR) lets you practice oral communication techniques in realistic environments from the comfort of your own home. It’s a great middle ground between an online course and in-person coaching. For a more detailed list of VR apps, read our article on top public speaking apps.
- VirtualSpeech app – practice communication skills, interview preparation, business networking, language learning, sales and more in virtual simulations. Speech analysis technology provides instant feedback on your speech or conversation.
- Speech Trainer – this Steam based app provides a virtual auditorium where you can learn to overcome your fear of public speaking by addressing a virtual audience.
4. Friends or colleagues
This is a great way to get detailed feedback on how you are performing. Set yourself a task and ask your colleague or friend to observe you and then give you feedback. Giving and receiving feedback is a powerful process but needs to be handled sensitively and should follow these guidelines:
- Be specific on what needs to improve
- Provide evidence on where they can change
- Give feedback on any emotional impact you felt
- Be constructive, provide 3 positives and 2 areas to improve
- Listen and don’t interrupt
- Act on the feedback straight away if possible
5. Solo with a video camera or voice recorder
By using a video camera or voice recorder, you can work on your oral communication style. Work with short sections - for example if you need to make a presentation, start by working on your opening.
Perform and watch / listen back a number of times until you feel you have developed what you have done sufficiently to move on.
In this method of working, you alternate the role of subject and observer. When you are observing / listening to yourself, clarify any feedback by writing down what you are developing or changing. This will help you measure your progress as well as structuring your development.
6. Local Toastmasters club
Toastmasters is a leader in communication skills development, with over 300,000 members. They have local clubs in over 140 countries, which can be attended by anyone wishing to practice their speaking skills.
A typical Toastmasters meeting might be divided into three parts. Table Topics, Prepared Speeches and Formal Evaluations.
- Table topics – one of the most challenging elements of communication is impromptu speaking. Table Topics offers the ongoing challenge to speak in front of a group without preparation. Members are called to the front of the room to spontaneously comment on a subject that is provided by the Table Topics Master for the day.
- Prepared speeches – each member is scheduled in advance every other month or so to prepare and deliver a “prepared” speech. There might be several prepared speeches every week. Speeches are normally between 5 and 15 minutes in length. Participants are at liberty to present any topic they’d like but speeches usually follow the guidelines of educational manuals produced by Toastmasters International.
- Formal evaluations – One of the most rewarding elements in Toastmasters is the forum to deliver a speech and then get evaluated in a supportive environment. An evaluator typically points out several areas of the speech that were performed well and offers 2 or 3 areas to improve upon.
There are many different ways to practice oral communication skills, with each method adding something different. Try several of these out and see which one works best for you:
- Training days and seminars
- Professional coaching
- Virtual reality environments
- With friends or colleagues
- Solo with a video camera or voice recorder
- Local Toastmasters club