To achieve our goals and make an impact in life, we need to communicate effectively. No matter the level of our intelligence or academic achievements, if we can’t get our point across with clarity and confidence in a meeting or an interview, we’re at a disadvantage. That’s why verbal communication skills are vital.
Elsewhere on the Future Skills Blog, we’ve explored just what verbal communication is, why it’s important and what we need to know to set us on the road to success as communicators. In this article, we’re going to focus on some tips for verbal communication on a more day-to-day basis. Our five top tips are:
- Be prepared
- Be flexible
- Be clear
- Be concise
- Be calm
We’ll explore each of these in more depth below, allowing you to understand how you can get the most out of your verbal interactions and communicate with precision, confidence and flexibility.
1) Be prepared
Face-to-face conversations happen quickly; the processes involved take a fraction of a second. For this reason, we can tend to think of verbal communication as existing only in the moment, because there is so little time to think once a conversation has begun, preparation is key to success as a communicator.
In order to get the most out of verbal interactions, it is helpful to ask yourself certain questions beforehand. For example:
- What does my listener need to know?
- What outcome do I want from my message?
By asking yourself these questions, you can fully articulate and understand your own message. Is it clear? Can you sum it up in one or two sentences? When you are sure about your desired outcome, you can start to focus on the specific content of your message and have confidence in what you are going to stay.
This is especially vital when it comes to important conversations. If we go into a make-or-break professional meeting, for example, without thinking about what we want to say or how we want to say it, the risks are huge. We may end up delivering an incoherent message, wasting time due to inefficiency, or even letting our emotions get the better of us. In short, preparation is everything if we want to make ourselves heard clearly and make a good impression. If our communication is poor, those listening may think we are less competent than we are, and we may not get another chance to put our message across.
An athlete or musician would not be able to perform at the crucial moment without huge amounts of practice and preparation beforehand. The same goes for verbal communication.
2) Be flexible
Of course, while preparation is key, it is still important to be adaptable at all times – we need to adjust what we say depending on how the person or people we are speaking to react to our initial message. If they are negative we may have to stand our ground or try harder to make them see things from our point of view, but if they seem receptive it may be better to move to the next point without trying too hard to convince them of something they have already accepted. This kind of flexibility is crucial for effective communication.
For example, people communicate in many different ways. Some people may have a technical style of communication, preferring facts and fine details, while others may be more emotional communicators, prizing empathy and intuition. When different communication styles collide without adjustment from the different parties involved, the results can be highly negative. We need to understand different styles of communication and be able to adapt accordingly.
As well as adapting our communication style, we also need to adapt our content depending on whom we are speaking to. For example, there is some knowledge or vocabulary that we can assume our listeners will have, and some that we can’t. This is especially relevant when we are communicating with people from different cultures, and differences should be respected without judgement in order to keep communication positive and effective.
As the discussion moves forward it is important to judge how well our message is being received – do our listeners need a less technical explanation for example, or do we risk offending them by making it appear that we do not think they have a very detailed knowledge of the subject. Both preparation and being flexible are important in making sure we pitch our message at the right level.
3) Be clear
Great verbal communicators know that it’s not just what we say that’s important, but also how we say it. The way we use our voices and bodies when communicating makes a huge difference to both the clarity and mood of what we say, and confident use of both is key to communicating clearly.
With this in mind, let’s think about a few starter tips on using your voice:
- Pace yourself. It is more common for people to speak too quickly than too slowly, but neither extreme is ideal. Speak at a moderate speed so that you can be understood, but don’t forget that varying the pace of what you say can be a powerful technique.
- Use intonation. Speaking in a monotone or letting emotion make our voices higher can easily lead people to switch off. Control the pitch of your voice, and try to vary it to avoid a dull, unengaging mode of delivery. An example of how we all do this already is when the pitch of our voice rises to show that we are asking a question.
- Think about tone. Tone of voice refers to the overall mood and feeling of how you deliver information, and both pace and intonation are part of it – think about how you speak when you are terrified as opposed to when you are relaxed. If you know about different tones of voice and can control them, your verbal communication will be clearer and more powerful.
These techniques are explored in more depth in EtonX’s Verbal Communication Course. Don’t forget that verbal communication is at its strongest when style and substance work together. Use your voice to make your message clearer.
4) Be concise
At some point or another, we’ve all found ourselves frustrated when someone won’t get to the point. Sometimes, we can’t even tell what someone is trying to say because they use imprecise language or leave out important details. This is why we should always aim to be concise and focused in our communications.
One way in which you can do this is to think about how you structure your message, ensuring that you include all the key information and get to the point quickly. For example, you can use a Beginning – Middle – Ending structure as follows:
- Beginning – introduce the topic and establish what information is shared.
- Middle – fill in the details of what is new and unknown to listeners.
- Ending – finish with the reason that you’re communicating.
This structure helps you to make sure that you only include relevant information, that you don’t get distracted from what you’re trying to convey, and that you deliver a complete message. This is sometimes presented as “Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you have told them” but it is subtler than that – your introduction is a key moment to set the stage and to judge how your audience is likely to receive your message, which you can then present in the most appropriate way. As you reach the end, again making a judgement as to how well your points have been received, you can think about setting out your goals – what you hope will happen next as a result of what you have said.
We should also think about whether the language we are using is sufficiently precise. For example, the word “writing” can mean many things. Using more precise language would mean specifying what kind of writing we are talking about, such as saying whether it is a book, an essay, or a poem. Meanwhile, vague language like “thing” or “stuff”, and unimaginative adjectives like “nice” or “good”, don’t add much to what we are saying because they are so weak and imprecise.
5) Be calm
The final crucial factor in verbal communication we’ll discuss today is keeping our emotions in check. This is important in general, as this Conover post explores, but especially so when thinking about verbal communication. We all get emotional sometimes; some emotions, such as anger or jealousy almost always provoke undesirable reactions in others. Other emotions are more mixed in their effect; enthusiasm can be infectious. However too much enthusiasm can create a bad reaction in those who do not share your views, and emotional confrontations will inevitably get in the way of our ability to communicate in the clearest and most productive way. It can be really hard if you feel that things are not going your way, or if what you have to say is likely to be perceived as critical of your listeners in some way, but not matter how upset or angry you may feel, it is generally be better not to allow your message to degenerate into a discussion of your emotional state with no clear explanation or chance for the listener to respond constructively – again you should focus on what you want from the conversation.
Of course, being prepared, as we discussed earlier, puts us well on the way to making sure that our emotions don’t get the better of us. However, there are also other ways in which we can make sure we keep calm when communicating verbally. For example:
- Establish a time. If you want to deal with a conflict or an emotional issue, establish a specific time at which to do it, rather than rushing into a confrontation.
- Avoid interrupting. If you feel an impulse to say something, take a deep breath before you speak. This will give you to time to think about what you want to say and whether it’s really worth interrupting to say it.
- Know the difference between facts and interpretations. Emotional responses aren’t always rational or logical. We should take a step back from our emotions and accept that we may have interpreted something differently to someone else, or indeed we may have just got it wrong.
We can’t always control our emotions, and suppressing feelings is never a good idea, but effective verbal communication requires us to stay cool, calm and collected. Clarity and consideration win out over irrationality and impulsiveness.
Effective verbal communication is about so much more than putting icing on the employability cake – it’s fundamental to how we interact as humans, and therefore to all aspects of our personal and professional lives. With preparation, flexibility, clarity, concision and calmness, we can all become great communicators, but the advice above is just the tip of the iceberg. To explore verbal communication more deeply, check out EtonX’s Verbal Communication Course, which offers interactive training with world-class tutors and international peers, and start your verbal communication journey today.