Don't let that be your fate. No matter what your age, background, or experience, effective communication is a skill you can learn (no matter how you might feel about it now). With a little self-confidence and knowledge of the basics of good communications, you will be able to effectively communicate your message in both conversations and presentations, in all walks of life.
- Understand the importance of communicating effectively. It is easy to take communicating for granted because it is a daily activity; and yet, just how much thought have you given to the way in which you communicate? Are you aware that:
- The average worker spends 50 percent of his or her time communicating?
- Business success is 85 percent dependent on effective communication and interpersonal skills?
- Forty-five percent of time spent communicating is listening?
- Writing represents nine percent of communication time?
- One-fourth of all workplace mistakes are the result of poor communication?
- A remarkable 75 percent of communication is nonverbal?
Communicating through speech
- Be articulate. It is important to speak clearly, so that the message comes across in a way that every listener can understand. Articulate talk is talk that gets remembered because people instantly understand what it is that you are saying. It means uttering your words distinctly, preferring simpler words over more complex ones, and speaking at a level guaranteed to be heard but without coming across as too loud, overly excited, or disengaged.
- Avoid mumbling. Sound out the words clearly and openly, with the intent to have them heard without error. If mumbling is a defensive habit that you have fallen into out of fear of communicating, practice your message at home in front of the mirror. Discuss what you want to communicate with those you feel comfortable around first, to better develop the message in your own mind. Both the practice and the development of your words for the messaging will build your confidence.
- Listen actively. Communication is a two-way street and requires you to listen as well as talk. Remember that while you are talking, you are not learning. In listening, you will be able to gauge how much of your message is getting through to your listeners and whether or not it is being received correctly or is being misinterpreted. It can be helpful to ask listeners to rephrase some of what you have said in their own words if they appear to be returning confused or mistaken views to you.
- Be vocally interesting. A monotone is not pleasing to the ear. A good communicator will use "vocal color" to enhance the communication. Norma Michael recommends raising the pitch and volume of your voice when you transition from one topic or point to another, and to increase your volume and slow down your voice whenever you are raising a special point or summing up. She also recommends speaking briskly but pausing to emphasize keywords when you are requesting action.
Organizing your communications
- Be clear from the outset as to the purpose of what you wish to convey. For example, your purpose could be to inform others, to obtain information, or to initiate action. You need to know in advance what you expect from your communication.
- Organize and clarify ideas in your mind before you attempt to communicate them. If you are feeling passionate about a topic, you may become garbled if you haven't already thought of some key points to stick to when communicating it. A good rule of thumb is to choose three main points and keep your communication focused on those. That way, if the topic wanders off course, you will be able to return to one or more of these three key points without feeling flustered.
- Think about setting the listener at ease before launching into your conversation or presentation. It can help sometimes to begin with a favorite anecdote. Not only does it help the listener identify with you as someone like them, it can also help ease you into the conversation or presentation.
- Stay on topic. Once you start addressing your three main points, make sure all facts, stories, allusions, etc., add to the conversation or debate. If you have already thought through the issues and the essence of the ideas that you wish to put across, it is likely that some pertinent phrases will stick in your mind. Do not be afraid to use these to underline your points. Even very confident and well-known speakers re-use their key lines again and again for major effect.
- Look on the Internet for examples of great speakers in action. There are plenty of role models instantly accessible through videos online. Treat them as your "personal communications coaches"!
- Recognize people. Sure, you don't necessarily know the people in your audience or that new friend in your group, but they're nodding along with you and looking knowingly at you all the same. This means that they are connecting with you. So reward them with your acknowledgment. Nicholas Boothman recommends letting your mouth open slightly in a smile as your eyebrows arch, while tilting back your head just a little "in anticipation", being as subtle as possible. He suggests practicing this in front of the mirror.
Communicating through body languageWhatever we'd rather believe, people do judge by appearances. In terms of communicating effectively, this reality means that your body language matters as much as your speech.
- empathy with the listener by using soft, gentle, and aware facial expressions. Avoid negative facial expressions, such as frowns or raised eyebrows. What is or isn't negative is dependent on the context, including cultural context, so be guided by your situation. Be alert for unexpected behavior that suggests you're cross-culturally colliding, such as a clenched fist, a slouched posture, or even silence. If you don't know the culture, ask questions about communication challenges before you start to speak with people in their cultural context.
- Remember to take in all of your audience. If you're addressing a boardroom, look every member of the board in the eye. Neglecting any single person can easily be taken as a sign of offense and could lose you business, admission, success, or whatever it is you are endeavoring to achieve.
- If you're addressing an audience, pause and make eye contact with a member of audience for up to 2 seconds before breaking away and resuming your talk. This helps to make individual members of the audience feel personally valued.
- Be aware that eye contact is culturally ordained. In some cultures it is considered to be unsettling, or inappropriate. Ask or research in advance.
- Use breathing and pauses to your advantage. There is power in pausing. Siimon Reynolds says that pausing causes an audience to lean in and listen, their interest piqued; it helps you to emphasize your points, allowing the listener time to digest what has been said; it helps to make your communication come across as more compelling, and it makes your speech easier to listen to. To help improve your ability to make the most of pauses:
- Take deep breaths to steady yourself before you begin communicating.
- Get into the habit of solid, regular breathing during a conversation that will help you to keep a steady, calm voice. It will also keep you more relaxed.
- Use pauses to take a breather in what you are saying.
-  Some hand gestures can be very effective in highlighting your points (open gestures), while others can be distracting or even offensive to some listeners, and can lead to the conversation or listening being closed down (closed gestures). Pay careful attention to the gestures as you make them; it also helps to watch other people's hand gestures to see how they come across to you.
- Keep a check on other body language signals. Watch for wandering eyes, hands picking at fluff on your clothing, and constant sniffling. These small gestures add up and are all guaranteed to dampen the effectiveness of your message, and will result in your ceasing to engage your listeners.
Thoughtfulness when communicating
- Choose the right time. As the cliché states, there is a time and a place for everything, and communicating is no different. Avoid leaving discussions about heavy topics such as finances or weekly planning until 10 pm at night, for example. That's going-to-bed time and few people will be thrilled to be faced with sorting out major issues when they're at their most tired. Instead, leave heavy topics for mornings and afternoon times, when people are alert, available, and more likely to be able to hear what is said and to respond with clarity.
- Thank the person or group for the time taken to listen and respond. No matter what the outcome of your communication, even if the response to your talk or discussion has been negative, it is good manners to end it politely and with respect for everyone's input and time.
- If you are giving a presentation to a group or audience, be prepared for difficult questions so that you're not thrown off course and left feeling flustered. To remain in a position of communicating effectively, Michael Brown recommends a golden rule for handling difficult questions in the context of a group or audience. He suggests that you listen on behalf of everyone present, including asking questions and repeating the issue; that you share the reply with everyone, which means moving your eyes off the questioner and onto all present in order to have the whole group "wear the answer"; and to capitalize on this shared answer to move on and change direction.
- To talk without purpose is to ramble. If you want to be taken lightly, ramble.
- Do not whine or plead. Neither is guaranteed to instill respect or interest in the listener. If you are very upset, excuse yourself and come back to the discussion later when you have had a chance to think it through.
- Be careful with levity. While a little humor injected into what you are discussing can be very effective, do not take it too far, and do not rely on it as a crutch to cover up the hard-to-say things. If you keep giggling and joking, your communication will not be taken seriously
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