Speaking Skills that Make the Point
The ability to express yourself and your ideas well through verbal communication is central to productivity and collaboration and likely to drive increased opportunities. Strong communicators enjoy competitive advantage in myriad business situations from landing new positions and promotions to securing approval, buy-in and support for new projects and business ventures.
Effective communication skills not only help you advance, they become even more important as you advance. Research shows that senior leaders devote three-quarters or more of their time to communicating internally and externally. By drilling down into the hallmarks of effective verbal communication, and candidly evaluating your current skills, you can increase your influence and the odds that your ideas will gain traction.
Note the setting
Throughout the business world, multiple situations arise that require different communication approaches and levels of formality and structure. That can include interpersonal, one-on-one interactions, small group discussions and speaking in meetings, conducting a performance review or providing feedback. Or, it could mean pitching an idea, motivating the team, settling disputes, presenting to investors or negotiating terms with a vendor.
You will always adapt your speaking to the setting, audience and communication vehicle, but the basic components of effective oral communication will still apply, and you can build on them over time.
The building blocks
Start with these basics and refine them as you develop your skills.
- Focus on the main idea and make it concrete. The only way to get this kind of laser-focused clarity is by preparing carefully, editing your thoughts and condensing them again and again. We tend to think of editing as something that only happens with the written word, but condensing verbal communication into just those kernels of information that your listener really wants and needs helps eliminate confusion and rework and increases the perception of your competence and confidence.For example, instead of saying to new team members that yours is a “collegial” workplace, talk about the specific aspects that make it so. For example, you might say, “Our company is committed to ensuring everyone has an equal chance to be heard during the weekly team meeting.”
- Use proper grammar and avoid filler words. A trusted friend or mentor can be a great resource for rooting out these issues, as can recording yourself for practice. It can be surprising how often “um” “you know” “uhhh,” “like” and other filler words creep into our speaking. They are distracting to listeners and decrease the sense of competence you portray.Of course, it’s difficult to catch grammar errors yourself in oral communication because there is no verbal equivalent of spellcheck. However, the payoff in perception and power makes it worth asking a trusted mentor, colleague or even family member for feedback. By observing you in meetings, presentations, workplace conversations and even social settings, they can help you become more aware of speaking quirks that undermine your authority.
- Build rapport with your audience. This happens through eye contact, relaxed but engaged body language and paying close attention to the signals the listener is sending. Do they understand what you’re saying? Disagree? Need more information? They will also show you if they are bored, overwhelmed or confused. When you pay attention to reading their signals, you can adjust accordingly.
- Listen like you mean it. Hand-in-hand with building rapport is listening. We have talked before about the power of active listening but, in a nutshell, focus on the other person, maintain eye contact, nod, interject short, affirmative statements that show you are following along and ask relevant questions to deepen understanding. Remember, that the whole point of talking is to share something with someone else; listening helps you figure out if what you’ve shared got through as intended.
Verbal communication is a big topic and you will refine your skills throughout your business life. You don’t necessarily have to get TED talk level good, but strong speaking skills are associated with greater success so it makes sense to treat your development in this area as a business investment. Interestingly, research shows that becoming a more effective verbal communicator also builds greater job satisfaction due to stronger relationships, better performance and increased productivity.