December 10, 2008

Good communicators make good speakers

If you want to be a better speaker, start working on your one-on-one communication skills. Sure, there are some speakers who are able to fake it onstage and aren't good communicators in person, but to really shine as a speaker, connect with your audience and radiate authenticity, your one-on-one communication skills are the place to start.

Here are some basic skills that will help you both one-on-one and with groups. You may think these are too basic for you, but most people could improve some aspects of their communication skills, so don't be so quick to blow these off. Are you really doing all of these things? Some of these? Or none of these?

1. Focus your attention on the other person

Make eye contact.
Be an active listener.
Don't be thinking about the next thing you're going to say. (Guilty.)
Don't be looking around the room at every distraction. (This is hard for some people.)

Let the person know you hear what they're saying by nodding, smiling, or using verbal affirmations like "uh-huh," and by asking questions or paraphrasing to clarify their points. People want to be heard, and this lets the other person know that you're paying attention.

2. Be aware of your nonverbal communication

You're saying one thing, but your body language, tone of voice or facial expression might be saying something else. Don't try to lie with your body; it doesn't work unless you're a skilled liar (or actor).

If you're not being honest or sincere with someone, it's often quite easy to tell, because when nonverbal communication doesn't match your words, the nonverbals are what people will believe.

Be honest and straightforward and your body won't have to lie for you.

3. Be clear and concise

Say what you mean and mean what you say.
Practice making a point without going off on tangents.
Discipline yourself.

Sometimes when we're nervous, we will go on and on, afraid of leaving out something important. Organize your thoughts and speak simply and clearly. Let the other person ask questions if they need clarification. Sometimes you just won't say everything you wanted to say, and that's okay. Nobody knows what's missing but you.

4. Engage with the other person

Avoid asking questions with one-word answers like "yes" or "no."
Avoid answering questions with one-word answers like "yes" or "no."
Be alive and lively.
Be warm and human.

We are not born with top-notch communication skills. We learn from watching others, mimicking them, and doing more of what works. Sometimes this means we learn to manipulate or argue or obfuscate or shut down instead of being honest, open, and engaging with others.

But these skills can be learned and practiced. And the better you are communicating one-on-one, the better these skills will transfer to the meeting room or stage.

Which communication skills could you improve?

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