In community college, one of the best courses I took (which was a requisite, actually) was on how to improve communication skills. The teacher was a trip, and was equally adept at making the class interesting and engaging as well as informative. I still recall the tools and techniques often. In fact, just the other day I was discussing the practice of clear communication whereby one person (a.k.a. the speaker) sends information, the receiver (or listener) takes in the information and then reiterates in his/her own words, and the sender confirms that the listener received it the way it was intended.
I won’t get into the metaphysics of how words/language can be misinterpreted, unheard, neglected, abused, etc., but will instead stick with the basics for how to improve communication skills as I learned them and as I try to practice them. And I will share what I remember for those who wish to speak in public, not for those in an interpersonal relationship or what have you….
First, acknowledge that public speaking sucks for most human beings. [One comic—or maybe it was an ad—said that if the number one fear is speaking in public and the number two fear is death, does that mean people would rather die than talk aloud to a crowd? ] Anyway, this is what I do: I think of the material/topic I will be speaking on; I realize how much I love the subject; and I focus on my love for the subject. I trick myself, that is, into shifting my focus from how I will speak to what I will speak on…forgetting all about being afraid! [Screw that “imagine the audience in their underwear” thing. I am not sure that works anymore.]
Next, stand tall, and speak out. If you speak out over the heads of the audience, you should get a good thing going with the acoustics in the room. I know you need to look down at your notes, but since we all understand that notes are involved, there is no need to try to hide the notes…so how about holding them in your hand at chest level when you refer to them? Screw the podium—unless you are nervous. If you are, the thing blocking you will relieve nerves a bit. If it doesn’t refer back to the first suggestion for how to improve communication skills.
And finally, take ownership. Just as you will stand proud and just as you will feel the love, so shall you learn how to improve communication skills by owning that stage, pulpit, podium space, or head of the table area in the conference room. Look at the listeners. Imagine you have knowledge of something they know much less about and therefore they NEED you to be good, kind, and direct.
And, for God’s sake—and your audience’s—be interesting. If you aren’t a typically funny person, smile. Studies show a smiling presenter gets more positive evaluation anyway. Move about. Change your tone. Try it. Try yammering away to a crowd, then suddenly dropping into a whisper. Check out how many will perk up all of a sudden.
You are in control. Take it and respect it!
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