What to Do to Improve Communication

How can you improve your communication skills?
How can you improve your communication skills?

For Hire: Effective Communicators


“Employers at high-tech companies increasingly search for employees who possess not merely technical skills but strong communication skills as well.” (according to SUNY, the State University of New York: the largest system of higher learning organizations in the world.)

Many other institutions, companies, employers, and universities are looking for individuals who know how to communicate effectively. The greatest thing you can do for your success rate is to improve communication skills in your repertoire.

Being an effective communicator should not involve taking out a student loan and attending a university for four years or more, though it probably wouldn't hurt. Rather, improving your communication skills is something that can be done any hour of the day in any place in the world, as long as there are other human beings within your reach to practice on.

Following are several practical, simple actions you should work on to improve your communication skills. The more often you practice, the sooner these actions will become a habitual part of your presentation, whether in front of an audience or in a conversation.

To improve communication, ask questions and listen to the answers.
To improve communication, ask questions and listen to the answers.

1. To Improve Communication: Learn to Listen

All of the influential and effective people I know have had this in common: they know how to listen. Marketing specialists and salesmen will tell you the same thing. Listening to their customers and to the people they hope to influence is the only way that they can meet needs and create lasting relationships. In friendships and family relationships as well, the ones who genuinely listen are the ones who truly care.

Listening is hard work! It involves an active, present mind. Anyone can tell if your mind is not present when they are talking to you. If you aren't listening to them, they will be able to tell by the vacant look in your eyes (or lack of eye contact), and by the distance between, or irrelevancy of, your responses. A good way to practice listening is to recite what they just told you back to yourself in your own mind, so that you could re-tell someone else what you just heard or write it down later without any discrepancies.

To listen well, you must focus on the other person more than yourself. One of the great reasons why most people fear public speaking so much is because they focus on themselves more than on their audience. However, every great public speaker "listens" to his audience as he talks to them. He watches their body language, their expressions, their responses, and looks into their eyes. His speech is not about himself, it is about his audience. If at any point he realizes they are getting bored, tired, or unable to concentrate, he will adjust his message to fit their needs. Perhaps an unexpected anecdote, or a stand-up-and-stretch break would meet these needs, or perhaps even an entire shift in the style of presentation and message. I know some effective teachers and speakers who have acknowledged a distraction out loud ("Well, that thunderbolt was sounded like an affirmation from heaven. Thank you, Lord!"), or spent the first ten minutes of their speech talking about something that was on all of our minds, just so we could mentally "get over it" (discussing a recent national tragedy or praying for a mutual concern).

Listening well also involves asking appropriate questions to get the conversation (or speech/discussion) on the right track. Asking good questions will give your audience the feeling that you are genuinely interested in getting to know them better, and that you really do want to hear what they want to say. "How are you?" has become too casual of a greeting to be a good conversation starter for most good conversations. Better would be to follow up "How are you?" with more personal questions about the person's family, pets, opinions, hobbies, good/bad sides of their job, background, hometown, books they've read, places they've travelled, etc. Often a simple question relating to one of these topics, along with a genuine demeanor to show your interest, will lead to deeper and more relevant topics. Someone who has been talking to a sincere listener for several minutes often makes a great listener himself when he realizes that you, too, have something to say, and you will get your chance to talk as well.

Make eye contact!
Make eye contact!

2. To Improve Communication, Make Eye Contact.

Whenever we listen or read or receive some form of communication, we are concerned about the truth. Are they telling me the truth? What is the truth, and can they tell me more of what I need to know? As soon as we have any doubt about the validity of the other person's statements, we stop listening, check out, or walk away. The same happens when we read material, watch the news, or listen to the radio. Tabloids are a great example of ineffective communication. They have flashy headings, amazing pictures, and shocking news. However, tabloids rarely communicate effectively because most of the populace knows to take anything they read in the tabloid magazines as a grain of salt. If it probably isn't true, then it probably won't be read.

What does this discussion about truth have to do with eye contact? Much in every way. Eye contact reveals truth. It is a rare person who can lie while looking someone in the eye. The Bible says the light, or lamp, of the body is the eye (Matt. 6:22) and another well-known truism states that the eyes are the windows to the soul. How can you expect to communicate your soul to another person if your "windows" have the blinds drawn?

In many ways, our society's rapidly developing "communication" technology has actually decreased high quality communication. Some things simply should never be said in an email or text message. Face-to-face communication will always be the most effective way to help two people see "eye-to-eye."

Eye contact when public speaking is a must. Make eye contact with as many people in the audience as possible during your talk, being careful not to just sweep your eyes across the audience or over their heads. Make eye contact with each person until you see them nod, smile, or make recognition of some sort, as they would do if you were in a one-on-one conversation. Try not to release their eyes until you get that recognition. Most people in your audience will find it impossible to hold eye contact for that long without nodding in agreement.

Are you speaking loud enough?
Are you speaking loud enough?

3. To Improve Communication: Work on Verbal Skills

Practice Enunciation

To pronounce your words clearly in normal conversation or public speaking, practice enunciation by exaggerating every syllable. Grab a book and read out loud to a mirror, opening your mouth louder as you say your vowels, and pronouncing each consonant crisply and drastically. Watch your lips, tongue, and jaw in the mirror, practicing movement and flexibility. Exaggerate everything you do in practice and your normal conversations or speeches will have more precise pronunciation that will be easier to hear and understand.

Practice Volume

A good communicator knows when to raise his voice and when to lower it. A raised voice can show excitement, zeal, anger, energy. A lowered voice can show reverence, sadness, mystery, thoughtfulness. Both a lowered and raised voice can indicate that what you are saying is important, if your regular tone of voice is not usually lowered or raised.

Keep in mind that you should adjust the volume of your voice according to the setting you are in. If there are many other conversations going on in the room or a lot of background noise, you will have to step closer to the person you are talking to or raise your voice so they can hear you without asking you to repeat yourself. Many people make the mistake of self-consciously touching their mouths or shielding their mouths with their hand as they talk. This makes it even harder to hear and understand them, because their hands damper the sound waves and prevent the listener from seeing their lips move (much of face-to-face conversation depends on reading lips, especially when it is hard to hear the other person). 

Practice increasing your voice projection by breathing and speaking through the muscles in your diaphragm without tightening or straining your throat. Some speech coaches suggest holding a folding chair at arm's length while standing up, and speaking as loudly and clearly as possible. You will feel your diaphragm tighten and work as you speak. Remember this feeling after you have set the chair down, and try to duplicate it as you speak in public.  

Add visual appeal to your communication.
Add visual appeal to your communication.

4. To Improve Communication: Use Visual Aids

Dress Well

What you wear and how you wear it will have a profound influence on the people you communicate with. Dressing appropriately for the occasion will show you respect the people around you without offending or distracting. A Hawaiian church I know of loans an "aloha" shirt to its visiting pastors so that the congregation will be able to receive the message without being distracted by the formal dress of the preacher. See my article on How to Dress Well and Create a Good First Impression for more on the topic of dress and how you can communicate through it.

Create Visual Appeal

Though powerpoint presentations are a dynamic way to enhance your speech or lesson, you can use something as simple as a match, an apple, or a rock to achieve memorable visual appeal: an "object" lesson! Think analogies. What could a match --or fire-- represent? Perhaps something we fear and respect, danger, power, life, spiritual light, or resources, could all be represented by a flame of fire. Another easy way to add visual appeal to your presentation is to sketch illustrations for your story or diagram your talk on a whiteboard, pass out notes or fill-in-the-blank sheets for your talk, create dialogue (or brainstorming) between you and the audience that adds points or words to your chart or diagram on the board.

Use facial expressions

Good communicators know that they cannot wear a stonewall countenance. An expressive face shows thoughts and feelings that enhance and verify the words coming out of the mouth. If your face doesn't agree with the words you say (ex: cold and distant expression when you are saying you are glad to see someone), no one will believe your words. However, a smile in both the eyes and the mouth, along with a friendly greeting, doubles the effectiveness of what you say. They best way to practice an expressive countenance is to observe the faces of others as they speak, especially if their faces vary drastically from moment to moment depending on what they say. Try to match their expression and understand what causes it. Be a little vulnerable, a little dramatic, with your eyes and eyebrows, mouth and cheeks, without being unnatural or clownish. Your efforts will be rewarded.

Your microphone awaits!
Your microphone awaits!

It is not hard to improve your communication skills if you make a concentrated effort to practice these four tips of effective communication: listening, eye contact, verbal techniques, and visual aids.

© 2009 Jane Grey

More by this Author


Comments 10 comments

Saintatlarge profile image

Saintatlarge 6 years ago from Canada

hi Jane, wow i get to be first. i had tried my hand at doing a Christian (cont.rock)radio program back around 1979. i had a portable studio in my home, spun the vinyls, tapes and worked the mike. Everything was recorded on reel to reel tape and taken off to the station to be aired... thank goodness the music was great, because i was terrible. i never had any training and was quite backwards and introverted. Over the years of gaining confidence in myself and learnt some of these techniques mentioned i have become a much better communicator and have no problem.

This is a great learning exercise for ministry team people. 1) learnng to listen much and speak little. 2)being completely attentive to the one you are praying for.

Thank you for this info.

L.


Rose West profile image

Rose West 6 years ago from Michigan

I loved how listening was at the top of the list. Communication is a two-way street. Oh, and I liked the bit about the Hawaiian church ;)


Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

Saintatlarge,

It sounds like you have had a lot of good practice in this area! I agree, the best way to improve is to practice, but we don't often practice until there is pressure (such as a radio program!). It was great to hear your story. Thanks for sharing it with us!

You're right that we must be good listeners if we are going to ever be able to minister to someone, and how can we pray for someone if we are not attentive to them and their needs! Thank you for your great thoughts.

Jane


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa

Indeed listening is the most important skill there is in communicating. And there is so much to listening.

Thanks for an interesting Hub.

Love and peace

Tony


Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

Rose West,

You are absolutely right that listening should be at the top of my list! I know, personally, that I will not enjoy talking with someone if I know they don't want to listen to me, and I think that is true with most people. I have also found that listening to the audience and watching them for clues helps with not being nervous during a public speech, because I am no longer focusing on myself, but I am focusing on their needs. Thanks for your thoughtful comment! I always appreciate your input and I learn so much from you. Glad you enjoyed the tidbit about the Hawaiian church! I found that fascinating. :)

Jane


Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

tonymac04,

You're right, there is an incredible amount of skill and thought that goes in to listening well. We are such a distracted, selfish, and stressed society, that this is something we really need to work on. Thank you for leaving your comment! You "listened" well. :)

Jane


Hannah J. G. 6 years ago

How about eliminating typos? Here are a few I spotted:

"...who genuinely listen are the ones truly care."

"...they read in the tabloid magazines as a grain of salt."

"...opening your mouth louder as you say..."

As always, it's a pleasure to read your work. There is probably an underlying character flaw in every lack of communication. Not listening - selfcenterness. No eye contact - hiding something, deceit. Not speaking loud enough - lack of confidence in the worth of what you are saying. There are lots of manifestations of apathy. Maybe we ought to focus on character rather than communication. Or at least keep it in mind when practicing our communication skills.


Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

Hi Hannah,

The first one was a typo (good find!), the other two were not. Read the whole sentence and you will see the context for the portions you quoted.

You are right about the character flaws causing problems in communication, though I hesitate to label lack of confidence as a character flaw. Humility and deference is a virtue that is hard to learn, and true confidence in Christ is even harder. We should work on knowing who Christ has made us to be and have our confidence in Him, not necessarily in what we are saying --because we are often wrong. Listening is easy to do when you truly care about someone and love them without selfishness, as you pointed out. And the absence of eye contact can often indicate absence of truth.


Pervaiz Akhter 6 years ago

To improve communication skills four tips are the best to bridging the gap among workers and it helps to enhance confidence level where success starts. pervaiz


Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

I'm glad you found these four tips helpful, Perviaz! Thank you for leaving your comment.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working