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Understanding And Improving Your Communication Skills: How To Become An Effective Speaker

Updated on November 05, 2010

If you are the shy type, you might be searching for methods on how to improve your communication skills. Communication is an important social skill everyone must learn. Being able to communicate effectively can improve confidence and self esteem. Good communications is also the foundation of social interaction. Shy personalities also have a tendency to be quiet. Being quiet is usually a bad trait for communications because the rare moments a shy person speaks, the message will not be heard. However, being quiet is not always a bad thing. We must have a clear understanding of communications before we jump into this guide. We must ask ourselves some honest and deep questions. 

What do you hope to accomplish after reading this? Are you quiet? Do you stutter? Do you want to be able to start and hold conversation more easily and effectively? Do you wish to improve your public speaking skills? These are all goals you may have but before you even begin to set a goal, you need to understand the very definition of communication. Many people have their own opinions of good communication skills and the definitions vary from person to person. I wholeheartedly believe that communication is the honest expression of oneself and a skilled communicator also must accurately understand expressions, ideas, and thoughts conveyed towards him. In our current state as social beings, the most important communication tools are our eyes. The most important language to learn is body language. Body language is the true international language. Body language is so effective for communications, it even crosses over to animals. For example, dogs can read and react to body language very well. This is one of the reasons many people have a deeper connection with their pet dogs than their human friends. Many people are out of touch with body language so they compensate for their lack of skill by talking over others, interrupting, "uhhss", "ummm's", talking too much, and stuttering. 

Body Language

Why is body language the most important language to learn? Body language is universal in a sense that it crosses many cultural boundaries. I recall the many times I had to work with people that spoke very little English. I had to quickly learn to express myself with my hands and use gestures in order to get the job done. I had to learn to express myself and my emotions honestly with my body language. That was the easy part. The hard part was expression the specifics such as nouns. I eventually made friends with people from all different cultures and even learned some of their native language.

The key to good body language is the eyes and hands. The eyes are important to gather information of the hands. Our hands are weapons. They also can hide weapons. This may be why it seems universal in nearly all cultures of the world to show the hands when meeting someone. When you meet someone new, you usually show your hand either by waving it or offering it for a handshake. Let's focus on waving for now. When you wave your hands at someone, you are showing this person your palm to show that you are unarmed. If this makes some sense to you, I challenge you to think a bit deeper. Let's try this together. What specifically shows when you wave your hand? Think about offering someone a handshake. Sometimes the palm does not show but how do you know the other person is disarmed? If you said the "thumb" then you need to pat yourself on the back. You are very insightful and you think critically. If the thumb didn't come to mind, don't worry. I'll explain.  

The thumb is what allows us to use tools. In the case of meeting strangers, we need our thumbs to hold on to weapons. When we wave at someone, we also show our thumbs along with our palms. Shaking hands is an acceptable greeting method in most modern culture only for the fact that the thumb is raised and visible. If you still have doubts on the importance of the thumb, try this out. Stand in front of the mirror and be sure your whole body is visible. After admiring your good looks, place your hands completely in your pockets. Look at yourself. How do you feel? Threatened? Cautious? Now place your hands in your pockets but leave your thumbs hanging out. Now how do you feel? Much at ease right? Imagine a stranger doing thing in front of you. Which one would you be more comfortable seeing? It's amazing how much exposed thumbs can affect body language.

Speech And Talking Too Much

I believe speech is not as important as body language but this skill should not be overlooked for the fact that we cannot always be face to face with another individual. A good speaker should be able to express the most with the fewest words. Flowery words are great for people that love to waste time or impress nobodies. Flowery words and speech should only be used at leisure or for the purpose of confusing someone. "That man stinks." "I am happy." These are effective examples of communication. No bs. Just straight to the point. This style of communication is popular among generation X and Y. These 2 generations value impulse. They want to know things and they want to know them now. Growing up with the Internet and TV quickly satisfies our thirst for instant knowledge.

When we read, we tend to skim through text and read in bits and pieces. People value efficient information in writing and in speech. When talking to someone, keep this in mind. Don't babble on and on. Just get to the point. Talking too much is a problem I see often. When someone speaks too much, not only does the information gets lost in the useless words, but it also shows a negative personality trait. Speaking too much shows neediness and the desire to control.

How can speaking too much show neediness? When someone speaks too much, their words deliver less information or expression in relation. Okay Set. I get it. Talking too much is bad. So why do people do it?

People talk to much to compensate for their lack of control. People that lack control desire it and try to get this any way they can. One of the ways this desire manifests is through communications. Stay with me here. When you speak, you are not just relaying expression or information. When you speak, you are occupying time. Each word spoken occupies a space in time. The more words spoken, the more time is occupied. Going back to my other point, flowery words generally occupy more time than more common words. Why say, "I feel melancholy" when you can say, "I feel sad"? Likewise, why spend a minute saying something that could be expressed in 10 seconds? Besides showing neediness and the desire to control, there is another reason why people talk a lot.

Another reason why people talk a lot is to convince another person, show honesty or sell something. People that talk a lot are often described as having the "gift of the gab." This trait is often found in successful salesmen. Think of the characteristics of a salesman. They welcome you with open arms, try to make you feel comfortable and for the point of this discussion, talk a lot. The reason why chatterboxes sell so well is because most people are weak minded. The act of talking to someone requires a listener. If you were listening to some one's idea or sales pitch, the longer they talk the more you feel obligated to comply to their wishes. Imagine you are at a checkout line at your grocery store. The cashier ask you, "would you like to donate $1 to charity?" You politely say, "No." Now imagine the cashier saying, "would you like to donate $1 to the red cross? They are raising money to help low income children with disabilities suffering from car accidents. We are buying affordable wheelchairs so they can go to school." Can you see how difficult it is to say "no" this time? Sure there is the sympathy factor in the second example but the point is, the more words spoken, the more obligation you feel to compensate for their time.

How do you counter this tactic? Realize that your time is valuable too. If someone is going on and on with their words, raise up a finger and say, "can you get to the point?" You never want to be on the defensive in a conversation. This might sound rude but saying this also communicates to the other person that you are irritated. They are wasting your time. Before you pay someone for their time, you must also judge how much your own time is worth.

This is where self worth, self respect, and confidence comes in. You must realize your self worth to value your time. You must have self respect to understand and see if your time is being wasted. And you must have the confidence to stop people from wasting your time.

"Uhhh..." What?

Another common thing people with poor communications skill do is say "uhh's" and "umm's" a lot. Many people do this. In fact, I believe everyone in nearly ever language does this. Why do we say them? When people talk, they tend to want to complete an idea or a sentence before they stop. Sometimes, people will get interrupted or they will pause during mid sentence. In order to keep control of their "conversation space", people will tend to say "uhh" and "umm" as if to say "hold on, I'm not done talking yet." If this is so common, why is it bad for communications? For one, it is a waste of time. Saying "uhh's" and "umm's" do not add anything valuable to a conversation. For every time you hear someone say "uhh", replace it with "hold on, I'm going to talk." You will quickly see how useless and redundant it can get. Saying these filler words conveys a lack of self control. In a sense, you are bidding for time because you do not have the cash to buy it. It is as if rent is due but you need an extension.

It's clear that saying "uhh" and "umm" is bad for communications. How do we fix this? This is a very hard habit to break however it can be done with some hard work and patience. The easiest way to remedy this habit is to slow down your speech. Take some time to speak and convey each word as precisely as possible. Good communications is quality over quantity. Speak slowly while being careful not to slip in the "umms". This shows a strong sense of control. Choose your words carefully. Almost as if you are thinking about it before they are spoken. Wouldn't speaking slowly mean you are stupid? No! Not at all. You are not recalling words as if you are a foreigner. You are choosing them. Also, when you speak slowly, you control the "conversation space" as if each word spoken has more value. Think about it this way. If you have 5 seconds to describe how you are feeling, take the whole 5 seconds instead of rushing. People that talk fast are always in a rush. Speaking is a form of communications and communications is also an art. People that speak fast portray a sense of urgency. Having a sense of urgency in your speech is generally looked down upon if it is abused. Speaking urgently should be reserved for urgent situations like medical emergencies or time sensitive situations. If you are always in a rush, this will reflect in your speech. Take your time and show that you have self control in your speech. Choose your words carefully and do not bid for time with "uhh's".

Often times, you will run into people with these habits. How do you respond to people that are always competing for "conversation space"? In communications, we are very reactive. If you practice some of these good communications techniques, it is still very easy to fall back into bad habits especially if the other person does it often. To resist the bad habits, you must not fall into it. Do not join in the competition and fight for conversation space. The idea is to convey a sense of control. Do not interrupt. Be calm. Talk under your conditions. Set the pace that is comfortable for you, not the other person.

Speak Up. I Can't Hear You!

Another bad trait many people have while talking to someone is speaking too low. Speaking in a low volume is a sign of low confidence. This is usually incorporated with the head positioned downwards. This is often seen by children that are getting scolded by their parents. This submissive characteristic is carried over to people that feel inferior to the person they are talking to. Shyness is often describe to people that speak low.  

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to fix this problem. It is easy to say, "speak louder" but that's like putting a bandage on a wound that needs stitches. A lack of confidence and shyness is the underlying problem and you cannot fix it by simply changing your speech volume. Speech habits are usually a reflection of person's personality. While you can work on some methods to improve speech, I find that helping people overcome low speech is most difficult. Telling someone to raise their voice if they are shy can make that person feel worse. This can even be embarrassing if done in public. In school, most teachers require students to perform public speaking through projects and presentations. Asking a student to raise their voice puts tremendous pressure on the student to perform. This pressure will make the student dread such social activities and it may carry over onto their own personal relationships.  

We speak differently to our friends and families than we do to strangers, coworkers, and colleagues. I think the easiest way to overcome quietness is to create a sense of comfort. When we are around people we know, we are comfortable and we speak at a level that both parties can hear. Many people tend to be shy around strangers. Becoming more outgoing is difficult because you must find a way to create comfort in a situation you are not used to. One of the easiest ways to do this is to greet strangers as if they were a friend. "Hey, how's things going?" This is a simple but effecting way to create comfort in an otherwise quiet, awkward situation.  

Becoming more outgoing isn't the only thing that can help quietness. Building confidence can have a big impact on how you speak and interact with people. Having more confidence means you are able to speak in a loud clear voice in front of many people. Unfortunately, increasing confidence is something that extends beyond the scope of a communications article. However, the more you practice your speech volume, the more comfortable you will be with speaking louder. 


Stuttering is the last thing I want to talk about. We stutter for many reasons. Stuttering often happens when we are nervous or in a rush to speak. Some people suffer from extreme stuttering. This is caused by the brain not recognizing the words being spoken so it results in an interruption. The person then stutters and tries to repeat the word from the beginning of each syllable. Think about it this way. People that suffer from extreme stuttering are treated with an earpiece that repeats what is being spoken at a slower pace. The brain then recognizes that the word is being completed so no stuttering occurs. Many people stutter. Some cases are more extreme than others. This happens because when we are nervous or excited, we tend to want to speak or deliver as much information as possible. In an attempt to do this, sometimes our brains have an internal conflict in which it is not sure whether a word has been spoken or not. The earpiece that helps severe stutterers reassures the brain that the word are being spoken. We reassure the words are being spoken with our hearing and sometimes our focus conflicts with hearing and speech. Ever said something out loud that you thought in your head? Then asked the question, "Did I just say that out loud?" This is a similar conflict of communication.  

This hearing and speaking conflict explains why deaf people don't stutter. Some deaf people can talk as well as read lips. Deaf people cannot hear their own speech so the brain does not try to correct a problem that isn't there. We could learn from the deaf. Once again. To help we should try to lower our speech rate. If you suffer from stuttering, try speaking slowly and clearly. Listen to your own words and understand them before and as you are talking. Try to relax yourself. Nervousness and excitement triggers stuttering. Read a book or magazine. When we read, most of us say the words being read in our heads. This helps us visually recognize the words. Too often, we connect words being spoken to it being heard. It's like throwing a penny in the air. We expect it to fall down. If we are impatient, we might question if it was thrown or not so we might throw another penny and suddenly, the original penny hits the second one on it's way down. This is analogous to stuttering. Our words are not interpreted so we "throw" the word again and it gets messed up. Be patient. Think clearly and speak clearly. Try to separate speaking from hearing. They go hand in hand but sometimes, your brain has a hard time doing this. 

Effective communication is true, honest expression with the least amount of work. Body language is above all speech. Body language crosses cultural boundaries and even animals can understand it. Speech is still an important tool for communication but it ha some problems. Talking to much can tell much about a person's personality. Saying "uhh's" and "umm's" show a strong desire to be controlling. Speaking to low can reveal shyness and possibly low self esteem. And stuttering can show nervousness, fear, and even dishonesty. There are exceptions to the rule and we shouldn't generalize. Having good communication skills is not as easy as it sound. Someone with good communication skills will showcase their positive attributes. Strength, self respect, confidence, assertiveness and self control are some of the many characteristics one may show with good communication skills. I hope this article help further your understanding of communications. Thank you for reading!


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