Inspire

MASTERING THE BASICS OF COMMUNICATION & PUBLIC SPEAKING

Do you know how the best of Communicators or Public speakers started it all? Here are a few things to note

Every good leader has something to say. Yet, many of us don’t take the time to polish and shape how we communicate those ideas to others or ponder how others may receive our message.

Communication can be summed up to be the exchange of information. Given the complex ways that we receive and perceive messages, however, this exchange is far from simple and straightforward. To become a good communicator, you first must master the basics of having a two-way conversation.

Learn to Listen

Most of us only remember about half of what we hear—no matter how carefully we think we’re listening. But effective leadership requires good listening. Clearly, this is a critical skill to learn. Since it isn’t usually taught in schools, we need to train ourselves to listen.

Improve your active listening by practicing three simple techniques:

  • Suspend any biases you might have about the speaker’s appearance or prior actions.
  • Quiet your mind by focusing on what is being said instead of thinking about your response.
  • Encourage the speaker to continue sharing information by asking open-ended questions and nodding your head.

Effective listening doesn’t come naturally to most people. But when you consider that listening is one-half of the communication dynamic, the importance of practicing this undervalued skill becomes apparent.

Know Your Audience

Before you begin to craft your message, learn as much as you can about your listeners. This will help you not only to determine your choice of words and level of information, but also to structure your delivery and motivate your audience.

Figure out the level of knowledge and interest your listeners have in your topic. Do they have any preconceptions? Are they hostile or friendly? Will they feel pressured to react in a specific way? It’s important to consider these questions whether you plan to speak to one or many. Watch for nonverbal cues from your audience, listen to their feedback, and adjust your message accordingly.

Organize and Structure Your Message

Words are powerful—they carry a literal as well as a connotative meaning. Because those connotations differ in various parts of the world, it’s crucial to know your audience.

For example, dog is a neutral word. But mongrel carries a negative connotation, while man’s best friend carries a positive one. Take time to choose the right word or expression and be sure to pronounce it correctly.

A few other tips to consider when formulating your message:

Clarity. Choose concrete, familiar words that refer to tangible objects. These words are more likely to maintain your audience’s interest and less likely to be misinterpreted. Avoid using more words than necessary to express an idea, be concise.

Vivid language. Imagery is memorable. So be sure to use descriptive language—such as color, size, and shape—to create mental images of objects, actions, or ideas. Select lively verbs and speak in an active voice.

Rhythm. Your choice and arrangement of words create a pattern of sound. There are many tools to consider when it comes to establishing rhythm—repetition, alliteration, even onomatopoeia.

For maximum effect, use these language tools sparingly—overuse may sound pretentious. You don’t want to compromise your credibility or the audience’s interest.

Pay Attention to Your Nonverbal Skills

Many people don’t realize that nonverbal cues can convey an unintended message to their audience. You may think you’re being open, but if your arms are crossed or your back is turned, you’re creating a barrier.

Research shows that when given the choice of believing visual and vocal cues or spoken words, listeners typically trust the nonverbal message. If you shuffle your feet or gaze out the window, you won’t get your message across effectively. The same holds true for your delivery—avoid mumbling and monotones.

Effective nonverbal communication includes:

  • Proper attire
  • Good posture
  • Natural gestures
  • Purposeful movement
  • Appropriate eye contact
  • Energy and enthusiasm

Communicating Is Connecting

Most audiences prefer a delivery that combines a certain degree of formality with the best attributes of good conversation. Be direct, spontaneous, and animated. Use vocal and facial expressions to liven things up.

And remember: Communication is fluid. Putting in the work beforehand to organize your ideas and understand your audience will make you a better speaker, but you must listen to your audience and adapt to their feedback as well. If your listener is bored or confused, modify your verbal and nonverbal message—inject some humor, explain the confusion, or even change course.

After all, a rigid communication style often prevents a meaningful connection between speaker and listener. On the other hand, a flexible style not only helps you get your point across more effectively but also keeps everyone on their toes and actively engaged.

PUBLIC SPEAKING

1. Nervousness Is Normal. Practice and Prepare!

All people feel some physiological reactions like pounding hearts and trembling hands. Do not associate these feelings with the sense that you will perform poorly or make a fool of yourself. Some nerves are good. The adrenaline rush that makes you sweat also makes you more alert and ready to give your best performance.

The best way to overcome anxiety is to prepare, prepare, and prepare some more. Take the time to go over your notes several times. Once you have become comfortable with the material, practice—a lot. Videotape yourself, or get a friend to critique your performance.

2. Know Your Audience. Your Speech Is About Them, Not You.

Before you begin to craft your message, consider who the message is intended for. Learn as much about your listeners as you can. This will help you determine your choice of words, level of information, organization pattern, and motivational statement.

3. Organize Your Material in the Most Effective Manner to Attain Your Purpose.

Create the framework for your speech. Write down the topic, general purpose, specific purpose, central idea, and main points. Make sure to grab the audience’s attention in the first 30 seconds.

4. Watch for Feedback and Adapt to It.

Keep the focus on the audience. Gauge their reactions, adjust your message, and stay flexible. Delivering a canned speech will guarantee that you lose the attention of or confuse even the most devoted listeners.

5. Let Your Personality Come Through.

Be yourself, don’t become a talking head—in any type of communication. You will establish better credibility if your personality shines through, and your audience will trust what you have to say if they can see you as a real person.

6. Use Humor, Tell Stories, and Use Effective Language.

Inject a funny anecdote in your presentation, and you will certainly grab your audience’s attention. Audiences generally like a personal touch in a speech. A story can provide that.

7. Don’t Read Unless You Have to. Work from an Outline.

Reading from a script or slide fractures the interpersonal connection. By maintaining eye contact with the audience, you keep the focus on yourself and your message. A brief outline can serve to jog your memory and keep you on task.

8. Use Your Voice and Hands Effectively. Omit Nervous Gestures.

Nonverbal communication carries most of the message. Good delivery does not call attention to itself, but instead conveys the speaker’s ideas clearly and without distraction.

9. Grab Attention at the Beginning, and Close with a Dynamic End.

Do you enjoy hearing a speech start with “Today I’m going to talk to you about X”? Most people don’t. Instead, use a startling statistic, an interesting anecdote, or concise quotation. Conclude your speech with a summary and a strong statement that your audience is sure to remember.

10. Use Audiovisual Aids Wisely.

Too many can break the direct connection to the audience, so use them sparingly. They should enhance or clarify your content, or capture and maintain your audience’s attention.

Practice Does Not Make Perfect

Good communication is never perfect, and nobody expects you to be perfect. However, putting in the requisite time to prepare will help you deliver a better speech. You may not be able to shake your nerves entirely, but you can learn to minimize them.

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