Every day we are required to communicate, whether verbally or non verbally, through e-mail or in person. When you’re getting ready for that big business deal, interviewing for that job you’ve been dreaming of, teaching a coworker a new skill, or managing a meeting, it’s imperative that your communication skills be top-notch. This is true whether you are the speaker or the listener in the situation. Neither can be effective without the other. We speak for many reasons, but the main reason is to be heard. We listen to learn, but mostly to understand.

Communication problems often start with the way the speaker delivers their message, and the way the listener receives that message. With this in mind, here are some tips on what you can do as a speaker and as a listener to make sure communication is as effective as possible. I’ve thrown in a few tips for written communication as well.

The Importance of the Speaker

Being a good speaker is about not just the content of your message, but also about how you deliver that message. If you want the listener to really engage with your message, show some enthusiasm for what you are saying. Next and equally important, structure your words so the listener knows what you are talking about. Lay out your speech (or e-mail) similar to the way you would format an essay. The introduction should be short, but sharp and interesting; this will spark your listener’s curiosity. The body of your message should explain your points in short sentences that people can follow; this will keep your listener engaged. The conclusion of your message should recap your main points and give listeners a chance to make sure they understood what was said; this will ensure all involved are on the same page.

Key Tips on How to be an Effective Speaker

  • Use good grammar, even in e-mail.
  • Keep messages (spoken or written) to the point. Lengthy sentences will surely confuse the listener and obscure your main point.
  • Do not use jargon. The minute you start speaking in terms that do not resonate with others is the minute you lose your audience. Speak in terms that people can understand; otherwise, they won’t be able to focus on your actual message. Although jargon may be appropriate when talking to your immediate peers, it’s a distraction for those not used to hearing the language on a daily basis.  The smallest of things, such as an unfamiliar word, can completely throw off the listener’s train of thought and their ability to comprehend.
  • Speak conversationally.
  • Make it clear that you are open for questions at any time.
  • Make eye contact. Scan the crowd as you speak; make the listener engage.
  • Smile and actively show happiness. These are great ways to get people to pay attention.
  • Vary the tone of your voice—your listeners are more likely to absorb what you’re saying if you avoid speaking in a monotone.

The Value of the Listener

There’s no doubt that listening is a challenging thing to do. Often when we listen, we think we’ve heard one thing, when the speaker actually intended something entirely different. We can become overwhelmed while listening and lose focus very quickly. This is the root cause of many communication problems in every company, big or small, and can negatively affect productivity within.

How to Be and Effective Listener

  • Clear that “to do” list from your mind when listening, if you truly want to hear what is being said. Take a break from your own thoughts.
  • Use nonverbal communication to signal your understanding. A nod, raised eyebrow, or smile can indicate to the speaker that their message is making sense.
  • DO NOT look at, answer, or play with your phone while someone is speaking to you. First, it’s rude. Second, it completely distracts you from listening effectively.
  • Even though it can be tempting, try not to finish the speaker’s sentence.
  • Try not to interrupt. Wait for the speaker to finish their thought.
  • Recap and restate (when it’s your turn to talk) what the speaker said. This will give them the opportunity to clarify any assumptions you’ve made or misconceptions you have about what you heard.

It won’t be easy to keep all of these tips in mind at once, so try practicing two at a time. At your next meeting, for example, apply one tip for speaking and one tip for listening. Practicing new techniques for communication is beneficial on a personal level and even more so on a professional level.

Cate Curry
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