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Nine practical ways to improve verbal communication

Verbal communication skills are essential skills in today’s business environment.

Most of us will have participated in formal communication skills training such as ‘Presentation Skills’ or ‘Business Development Skills’ courses.Many courses cover the formal, planned and group situations we often face. But they rarely cover our regular, informal ones, such as discussions, meetings, workshops, telephone calls and conversations.

The following tips are a starting point to help you think about how you can improve your verbal communications skills, whether in planned or unplanned situations:

1. Read more – Simply increasing what you read (business texts, novels, newspapers etc) can improve your vocabulary, help you express ideas clearly and eliminate weaknesses in your language skills.

2. Think about the words – Too many words will bore your listener, take up too much time and result in you losing credibility. There is no need to waffle! Remember not to use words that people don’t understand (they may not even tell you that they don’t understand what you are saying), as you may appear intimidating and make them feel inferior.

3. Prepare (if you can) – You would spend time planning what you would say if you were writing. You would also think about how to make it accessible to as many readers as possible. If you know of an approaching situation, take time out to think about the questions you may be asked and what answers you may need to give. If you are delivering a presentation, you should be prepared for awkward questions and situations where you may need to explain something in a different way.

4. Listen and be interested – Listening more and talking less means you will understand and bring your listener into the conversation. This helps them to trust you and make them feel that you really understand their needs. When they talk, be interested and show your interest. This will improve the rapport you are trying to build. Using note-taking skills like Mind Mappingcan help you to take more effective and memorable notes.

5. Be aware of non-verbal communication traps – The impact of the words you say is only a small element of the communication you are giving. You should make sure that your words, their tone, the gestures you make, facial expressions and body language you use, are all relevant to your conversation.

6. Honesty is the best policy – Promising something that is not possible will break down any trust that you have developed. Telling someone that you “don’t know – but can find out” is more positive than just trying to give an answer you hope is effective.

7. Show and seek some understanding – Look for understanding from your audience. It’s easier to back track at certain points in your conversation than revisit the whole conversation again – or you risk getting the wrong results because your audience did not understand! You can use this when delivering or receiving a message. Occasional summaries and confirmation questions can be extremely useful.

8. Think about perspectives – Think about what you are saying from the other person’s perspective. Just because you understand what you mean, it doesn’t mean that they will.

9 Develop your skills – There are a number of techniques you can learn to help improve your verbal communication skills.