Verbal communication refers to communication in which a message is transmitted using words, spoken or written. The objective of every piece of communication is to have people understand what we are trying get across. When we talk or write to others, it's very easy - and often wrong! - to assume that others understand what we are saying because we understand what we are saying. However, people often bring their own attitudes, perceptions, emotions and thoughts to bear on the message and it can be easy to be misunderstood, particularly if your body language - your nonverbal communication isn't quite right.
There are generally considered to be four types of verbal communication:
- intrapersonal communication - the private and (mostly) silent conversations we have with ourselves
- interpersonal communication - between two individuals on a one-on-one basis
- small group communication - like a committee or work team meeting. These involve more than two people, but are small enough groups to let all participants speak, if they so wish. Unless they are structured, they can get quite messy.
- public speaking - one person speaking to a large group of people.
Verbal communication can also be classed as spoken or written. Written communication is covered elsewhere:
Here are some suggestions to improve your verbal communications skills:
- Put yourself in the place of the person you're trying to communicate with; think about the words that you are using, are they clear and easily understood?
- Remember the acronym KISS ("Keep It Super Simple"); the simpler you state your message, the less opportunity there is for confusion or misunderstanding
- Think about the best medium for communication; is the topic sensitive and better handled in person, or better to write down, like a set of instructions?
- Think before you speak. By organising what you say before you say it, you can avoid "ums" and "ers" and awkward pauses as well better phrasing what you are going to say
- Speak with confidence: factors that can affect this include your knowledge of the matter at hand, your word choice, the tone of your voice, your body language and making good eye contact
- Don't speak in a monotone. Vary your tone of voice - change the pitch or tone to emphasise important points. A pleasant-sounding, natural voice will have some variation in pitch — raised for humour and lowered for more serious statements—to communicate nuances of meaning and keep the listener engaged
- Be a good listener - listening is just as important as talking. Not listening means that you won't understand what the other person is saying. Listening shows respect
- Other people are different - they have different opinions and ideas - try to see things from their point of view
- Think about your body language; it should reinforce your message, not contradict it.
- Practice all of the above and keep practicing!
When you speak to someone face to face, you are also use nonverbal communication cues. Speaking on the phone is more complicated because you don't have access to these nonverbal cues, so you have to think a little more about what you say. When speaking on a phone, consider these points:
- Speak slowly and articulate your words clearly. Slow down a little so that the listener doesn't hear words running together
- Be specific - don't waffle
- Repeat as necessary to make sure your information is understood
- Keep conversations private - show consideration for others and also make sure that you're not broadcasting information that you and the person on the other end of the line would want to keep confidential.
- Try to structure your calls like this:
- Introduce yourself and exchange greetings
- Say why you're calling
- Conduct your business
- Summarise and check that you've been understood
- Close the conversation and say goodbye
Small group communications
Much of what is stated above is relevant to communicating in groups but here are a few tips for more effective group communications
- organise your meetings - agree an agenda before you meet and stick to it
- listen to others without passing judgement - focus on the issue at hand, not the individual - in other words don't shoot the messenger
- be respectful - consider other people's ideas without being dismissive
- be open and honest - if something is bothering you, state it
- be supportive of other group members and try to draw them into the conversation
Public speaking is often described as one of the deepest and most common fears of people, but there are ways to conquer this fear:
- It's okay to be nervous: that's a normal reaction. Nerves can be good. Releasing adrenaline makes you more alert and ready to give your best performance.
- Practice and prepare: if you can, perform a dry run in front of family, friends or colleagues and get their feedback
- Know your audience: Know to whom you are speaking and pitch your speech at their level
- Know the environment: Get there ahead of time to get a feel for where you're speaking
- Know the equipment: Test the equipment you're going to use beforehand so that you are not subject to technical difficulties
- Know your material: You should be the expert, knowing your material well will make you more confident
- Project confidence: Even if you are nervous, "fake it to you make it". If you look confident, you'll feel more confident
- Talk slowly and pause now and again: if you want to be understood, don't rush through your speech. Pausing allows you to emphasise key points
- Be yourself: Let your personality show through
- Vary your pitch and tone of voice: Do not speak in a monotone
- Don't read from slides: Your audience can just as easily do that
- Smile and make eye contact: Look at the audience and engage with them
- Keep to the time allotted to you: If you've been given 15 minutes to speak, speak for 15 minutes. Don't go over the time given to you, it's considered bad form and shows that you haven't fully prepared. It's also easy to outstay your welcome
- Ask for feedback: Nobody's perfect and you can ask audience members for constructive criticism to help improve your performance next time around