Communication skills are high on the list of must-haves for any professional or business owner, but are they a strength of yours?
We asked Premium member Amy Hume, who has trained staff in voice and communication skills for companies such as Commonwealth Bank, Channel Ten, NSW Department of Health and The University of Sydney, and Communications specialist Nat Foxon, for the best strategies to nail your next presentation, interview or networking night.
When we get nervous, we often forget to breathe! But breathing is the first thing that will help you feel calm and in control. Focus on centring your breath – see if you can feel breath low in your body. Breathing low and slow will help you feel centred and grounded, it will boost your presence, allow for good voice production and help you appear confident.
2. Turn ‘I’ into ‘you’
You can make a dramatic improvement to the impact of what you’re saying, just by switching it around to be about the listener rather than about you. For example, instead of saying ‘At XYZ accounting firm, we offer a free calculator as a gift for new customers’, switch it around to ‘You will receive a free calculator from XYZ accounting firm as our gift to you as a new customer’. The second is much more powerful, don’t you agree?
3. Eye contact is your friend
When you speak to people, stand with two feet flat on the floor, or sit up in your chair. Look at your audience and acknowledge their presence. Alignment helps you maintain a centred breath, you will speak clearly and come across confidently. You will immediately appear accessible, likeable and engaging. Your listener will remain interested if you look at them.
4. Say it out loud
This is so huge. You could do only this and it would make a huge difference to how well you communicate. Most of us write our speeches and presentations before we ‘speak’ them, and the trouble with this is that we all write in a much more formal way than we talk (I blame high school essay writing). The last thing you want to do is to talk how you write (borrrring). So at the very least, read out loud what you’ve written and adjust whichever parts feel a little stiff, or even better, say out loud what you want to get across first, then write it down.
5. Say statements as statements
If your voice rises up in pitch at the end of a phrase, it makes the phrase sound like a question. This is called rising inflection and it gives the sense that you are uncertain or unsure about what you are saying. If you want to appear knowledgeable and trustworthy, use a falling inflection at the ends of phrases to convey your certainty and assurance.
6. Ditch the jargon
We all use language that’s specific to our field of expertise and once you know it, it’s difficult to let it go. Often the reason for that is we all want to come across as knowing what we’re talking about and so the ego gets in the way! The irony is that the more jargon you use, the less your listener even bothers listening to what you’re saying, so instead of coming across as knowledgeable, your voice gets replaced in your listener’s mind with thoughts of ‘what’s for dinner’… ‘must text mum’… ‘that island holiday would be good’. Think about the words your audience uses, and stick with that language.
7. Remove hesitation words
Words such as ‘like’, ‘um’, ‘so’ and ‘yeah’ often creep into free-flowing speech, sometimes to the point where they are distracting to the listener. They can also lessen the impact of your message. Instead of using hesitation words, try pausing. Pause at the end of phrases and between your ideas, to give yourself a moment to think clearly about what you’ll say next.
Pausing can feel odd at first but you’ll soon get used to it, and you’ll find people actually listen MORE when you pause. Do not underestimate the significance and power of pause. It draws the listener in, gives them a chance to digest what you’re saying, and gives you a chance to breathe.
8. Tell a story
At the ABC, they used to ship in an American radio guru every year and her training always came back to this one point – never be boring. How do you do that? You tell a personal story. Use something real that you can connect with. Be intimate, interesting, embarrassing and if you can be, funny. You’ve now bought yourself a whole lot of attention. There are no boring stories, only boring storytellers. These days when I’m training people to communicate better, we do exercises in which they are given a topic – like shoelaces – and they have to come up with a story on the spot. You’d be surprised what you can come up with when you need to. Telling a little story is a beautiful and compelling way to communicate, give it a go!
Voice coach Amy Hume and communication specialist Nat Foxon work together to help professionals and business people communicate in beautiful and compelling ways, through workshops and online programs.
Connect with Amy here.