Martin Luther King, Jr., Socrates, Billy Graham. What do all of these people have in common? They are all legendary speakers. The course of history has been swayed countless times by great orators and communicators. History is the actions of people, but it’s the inspiration by polished communicators which determines people’s actions. Words are one of the most powerful tools if harnessed well, and yet we can’t even order a Happy Meal without tripping over those supposed “tools.”
In a world that is jam-packed with words–especially with the advent of the internet and social media–how can you make yours stick? How can you make your words cut through the fray and have an impact? It’s all about WHAT you say and HOW you say it. Here are 8 simple tricks that are easy to implement that can improve your ability to communicate well.
1. Be intentional
Communication is an action; it requires significant, intentional effort. The difference between gifted speakers and babblers is the time and effort invested in preparation and the skills they have at their disposal. The rest of the tips in this article are some skills for you to add to your repertoire, but the groundwork of intention must be there for those skills to have any effect.
2. Never ask questions
When you speak, do so with authority. Don’t sound unsure or held back. When you are making a statement, don’t sound like you are asking a question. Always have an opinion, and know when to share your opinion. Speak with conviction.
3. Always ask questions
The people deemed “most conversational” are the ones who ask more questions of others than they do share their own thoughts. Approach every conversation with the goal of learning–about others, about new subjects–not the desire to tell others what you know. You have two ears and one mouth for a reason — to listen twice as much as you speak.
4. Don’t think out loud
As you’ve probably heard your mother tell you a million times, you should always think before you speak. A great communicator doesn’t speak OFTEN; he speaks WELL. Make your words matter. Choose them wisely. Good communication isn’t a reaction, it’s an intentional action. If you are quick to respond, you are reacting and aren’t taking the time to make a well thought-out statement.
5. Eliminate “um”
Communication isn’t the most natural thing for people. From a young age, we must be taught how to communicate. When you say “um” or “uh” or “like,” it is a verbal expression that you use while your brain is processing what and how to communicate next. Cut it out. A couple seconds of silence is okay. Silence is actually a very good thing. It gives you time to think about what you want to say and how to say it well, and it also gives your audience time to chew on what you have said.
6. Have a grandiose vernacular then, use half of it
Know more “big” words than you will ever use. This gives you the ability to converse with every type of conversationalist. You can talk to the average layman and the social elite. Having an extensive vocabulary is one of the easiest ways to sound smart and eloquent–or pretentious and snooty. The trick is to know your audience and adjust your vocabulary accordingly.
7. Stand Tall
Watch your body language. Only 10-15% of your communication is verbal (words). The remaining 85-90% is nonverbal (primarily body language). How you stand, your hand gestures, facial expressions, how quickly or slowly you speak, the pitch of your voice, when and where you move around–they all communicate significantly more to your audiences than simply your words. Nonverbals can do one of three things: enhance the verbal message, confirm the verbal message, or negate the verbal message. The best posture to show authority and confidence is standing straight up (no slouching) with relaxed shoulders. When sitting, lean forward to show interest and engagement.
8. Expect Critiques
The glory (and pitfall) of communication is that there is no one, clear cut way to communicate. You are allowed creative freedom to say what you want, how you want to say it. But never expect everyone to agree with your choices. Not everyone will connect with your communication style, so expect critiques, and humbly accept them when they come. Take every critique with a grain of salt–there is value in them, but they are also coming from people. People aren’t perfect, and others don’t always know what is best–especially with communication. Know yourself, and be confident in your communication choices, but also remain in a posture that is willing to learn and adapt.