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Kevin Dalby, Austin Professor, Shares 8 Tips for Improving Your Spoken Communication Skills

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Learning to become an effective communicator is an important life skill. It can improve the way you interact with people in your personal life and the workplace. Here, Kevin Dalby – professor at the University of Texas, Austin – discusses tips on how you can become a better communicator today.

There is much more to effective spoken communication than merely using the right words. Writers can rely on their word usage to convey their message, but in-person verbal communication involves a host of other sensory inputs. You can use the right words, but your audience will be unmoved if you mispronounce them or speak without conviction.

Tip 1. Know what you want to say

Before you even open your mouth to speak, you should know what you want to say or ask. This principle will be evident if you plan on speaking in front of a broad audience, but even if you have a routine conversation with your spouse, resist the temptation to fill every space with words. Effective communicators do precisely that; they use language to communicate an idea. Ensure you know what concept you want to share or question you want to ask before speaking.

As people realize that when you say something, you have something to say, they will begin to listen more intently, and you will communicate more effectively.

Tip 2. Only use words you know the meaning of

There are a few things that will cause you to look more foolish than misusing a word. If you’re not sure you know the precise meaning, proper pronunciation, and correct usage of a word, don’t use it. Find another term in which you have confidence.

Tip 3. Be clear and to the point

Use concise language. If you can make your point in a few simple words, do so. Don’t belabor the point over and over. Some issues are essential and warrant repeating for emphasis. That works well, especially when speaking to a broad audience. But in person-to-person conversation, use the most concise words and phrases to convey your idea, then let it stand. People will respect and appreciate it. And, on that point, never use foul language. Swearing, while it may seem to be a useful tool for creating emphasis, will always portray an image of someone with poor communication skills.

Tip 4. Communicate strength

Using words such as “really,” “very,” “just,” and the oft-repeated “like” will weaken your message. These words convey that you aren’t sure that what you are saying is correct or indicate that you lack a more concise way of stating your idea or asking your question.

Communicate strength in your appearance as well. Make eye contact, stand straight, vary your tone, and use appropriate hand and arm gestures.

Tip 5. Adapt to your audience

You will miss the mark if you speak to your co-workers in the same way you would talk to a large audience. Adapt to how your message is presented to fit the audience and the situation. The message can be the same but presented in a more appropriate tone, fashion, and language.

Tip 6. Use stories

If you want your audience to remember your message, make appropriate use of stories. People remember stories when they would otherwise forget a point you are making.

Tip 7. Listen more than you speak

The most crucial speaking tip is not to speak but listen. People want to be heard, and if you focus too much on what you want to say and how you want to say it, you will miss their message. They will note this, and communication will break down. As Epictetus said, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”

Tip 8. Practice and develop good speaking habits

Like anything else in life, change comes with time and effort. Practice good speaking habits daily. Your family is an excellent place to practice. You will likely fail at improving your communication skills if you only use them when you need them. You must continually improve, and practice makes perfect.

About Kevin Dalby

Dr. Kevin Dalby is a professor of chemical biology and medicinal chemistry in the College of Pharmacy, Department of Oncology at The University of Texas in Austin. He is researching the mechanisms of cancer cell signaling to develop targeted therapeutics. Dr. Dalby’s efforts were recognized by the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) and the National Institutes of Health, granting him nearly $5 million to support his research.