No matter what industry you may be in, communication is probably one of the most important skills you can have. Even in industries that are characterized by the use of hard data and quantitative variables, communication is something that will be essential to accomplishing any sort of long-term task as a team.
Contrary to popular belief, your ability to communicate with others is something that does not need to remain stagnant. Though some people seem to be naturally better at communicating than others, these skills can be built over time with practice. The quality of a given communication is something that is determined by significantly more than the words you choose (diction). Things such as eye contact, active listening, nonverbal communication, and the ability to express a specific idea are also all quite valuable.
By engaging in these simple—but useful—daily exercises, you can begin to improve your communication skills and be ready for long-term success.
Read to Yourself Out Loud
Many people find themselves in a strange dilemma where they can read to themselves in their head quite quickly but will struggle when they are tasked to put those words into sounds. Though reading to yourself and reading out loud may seem to be quite similar, these practices actually engage different parts of the brain. While reading to yourself is mostly a test of your ability to convert words into ideas, reading out loud requires an additional “replication” of those ideas.
By taking the time to read something out loud every day, you will improve the quality, tone, and fluidity of your speech. If you are in an industry that is particularly reliant on delivering public speeches, verbally interacting with other professionals, or making a large number of phone calls, developing these patterns of speech can make a major difference in the long-run.
There are many different things you can choose to read aloud from each day. Many people prefer reading a novel or other works of non-fiction, though the speech patterns in these texts are often quite different than the kinds of speech you would engage in the workplace. Other people prefer to read the daily news aloud each morning and others might prefer to read an industry-specific text that they are studying (this also may help with memorizing).
Practice Speaking in the Mirror
Being able to pronounce words and express ideas in the proper tone is an important component of improving the way you communicate, but there will still be a significant number of variables that will also need to be accounted for. Though the often quoted “7% Rule” is something that most academic psychologists claim is unprovable, what remains undeniably true is that nonverbal communication is incredibly important.
Nonverbal communication is something that manifests itself in a wide variety of different ways.
- Eye contact
- Facial expressions
- Physical positioning (how close you are to someone, your stance, etc.)
- Hand movements
- Rate of speech (particularly, pauses)
By taking just a few minutes each to speak in the mirror, you will gradually gain the ability to match your words with your nonverbal forms of communication. Using the mirror as a “practice audience” is an exercise that has been utilized by a wide variety of the great speakers in history and also involves a relatively low level of commitment. If you are already planning on reading out loud from a book or newspaper each day, these exercises may be able to be done simultaneously—just make sure you are paying attention to what is happening in the mirror.
Engage in Various Speaking Drills
If you have ever been to a concert or a professional sporting event, you may have been wondering how the people performing in front of you were able to effectively master their skills. As most professional will be sure to tell you, they didn’t get where they are by their natural abilities alone. They had to consistently practice over time.
Michael Jordan didn’t just play basketball games, he also practiced certain drills that could then be applied to a game-time situation. Similarly, speaking drills can help improve your speech in certain ways that having a conversation cannot.
Here are some quick speaking drills that can help you make your speech cleaner, quicker (when needed), and easier to understand.
- Read through a given paragraph or passage forwards and then read through it backward
- Read through a passage, but over-enunciate each of the words
- Insert a word—such as “a”—between each of the words in what you are reading
- Create other challenges for yourself such as reading as much as you can in one breath or reading with a pen in your mouth
Additionally, you can still practice your speaking and communication skills by engaging in ordinary, casual conversations. If you have a major presentation or another type of speaking event coming up in the near future, then it may be helpful to speak as much as you (reasonably) can in the days leading up to it. Your family and friends who haven’t heard from you in a while certainly wouldn’t mind receiving a call.
Whether you aspire to be a writer, a public speaker, or simply develop your skills, reading is something that can be undeniably beneficial. Even if you only take the time to read for about thirty minutes each day, you will likely be surprised how quickly your communication skills are able to improve.
There are many different benefits that can come from reading more often:
- Increased vocabulary—not only does this indicate to your audience that you are generally intelligent (which builds credibility), it also will give you a wider range of ways to express an idea
- Exposure to different tones—whether you are reading fiction or non-fiction, reading things in different tones can eventually be applied to your everyday life
- Improved understanding of grammar—exposing yourself to a language (whether it is English or any other) can help you better understand the grammar in a way that textbooks are often unable to do
In addition to reading more, consistently exposing yourself to other forms of communication—music, movies, television, etc.—you can also generally improve your command and delivery of the language over time.
There is no magic “secret” that will transform you into a perfect public speaker or communicator overnight. But as is the case with all worthwhile skills, communication is something that requires practice over time. If improving the way you communicate with others is something that is important to you, then setting aside some time each day to engage in these exercises can certainly pay off over time.