Communication is defined as the act of transferring information from one place to another. It is achieved through four different means: written (e.g. letters and emails), non-verbal (e.g. body language and gestures), visual (e.g. graphs and maps) and verbal communication (e.g. speaking).
Verbal communication is bi-directional when interacting with others or uni-directional when, for example, delivering a speech; this article is going to focus on the communication skills required for the latter.
There are some hacks that can help to improve our spoken communication skills and make us sound less clumsy and decidedly more eloquent than we might think.
The advice dispensed here is based on our team’s experience as multi-lingual interpreters, a profession which hinges on communicative abilities. Here are three ways in which we honed our own communication skills in our mother tongue and also in foreign languages.
1. Become a critical reader
As interpreters, we are only as good as our ability to convey messages naturally and effectively in English and other languages. To do so, we need in-depth subject knowledge and an extensive word bank to glean from. How do we build up our vocabulary?
We read actively every day for at least 10 minutes. What does this mean in practical terms? It means that for every article we read, in any language, we note down five words or expressions and add them to our “language booklet”, a notebook where we record all our new linguistic findings, be it new idioms, turns of phrase or slang. We then make a conscious attempt to use these in our oral communication, thus actively enhancing our speaking range.
Top tip: Setting aside 10 minutes to read an article online is not that much of a chore but be sure to pick your reading material wisely! There is a lot of poor content out there, so opt for a reputable website. We recommend newspaper and magazines written by professional journalists, such as the Guardian for English.
2. Practice makes perfect
A difficult exercise, albeit a very useful one, is to record yourself. Although very daunting and somewhat cringe-worthy at first (do I really sound like that?!), this exercise proves invaluable as it forces us to listen to how we come across and to spot important, yet avoidable, issues such as:
– the excessive use of gap fillers: notice and stamp out all the ‘ums’, and ‘erms’. They make us sound insecure and even unconvinced of what we are saying;
– the overexploitation of empty interjections: so many of us have become lazy with language and (ab)use interjections such as ‘like’ (‘So, like, what do you think, about this, like?’) which lower the tone and quality of our communication.
Recording also allows us to hear whether we are using intonation to our advantage (Do I sound flat and monotonous, and therefore sleep-inducing? Do I vary my intonation, keeping the delivery bouncy and engaging?).
Top tip! Get over the fear of hearing your own voice and try recording yourself! There’s lots of free software available for download on phones and computers (eg. Audacity).
3. Map it out
‘I’m so happy I didn’t plan this speech!’ said no one, ever. A little bit of preparation and some rehearsing can go a long way to making what you have to say sound good, but more importantly, ensuring you deliver your words with confidence.
This is particularly true if you have to give a presentation to a group of colleagues or deliver an important speech in front of large audience.
Organise what you are going to say beforehand: our team have lost count of the number of speakers we have interpreted for who ramble on, go off-topic, contradict or repeat themselves. Stick to your points, deliver them clearly and concisely, and trust us: not only will you communicate effectively, you’ll gain a lot of respect from your listeners in the process.
Top tip! TED Talks are a great resource for learning how to deliver speeches. Actively observe the techniques adopted by the speakers and apply the ones you find effective to enhance your communication skills.