Effective verbal communication

Effective verbal communication is almost always more about listening because there is always an audience. Why listening? Because when addressing an audience you need to meet their needs and in order to know their needs you must listen.

When using effective verbal communication techniques there are some basic rules that you need to master. Here are, from my experience, some useful tips:

1. Know you audience. This comes back to what I just said. You need to listen. If you are talking to a small group of people in an informal discussion, listening to what other people are saying, or not saying, is your best tool. If you are addressing a large group of people you want to find out as much as possible about the people you are going to talk to. Do your homework. What are their burning questions? What is their knowledge to the subject that you are going to talk about? Do they have an opinion in any direction and is their passion?

2. Know your topic. This might sound like an obvious statement. But you would be surprised if you know how many unprepared or poor meeting performances or presentations that are held every minute. Read, Google, listen to others etc. Again, do your homework. What are your feelings about a certain issue? Why? List all the potential questions to your topic. This is probably one of the most important tip for effective verbal communication.

3. Plan your presentation. Make up a storyboard or make a mind map. Be creative and lay out all the threads to your topic that you can possible think of. What background material do you have for the topic? Is there a particular angle that you like? What material/knowledge do you lack?

Biggest reason for not having effective verbal communication is that people say to much. They have so many things that they want to get across. Your biggest challenge is now to cut down the material to a minimum. If you will do a PowerPoint presentation a good ground rule is to have one slide per 2-5 minutes. I have seen PPT presentations where there have been 60 slides in a 20 minutes presentation. Now this is not effective verbal communication. But believe me, when you start planning, that is usually where you will be. Why? Because when you are passionate about something you build up knowledge and you don’t want to miss anything important. But think about the audience and your knowledge about them. What do they want to know, what would they benefit from knowing. Are there parts of the subject that really more than they need to know, for you to get your point across?

If you are using PPT as a presentation mode (with most managers do) use as many images as possible. There are some different schools here. Some think that it is good to let the audience follow the text on the screen as you do your talking. Personally I think it is much more powerful if you do the talking and the slide supports your message.

One of my first experiences of this was when I was working at Ericsson. We had a large management conference in southern Spain and there were a number of key managers on the stand, doing their talking to their text slides. The presentation that I remember though is the one that was made by one of the few female managers. She made a presentation where she was talking from the heart (believe me she had a script, and it was well rehearsed) to 4-5 photographs. The photographs where illustrations of here key messages and they supported here script. It was very powerful and fun to listen to.

Also, you might want to consider using other mediums for your presentation as well if you want more effective verbal communication. If you have a white board or flip over pads, look at your presentation material and see if you could draw something live in your presentation. A mix of medium is always good. Show a clip from a newspaper or a book to make your point across.

4. Own the room. If possible it is always good to see the room where your presentation will take place. There are a number of things that can disturb you in the first couple of minutes of your presentation. How big is the room, how is the chairs placed, is there a stage, do you need a microphone, where will that be placed, who will flip the slides in your presentation, can you do that yourself, if so, how? If you need special equipment, where will they be placed? Will there be spotlights? And so on. Find out as much as you can before hand, so you have control.

If you are a part of a larger program, it is very good to sit in on other presentations. This will be beneficial to you for to main reasons. A. You will get a better feeling for the audience. Are they open, serious, emotional etc. B. You will get a better feeling for the room.

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