Verbal communication is often taken for granted because we can all speak, even if we are not good writers. However, effective verbal communication does not come naturally to everyone. Fortunately, it is a skill that can be learned with a bit of time and effort.
The Importance of Verbal Communication
Spoken words matter beyond just the clear exchange of information. Style and tone of delivery can also affect what is being said and how it is being received by the audience.
Speaking in person and over the phone clearly and concisely is an important skill for any leader to develop. In addition, a good leader must understand the difference between the two and other things that contribute to communication other than the words and phrases being used.
Communicating in person can be one of the most efficient ways to convey ideas and open up the floor for discussion. It may not, however, be the most efficient way to give detailed information. Knowing the difference between the two can often mean the difference between success and failure when it comes to planning new projects and initiatives.
For example, it’s great to be able to chat face-to-face, but a rushed conversation as you are passing someone’s desk is not an efficient way to expect things to get done correctly. A formal meeting or an email would be a better choice.
Your body language will say a lot about who you are as a person and what your communication style is. Careless body language can also undermine the message that you were trying to convey. If your body language does not match your spoken words, there can be a serious disconnect which can be confusing or suggest to people that you are not telling the truth or are in some sort of mood.
For example, if you speak and listen with your arms crossed in front of your chest, this could relay a number of negative messages. Your audience might think you are defensive, angry or disinterested, especially if you don’t look at them or turn sideways.
Folded arms also send out the signal that people are supposed to stay away from you. They might even indicate stubbornness or refusal, so that people may never ask for what they need because your body language already seems to be telling them no.
A more relaxed and natural body stance with your arms hanging loosely at your sides is a much more welcoming posture when you are dealing with people face to face.
When speaking, try not to fiddle. Practice stillness. Maintain eye contact. If you are in a large group, look around the room. Don’t pace, but do move around as needed. When listening, nod your head. Listen carefully. Don’t try to jump in to speak. Wait until the person has finished. Then repeat what you understand to be the essence of the question, in case anyone hasn’t heard, and to be sure you have heard correctly.
Tone of Voice
Tone of voice has a large part to play in spoken communication – both in person and particularly on the phone. For example, the sentence, “Thanks for joining us” could be sincere and pleasant-sounding if it is uttered at beginning of the meeting. However, if it is said to a person coming in 20 minutes late, with an emphasis on the word “Thanks” it can come off as sounding very sarcastic and perhaps even rude.
Similarly, “Thanks a lot” carries different meanings when spoken versus when you read it on a page. It can be an expression of gratitude, or it can be sarcastic. Tone of voice is key.
Hosting Meetings and Presentations
If you are a business leader, sooner or later you are going to have to be in charge of meetings and give presentations. How well you do this could make or break your reputation as a good leader. If you are an organized leader who has a clear agenda and can get through a meeting in an efficient manner which will evoke positive outcomes, then your leadership will not be called into question.
If on the other hand things start to disintegrate into aimless back-and-forth arguments and no work gets done, these meetings will have no positive outcomes and will tarnish your reputation as a solid leader.
In terms of presentation such as PowerPoint decks, these days many businesses live and die by their decks. Therefore, it is really important to focus on this skill so you can create and give presentations that will maintain interest, persuade, and inform, rather than send people off to sleep.
In the course of meetings, presentations, conferences and so on, you will have to speak in public to audiences both large and small. Studies have shown that public speaking is the number one fear that most people have, while death is only number three. As someone once joked, this means most people would rather be in the coffin than give the eulogy over it.
However, this does not have to be the case. There are many ways to practice public speaking in order to become better at it and do it with more confidence and effectiveness. It is just a case of being willing to put in the time and effort to practice until you are perfect.
Or, if you are not perfect, at least you can do a much better job than you are doing at the moment – if you feel that this is a personal weakness that needs to be addressed in order to become a better communicator and leader.
One of the reasons why it is so important to be a confident presenter is that if you look and sound confident, your audience will feel confident in your message, and that you are telling them the truth and not covering up anything.
Going back to the example of having to indicate that lay-offs are imminent, people will feel much more confident about the future of the company if you sound positive about this being a necessary development for the strength of the company going forward. If you sound hesitant, nervous, or unsure about the need to take these steps, your audience in turn will also grow nervous.
Inspiring Your Audience
Great leaders inspire people to follow them. Julius Caesar would have never been able to cross the Rubicon and become the leader of the Roman Empire if he had lacked confidence or shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “Well, maybe it will work out.” Instead he said, “I came, I saw, I conquered.”
In every company, there will be certain leaders who set the tone and who people look to for inspiration. Even if you are currently working in a job that has no leadership responsibilities at the moment, it is still possible for you to set the tone and take the lead on projects and initiatives.
If you are willing to do so and can inspire people to follow you, it will be easy to demonstrate your leadership potential, and use what you accomplish as concrete examples of real achievements when it comes time for your end-of-year review or you decide you want to ask for a raise.
For all these reasons, face-to-face communication is key to getting things done and sharing a common vision for what the company is supposed to be like. Phone calls can help as well.
Effective Communication over the Phone
Conversations on the phone can be a fast way of getting things done, but they can also leave room for confusion if you’re not clear about what you want to discuss at the start, and what the outcomes are of that phone conversation.
It is great to chat, but sometimes you might go around in circles. You might also end up seeming to agree to a particular action step, only to find that the person you were speaking to forgot that part of the conversation. This means you might expect something important to get done, but it never materializes.
The best way to handle phone conversations are to plan them ahead of time as much as possible. If you have to make any “cold calls” – that is, call people you don’t know in an effort to try to do business with them, determine their level of interest and ask for a follow-up call at a set time that works for them, and/or an email address where you can contact them.
Don’t try to push ahead like a charging bull. You might just get a no as a result and end up with no opportunity to have a meaningful conversation. People are busy, especially journalists. If you are trying to pitch a story to them, for example, and you ring them when they are on deadline and try to launch straight into your pitch, you will most likely get a “no, and don’t call again.”
On the other hand, if you call and ask if it is a good time to talk, and whether they are on a deadline, they will see that you understand their working conditions and time constraints. If you then explain that you would like to pitch a story, ask when would be a good time to call back, and whether they would prefer the phone or email.
If you schedule a follow-up call, be organized. Jot down talking points prior to each call. Check them off one by one. Make notes as needed.
If you are worried you might miss something, use dictation software such as dictation.io. While it is true that you will only be able to record your side of the conversation, in this way you will at least have your side of things. You can take notes about what they say as needed.
Once the conversation is over, review your notes and type them up so they make sense. Once you are sure you have an accurate summary of what was discussed, send an email thanking the person for their time. Send a copy of the notes that you have made.
In particular, highlight any action steps, deadlines, or follow-ups that need to be taken. In this way, you can ensure that you are on the same page about what was said. You can also ask if there was anything you missed, or anything else they wanted to discuss. Ask them to add it to the email, or arrange another call.
Once they have offered their input, you will end up with a shared document and “paper trail” containing all of the most important points that were discussed in the phone call. You can then use that to track progress, create a new contract, update an existing one, and so on.
This is a nice transition into the importance of written communication as part of your overall leadership strategies. Let’s look at this in the next section.
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