Another essential skill for successful speakers is using the correct form of the language. Being limited to English, I can’t say what equivalent errors might exist in other languages. However, nothing can destroy your credibility as a speaker than the misuse of the language. Toastmasters International highlights the importance of correct language by appointing a Grammarian to listen to everyone’s word usage and report on language used during the course of a meeting.
Rather than try and provide detailed information for all types of language land mines, here are links to resources, which can help you improved your language skills:
- Improve your diction. How you pronounce words will affect the way an audience perceives your credibility as a speaker. Here is a list of the 100 Most Often Mispronounced Words and Phrases in English.
- Improve your grammar. Many people feel grammar is a secondary issue of little importance. The rise of text messaging has destroyed written grammar and syntax. Grammar is important for conveying information in a way that can be understood and not misunderstood. The Online English Grammar gives you access to English language learning and resource services.
- Improve your usage. There are many words in the English language that are so much alike speakers often mistake one for another. Perhaps the most exhaustive resource on usage is Paul Brians’ site, Common Errors in English.
- Avoid technical language. Unless of course, you’re speaking to a technical audience. Just because you understand the jargon and terms you’re using, doesn’t mean your audience will. Adjust your speech appropriately.
- Words to look out for:
- Fad words – bottom line, time frame, viable…
- Extra words – naturally, actually, frankly, so to speak…
- Slang – fresh, dis, Fo’ shizzle, Homey… hip hop examples, but they exist in all social groups.
- Words ending in wise – healthwise, moneywise, timewise…
- Degrading words – slang terms for different nationalities.
Say just what you want to say in words that everyone will understand the same way. Murphy’s Law of Communication, “If people can misunderstand you, they will misunderstand you.”
A number of years ago I was involved in the termination of an employee. He was about eight inches taller than me and had 70 or 80 pounds on me. His supervisor delivered the bad news, we reviewed the termination process and documents and then stood to leave.
Suddenly, he was standing toe to toe looking down on me. His fists were clenched at his side as he yelled. I responded as calmly and quietly as a could. This went on for a few minutes, which felt like an eternity. At any moment, I expected one of those fists lashing at my head. Eventually, he turned, left the room and I collapsed into the nearest chair, my nerves shot.
As you can imagine, losing a job provokes a wide range of reactions from people. Some respond with shock and walk away quietly in a daze, others break down in tears and others still get violent and abusive.
I have learned a few lessons about communicating with people who are angry, hostile or violent.
- Focus your attention on the other person to let them know you are interested in what they have to say.
- Do not glare or stare, which may be perceived as a challenge.
- Remain calm and try to calm the other person. Don’t let the other person’s anger become your anger.
- Remain conscious of how you deliver your words.
- Speak slowly, quietly and confidently.
- Speak simply. Do not rely on official language or complex terminology.
- Avoid communicating a lot of technical or complicated information when emotions are high.
- Listen carefully. Do not interrupt or offer unsolicited advice or criticism.
- Encourage the person to talk. Do not tell the person to relax or calm down.
- Remain open-minded and objective.
- Use silence as a calming tool.
- Acknowledge the person’s feelings. Indicate that you can see he or she is upset.
- Keep your body language calm. Have a relaxed posture with unclenched hands and an attentive expression.
- Position yourself so your exit from the situation is not blocked.
- Position yourself at a right angle to the other person, not directly in front.
- Allow adequate personal space —two to four feet.
- Get on the same physical level as the other person: sit down if they are sitting, rather than standing over them.
Communicating effectively means more than knowing what to say and when to say it. Communication involves the subtle signals your body language sends to those listening. Over half of the information you provide as you connect with others comes from your body language. Some body language provides positive information and some negative information. Positive bodylanguage says, “I am interested in what you are saying.” Negative body language says, “I don’t believe anything you are saying – and I am bored besides!”
Here are some common body actions and the impressions they create:
- Fiddling – Playing with your watch or a pen looks like you’re bored or impatient.
- Clock watching – It looks like you’re anxious to move on to something else.
- Tapping – Tapping your foot or fingers suggests you are impatient or nervous. Drumming your fingers, scratching, twitching, and darting eyes around room all discredit what you are saying and your image as a person good to know.
- Staring – An unblinking stare conveys boredom. Blink normally and nod your head to show agreement, and that you are still alive and not bored to death.
- Body hunched – Closing up your body profile —becoming smaller— looks like you lack confidence. Stand tall and believe what you are saying.
- Arms crossed – If you keep your arms folded during communication, you appear to be defending yourself against the others. Keep your posture open, except your legs. Crossed at the knee or ankle is O.K. (Depends a lot on the culture. For example, in Thailand don’t cross your legs and point your toes at anyone!)
- Hiding your hands – Evasive people with secrets don’t show their hands.
- Touching your face – When you have your hand in front of your mouth, you appear timid. Rubbing nose, eyes, ears, head, or neck shows doubt in what you are saying or hearing.
- No eye contact – If you won’t look the other speaker in the eye, you seem to have low interest or a lack of confidence. (Don’t forget staring, above.)
How you say things in communication is just as important as what you say. Watch your body language and control the unconscious message you might be sending.
The telephone has been a part of our lives for so long we probably don’t even think of it as technology. The telephone is a great communication tool. However, just like any other technology or toll, the telephone has to be used properly to be effective. Here are some ways to manage your telephone use:
- Schedule time for outgoing calls. Place calls on your to-do list or create a separate call list and make the calls at schedules times during the day.
- Make notes of the things you need to discuss to keep the call on track.
- Make sure you have any documents, files or notes needed for the call.
- Schedule a time for the phone call if you are having problems making a connection.
- Make effective use of voice mail. When you leave a message, give as much information as is necessary for the other party to efficiently respond to your call.
Along with the science behind stage fright.
Do you get sweaty palms, weak knees, or heavy arms when speaking in front of an audience? You’re not alone. Overcoming stage fright can be a difficult task, but you can deal with it.
This animated lesson from Ted-ed looks at stage fright not as an emotional response, but as a physiological response. Then, it’s not so much something to be overcome as to be adapted to.
Here are some things you can resolve to improve the way you communicate with others. These are simple changes, easy to keep all year.
- I will talk less.
- I will listen carefully.
- I will always tell the truth.
- I will encourage someone every day.
- I will treat all people with respect.
- I will make more positive and fewer negative comments
- I will match my actions to my words.
- I will actively cultivate my relationships.
- I will write more thank-you cards.
- I will talk to myself in a way that makes me feel better.