Verbal Skills: How to Speak with Impact and Authority

Sections of this topic

    You have entered the communication process by thinking about verbal skills or attitudes for effective communication. You have prepared for communication by thinking through your intended message and targeted it toward your listener. Now let’s take a look at your skills and habits, to be sure your communication is coming across loud and clear:

    Verbal Skills:

    • Select the appropriate tone. Be aware of any tendencies toward tentativeness, sarcasm, inappropriate humor due to stress, exaggeration, etc. Try to keep the tone appropriate to the discussion, avoiding anything that might be confusing or off-putting, especially when the conversation is serious.
    • Enunciate. Speak each word clearly. A great trick is to open your mouth a bit wider than you might be accustomed to in order to heighten articulation.
    • Slow down. This is important particularly when you feel stressed or emotional, of if you tend to talk quickly anyway. Pace yourself, remember to breathe and pause periodically. On the other hand, don’t slow it down to a snail’s pace; that could be offensive.
    • Watch your volume. If you speak too loudly, you may sound angry and intimidating. If you speak too softly you may not be taken seriously. So speak at normal volume.
    • Got accent? Speak slowly and clearly, enunciate carefully. Allow a few pauses for the listener to catch up. Watch your listener’s face for signs of understanding or confusion.
    • Choose your words. Be specific and accurate. You won’t be word-perfect, but if you are clear in your intentions and have managed your own emotions, you should be able to get your message across accurately. Avoid broad language such as “always,” “never,” and “as soon as possible,” substituting specifics where you can.
    • Avoid qualifiers. Using words like “kind of, sort of, just, maybe”, and other tentative wording weakens your message. You may not even be aware of how often you use these terms. Listen to see if this is a habit of yours, or ask someone you trust to listen and give you feedback on how often you use these weakening words.
    • Avoid jargon, slang, idioms, and profanity. If your terminology is confusing, your message will be as well. If you turn people off or intimidate them, your message will be lost in the anxiety. So clean up your language, and use terms the listener will understand.
    • Avoid rambling or repeating. If you are clear on your message, get it across and then stop. Get comfortable with a pause or two; if the situation is sensitive, both sides need space to think before moving on.
    • Check for understanding. Ask your listener to repeat, rephrase, or react to what you have just said. Clarify areas where you aren’t in perfect accord. See where you can find agreement. Summarize what you both agree to, and what will happen next.

    Strong verbal skills will serve you well throughout your career as well as your personal life. If you are not as articulate and calm as you would like, take heart. You can practice each of these skills every day, in meetings, one on one, even in social conversation. It is not about being perfect, just about becoming a stronger, clearer verbal communicator.