10 Effective Ways To Improve Verbal Communication Skills
By Jamie Birt
Updated August 10, 2022 | Published January 5, 2021
Updated August 10, 2022
Published January 5, 2021
Jamie Birt is a career coach with 4+ years of experience helping job seekers navigate the job search through one-to-one coaching, webinars and events. She’s motivated by the mission to help people find fulfillment and belonging in their careers.
You interact with a variety of people at work, and knowing how to improve your verbal communication skills can make a significant difference in those interactions. It is not solely about the words you say, but also the verbal and nonverbal cues you use when communicating. By developing these abilities, you can establish yourself as someone that people want to engage with and listen to—whether they are colleagues, clients or potential employers. In this article, we explain these skills and provide a list of 10 steps on how to improve verbal communication skills at work.
What are verbal communication skills?
Verbal communication refers to the use of language to convey information. Verbal communication skills represent more than speaking abilities—they demonstrate how you deliver and receive messages in both speaking and written interactions. These skills focus on how you communicate rather than what you say. Because of this, you can utilize nonverbal techniques such as body language to enhance your interactions.
Examples of effective verbal communication skills include:
Asking for clarification
Asking open-ended questions to gain insights
Recognizing and responding to nonverbal cues
Speaking clearly and concisely
Using humor to engage audiences
Why are verbal communication skills important?
Verbal communication skills matter because they enable you to build rapport with other people, which creates more positive interactions and stronger work relationships. With these skills, you can convey a sense of confidence and ensure that your audience understands your message or expectations. The ability to communicate clearly helps you succeed in various work situations, including projects, negotiations and job interviews.
Related: Q&A: Why Is Communication Important?
How to improve verbal communication skills
You can use the following 10 steps to help improve your verbal communication at work:
1. Think before speaking
People often feel uncomfortable with silence, but pausing before answering a question can improve your response. Taking time to reflect allows you to organize your thoughts into a concise, clear statement. If you feel rushed to answer, that feeling will get reflected in how you respond, so your message may not come out as intended. Pauses convey a sense of thoughtfulness, so your audience will gain the impression that you considered the best response before speaking.
Similarly, if your counterpart pauses for a moment, do not feel the need to jump in and counter the silence. The person will appreciate that you gave them the time to contemplate their response, rather than interrupting their thought process. Not only does this show professionalism, but it also demonstrates your interest in hearing what they have to say.
2. Use concise language
Being succinct when speaking not only make your message easier to understand but also gets your main points across to the audience sooner. Before speaking, ask yourself how you can present the information as clearly and in as few words as possible. Whether you are writing or speaking, avoid using complicated words and sentences or including irrelevant information. Taking these steps will ensure your audience clearly understands your primary points and can respond accordingly. This skill is especially beneficial when providing instructions or expectations to colleagues, as your directness ensures there is little confusion.
3. Understand your audience
To effectively communicate messages, you need to understand your audience and put yourself in their position. Not everyone has the same knowledge or background as you, so ensure you explain information in a manner easily understood by anyone—especially when discussing complex or technical topics. Also, try to take your audience's culture or personality into consideration, as different demographics have their own communication preferences. For example, you would speak to a close friend much differently than you would to an executive at a company.
Before presentations, ask yourself what your audience wants and needs to know and what their knowledge base is. When you understand who you are speaking to, it makes it easier to tailor your message to their needs. Taking this tailored approach also ensures your audience stays interested because you provide only the most relevant information they want to hear.
4. Be mindful of your tone
Your tone plays a crucial role in verbal communications, and how you use it can affect the way your audience engages with you. Combing a friendly and warm tone with a smile makes a positive impression. Meanwhile, speaking in a flat or monotone manner can make you appear uninterested, which can put off an audience. Also, try to vary your tone and use inflection to emphasize important points. This technique is an easy way to focus the attention of your audience.
You can also use the verbal modeling method, in which you try to copy the tone of another person. For example, during a conversation, speak softly when they speak softly or if they have excited energy, try to match it. People feel drawn to voices that sound like theirs, making this a helpful method of increasing engagement.
5. Pay attention to your body language
Your body language can affect how you deliver messages despite it being a nonverbal method of communication. Ways to convey confident body language include maintaining eye contact and having relaxed body language. You can also use gestures or facial expressions to emphasize points and grab audiences' attention or focus.
6. Employ active listening
Listening is as essential as speaking during conversations because it demonstrates a genuine interest in the other speaker and guarantees you understand their needs. As a result, you will find it easier to build rapport and relationships. To apply active listening skills, give the other person your full attention to ensure you not only hear the words they say but also the message they want to convey. When the other person feels heard, they feel more interested in reciprocating and hearing what you have to say.
Some effective active listening techniques include:
Avoid making judgments about or stereotyping others.
Remove any potential distractions, such as a noisy setting.
Focus on what the other person is saying, rather than thinking about what you want to say next.
Ask clarifying questions to ensure you fully understand the information or message.
Wait until the other person finishes speaking before responding.
7. Speak with confidence
Confidence is crucial because if you sound like you do not believe in what you are saying, neither will your audience. You want to establish that you have credibility or authority, which makes people trust you and feel more interested in listening to you. There are a variety of ways to convey confidence, including the way you hold yourself during conversations and the tone of voice that you use.
One way to build confidence before planned conversations, presentations or speeches is to make mental or physical notes about what you will discuss. These notes do not have to be a script but should highlight the main points you want to make. Your notes provide a direction for your verbal interaction, showing you know what you need to focus on or where you need to steer the conversation. Having a plan will make you feel much more prepared, boosting your confidence.
8. Show your authentic self
While you can gain inspiration from other communicators to improve your skills, always bring your honest self to interactions. People feel more drawn to speakers who seem genuine and act transparently. For example, if you do not have the answer to a question, it is okay to admit it. Your colleagues will respect your honesty more than if you pretend to know something and provide a response that ends up inaccurate.
Furthermore, showing your authentic self during a conversation or presentation helps you build relationships because your audience gets to know you as a person. It conveys a sense of comfort and ease that lets them genuinely engage with you. If they feel like you are faking your personality or putting on a show, it can create distance between you. As a result, it may make it harder to build trust because they cannot tell how real the conversation is.
9. Practice your skills
Now that you know the various ways to improve verbal communication skills, you must practice them. Not only will this develop these skills, but it can also help you feel more confident in your speaking abilities. Apply these techniques as often as possible in your daily work and personal interactions to ensure you feel comfortable using them.
Practice alone by speaking in front of a mirror or recording yourself doing a presentation or speech. When watching yourself, you can study your body language and take steps to improve it—for example, by using or limiting your gestures and maintaining a smile or friendly demeanor. When you record yourself, assess your voice and tone. Again, you can use these recordings to determine which areas you need to work on to speak more clearly and concisely.
10. Gain feedback
You can also practice your verbal communication skills in more realistic settings, such as in front of friends or family. Not only will this help you feel more comfortable speaking in front of others, but it also allows you to gain feedback. If you have a speech or presentation planned, perform it as you would in front of the actual audience and ask these friends and family to judge your verbal and nonverbal communication abilities. Their insights will instruct you on what you already do well and where you need improvement.
Seeking feedback does not strictly apply to practice situations. After you make a presentation at work, ask a trusted colleague or a supervisor for their opinion on your performance. Asking a supervisor can provide added benefits, as it shows them that you strive to develop yourself professionally. Once they know about your interest in building these skills, they can watch your future performances and gauge your progress or provide you with more opportunities for verbal communication development.
Nonverbal communication is one of many tools that can help you make a good impression in interviews and in your professional life. However, candidate assessments should be based on skills and qualifications, and workplaces should strive to be inclusive and understanding of individual differences in communication styles.
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