August, 1997 - Improving Verbal Skills
Experts say that communication is composed of different methods: words, voice, tone and non-verbal clues. Of these, some are more effective in delivering a message than others. According to research, in a conversation or verbal exchange:
Non-verbal clues include:
In other words, WHAT you say is not nearly as important as HOW you say it!
A dull message delivered by a charismatic person, filled with energy and enthusiasm will be accepted as brilliant.
An excellent message delivered by someone who is not interested in the topic, will not engage the enthusiasm of its intended audience.
One of the classic examples of great verbal communications is Dr. Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech.
Why was it such a great speech? It was filled with powerful visual images that provoke strong emotions, delivered with passion by someone who captured the dreams of an entire race. Over time, the speech has transcended its original message to be a message of hope for all people, regardless of race.
What does the graphic tell you about this speaker?
2) We have been asked many times for a current source of the percentages as originally listed ("Words are 7% effective, Tone of voice is 43% effective, Non-verbal clues are 50%"). We lost the original source long before there was an Internet.
Notice that between the sender and the receiver the path appears to be straight. However, this is rarely the case. There are many different ways to distort the message or to filter it (both in delivering the message and in receiving the message). All of the distortions can occur for both the listener and the receiver.
Improving verbal communications requires first that we understand that communication is rarely perfect or clear in and of itself. We must learn to listen better and speak more clearly. We must also check whether our message is delivered correctly and whether we have heard a message clearly.
Carl Rogers, in On Becoming a Person, notes that, "The whole task of psychotherapy is the task of dealing with a failure in communication. . . . the major barrier to mutual interpersonal communication is our very tendency to judge, to evaluate, to approve or disapprove, the statement of the other person, or the other group. . . . Real communication occurs when we listen with understanding - to see the idea and attitude from the other person's point of view, to sense how it feels to them, to achieve their frame of reference in regard to the thing they are talking about."
Techniques that help achieve such understanding include the use of "perception checking" questions. Try this exercise with a friend or someone you trust.
Person 1. Start talking about any subject for 4 or 5 sentences
Person 2. When the first person stops talking, repeat back to them what you thought you heard, starting with phrases like:
Then, reverse the roles and the second person speaks for 4 or 5 sentences, then the first person asks perception checking questions.
By practicing such techniques, you are giving respect to the person speaking and showing that you understand what they are saying. If you misunderstand what they are trying to say, you can both work to clarify the message.
By practicing your listening skills, you will also develop better speaking skills. If you listen to where people misinterpret what you say, you will find ways to make it clearer. Your frustration at being misunderstood will disappear and you will assume less about what you hear because you have confirmed it with the speaker.
Remember, listening is not the same as hearing. Hearing is using the ears to acknowledge the sound of something. Listening means understanding from the perspective of the speaker.
Don Gabor, in his book Speaking Your Mind in 101 Difficult Situations, gives these examples as ways to boost your listening skills:
Person 1. "I'm not all that crazy about it." < - - - underline indicates key words
Person 2. "Tell me exactly what you don't like about it."
Person 1. "It ought to be pretty clear what I think about that great idea of yours."
Person 2. "I have no idea what you think of my idea. Do you like it or not?"
Person 1. "You know what I'm trying to say!"
Person 2. "No, I don't know what you are trying to say. Please tell me exactly what you mean."
Mr. Gabor offers these tips for using TACTFUL conversations:
Other DOs and DON'Ts to Accompany T-A-C-T-F-U-L Strategies
DO be direct, courteous and calm
DO spare others your unsolicited advice
DO acknowledge that what works for you may not work for others
DO say main points first, then offer more details if necessary
DO listen for hidden feelings
Could You Just Listen?
When I ask you to listen to me and you start giving me advice,
When I ask you to listen to me and you begin to tell me why I shouldn't feel that
When I ask you to listen to me and you feel you have to do something to solve my problem, you have failed me, strange as that may seem.
Listen! All I asked was that you listen, not talk or do - just hear me.
Advice is cheap; 20 cents will get you both Dear Abby and Billy Graham in the same paper.
I can do for myself; I'm not helpless - maybe discouraged and faltering, but not helpless.
When you do something for me that I can and need to do for myself,
But when you accept as a simple fact that I do feel what I feel, no matter how
When that's clear, the answers are obvious and I don't need advice..
Irrational feelings make more sense when we understand what's behind them..
Perhaps that's why prayer works, sometimes, for some people - because God is mute, and He/She doesn't give advice or try to fix things.
"They" just listen and let you work it out for yourself.
So, please listen and just hear me.
And if you want to talk, wait a minute for your turn - and I'll listen to you.
. . . Author Unknown
Making effective presentations to groups or key individuals is a regular part of an executive's job. Delivering a clearly understandable message that gains the support of the listeners obviously requires expertise in public speaking. Less obviously, it requires that you understand the perspective of your audience and be willing to adjust your presentation based on feedback during the session.
Experts tell us that public speaking ranks highest on the list of situations people fear most (followed by death!). Overcoming this fear requires education and practice, practice, practice!
Few of us are born to be excellent public speakers. We offer encouragement to those who feel insecure � don't give up! Organizations such as Toastmasters (and many others) offer proven techniques for overcoming fear and assistance in mastering master speaking skills. We have seen many, many people become accomplished speakers, who in the past became speechless when asked to speak in public.
A personal experience: Many years ago, I (Barbara Taylor) worked for a boss who recognized that a co-worker and I would not progress well in our careers if we did not learn to overcome our fear of public speaking. The boss was program director for a national professional association and scheduled us to speak at their upcoming convention (a year away). We (naturally) were horrified when he told us his plan for us to speak there!! He explained that he would spend the year teaching us and coaching us how to speak in public. We were quite skeptical at first. After several months of coaching, we had lost our intense fear of speaking in public. By the time the convention came, we were excited and confident. We felt that we could talk about anything to anybody - because we had been doing it in so many different ways as part of our training. It was a wonderful learning experience for both of us and helped us both immensely as we progressed into management.
Some tips for improving presentation skills:
An aside about written communications:
The disparity in methods of delivering messages is why it is so difficult to write something that is clearly understand by large audiences - only 7% effectiveness is achieved by the words alone!
That is why good visual presentation � using graphics, color, balanced design layout � adds so much to a written message. These additional "clues" can help compensate for the non-verbal aspect of a written message by triggering emotions on the part of the reader. Without such non-verbal clues, the Internet would fail miserably as an effective communication tool.
Notice the difference in these two graphics (one animated and one plain) and the word by itself.
Which one gets your attention? Keep this little example in mind as you develop overheads, handouts and other written material for your presentations.
Leaders, executives and managers need to be very clear about what they expect from others. One of the best exercises we have seen to assist in this area is from the book, The Leadership Challenge by James Kouzes and Barry Posner. One of their suggestions for setting an example and behaving consistently with your stated values is to write a "Leadership Credo."
How to Write a Leadership Credo
This "simple" exercise is a very powerful way to measure your effectiveness in clear communication. It forces you to create a document that is clear, powerful and succinctly captures your business philosophy. It is also a strong measure of your ability to translate what you feel into succinct communication that others can use, understand and learn from.
One example of a leadership credo actually put into practice is shown below.
If you are willing to do this exercise, it will forever change you for the better. It may lead to pleasantly surprising results with your team members.
(Comment: the last line was suggested by the team members)
This exercise was part of Barbara Taylor's class in "Leadership in the Ministry" at Ernest Holmes College.
[Excerpts - Dr. Martin Luther King, August 28, 1963, Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC]
I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.'
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood....
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day down in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers....
This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with.... With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together. . . knowing that we will be free one day . . .
This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning, 'My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.' And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.
So let Freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire; let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York; let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania; let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado . . .
Let freedom ring from every hill and mole hill of Mississippi. 'From every mountainside, let freedom ring.'
And when this happens, and when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics will be able to Join hands and sing in the words of that old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we are free at last!'
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Page updated: October 16, 2023
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