It often feels like we’re missing a script, something tangible to rely on, to tell us what to say, and when to say it. Because no matter how important communication is to our daily lives, it can often be difficult. And we’ve all faced it—finding ourselves unable to convey our true ideas or emotions. We too often end up stuttering, mumbling, or simply blanking out in embarrassment.
Fortunately, the reality is that communication skills are not innate. Individuals are not born with great social and professional speaking abilities; like any other skill, these can be learned or refined. If you’re looking to build confidence, eloquence, or simply wish to avoid an awkward conversation, then here are five tried-and-true tips (fully endorsed by your SAS colleagues) that may very well set you on the road to improvement.
Personally, I’ve always admired writers, speakers, and entertainers who are able to churn out delightful bon mots at the drop of a hat. Try watching great speakers on video for inspiration. You may even try “shadowing” or imitating them—a helpful way of familiarizing your brain with useful phrases or vocabulary.
Min Kang, an SAS Senior who completed the English Communications course last semester told us: “By watching TV or Ted Talks, I gained great insight into what a good speech or presentation looks like. One particular speaker who stood out to me was James Veitch due to his humor and charisma.” If you study those you admire, it not only helps you see how information is presented, but it also inspires you to incorporate different techniques and styles into your own speaking.
Most of us are afraid of silence. A misconception is that we must have a steady stream of phrases spilling out of our mouths to sound eloquent. The trouble is that by letting our tongues get ahead of our brains, we tend to jumble our premature thoughts in a disorganized mass.
Many students are great impromptu speakers; however, for me, it takes a couple of minutes to formulate my thoughts and feel confident that I’ll convey my meaning.
“I’ve greatly struggled in participating in shared inquiry discussions in English class,” says Jaywoo Jo, a Senior at SAS. “Many students are great impromptu speakers; however, for me, it takes a couple of minutes to formulate my thoughts and feel confident that I’ll convey my meaning.” Apart from organizing your thoughts, pausing would also help decrease unnecessary filler words. Nothing sounds less professional and eloquent than filling up silences with words such as “like” or “um”. If you pause and think through exactly what you’re going to say, you certainly won’t fall back on these fillers.
Questions are an indication of your engagement and interest in the conversation. The ability to ask strong, open-ended questions builds small talk with new people, and also forges deeper connections with those you’re already close to.
“It’s easy just to nod and agree, but questions mean you want more information. Rather than shutting down the communication, [questions] spark conversation and connection,” says Regina Bernardo, a Sophomore at SAS. All in all, an inquisitive conversation expands the human connection while maintaining your curiosity about friends and family ensures strong and satisfying relationships.
On the whole, social or communicative skills need to be practiced in order for you to get better at the art of oratory. Your first try may be clumsy, but trust me—you’ll be a lot more polished and comfortable by the 20th time.
Try not to let negative experiences get you down. Reflect on how you did and what you can do to improve for future scenarios. “I distinctly remember my first MUN audition in Freshmen year,” said Jae Hee Koh, chair of SAS Model United Nations. “I was selected to give my opening speech in a room full of upperclassmen. Even though I could read off my paper, I stood there blankly for a few seconds– too nervous to utter a word.”
Frequently, individuals are hesitant to speak because they doubt if their input is worthwhile. The most important advice, however, is to just be yourself. Have the courage to say what you believe in, and take time each day to be aware of your opinions so you can convey them to others. As your personality or character shines through your words, you will establish greater credibility as an individual.