Effective communication skills are essential skills which all employers value.
As with all communication, context is key. Ensure that your message is appropriate to your audience. Both written and verbal communication can be misjudged - and misinterpreted. Interpersonal communication is most successful when both the giver and receiver of the information understand the intended message.
Take advantage of training offered by your employer or your union. Many organisations provide training on improving communication skills, such as courses on effective presentation.
Today the most common form of written business communication is email. However, you may also be required to write letters, proposals, minutes, articles, and reports.
You should adapt your writing style depending on the type of communication (e.g. email, letter) and your audience. However, here are some general tips on improving your written communication skills:
- Adopt common standards e.g. business letter layouts.
- Familiarise yourself with your organisation's standards e.g. style guides.
- Be concise.
- Proof-read. Always re-read what you've written before you send it.
- Be polite. Emails can often sound curt. Make an extra effort to be friendly.
- Be timely. If you can't reply quickly, send a brief message saying you'll be in touch later.
- Stay on message. The fewer distractions, the more easily your message will be understood.
- Get to the point. Make your most important point first.
- Use relevant, important words in your subject line or title.
- Be clear. Use plain English. Being understood is more important than using an extensive vocabulary.
- Use visuals such as charts, graphs and logos to help illustrate your message.
- Be consistent in your use of formatting and structure.
- Remember to attach attachments.
- Emphasise key deadlines or phrases using italic, bold or underline.
- Break up your text using bullet points.
- Adapt to your audience. Judge whether it is appropriate to be formal or informal.
- Using correct spelling, grammar and punctuation invites confidence from your audience.
- Check recipients when replying to an email.
- Increase recognition by repeating their original phrases or words in your reply.
Good verbal communication, in group meetings, one-to-one, or over the telephone, is the cornerstone of business communication. Here are some general tips on improving your verbal communication skills:
- Listen. Communication is two-way.
- Use body language. Be aware of your posture. Be alert, open, and attentive.
- Use your voice. Be aware of your tone of voice. Use it appropriately to support your message.
- Be attentive. Make eye contact, nod encouragingly, and smile.
- Confirm your understanding by repeating or paraphrasing what you've heard. This is known as active listening.
- Confirm their understanding. Check that you've been understood.
- Build rapport. Introduce yourself, make small talk, and show empathy. Use humour appropriately.
- Be assertive. Be a confident and active part of the conversation.
- Be clear and concise. Be direct and to the point.
- Be honest. Ask for clarification or check your understanding.
At some point in your career you will give a presentation. Presentations are typically used to inform people, or to persuade them. Whether you are presenting to a small, familiar team or to a huge conference, here are some general tips on improving your presentation skills:
- Prepare. Rehearse your presentation, know your material, and practice your timing.
- Structure your presentation. Introduce your topic, stick to your main points, and summarise them at the end. Allocate time for questions.
- Use visual aids to support your presentation where appropriate.
- Look confident. Stand - don’t sit. Make eye contact with your audience.
- Sound confident. Speak clearly, precisely and slowly. Emphasise your key points.
- Dress appropriately.
- Take your time. If you’re anxious, try some relaxation techniques.
- Respond effectively. Think about your answers. Address the questions being asked. If you’re unsure, make a note and say you'll get back to them later.
- Respond calmly. Some questions can sound challenging. Don’t take it personally.