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Main Content

Strengthening Your Oral Communication Ability

Strong oral communicators know how to present ideas and proposals to others in a persuasive manner, whether to a large group or to a handful of people.

For example, you're working with a team on an important cross-functional initiative for your company. The team has developed a plan for tackling the project. But suddenly you conceive of a different way of handling the project that you believe has important advantages over the original plan. You explain your idea to your fellow team members, pointing out the benefits (such as quicker completion of the project and a higher-quality outcome) that would result if they use your idea. Convinced of the merits of your proposal, the team agrees to ditch the old project plan in favor of yours.

Able oral communicators generate valuable results because they know how to convey important information to others, influence others to consider good ideas that may otherwise be ignored, and inspire people to take needed action. Whether you're addressing one person, a small group, or a large audience, your oral communication ability constitutes a powerful tool for making things happen.

How to strengthen this ability? The following practices can help:

  • Read a book on presentation skills. Potential useful titles include 10 Days to More Confident Public Speaking by the Princeton Language Institute, The Art of Public Speaking by Stephen E. Lucas, The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Public Speaking by Dale Carnegie, and Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini.

  • Take an online learning course on oral communication. Examples include the "Making a Presentation" module in the Harvard ManageMentor series, developed by Harvard Business School Publishing, as well as the "Presenting Your Ideas" and "Communicating Clearly" courses offered by the Serebra Learning Corporation. Your company may have purchased a site license for such courses, or you may be able to buy a CD containing courses of interest as well as download them from the developer for a fee.

  • Consult an expert. Find someone who you view as a particularly talented oral communicator. Ask this person how he or she has strengthened this skill.

  • Attend a workshop or course in business communication, public speaking, or presentation skills. Your company may offer such learning opportunities or may be willing to reimburse your tuition if you take such a course through another organization. Local university extension programs, as well as continuing education programs, may offer such workshops and courses.

  • Join a public-speaking group. Examples include Toastmasters, a large, established organization that has clubs in many cities, towns, and companies. Through attending regular Toastmasters meetings, you learn how to prepare and deliver presentations to audiences, including how to structure your speech, control nervousness, and connect emotionally with your listeners.

  • Analyze effective speeches. Attend or watch videos of speeches delivered by skilled presenters. Notice how they use body language, voice tone, eye contact, and other tools to present a compelling speech. Also notice how they structure the content of their speech and how they use visual aids to enhance that content.

  • Role-play. Practice pitching an idea or delivering a presentation to a trusted friend or mentor. Ask him or her to act as your audience, including frowning to indicate confusion and posing questions at the end of your talk. Ask the person to give you honest feedback afterward about how you can improve your skills. Then take that feedback seriously, revising your delivery style for the better.

  • Videotape yourself giving a speech or presenting an idea. True, if you're like many people, you may find it discomfiting (if not downright painful!) to see yourself on tape. However, this practice can help you identify and eradicate flaws in your delivery – such as nervous fidgeting, inadequate voice volume, lack of eye contact, or a confused line of argument.

  • Master your nervousness. Many people find public speaking more terrifying than many other stressful experiences. If you're one of these individuals, find out what tricks and tactics seasoned public speakers use, then adopt the ones that work best for you. These may include having a PowerPoint deck or set or notes with you so you can refer to it if you lose your train of thought while delivering your speech. Thorough preparation can also combat nervousness: When you know your material inside and out, you feel more confident – and thus less nervous – as you step up to the flip chart, lectern, or podium.

Strengthening your oral communication ability takes practice and patience. But the results are well worth the effort. The better an oral communicator you are, the more you come across to others as a person who has good ideas that merit their consideration.