Help me communicate clearly!
August 19, 2010 7:02 PM   Subscribe

Help me become more work....

I'm in a job that requires a lot of verbal communication with colleagues and stakeholders. While I can write well and get my thoughts across on paper (or on the screen) I REALLY struggle with verbal communications at work - explaining even minimally complicated scenarios or processes can be hard for me and I often leave my audience confused. This really sux and is frustrating. Public speaking is also a challenge, where I've presented at workshops and saw a lot of confused faces in the room. What can I do besides reading a book to improve my verbal communication skills? Its beginning to chip away at my confidence. Any tips, advice, personal experience or examples of how you've dealt with this problem would be helpful. Thanks.
posted by dmbfan93 to Grab Bag (9 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

I often prepare for oral presentations/discussions/conversations/etc in advance. Write it out, memorize it, make bullet point notes, rehearse.

keeps me from saying stupid stuff.
posted by HuronBob at 7:06 PM on August 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

What about Toastmasters International, the public speaking club? I haven't used it personally (though I've wanted to, just not found the time) but know others who have said it helped them.
posted by unannihilated at 7:11 PM on August 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

I have a lot of trouble speaking to people, and used to have a lot more -- the confused looks you describe are all too familiar to me. Here are a couple of things that have helped me be more coherent (and not as terrified...I can't tell if you mean that social phobia plays a part in this):

As far as public speaking where you have to get up and give something you've prepared for -- everything I was taught from middle school on up told me to use notes to help keep myself together. Notes, however, always made it much, much harder for me. However, more or less memorizing what I mean to say cuts way down on both the nervousness quotient and on the confused verbal wanderings. When I've got it letter-perfect, backwards and forwards in my mind, I can actually extemporize a lot easier. Give your speech at home to your kitchen table -- do it until you can give it without referring to notes. Yes, memorizing things takes time and is hard, but it pays off, and once you have done a few talks successfully, it becomes easier for you to do more without extreme preliminary preparations.

Just talking to people -- don't be afraid to take a moment to marshal your thoughts, or to speak slowly and deliberately. Don't be afraid to hesitate in the middle of a sentence to gather yourself before continuing. Listen carefully to what you are saying as you are saying it, and if need be stall by asking for clarification of something so that you have time to get your ideas in order. Don't be afraid to ask if you can have some time to think and get back to the person. You might still get some odd looks, but you will make more sense, which is what mainly matters. Also, try getting a constant narration going in your mind throughout the day, just to practice saying things -- "If I were to explain to someone right now what I'm doing or thinking, what would I say? How would I say it? Did that make sense?"

Scripts, as someone said -- yes, if there is a conversation that you know you are going to be having. If you can work out exactly what your opening line will be, and then after than just have a rough outline of the points you need to go over, it can help. Making mental scripts too detailed after the opening sentence actually hurts things, though, since other people never play along like they're supposed to...
posted by frobozz at 7:28 PM on August 19, 2010

You are really describing two different skills here: impromptu communication and prepared speeches. Unannihilated's suggestion about Toastmasters is a good one. I haven't used them either, but several co-workers have cycled through the local chapter and report good results (which I can see for myself when they speak).

For the public speaking part -- an I know you said "besides reading a book" -- I've found the book The Lost Art of the Great Speech to be helpful. I speak at conferences and workshops often and have found that I can overcome my nervousness by over-preparing. I create a detailed outline, practice it along a couple of times, and then speak without notes which seems to give the right vibe of being unscripted.

For the impromptu communication at work, I always start with "let me give you the punchline first..." and tell them whatever I think I am going to tell them, then launch into my rambling and possibly incoherent explanation, and finish with "ok, here is what I just told you...". Helps keep me on track and helps my audience not get distracted by tangents.
posted by kovacs at 7:31 PM on August 19, 2010

I would suggest a lot of informal practice. Start explaining things, anything, your hobbies, the weather, the game on tv, to family and friends when they are around. Really think about what you say and put an effort into verbal communication with those around you.

If you can get it down on paper, then it's in your head. You just need to PRACTICE speaking your thoughts coherently.

Communication is a skill. Skills take practice.
posted by 3FLryan at 8:26 PM on August 19, 2010

kovacs is right. I once engaged a consultant for one of my "train the trainers" seminars and he used to say, "Tell them what you are going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them.

Another tip was to record or videotape yourself practicing the talk and play these back in private until you get over being freaked out about how you sound and look. Then play around with saying certain parts differently for the camera and check out whether or not the difference effect is better. Practice opening and closing and practice some good segues until you can use them in a way that makes you sound more confident and expert than you do right now. It's just a skill you practice.
posted by Anitanola at 11:22 PM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

know your material well, study it and anticipate questions. when you get a question from someone, answer it if you can and if not let them know you'll research and get back to them...then get back to them.
i would second anitanola and add to review your videos & critique them for improvement but don't get bogged down by getting it perfect.

study great speeches on youtube.
practice explaining simple things "how to make a pp&j or how to ride a bike" to freinds and family...especially kids & older people. i really developed a knack for boiling complex ideas to simple terms b/c as a child i had to translate and explain things to my immigrant parents. was great training!

oh and if you remember to have fun, you'll relax and access to the ideas that are in your head will surface.
posted by UltraD at 12:32 PM on August 20, 2010

Response by poster: thank you all for your input. I took a facilitation course last week and just watched the video recordings of me facilitating a session and every other word out of my mouth is "Um". So in addition to struggling with the meat of the session, every other word is um. Is there any foolproof trick to stop saying "um" while faciliating a meeting? great idea on the youtube speeches, if you have any suggestions for which one would be great. also any videos showing great facilitators facilitating discussions/groups of people coming to consensus would be great.
posted by dmbfan93 at 12:51 PM on August 20, 2010

Best answer: You'll be a lot more aware of the UMS now and so you will be able to focus on not saying it.
generally you have to be clear what you want to achieve by the communication and then consider different ways to achieve it. I was dreading quite a few conversations this week for different reasons and they all worked out well one way or another. Either I prepared an agenda and that allowed me to cover all relevant points, or I discussed the issue with somebody else before the main conversation and that allowed me to prioritise and develop a good strategy for the main conversation.

As for facilitation that's largely down to knowing your subject matter and your slides, exercises etc so you can facilitate.with minimal reference to your notes. It also requires flexing your style to accommodate your participants' background, fatigue levels or whatever it.may be. I was facilitating overseas for the last three weeks, completely different culture experience profile and all material I'd not looked at in a couple of years. But it worked much better than it had when I last did the courses at home because I was much more confident in the subject and in general.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:37 PM on August 20, 2010

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