Epale readers are becoming fully aware of the importance of functional literacy as a basis for Adult Learning, but somehow it seems that when we discuss literacy we forget it has to do with two connected skills i.e. reading, writing and speaking. In the framework of her blog series Satya Brink's final piece addresses speaking. You can read the previous two blogs in the series by Satya on the importance of writing skills, and reading.
Why are speaking skills important for you?
We spend three quarters of our waking hours communicating with others according to a McKinsey study. Thirty percent of that time is spent speaking. Speaking competence, called “oracy” is as important as literacy and numeracy. Why? Oracy is critical for personal growth, social relationships and societal roles of leadership and citizenship.
Strategic use of language, fluency and vocabulary grow throughout life. Speaking helps us to think clearly, reason aloud, indulge in curiosity and form opinions. Speaking skills foster confidence, concentration, critical thinking and personality. Your speech is an expression of who you are so be careful of the words you speak.
The impression you make on others is dependent on how you speak. Are you a confident, sincere, enthusiastic colleague they can trust? Successful spoken communication can lead to starting a friendship, deepening your knowledge, broadening your professional network and furthering career advancement.
Spoken communication is the backbone of our society because it is an important means to transmit knowledge to others, to dialogue about ideas and to verbally recall what we have learned collectively. It builds solidarity by documenting shared experiences, promoting community bonding and transmitting cultural heritage. It allows us to form connections, influence decisions, formulate arguments, motivate change and collaborate for societal goals. The spoken word has power so we are responsible for what we say. They can inspire dedication to a cause or incite to rebellion. Responsible speech promotes collective harmony, progress and development.
When is your speaking effective?
A well-spoken person is someone who communicates naturally, appropriately and eloquently whether it is a conversation with a single person or speaking before a large audience. People want to listen to you, believe what you say, relate to you, and remember you. Your speech is successful when you elicit the intended desired response from the listener, whether it is agreement, laughter or input.
Research from UCLA, USA estimated that 55 percent of the impression you make when speaking is visual, 38 per cent is the tone of your voice and 7 per cent are the words you say. However, words are often recorded and remembered based on the presentation as a whole. To be effective, the speaker makes decisions regarding the spoken language, vocal language and body language to customize what is said for the occasion, the audience and the topic.
Word choice: A good vocabulary can make your messages comprehensible, descriptions vivid, ideas persuasive and instructions precise. You can create mental pictures or imagery to appeal to the senses, by using similes and metaphors. Memorable word choices are often quoted. Lincoln chose to say “Four score and 7 years ago” rather than 87 years ago.
Flow: Since listeners cannot re-read or replay your words, they should effortlessly follow your line of thought. Organized presenters are considered more credible and competent according to research. Good written sentences may be too long and complicated for spoken delivery. In general, shorter and simpler sentences are easier for the audience to process and understand while listening. Careful use of repetition reinforces your message. Consider King’s “I have a dream”.
Capture insights: Listeners will find it easier to remember a short clear statement that summarizes your main message. It is easy to remember Einstein’s “Imagination is more important than knowledge” than a treatise on creativity.
Vocal language is responsible for 38 percent of the impact you make when you speak. Your voice and how you use it, called paralanguage, is part of your persona. Favourite journalists and narrators have a distinctive manner of speaking. This includes rate, voice quality, pitch, tone, and volume which are what a telephone listener uses to identify you just by your first few words. Clarity, intonation and stress of phrases are associated with confidence. Strong volume, low pitch, inflection and style of expression can be linked to conviction and truth. How you speak can signal your emotional state.
This accounts for 55% of the impression you make when you speak. Often also called presence, it is the way you support your message with posture, eye contact, gestures, head motion and facial expressions. They have to be consistent with your message. Eye contact is indicative of sincerity. A smiling speaker is more approachable especially if they also use open gestures – palms up and arms open. Listen intently and lean slightly towards the listener to suggest interest in their response.
Communicating with a listener at a distance by telephone or on-line poses special challenges because it is no longer possible to rely on body language. You may have less time. The delay in transmission in on-line conversations affects the connection between voice, facial expressions and gestures. So the words that you use and the way you say them become especially important. Look directly at the camera and have a welcoming facial expression. Speak slowly and articulate your words. Enunciate clearly when speaking of numbers (telephone number or costs) to avoid confusion. Eighteen can sound like eighty to the listener. Be specific if the information is important and repeat if necessary because you cannot be certain that the listener received your message the first time.
How can you improve your speaking skills?
Start now to build your communicative competence or oracy because it pays off. There is a strong relationship between the four elements of language: reading, writing, listening and speaking - but the relationship is closest between the last two. To share meaning, you speak or write, called expressive language but to know whether you have been understood you have to listen and hear feedback, also called receptive language. Receptive language helps you to reframe your presentation and adapt your speaking if it is not being understood. It is important to develop all four elements, a process of cross-training where improving one skill improves the others, too.
Listen to good speakers to identify what makes their message compelling. If you have recorded instances of your own speaking, critically analyze your strengths and identify what you could improve. Do you drop your voice at the end of sentences? Do your eyes rest more on the speech in front of you rather than connecting with the audience?
Polish your speaking style and make it uniquely yours through practice. Develop an attractive speech pattern. Concentrate on improving fluency by removing unwanted hesitations (um and er) and fillers (you know, let me tell you). Practice breathing to manage pauses and speaking slowly to be understood. Consciously use your most successful strategies.
Remember when speaking, it is not just about what you want to tell others. It is about making people feel good about integrating what you said. In the words of American poet Maya Angelou, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”