“The art of communication”—I like that phrase. Because communicating is an art. When we’re attempting to get our message out to others, it’s as though we start with a giant blank canvas and then begin to paint a picture, any picture we desire.
Now, most people assume that when painting a picture, they have only a few basic brushes at their disposal. But the advanced artist knows there are many tools available to create their masterpiece, and they use each to their advantage.
The same is true with communication. There are many tools available to you as you communicate; you just have to be aware of them and then use them purposefully. The better you become at using these tools, the better you’ll be at communicating.
The two primary categories these tools fall into are verbal and nonverbal. Let’s look at the different ways you can use each to improve your ability to communicate:
1. Your words
It’s been said that people judge you by the words you use, and this is true. Choose your words wisely. Words have power. They have the power to move nations and they have the power to destroy as well. When you speak, use your words carefully.
Here are a few things to consider in regard to your words:
- Avoid using words that will cause the other person to think poorly of you. Slang is one example. Another is, of course, slurs of any type. Use words that communicate positive values. Use optimistic words, words of strength. Make sure they are understandable.
- Use words that are colorful and rich with meaning, as long as they can be understood by the listener.
2. Your vocabulary
An expanded vocabulary will set you apart. It enhances the communication process and draws others in.
Your vocabulary can reveal your level of education, and others may make judgments about you that can affect your opportunities with them. The best communicators will use an expanded vocabulary with more educated groups and a more basic vocabulary with less educated groups.
Just as important as what you say is how you say it. What tone are you using? When you speak, are you monotone? Or do you fluctuate the tone of your voice, changing it up? This will naturally help people follow what you’re saying. Changing the tone of your voice is a very effective way to draw people into your message. Imagine if a painter only used one color. We want lots of color and lots of tone.
Along with the words you use and your tone of voice, consider your pace. Sometimes when you speak you may need to go slowly, and sometimes you may need to go very fast. The speed with which you speak will tell others certain things. A fast pace will communicate that you’re excited about something. A slow pace usually communicates thoughtfulness or that you really want them to hear your point.
Choosing your pace is like using your volume in an effective way. Master communicators will draw their audience in by fluctuating their voice from very loud to a near whisper. The audience doesn’t even know that the speaker is taking them on a roller coaster ride of communication. There are lessons to be learned here. Even in a one-on-one conversation, we can shift and change volume, keeping our communication more effective.
The emotions you communicate while speaking are vital. The key here is to show emotion without “getting emotional.” Emotions can be a very effective communicator. For example, showing anger can communicate that you are very serious about something (as long as you don’t get angry often). Allowing yourself to cry can show a side of you to others that communicates that you are a person of passion who, while being a hard-charging person who desires success, also has a tender side. Allowing yourself to laugh will communicate that you have a fun side and do not take yourself too seriously. Emotion, if controlled, is a powerful communicator.
Do you speak clearly so people can understand you? Enunciation is an often-overlooked key to effective communication. It’s imperative to clearly enunciate our words so that people understand us. Clear enunciation gives a little “punch” to our communication. Work on enunciating your words clearly. The key is to get it just right—enunciating so that your words don’t run together but not over-enunciating so that you sound unnatural.
In all of these principles, the idea is variety. Anytime we communicate in a single way, we become predictable and people stop listening. Think of yourself. Do you like to listen to people who speak at one speed, in one tone, with a boring vocabulary and without emotion? Of course not! Then we should make every effort to be colorful and effective communicators. And we can be—if we work at it and practice, practice, practice!
What you say affects how you communicate, certainly, but just as important is what you don’t say. Yes, your nonverbal communication has a major impact on how well you communicate.
Have you ever given much thought to how you communicate nonverbally? Here are some thoughts on ways to use nonverbal communication to support what you’re saying:
5. Your hands
Keeping your hands by your side will make you seem stiff and uncomfortable. Instead, use your hands to communicate. However, don’t get too demonstrative to the point where people are wondering where your hands are going next. One way to see what you do nonverbally is to record yourself speaking. Watch what you do with your hands.
6. Your eyes
The eyes can be a very powerful tool in communication. You know the old saying, “the eyes are the window to your soul”? It’s true. Think of what a mother communicates to her newborn when she gazes into their eyes, or what a couple says without words when they look into each other’s eyes. The eyes speak volumes.
Have you spoken with someone who is constantly looking around? What does that communicate? A lack of interest in what you have to say.
When you speak to someone, look at them. Give them your attention with your eyes. Listen to them with your eyes. Communicate with them that they are important.
7. Your arms
Some people don’t even realize when they’re “closed off” to someone else by crossing their arms when the other person is speaking. Those who study this tell us that crossing the arms is a surefire way to close yourself off from the other person. It communicates closure, fear and opposition.
8. Speaking position
When you’re communicating, especially in a presentation situation, your speaking position—whether you are standing, sitting, kneeling, etc.—can communicate a lot.
For example, my good friend Zig Ziglar, a master of the stage, will frequently move to the front of the stage and kneel. What is he nonverbally communicating? He is saying, “Listen closely to this. This is really important.” He is bringing the audience in for an intimate moment. Even in a room with 1,000 people, this way of communicating can make every individual feel like Ziglar is speaking closely to just them.
Sitting communicates casualness. I know many speakers will give a considerable part of their presentation this way. John C. Maxwell, another friend of mine, and a world-class leadership expert, gives quite a few of his speeches while sitting. His style is informative and casual—and it is effective.
Adapted from the The Jim Rohn Guide to Communication and has been updated. Photo by GaudiLab/Shutterstock