One of my favourite musicals "My Fair Lady" has always had, and always will have, a great and very positive impact on both my life and my work. Funnily enough, I was even referred to by one of my many clients as "the Fair Lady." The ability to communicate and express oneself genuinely, whether through a musical instrument, vocally, artistically or through dance has becoming increasingly challenging and without the basic tools in order to do so, this ability may possibly never be mastered. Now of course not everyone is artistic. Not everyone has the luxury of learning to play an instrument or to develop and nurture an acting talent. However, everyone is given the opportunity and basic tools to learn how to speak and express themselves through verbal and non- verbal communication. This is taught in schools; by parents and for those who may require, through professional teachers and or therapists.
Being able to string a sentence together or recite a phrase can be done by anyone as long as the basic skills have been acquired. However, in the world of work, where constant "boiling, bubbling, toiling and troubling" happen, you will need to up your game! Why you ask, is it important to express yourself genuinely through different modes? Well, I will not answer this question for you, as the answer is obviously within you. However, I will give you examples of people who should have taken this opportunity and would have been the better for it.
Some time back, I was introduced to a gentleman who was a regular professional speaker. He decided that he needed a few sessions in order to extend himself. However, as a result of some personal troubles, he had to quit his training. Of course, he was making progress. However, had he continued with his training on a constant basis, he would have achieved what he wanted to, and far more. In other words, nurturing and mastering your communication skills is an art in itself, that requires time, patience, energy and continuity. The time factor has always, understandably, bothered people, however achieving personal goals takes time and frustration can raise its ugly head. In this case, and let us assume we are focusing on voice exercises, just stop what you are doing and take a step back. Personal development can be aggravating, but do not get disconcerted. Relax and see things for what they are and allow yourself the time to develop and work on yourself properly.
Currently, as we know it, the world is slowly coming out of an economic crisis. This unfortunately means that the skill allowing people to genuinely and properly communicate is packed away in a box, stacked away in the cellar of your enclosed mind and forgotten about for many years, until it becomes too late to seek out this assistance or even to do anything with this ability. As Benjamin Franklin once said, "Hide not your talents. They for use were made. What's a sundial in the shade? If self development is something that you seek and is needed, then it should be sought after straight away. You have one vehicle in this life and it is your body; treat it well, respect it and make sure that you are given the attention that you need not only from others but from you yourself as well, otherwise you become of very little use and maybe even a hindrance, in extreme cases, to those around you.
So, what is so important about being able to communicate? This is a challenging question to answer as each person has a different need, reason for wanting to communicate, a different reason for the need of self expression. So, as an example we will look at corporates. The corporate world requires that you dress, speak, act and perform certain roles in a particular way. If you do not fit in with the culture of the company, then it is highly likely that you will not get the job. However, if you are confident; have excellent interpersonal skills; you have a good understanding of your area of expertise; your body language matches what you are saying and you can speak eloquently; then it is more likely that you will excel at both the job interview and the job itself. Of course, there is so much more entailed when it comes to being able to speak well and have good body language. The "Talkwell" side focuses on how you move those facial and other organs in order to be able to pronounce words correctly and clearly. You see, it is not enough to just be able to string a sentence together and just utter the words. Communication is the intricate weave of clear speech, emotion, word usage and word order, confidence, facial expression, pronunciation and of course knowledge on the topic.
Should you find that any of these areas are lacking, then it is most likely that you are in need of guidance and assistance to improve your communication skills. Give yourself the attention you deserve. The return on investment may not necessarily be financial. However, the ability to communicate and connect confidently is your key to unlocking the door to you future successes.
George Bernard Shaw said, “The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” It does not take a wise person to explain that there is something wrong in the way people communicate and connect with one another. Communication is an art that has to be perfected in order for it to be used to your advantage. Just take a look at these few pointers and you are well on your way to improved communication.
Step 1: Take Interest
Having a conversation is very much like trying to make a sale. Now please remember I am not talking about personality here. I am simply looking at the process that is taken from the moment you pick up the product that you are trying to sell, up until the buyer has accepted terms and conditions and has purchased the product. When we communicate, we need to remember to be calm, believe in yourself and what you are saying. Facial expression is very important! Think of what it is you want to say before you say it. This may help reduce nervous and self confidence trouble. Relax and just be yourself. Do not be pretentious and do not over-communicate and offer too much information.
The first step of starting up the conversation with others, means you need to take a genuine interest in the other person and in what he or she is telling you about. Imagine you find yourself at a party. You are standing alone by the drinks table and you see someone walking to the table to pour him/herself a drink. Do not be scared to strike up a conversation. Say hello and introduce yourself. Relax and let the conversation flow naturally. Once the introductions are out of the way and depending on how well the initial part of the conversation went, you may now proceed to step 2.
Step 2: Share
This stage allows you to talk about what you do for a living. Always be direct and confident about what you do because any uncertainty, shifty behaviour or shuffling will result in the conversation coming to an abrupt and immediate halt. If this happens, do not try to push and prod to make the conversation continue. No matter how hard you try, the other person will now unfortunately have someone better to speak with. Just let nature take its course and you never know, there may be an opportunity in the future to have a brand new and improved conversation with the same person. Allow the person to forget the previous conversation. Get up dust yourself off and have the confidence to try again and this time you will succeed.
Step 3: Create Interest
Step three allows you to now get creative and build a story for the listener. Each one of us is interesting in different ways. Find your common ground by asking questions. Do not ask too many questions and do not offer information that is not relevant to the current conversation. As an example, if the common ground has been established as loving sport, do not all of a sudden begin speaking about theatrical shows and musicals. Rather show your genuine interest in what the person is saying and try to learn from the person. Over-communication can cause the person to run for the hills and to possibly never want to speak with you again.
Just like any well rounded story, your sales pitch or conversation needs to be well-rounded and well-developed. It must have a beginning, middle and ending. Always use a positive spin. Do not be negative when speaking as the person will feel drained and disinterested, causing the conversation to taper off.
Step 4: Closing
Now that you have managed to get through the first three stages of a conversation, the rest becomes easy. You have been able to keep the person speaking till now and this is where you decide if you would like to meet the person again or if you would like to keep it to just this one conversation. Assuming you choose to see the person again, it may be a good idea to exchange contact details. Let the person know when you will be contacting him or her. Say goodbye for the evening and thank the person for taking the time to speak with you. Manners, politeness and consideration are important aspects to remember when communicating with others. If you are polite, it is more likely that the person will want to continue communicating with you and get to know you better.
These four points are basic stepping stones to beginning and maintaining any conversation. Believe in yourself, do not over-communicate and remember that there is always a necessity for politeness and manners. Follow these steps and you will be well on your way to having more effective and meaningful conversations and business relationships.
Michelle is a speech and communication specialist working with companies and individuals in South Africa and internationally.