How to improve your communication skills

Communication is a fundamental human skill. You communicate everywhere, all the time – but that doesn’t necessarily mean you do it perfectly.

Like any other skill, you can improve communication with thoughtful practice and intention. Reading this guide is your first step to leveling up your communication skills. Over time, you’ll reap the benefits.

Use this resource as a foundation for improving your communication skills in your professional life, personal life and everywhere in between.

What are communication skills?

Communication is delivering information from one person to another using words, visual aids, body language or other methods. A person with well-tuned conversational skills knows how to use different communication tools seamlessly to transmit their message clearly to others, even during challenging or stressful situations.

You’ll need to approach communication holistically to become a more effective communicator. This involves considering your target audience, your desired outcomes and the resources you have available to achieve your desired goal.

What makes someone a “good’’ communicator?

You probably know someone who thrives in social situations. Whatever they say gets a good reaction, and they always seem to be able to ease the room and make people feel comfortable.

You might brush off these social successes as perks of the person’s extroverted personality, but they likely have a highly tuned communication talent and a set of techniques at their disposal. Thankfully, you can learn these skills if they don’t come naturally to you.

To explore this concept further, take a moment to think of the friendliest person you know who is super easy to talk to. Take a moment to consider their communication style. Chances are, they exemplify at least one (if not more) of the following communication skills:

  • They are empathetic. Great communicators can relate to and emotionally match the energy of the people they speak to, reading their emotions.
  • They use open body language. Great communicators are inviting and warm. They use their body gestures and positioning to subtly communicate comfort during an interaction.
  • They are concise. They avoid long sentences, rambling and stories that muddy their impact, getting to the point quickly.
  • They are observant. Great communicators always listen and adjust, paying attention to shifts in the room or conversation to adapt their behavior and keep the talk flowing.
  • 5 key elements of strong communication

    You’ll need to tackle the five primary types of communication if you want to improve your skills. Here they are:

    1. Active listening

    Good communicators were good listeners first. Practicing active listening techniques is your best path toward improvement.

    Active listening, also called “listening with purpose,” is a specific listening approach that enhances collaboration and communication. It relies on reading verbal and nonverbal cues to engage in conversation.

    Engaging in active listening will significantly level up your communication skills at home and at work. It’s a high-value skill for people in management and leadership positions as it enables them to build authority and show compassion.

    Tips to improve active listening

    Follow these simple tips and tricks to start your journey to improved listening and quickly make a significant impact:

  • Remove distractions: an active listener engages with and focuses on the conversation at hand, so remove possible distractions (like your phone) to show you’re invested and that you care about what the other person is saying.
  • Face the person speaking: turning your body toward the speaker shows you are focusing your energy on them. It’s a simple yet effective gesture. As an added bonus, it opens your body language – an effective non-verbal communication tool.
  • Ask clarification questions: show engagement and help yourself stay focused throughout the conversation by asking short, clarification questions. Something as simple as clarifying a date, time, or intention goes a long way in showing interest. This helps reduce confusion and makes the conversation more stimulating (as long as you don’t interrupt).
  • Paraphrase and summarize: active listening involves paying careful attention to the speaker’s main points, story or ideas and trying to understand their message. Then, you can use your own words to condense their message using paraphrasing or summarizing techniques.
  • 2. Verbal communication skills

    When most people think of communication, they think of verbal communication. This typically involves talking, chatting or presenting.

    As a skill that almost everyone uses, some people naturally excel at holding the room’s attention with their words, while others find it more difficult to express their opinions clearly and articulately. 

    Becoming a more competent verbal communicator is about more than “choosing the right words.” It’s a delicate and complex balance of understanding your audience, knowing the message you want to convey and having the right approach to make your words resonate.

    Tips to improve verbal communication

    Follow these recommended tips to improve your verbal communication:

  • Play with your tone of voice: consider how you say your words and how you use the melody of your voice during conversations. The emotion you express behind your words greatly changes their meaning and impact, so it’s essential to choose a tone that varies. You don’t want to sound monotone.
  • Use the correct volume: both naturally quiet and loud people can struggle to communicate effectively due to their speaking volume mismatching the situation. Whenever possible, match the volume of the space to prevent misunderstandings and convey your message with clarity and impact. For example, you can use a microphone for large speeches or tone down your voice for intimate settings.
  • Know your key messaging: great verbal communicators know how to reach the point quickly. Avoid long-winded anecdotes, side tangents and adding unnecessary details to your stories or presentations to help your audience focus on the key points you want them to retain.
  • 3. Non-verbal communication

    Good communication isn’t just about words. The way you present yourself and the body language you emanate during a conversation significantly impact your communication success.

    Think about your posture, whether or not you’re fidgeting and how you position your body in relation to others. These behaviors directly impact the effectiveness of your words and how the audience receives them.

    Tips to improve non-verbal communication

    Here are a few tips you can try to get a better handle on your non-verbal communication skills:

  • Maintain a comfortable level of eye contact: during an important conversation, your eye contact should match your level of confidence and engagement. Do your best to make meaningful eye contact throughout any interaction – that’s up to 50% of the time when you are talking and 70% when listening, according to What Your Body Says (And How To Master The Message) by Sharon Sayler. Three to five seconds of eye contact should be enough.
  • Relax your body when possible: tight, rigid body language, like crossing your arms or turning your body away from people during a conversation, impacts communication effectiveness. To be comfortable during a conversation or meeting, opt for more open, inviting body language. For example, you might adopt a strong posture or face directly toward your audience.
  • React accordingly during the conversation: a great communicator can react appropriately to information as they hear it. To show your engagement, nod your head in agreement or laugh as appropriate. This is a great way to build a stronger sense of trust and comfort.
  • 4. Written communication

    Written communication is an essential part of modern life. Text messaging and email have become primary channels for daily conversations, so upping your skills in this area is essential.

    If you send a lot of written correspondence, such as work emails, instant messages or presentations (or perhaps even love letters!), then you probably know there’s a difference between what you write and how it comes across at the receiver’s end.

    Tips to improve written communication

    Follow these tips if you struggle to write clearly:

  • Read your writing before you send it: before you send any written feedback or communication, do a quick once-over to check for factual errors or areas requiring improvement. You might find a typo, an incorrect fact or even an ambiguous sentence. Always aim for complete clarity.
  • Edit your work: editing involves checking for spelling, grammar and punctuation errors, ensuring a professional finish. It also involves tweaking your writing to ensure it’s smooth and consistent. Overall, editing is about improving your reader’s experience and comprehension. Not all written communication needs to be perfect. But, if you want to share your writing professionally, at least use an AI writing tool like Grammarly to reduce errors. Asking a professional editor to check your work will ensure the highest quality.
  • 5. Visual communication

    Many communicators overlook the usefulness of visual aids. Any time you use a visual aid to support your words (think presentation decks or posters), they need to include a high level of visual communication to be effective.

    You don’t need to be an expert in graphic design. But, you can greatly improve the impact of your visual communication tools by making simple changes to your existing skills.

    Tips to improve visual communication

    Here are some recommendations to improve your visual communication skills:

  • Use visual hierarchy: visual hierarchy – a core design principle – is the practice of using layout, content size and design to clearly highlight the most important points to viewers. Make your most important messaging larger and more prominent to help the audience notice and understand it.
  • Opt for more blank space: less is always more when it comes to easy-to-understand designs. Avoid cluttered, confusing layouts and opt to use white open space to make your key points clear and easy to comprehend.
  • Choose the right supporting images: choosing images that encapsulate emotion is key to creating a more cohesive visual. Clear, easy-to-understand images help enhance the viewer’s experience of your message, making them a valuable resource for improving your visual communication skills.
  • Communication habits to avoid

    No one is perfect, and there’s always a time and place for different communication tactics. However, here are a few habits to avoid to improve your overall communication skills:

  • Being overly blunt or assertive: no one likes talking to someone who is blunt, cold and difficult, even in a stressful professional setting. Improve the impact of your words by avoiding being overly assertive or direct when delivering your opinion. In most cases, a softer approach is the best option
  • Interrupting others: regularly cutting someone off mid-thought or sentence will show you’re not listening and don’t care about their input. Avoid doing this at all costs. Instead, use active listening techniques to identify possible lulls where you can insert your thoughts.
  • Being unclear about your messaging: whether you’re telling a story or making a digital advertisement, be clear about the goal you’re trying to achieve. Missing the point, either by meandering through a conversation or by using the wrong copy or visuals, will significantly decrease your message’s effectiveness.
  • Great communication is a skill you can learn

    Communicating is a natural part of being human. No matter your communication style, you can always improve.

    Use this guide as a stepping stone in your journey to becoming a stronger, better communicator in your professional and personal lives. Challenge yourself and your team to enhance their communication skills with confidence-boosting resources that coach and support improvement across a wide range of topics.

    Become a stronger communicator today with the help of Pip Decks. Learn more.

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