Communication Skills

The 20 Best Tips For Speaking Better

People skills | Small talk | Conversation skills



1. How to Bullshit like a CEO

A Fortune 50 CEO being coached before the conference, reported by the New York Times from Davos:


- 'You've got to stay on message,'

- 'Don't answer the question being asked,'

- 'Get to your message,'

- Use 'bridge phrases' such as 'meanwhile' or 'what we know is' to avoid the question being asked and change the context of the answer.

- 'Like the politicians do,' the chief executive exclaimed.

- 'Journalists are looking for complete sentences,…Especially on TV. You want to give them full messages.'

- Use 'flagging': insert phrases such as, 'the most important thing is…' and 'the main idea is…'


2. How to speak with power

A person who feels confident and in control will speak at length, set the agenda for a conversation, stave off interruptions, argue openly, make jokes and laugh. Such a person is more inclined to make statements, less inclined to ask questions. They are more likely to offer solutions or a program or a plan. All this creates a sense of confidence in listeners.


To speak with power, avoid seeking collaborations in the statements you make - try to avoid, 'As Robert said' and 'I pretty well agree with Gina'. All these serve to undermine the impact of your statements.

(Source: Harvard Business Review)


3. How to talk in stressed situations


The three things that make stressed conversations succeed are Clarity, Neutrality and Temperance.


- Clarity: Let the words do the work for us.

Avoid euphemisms or talking in circles-tell people clearly what you mean. Under strained circumstances, we all tend to shy away from clarity because we equate it with brutality and then instead start talking in roundabout and terribly misleading way to give someone the ‘tough’ information.


Doctors, Policemen and Priests are extremely good examples of clear talkers. They are able to deliver the most unpleasant of information in a clear manner.


- Neutrality: Speaking without inflection.


It is about tone, the nonverbal part of conversations. Tone is our intonation, facial expressions, conscious and the unconscious body language.


Although it is hard, you need to be neutral during the hard times.


The best example is NASA which communicates in uninflected tones: 'Houston, we have a problem'. It takes practice to acquire such neutrality.


- Temperance: Neither too hot, neither too cold.

The goal of every stressed conversation is to find solutions (not to create enemies or to score points). We should try to take the conversation forward, to hear and be heard accurately, and to have a functional exchange between two people.


Use Temperate Phrasing to take strain out of stressful conversation. Search Google for 'temperate language'.


Take a lesson from the whale; the only time he gets speared is when he raises to spout.

- Anon


General Tips For Effective Conversations


4. The 10 Kinds of conversation


The Five Ds:

Dictating: Telling what to do.

Debate: Arguing with zero sum.

Discussion: Open conversation.

Deliberation: Joint decision-making.

Dialog: Exploring one another.


Conversations with goals:

Authentic Conversation: Talking as honest adults.

Blameless Conversation: Talking without blaming.

Bonding Conversations: Building social connection.

Romance Conversations: Building affection.

Status Conversations: Seeking recognition or superiority.


(Source: Changing minds)


5. Use silence: Don't talk for too long at a stretch. Have some pity on the listener. Our attention only lasts a few minutes before we need a break. Cut your long story into bite sized chunks to allow breathing space.


People also use silence to win arguments and nail a negotiation: For example, when the other party offers a price, opt for a long pause to indicate hesitation, which might prompt them to go lower. During arguments, prolonged silence may frustrate the other person, but it'll also make you look like the winner.


6. Soften your critiques with the 'sandwich method' to soften the blow: Start with a compliment, then mention your critique, then end on a positive note.


7. Ask sensitive questions indirectly to skip awkwardness: Use the bluff ('the breakup must've been hard, huh?') or blame others ('so has anyone asked about your prison time?') or the indirect inquiry ('what year did you get divorced?')


8. Say 'No' gently, or say 'Yes, but....': For example, 'I'm in the middle of several projects right now' to 'I'm not the right person for that job.'


9. 'Pace and lead' an angry person: Instead of remaining calm, match the other party's emotional intensity to show you're empathetic, then lead the complainant to a calmer level of discourse.


10. Show you are 'hearing': Ask the speaker to elaborate on major points. Regularly summarize what you have just heard and feed the brief summaries back into the conversation.


Some suggest to feign sincerity with eye contact and repetition - making eye contact, echoing what the person is saying to you back to them, and nodding in understanding (even if you're not).


11. Become a human lie detector: Note sudden changes in voice pitch, rate of speech, or 'ums' and 'ahs,' a change in eye contact, and body position.


12. End a conversation with body language: For example, simply standing up (or crossing your arms, or speeding up to a 'fast walk') to indicate it's time for that person to go and you're busy.


13. Ask questions well: Most of the time, ask open-ended questions to know more about the issue.


14. Try to learn the other person's language: Sometimes, it is as simple as knowing the office jargon - Client wants to 'touch base'? Manager want to 'get on the same page'? Search Google for 'Office Slang'.


15. Remembering names: Focus during the introduction & repeat the name out loud . Take a mental picture of the moment of introduction. Associate the name with an outstanding feature (tall forehead). Associate the name with a famous person/thing. Make a letter chain of the first letters of each name (a memory trick).


16. Be great with details: Make your descriptions specific - don't generalize or use cliches. Be precise and concrete.


17. When starting conversations, show that you value the other person's attention: 'I'd really like your opinion about .....'


18. Build your conversations around respect: Treat other people the way you want to be treated yourself.


19. Tell stories: Who I am stories, Why I am here stories (I have no hidden agenda), Teaching stories, Vision stories (why they are doing what they should be doing), Value stories (e.g. value of customer service), I know what you are thinking stories


20. Always check if you are being too much: Good talkers don't let themselves loose in the talk, always checking if they’re bragging, rambling or whining, as they talk.


21. Improve your conversation skills by talking to yourself out loud: Do this for five minutes every day and know how you sound - you voice, tone, pacing etc. Doing this also improves our focus and memory of things we want to say. Many do this before giving a speech.


And remember the 'You look like a...' method to chat up stranger: 'You look like my brother...', 'You look like someone who appreciates...'


Thank you for reading.
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