Although not necessarily the most important, speech is perhaps the most obvious form of communication. Encourage students to think about how they communicate verbally. Do they mumble or speak quickly? Do they cut their sentences short and avoid eye contact? None of these traits are helpful when being interviewed for a job, nor will they be helpful in the workplace.

Communication is defined as the imparting or exchange of information by speaking, writing or using non-verbal mediums such as body language, gesture, expression, tone of voice and touch.

Communication is the way we let others know what we are thinking and feeling, and how we convey our ideas and needs. It is not just about speaking - it is about listening and sharing.

Some of us are natural communicators and find speaking and interacting with others a breeze; for others it can be nerve-wracking and even difficult. But if students are concerned about their communication skills, they need not be - well not yet anyway. The good news is that effective communication skills can be learned and practiced.

For students to speak well and with confidence they must:

  • Believe in themselves
  • Speak slowly and carefully
  • Make eye contact

There are steps that can be taken to help ensure that the messages spoken are received, and the speaker's intention is understood. With practice students will become more confident verbal communicators.

Opening the conversation

First impressions count and can be difficult to change; that is why the first few minutes of a conversation are very important. A friendly and open face will get things off to a great start. Opening communication involves:

  • Making initial eye contact
  • Appropriate greetings
  • Introductions
  • Shaking hands
  • Exchanging pleasantries

Positive reinforcement

The use of gestures alongside spoken words helps to reinforce what is being spoken.

  • Maintaining eye contact
  • A nod of the head in understanding
  • A smile

Active listening is a skill that is often overlooked. Many people, especially if they are nervous, tend to spend more time thinking about what they are going to say next, rather than listening to what the other person is saying. And it's not enough just to listen - try to show that you are listening.

  • Avoid distractions
  • Keep eye contact (without staring)
  • Nod encouragingly
  • Don't interrupt

Like listening, effective questioning is a skill in itself. Properly pitched questions can:

  • Start a conversation
  • Draw another person into the discussion
  • Gather information
  • Make people feel you are interested


A closed question usually seeks only a 'yes' or 'no' answer whereas an open question broadens the scope for response and prompts further discussion. Open questions encourage involvement and give the other person the chance of self expression.

  • Ask more open than closed questions


Reflecting is feeding back to the other person your understanding of what they have said. It often involves paraphrasing, (repeating in your own words) what has been said. Reflecting will:

  • Clarify understanding
  • Provide feedback
  • Show an interest in the speaker and respect for what they have said


Summarising serves a similar purpose to reflecting but allows both parties to review and agree on what was exchanged and any conclusions that have been reached.


As with the opening of a conversation, the closing is often something that is remembered so it's important to do it well.

  • Don't end a conversation too abruptly
  • Shake hands with a smile
  • Make arrangements for further communication


Remind students that much workplace communication is about developing relationships. It doesn't always need to be formal and focus purely on the business at hand. Putting a little of themselves and their own personality into a conversation, and taking the time to get to know the person they speak to adds a much appreciated human touch. To encourage better relationships:

  • Listen twice as much as you speak. It's a great way to discover where somebody is coming from
  • Ask questions. People appreciate it if you show an interest in them
  • Think before you speak. Once something is said, it cannot be taken back
  • Don't interrupt

Class Workshop

Students take it in turns to introduce themselves to the rest of the class, and in one or two sentences, relate something interesting about themselves, or something that interests them.

This is short introductory exercise for students to warm up for the following classroom workshops. Some may be a little nervous, but remind them they have the support and encouragement of their peers. It will be interesting to see how much confidence they gain as the module goes on. (If they cannot think of anything interesting - tell them to make it up!)

Job interviews can involve an element of public speaking, (an important skill in itself), especially when conducted in front of a panel. These skills are also useful in many aspects of the workplace such as presentations, meetings etc. Utilising and practicing the core elements of effective speaking will ensure students are not panic stricken when they are called upon to speak, or called for an interview.

Volume - to be heard

When speaking to a larger audience, it is important to ensure that everyone can hear, not just the front row.

  • Moderation is the key. Not too loud and not too soft
  • Support your voice with steady breathing
  • Instead of raising your voice, project it outwards

Clarity - to be understood

Nervousness can cause some people speak through clenched teeth and not move their lips, making them difficult to understand. For clear speech:

  • Unclench your jaw, open your mouth
  • Slow down
  • Pay particular attention to clearly pronouncing the ends of words

Variety - to add interest

Even the most interesting subject can be made boring by a monotone pitch. To liven it up, mix it up. Imagine that you are communicating with friends or family and it won't feel so difficult. Variety can be achieved through variations in:

  • Pace
  • Volume
  • Pitch
  • Emphasis
  • Pausing

Tips for speaking confidently and effectively

Practise - There's no way around this. Practise makes perfect!

Make eye contact --  It's polite, and will hold attention. Pay attention to where your eyes are. Looking down at the floor you won't appear confident; whereas you will seem distracted or bored if your eyes dart around the room. If you're talking to a larger group, focus on a few friendly faces.

Speak slowly and don't be afraid to pause - Speaking too quickly will sound as though you're rambling or in a panic. Pause to gather your thoughts and to think about what you're going to say next. Slowing down and speaking thoughtfully makes pauses in speech more natural. Even very experienced public speakers sometimes use verbal pauses such as 'um' or 'uh'. They are the mind's way of changing gear so don't think that you have to avoid them completely. People understand if you are a little nervous.

Visualise success - Close your eyes and imagine the most confident and well-spoken version of yourself, dazzling with your words. Picturing the scenario you want can boost your confidence and move you towards success.

Know your audience - Knowing your audience will help you to speak with confidence. If you're addressing an interviewer, it's useful to know their position in the company and the position you are interviewing for. If you're addressing an audience try to find out as much about them or their group or organisation as you can. This will help you to prepare what to say.

Pay attention to your body language - Communication is not just about the words you use but also your body language. Focus on your posture and avoid slouching, fidgeting, rocking or pacing if you're standing up. Try to look ahead rather than down at the floor and keep your face and body relaxed even if you are not feeling that way.

Know your material and the points you wish to make - If you are interviewing for a job, find out as much as possible about the company, the person/people interviewing you, and the job you are interviewing for. Of course you know yourself and your skills, but make sure you are able to put this knowledge into words.

Avoid excessive slang - If you want to be well spoken, avoid using excessive slang. But don't go too far; if your potential boss is young and hip, you don't want to sound too formal and stilted.

Be concise - Part of speaking well means knowing what not to say. Avoid rambling. You don't have to give countless examples to prove a point when one or two strong examples will do. If you're giving a speech every word counts. Write it down and say it aloud. Reading your own words will indicate where you're being repetitive, and what you need to cut.

Every day we communicate with many people in different ways, under different circumstances. It is almost second nature that we adjust our style of communication to suit the situation, or is it? For young people with little experience outside home and their own social group, this second nature sometimes needs to be learned.

Choose your words - using language appropriately

The way students speak to their friends, family and even teachers is different to the way they speak to someone at an interview or in the workplace. Someone working in a bar would speak to his or her line manager differently to the way another worker would speak to the line manager in a more formal workplace.

It's all about using appropriate language to the circumstances. If we do not adjust our style to suit the situation, we can risk confusion, misunderstanding or even cause offence. Inappropriate language use, written or spoken, can have a negative affect on a person's credibility and is something managers or prospective employers will remember.

Students need to pay attention to the way they speak and the language they use when talking to different people and in different situations. Have them think about these things when speaking to different people:

  • Consider the situation or occasion - a cheery hello at a funeral might be a little inappropriate
  • Watch your words - does your grandmother really want to listen to you swear?
  • Be deliberate with your body language - hands left firmly in pockets during a greeting appears rude
  • Pay attention to verbal and non-verbal feedback - an irritated sigh or a look of confusion should offer a clue

We live, work and socialise with people from different cultures who sometimes speak a language other than our own. To avoid confusion there are a few clear steps that will make communication easier all round.

  • Be patient and don't rush the conversation
  • Speak clearly, not loudly - the person is not necessarily deaf!
  • Don't speak too quickly or too slowly
  • Be careful with the use of metaphors - they can be confusing!
  • Avoid using slang, jargon or idiomatic expressions - also confusing!
  • Pay attention to body language, eye contact and personal space - this can differ between cultures
  • If you know a few words or phrases of the language, use them (if they are appropriate)
  • Use mime or props if it helps - this can also break the ice!

A job search involves making 'cold contact', with students having to phone businesses or organisations to request assistance or information on future employment. This can be daunting, especially without a contact name to ask for. They will need to be calm and clear to put their message across. There are a number of steps they can take to calm their nerves and get the information they need.

Your Script - write a brief script of what it is you wish to say so that you don't stumble on words or forget anything. This can be in dot points if necessary.

Breathe - before picking up the phone, take a deep breath. The goal is to sound enthusiastic and confident. Practice by taking a deep breath and saying the opening line out loud.

Identify yourself - state your name and the reason you are calling. Speak clearly and slowly. Get to the point and explain the reason you are calling.

Be Polite - ensure you are polite and consider the language you use remembering that you want something of them. People rarely respond to requests when spoken to rudely.

Listen attentively - remove any distractions when you make the phone call. Don't read emails, sip coffee or listen to music while you're on the phone. People can tell if you are not giving them your full attention and you don't want to miss any important information.

Take notes - taking notes will enable you to record and verify important details, names of contacts and any other information you need. Make sure you have a pen and paper on hand before you call.

Outcome - if the call has been successful, the first 30 seconds will have allowed the other person to establish a positive perception about you through your voice, tone and focus. The final 30 seconds are your chance to finalise the call, thanking them for their time and ensuring you have accurately recorded the information you require.

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