Say more with less: 5 effective communication skills to sound smarter and more confident

effective communication skills
So powerful were his effective communication skills during the 2004 Democratic National Convention, that it's been argued it's what made Barack Obama from a nobody to president of the most powerful country in the world. Source: AFP

Mastering effective communication skills can lead to salaries or career growth in today’s digital age.

Many studies have shown that:

  • 85% of Americans — and 87% of professionals ages 25 to 35 — who countered on salary, other compensation or benefits, or both pay and other compensation and benefits got at least some of what they asked for.
  • Teams who communicate effectively increase their productivity by as much as 25%
  • Effective communication at the workplace can help build trust, which employers value. A report on trust in the workplace issued by the Workforce Institute at UKG showed that 74% of employees would prefer to work for a trustworthy employer.

While some of these factors may not immediately lead to an increase in salary, there are more than enough for you to use as leverage during salary negotiations.

For an example of effective communication skills, we can learn from the entertainment industry.

Take a look at Jimmy Fallon, for example.

He’s more than a quick-thinking comedian; he hosts “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”

He’s direct and funny at the same time while interviewing the many celebrities who come on the show. It’s a masterful act — so much so that studies have been conducted on his effective communication skills.

But why is it so important to learn effective communication skills in an age where tech like ChatGPT can help you draft anything from an email to your boss to an entire thesis?

Not everyone is a talk show host and needs to speak for an hour to an entire country.

Still, more than just transmitting information, there is still huge value in knowing how to speak and write well — 85% of job success comes from having well-developed soft skills and communication has been identified as one of the core skills employers look for in their employees, according to the National Soft Skills Association.

Now, that doesn’t mean you have to copy Fallon to get effective communication skills.

Communicating well doesn’t mean communicating a lot. In fact, the most effective speakers today aren’t known to be the most talkative bunch. 

They’ve mastered the art of saying more with fewer words. 

effective communication skills

Communication skills involve listening, speaking, observing and empathising. Source: AFP

The secrets behind effective communication skills

“It’s not the words you use; it’s the connection you make that resonates with others,” says Trever Noah in an interview with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross about the power of language.

Noah was the host of the immensely popular Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.” A native of South Africa, he is biracial— his mother is black and his father is white. 

This, plus growing up in the shadows of apartheid, gave him a rich perspective on language. Noah is fluent in English, Afrikaans, and four African languages.

These skills, paired with his mixed background, make him a hit among viewers — gaining 31 million social followers since he took over from the previous host Jon Stewart.

He’s loved for not forcing opinions on serious topics but instead sharing what he understands about it.

And if there’s another person who can do this, and is arguably known for doing this the best, it’s former US President Barack Obama.

He’s known for his rhetorical skills and ability to paint pictures with words so that others not only see what he sees but feel it too.

Similar to Noah, Obama sounds authentic. 

As a sports fan, he is not hesitant when voicing his opinion about the need for a college football playoff.

As a family man, he is not shy about expressing his love for his wife and daughters.

It conveys the image of one guy who, in many respects, is just like us — and, as such, knows the trials and tribulations of everyday life.

Obama also has the acute ability to use communication in all forms — from body language to changing tones. Just Google a video of their speech to see and hear the difference. 

You’ll also hear that Obama doesn’t say very much.

And that’s because he sprinkles pauses through his speech.

Slowing down is a known technique to convey confidence. When Obama does it, it shows he’s aware of your attention and is intelligently thinking through what he says.

He’s also known for pausing for dramatic effect.

Whatever your goal, mastering the art of pausing during conversations can go a long way in forming a good impression, creating positive speaking experiences, and calming our anxiety when we can’t find our words.

The former president also makes smart, strategic use of filler words and phrases like “um”, “well” and “you know”.

It signals that you’re not done with your turn in a conversation and gives clues to anyone listening about your mental state — be it anxious or humble.

Don’t think Obama’s techniques will work for you in hard talks and in front of a crowd? Good news — there are other effective communication skills that don’t require you to speak more.

effective communication skills

An Obama pause caught on camera. Source: AFP

5 effective communication skills that don’t require you to speak more

Firstly, it’s important to understand that effective communication skills are the opposite of constant, careless chatter.

Speaking more doesn’t make you a better communicator. True mastery lies in message quality.

So, whether you’re at work or studying at university, try out these five effective communication skills that can help you connect better with more people. Little speaking required.

effective communication skills

Whether you’re a president or a student, it’s always good to listen to what others have to say. Source: AFP

1. Active listening

One of the foremost effective communication skills involves no speaking at all: active listening.

This skill involves hearing words and truly comprehending the message, empathising with the speaker, and responding appropriately. 

Contrary to the belief that speaking more is the path to becoming a good communicator, active listening demonstrates that the listener often holds the key.

By paying full attention to the speaker, you can extract the core of their message, understand their needs and concerns, and respond thoughtfully.

For example, if you’re a student, you should avoid dominating discussions with excessive speech. Instead, focus on what your professors or peers say and how they speak. If you want to clarify something, ask follow-up questions or rephrase what they’ve said to confirm that you understood them correctly.

This way, you’ll have a clear understanding of what to say, effectively reducing unnecessary chatter.

Another way to improve your active listening skills is by paying attention to other people’s facial expressions, body language and tone of voice.

effective communication skills

Choose your words carefully — only use those that are necessary. Source: AFP

2. Concise expression

Have you noticed that the more you talk, the greater the chances of misunderstanding or losing your audience’s interest?

According to a new study from Microsoft Corp, the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in the year 2000 to eight seconds today.

Therefore, it’s essential to focus on delivering your message in as directly as possible. Use simple language and minimal filler words.

Instead of rambling on in essays or presentations, you should aim to convey your ideas succinctly.

Everyone appreciates those who can get to the point across and showcase their understanding of the subject matter without the need for excessive verbosity.

Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Alphabet Inc, is one of the best public speakers due to his confidence, ability to command attention, and his vocal tone and pace. Source: AFP

3. Empathy and emotional intelligence

Here’s another effective communication skill that requires no speaking: empathy and emotional intelligence.

This is all about understanding the emotions and feelings behind the words of others. 

Empathy, a crucial component of emotional intelligence, allows you to connect with people on a deeper level and build stronger relationships. 

This communication skill holds significance in both group and individual interactions. In both cases, you attempt to effectively read and translate other people’s emotions and select an appropriate response.

For example, if someone is expressing anger or frustration, empathy can help you acknowledge and diffuse their emotion.

At the same time, understanding when someone is feeling positive and enthusiastic can help you get support for your ideas and projects.

Students can greatly benefit from practising empathy in their communication with their peers and educators.

Understanding the emotions of others in group projects, addressing classmates’ concerns, and connecting with professors on a personal level can enhance the learning experience. 

effective communication skills

The face says it all. Source: AFP

4. Non-verbal communication

Not all communication is spoken or written. Non-verbal cues, such as body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice, are significant in conveying your message. 

For example, nodding, maintaining eye contact, and using appropriate facial expressions indicate that you are engaged in the conversation and empathetic toward the speaker. This enhances your ability to connect with others without speaking more words.

These cues often speak louder than words and can impact how your message is perceived. It’s crucial to align your non-verbal communication with your verbal message to avoid mixed signals.

Students can employ this skill in both academic and personal contexts. When engaging in discussions, group projects, or presenting in class, you should be aware of your body language and how it complements or contradicts your spoken words. 

Plus, non-verbal cues can help you gauge the reactions and emotions of your audience, allowing you to adjust your communication accordingly.

By practising adaptability, individuals can navigate various communication scenarios with greater ease and convey their messages more efficiently and effectively. Source: AFP

5. Adaptability

Being an effective communicator means adapting to your audience and the context of the communication. 

Not every situation requires the same communication style; understanding this is essential for success.

Switching between formal and informal communication, adjusting your tone, and choosing appropriate words is a sign of a skilled communicator.

For instance, adaptability enables you to remain flexible and open to different perspectives in complex problem-solving discussions or negotiations. Instead of insisting on your point of view, you can adapt your communication to facilitate consensus and reach solutions more efficiently.

Students can adapt their communication to different academic and social scenarios. 

Whether you’re participating in a classroom discussion or engaging in a formal academic presentation, adapting your communication style will help you convey your message effectively, connect with your audience, and achieve educational goals.