How to Communicate Effectively

Six Parts:Creating the right environmentOrganizing your communicationsCommunicating with speechCommunicating with body languageCommunicating effectively in conflictConversation Help

No matter your age, background, or experience, effective communication is a skill you can learn. The greatest leaders of all time are also fantastic communicators and orators. In fact, communications is one of the most popular college degrees today; people recognize the value of a truly efficient communicator. With a little self-confidence and knowledge of the basics, you'll be able to get your point across in no time.

Part 1
Creating the right environment

  1. Image titled Communicate Effectively Step 1
    Choose the right time. As the saying states, there is a time and a place for everything, and communicating is no different.
    • Avoid starting discussions about heavy topics in the late evening. Few people will be thrilled to be faced with sorting major issues like finances or long range scheduling when they are the most tired. Instead, deliver messages and conduct discussions about heavy topics in the mornings or afternoons when people are alert, available, and more likely to be able to respond with clarity.
  2. Image titled Communicate Effectively Step 2
    Facilitate an open, intimate conversation. Choose the right place, one that provides freedom for the communication to open, flower, and come to maturity. If you need to tell someone something that isn't going to sit well (such as news of a death or a breakup), don't do it in public, around colleagues, or near other people. Be respectful and mindful of the person by communicating to them in a private place. This will also provide space to open the dialog into a wider and a more involved mutual understanding and ensure that the two-way process is functioning properly.
    • If you are presenting to a group of people, be sure to check the acoustics beforehand and practice projecting your voice clearly. Use a microphone if needed to ensure that your audience can hear you.
  3. Image titled Communicate Effectively Step 3
    Remove distractions. Turn off all electronics that could interrupt the conversation. If the phone rings, laugh it off the first time, then turn it off immediately and continue talking. Do not allow external distractions to act as crutches that sidetrack your concentration. They will distract both you and your listener, and will effectively kill the communication.

Part 2
Organizing your communications

  1. Image titled Communicate Effectively Step 4
    Organize and clarify ideas in your mind. This should be done before you attempt to communicate any ideas. If you are feeling passionate about a topic, your ideas may become garbled if you haven't already targeted some key points to stick to when communicating. Key points will act as anchors, bringing focus and clarity to your communication.
    • A good rule of thumb is to choose three main points and keep your communication focused on those. That way, if the topic wanders off course, you will be able to return to one or more of these three key points without feeling flustered. Writing the points down, if appropriate, can also help.
  2. Image titled Communicate Effectively Step 5
    Be crystal clear. Make it clear what you're hoping to convey from the outset. For example, your purpose could be to inform others, obtain information, or initiate action. If people know in advance what you expect from the communication, things will go more smoothly.
  3. Image titled Communicate Effectively Step 6
    Stay on topic. Once you start to convey your three main points, make sure everything you're saying adds to the message you intend to communicate and strengthens it. If you have already thought through the issues and distilled the them to the essentials, it is likely that helpful pertinent phrases will stick in your mind. Do not be afraid to use these to underline your points. Even confident, well-known speakers reuse their key lines again and again for emphasis and reinforcement. Remember to keep the overall message clear and direct.
  4. Image titled Communicate Effectively Step 7
    Thank your listener(s). Thank the person or group for the time taken to listen and respond. No matter what the outcome of your communication, even if the response to your talk or discussion has been other than you had hoped, end it politely by properly respecting everyone's input and time.

Part 3
Communicating with speech

  1. Image titled Communicate Effectively Step 8
    Set the listener at ease. You want to do this before launching into your conversation or presentation. It can help sometimes to begin with a favorite anecdote. This helps the listener identify with you as someone who acts like them and has the same everyday concerns.
  2. Image titled Communicate Effectively Step 9
    Be articulate. It is important to deliver your message clearly and unambiguously so that the message comes across in a way that every listener can understand. Your words are remembered because people instantly understand what it is that you are saying. This requires delivering your words distinctly and using simpler words rather than more complex ones.
  3. Image titled Communicate Effectively Step 10
    Enunciate clearly. Speak at a volume level that is guaranteed to be heard and that doesn't come across as too quiet or disengaged. Take special care to properly enunciate key points so that you avoid any kind of misunderstanding. If mumbling is a defensive habit that you have fallen into due to fear of communicating, practice your message at home in front of the mirror. It is sometimes best to discuss what you want to communicate with those you feel comfortable with. This helps solidify the message in your own mind. Be aware that any practice or refinement of your wording will help you to build confidence.
  4. Image titled Communicate Effectively Step 11
    Be attentive when listening and ensure that your facial expressions reflect your interest. Listen actively. Remember that communication is a two-way street and that while you are talking, you are not learning. By actively listening, you will be able to gauge how much of your message is getting through to your listener(s) and whether or not it is being received correctly or needs to be tweaked. If your audience appears to be confused, it is often helpful to ask the listener(s) to reflect back some of what you have said, but in their own words. This can help you to identify and correct mistaken views of what you have intended to communicate.
  5. Image titled Communicate Effectively Step 12
    Be vocally interesting. A monotone is not pleasing to the ear, so good communicators use vocal color to enhance communication. Norma Michael recommends[1] that you:
    • Raise the pitch and volume of your voice when you transition from one topic or point to another.
    • Increase your volume and slow the delivery whenever you raise a special point or are summing up.
    • Speak briskly, but pause to emphasize keywords when requesting action.

Part 4
Communicating with body language

  1. Image titled Communicate Effectively Step 13
    Recognize people. Sure, you don't necessarily know the people in your audience or that new friend in your group, but they're nodding along with you and looking knowingly at you all the same. This means that they are connecting with you. So reward them with your acknowledgment!
  2. Image titled Communicate Effectively Step 14
    Be clear and unambiguous with your body language, too. Use facial expressions consciously. Strive to reflect passion and generate listener empathy by using soft, gentle, aware facial expressions. Avoid negative facial expressions, such as frowns or raised eyebrows. What is or isn't negative depends on the context, particularly the cultural context, so be guided by your situation.
    • Be quick to identify unexpected behavior that suggests a cross-culture collision, such as a clenched fist, a slouched posture, or even silence.[2] If you don't know the culture intimately, ask questions about the communication challenges you might face before you start to speak with (or to) people in an unfamiliar cultural context.
  3. Image titled Communicate Effectively Step 15
    Communicate eye-to-eye. Eye contact builds rapport, helps to convince people that you're trustworthy, and displays interest. During a conversation or presentation, it is important to look into the other person's eyes if possible and maintain contact for a reasonable amount of time. Take care not to overdo it.– Use just as much eye contact as feels natural, about 2-4 seconds at a time.[3]
    • Remember to take in all of your audience. If you're addressing a boardroom, look every member of the board in the eye. Neglecting any single person can easily be taken as a sign of offense and could lose you business, admission, success, or whatever it is you endeavor to achieve.
    • If you're addressing an audience, pause and make eye contact with a member of audience for up to two seconds before breaking away and resuming your talk. This helps individual members of the audience feel personally valued.
    • Be aware that eye contact is culturally ordained. In some cultures it is considered to be unsettling, or inappropriate. Ask about this in particular or do the research in advance.
  4. Image titled Communicate Effectively Step 16
    Use breathing and pauses to your advantage. There is power in pausing. Simon Reynolds says that pausing causes an audience to lean in and listen. It helps you to emphasize your points and allow the listener time to digest what has been said. It also helps to make your communication come across as more compelling and it makes your speech easier to absorb and become comfortable with.[4]
    • Take a few deep breaths to steady yourself before you begin communicating.
    • Get into the habit of solid, regular breathing during a conversation, This will help you to keep a steady, calm voice and will also keep you more relaxed.
    • Use pauses to take a breather from what you are saying.
  5. Image titled Communicate Effectively Step 17
    Consider how your gestures come across. Use hand gestures carefully. Be conscious of what your hands are saying as you speak. Some hand gestures can be very effective in highlighting your points (open gestures), while others can be distracting or even offensive to some listeners, and tend to shut down the conversation or listening (closed gestures). It also helps to watch other speaker's hand gestures with an eye for how they come across to you. Emulate those you see that are effective and engaging. Notice that the most effective gestures are natural, slow, and emphatic.
  6. Image titled Communicate Effectively Step 18
    Keep a check on your other body signals. Be alert to your wandering eyes, your hands picking at fluff, your constant sniffling, shuffling, rocking, and the like. These small gestures add up and are all guaranteed to dampen the effectiveness of your message.
    • Have someone record your talk, then take the time to view your speech delivery in fast forward. Any repetitive gesture or unconscious habit will stand out like a sore thumb and will be somewhat comical. Once you have targeted such a behavior, it will be easier to modify your unintended body language and monitor its reappearance.

Part 5
Communicating effectively in conflict

  1. Image titled Communicate Effectively Step 19
    Place yourself on even ground. Do not stand or hover over the other person. This creates a power struggle and pushes the conflict to another level. If they are sitting, you should sit with them.
  2. Image titled Communicate Effectively Step 20
    Listen to the other party. Let them say how they feel. Wait until they are completely finished talking before beginning to speak yourself.
  3. Image titled Communicate Effectively Step 21
    Speak in a calm, level voice. Don't yell or make accusations about the other party or their actions.
  4. Image titled Communicate Effectively Step 22
    Let them know you have heard their point and understand their side. Take the time to make statements like, "If I understand correctly, you are saying,..."
  5. Image titled Communicate Effectively Step 23
    Don't try to finish the argument at all costs. If the person walks out of the room, don't follow them. Allow them to do so and let them return when they are calmer and ready to talk.
  6. Image titled Communicate Effectively Step 24
    Don't try to get the last word in. Again, this could lead to a power struggle that escalates and never ends. Sometimes, you have to agree to disagree and move on.
  7. Image titled Communicate Effectively Step 25
    Use "I" messages. When you're phrasing your concerns, try to start your sentences with "I..." and state clearly how their actions make you feel. This will make the other person more receptive to your complaints and more empathetic. For instance, instead of saying "You're sloppy and it drives me crazy," try "I feel that different levels of messiness might be a problem for us. Clutter is something that seems to work its way into my mind and limit what I feel I can do. Frankly, messiness seems to unsettle me more than it probably should."

Conversation Help

Sample Conversation Starters

Great Conversation Topic Examples

Sample List of Questions


  • Be careful with humor. While a little humor injected into what you are discussing can be very effective, do not take it too far and do not rely on it as a crutch to cover up the hard-to-say things. If you keep giggling and joking, your communication will not be taken seriously.
  • Make sure you do not have negative or apathetic body language.
  • Do not whine or plead. Neither is likely to instill respect or interest. If you are very upset, excuse yourself and come back to the discussion later when you have had a chance to think it through.
  • Don't ramble. This will lead to your message not being understood or taken seriously.
  • Make sure you make eye contacts while communicating.
  • Avoid being rude.
  • Look on the Internet for examples of great speakers in action. Survey some of the most viewed Ted Talks. There are plenty of role models instantly accessible through videos online. Treat them as your "personal communications coaches!"
  • If you are giving a presentation to a group or audience, be prepared for difficult questions so that you're not thrown off course and left feeling flustered. To remain in a position of communicating effectively, Michael Brown recommends a golden rule for handling difficult questions in the context of a group or audience. He suggests that you listen on behalf of everyone present, including asking questions and repeating the issue. Share the reply with everyone, which means moving your eyes off the questioner and onto all present in order to have the whole group "wear the answer." Capitalize on this shared answer to move on and change direction.[5]

Sources and Citations

  • Some elements of this article were sourced from FEMA, Effective Communication: An Independent Study, December 2005, at PDF document - downloads on clicking, a US government copyright free information source.
  • Center for Nonverbal Studies, ( CN), is an organization dedicated to the study of all forms of non-spoken communication; here you'll find a thorough explanation of the various forms of non-verbal communication.
  1. Norma Michael, How to Say What You Mean, (1988), p.33, ISBN 0-474-00303-5
Show more... (4)

Article Info

Featured Article

Categories: Featured Articles | Speaking and Listening Skills