For college grads looking for a job, verbal communication is the most important candidate skill, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. In fact, verbal communication was ranked higher than proficiency with computer software programs, technical knowledge related to the job, and even the ability to make decisions, the ability to work in a team structure, and the ability to plan and organize work.
But how many college students are developing or honing this essential skill? A UCLA psychology study found that an increase in time spent looking at a smartphone or other type of digital screen results in a decrease in the ability to understand the emotional responses of others. The study concluded, “Replacing social interaction with screen interaction seems to reduce social skills.” At the same time, the digital generation has grown accustomed to using text message abbreviations, Emoji’s, and the Like buttons to communicate. This raises questions over how well these young people can transition into the real world if they’re accustomed to speaking like they write and lacking in areas of emotional intelligence critical to effective communication?
Toastmasters teaches students verbal communications skills
Nevertheless, some organizations, like Toastmasters International, are helping college students to develop their verbal communication skills. Toastmasters is a worldwide nonprofit educational organization with over 15,000 clubs worldwide. Each club provides local members with public speaking opportunities where they learn to:
- Answer questions on the spot
- Effectively develop and present ideas
- Sharpen listening skills
- Learn leadership and management skills
- Foster productive work relationships
Jim Kokocki, Toastmasters 2015-2016 International President, tells GoodCall, “The majority of employers are struggling to find candidates with the soft skills they need and communication is the most in-demand soft skill in most industries, including engineering, finance, healthcare, information technology and sales.”
By providing a supportive practice environment with constructive feedback, Kokocki says, “College students have the opportunity to gain experience and improve their verbal communication skills as they become more confident communicators.”
Why is verbal communication so important?
Vickie Cox-Lanyon, director of career services at Clark University in Worcester, Mass, tells GoodCall that solid verbal communication skills are critical to success in the workplace. “From interviewing and negotiating a job offer to presenting ideas to a boss, a team or a board of directors, being able to effectively convey one’s message is essential.”
Cox-Lanyon says most classes at Clark University are small and use a discussion-based format. “Students regularly lead discussions, deliver presentations, and teach mini-lessons.” And she says the school also offers a variety of dialogue courses that teach students how to listen effectively and analyze conversations.
But students who attend large, lecture-based schools can also hone their verbal communication skills. “I recommend participating in co-curricular activities like student leadership, volunteer and internship experiences, oratorical contests, research presentations, and even improv groups.”
According to Brian Braudis, a Philadelphia-based executive coach and president of The Braudis Group Consultants, the best way to learn to communicate quickly, concisely, and effectively is by staying in learning mode. “If you want to stay warm, stay by the fire; if you want to be a good communicator, stay close to the material you are communicating; as they say in the world of speakers, ‘Know your material cold.’” And Braudis tells GoodCall that organizations like Toastmasters provide an ideal format for building communication skills, because, “You only have a few minutes to get your point across, and you receive feedback on how well you did.”
However, if you don’t have a local Toastmasters and you’ve already graduated from college, there are still ways to hone your verbal communication skills. Dr. A.J. Marsden, an assistant professor of human services and psychology at Beacon College in Leesburg, Florida, offers the following 5 tips:
- Read, a lot. This builds your vocabulary and helps with understanding verbal communication.
- Listen when others are speaking to you. Listen to understand — and not just to build a response. Those with the best verbal communication skills are also superior listeners.
- Find friends who will role-play with you, or dig up an old presentation you gave in your junior year and present it again (even if you’re presenting it to yourself).
- Pay attention to non-verbal communication. When you are talking with your significant other or with friends, pay attention to hand gestures, facial expressions, body movement, etcetera. Pay attention to your own non-verbal communication as well. What signs are you sending out?
- Remove distractions when talking with others. Put your phone away and actively engage in the conversation. Ask questions and give careful thought when answering questions.