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Umm…could you improve your communication skills?

I used to struggle with speaking too fast, saying ‘umm’ too often and throwing in a few ‘you know’s and ‘basicallys’.

It was always when I didn’t feel terribly confident in what I was saying, was afraid that I would be interrupted or felt a little frazzled.

The impact these bad communication habits had on how well I conveyed my message was brought home when I listened to a recording of myself. Up until that point, I had no idea I was coming across to others as hesitant and lacking self-assurance.

I wanted to master the skill of communication, so I joined Toastmasters.

Toastmasters is a terrific organisation that helps members become comfortable when speaking in front of a group of people.

There are similar organisations to Toastmasters, and they broadly do the same thing: they help you identify and rectify unhelpful communication behaviours in a supportive group who are all striving to be better.

Thanks to Toastmasters, I am very comfortable speaking in front of a group. My confidence has improved and I am a far more improved communicator in one-on-one discussions.

Building your communication skills is a crucial element to your success when working with patients. Only a fraction of your message is the actual words that you are saying. The rest of the impression that you give is how you talk and what your body language is conveying.

As a team member who is helping to inform and educate patients about their oral conditions, it is important that you come across as knowledgeable, confident, supportive and with some authority. They are coming to you for advice and are subconsciously seeking reassurance that they can trust you to help them.

I encourage everyone to join a group such as Toastmasters, as it is an excellent way to gain swift results. However, if you do not have the inclination or time to attend club meetings then there are other useful ways to improve your communication skills.

  1. Use your smartphone to record yourself. We are always our own harshest critics. Watch the recording to pick up on areas you may wish to improve upon.
  2. Ask your colleagues for support. Let people around you know that you want to improve your communication style and ask them to alert you when you say any filler words, or when you are speaking too rapidly (or any other habit you wish to break).
  3. Role-play discussions with patients. Role-playing is a powerful way to improve our communication skills. Whether you are the speaker, the listener or an observer, you start to identify what effective communication looks like.
  4. Pause. The single most powerful tip my Toastmasters mentor shared with me was the power of the pause. Many of us think that a pause in conversation is disengaging, but it actually increases the listeners’ interest in what we have to say. The pause is also what helps you from speaking too fast and the pause also replaces those annoying filler words. It takes mindfulness, but if you start intentionally speaking slowly with pauses, you will give your mind the chance to think of and select the words you wish to say rather than simply letting anything tumble out.

Improving the style with which you communicate can have a powerful impact on many areas of your business and personal life. I ask you, could you improve your communication skills?