Learning Effective Communication Skills at Stanford

I attended Stanford, and while it was certainly a place of intense study and high level learning that required enormous amounts of work, it was still a college where students were looking for “easy” ways to get credits and finally get a degree.  Not every class was the most difficult class in the world, and certainly Group Communication was one of them.  Group Com was an interactive class devoted to public speaking and effective interpersonal communication skills.  While other classes at Stanford required long problem sets, complicated term papers, heavy reading lists…Group Com?  You had to show up and talk to people.  That was it.  No homework.  Easy, right?

Suffice to say that it was a very popular class for the above reasons, but once the class began, every student taking the class was blindsided with how hard the in class drills were to make build effective communications skills.  What seemed like a lark, and easy A or pass/fail, all of a sudden took on serious importance.  There were your peers at Stanford listening to you talk extemporaneously – basically, a bunch of geniuses that sounded like idiots.  Leaders, it was taught, are people who can communicate effectively.  Group Com, to many, became as important a class as a chemical engineering class, and in many ways more challenging, too.

We talked to many engineers and scientists and academics during the making of SPEAK, and all talked to us about the importance in their job to have effective communication skills.  Isn’t it more important to be a good engineer in black and white, on the paper, building effective models that can achieve amazing feats of practical construction?  Of course those are important skills.  However, the leaders of the projects, the ones who made it happen, were always the engineers who could stand on their own two feet and communicate effectively to engineers, executives, construction workers, programmers, you name it.  It didn’t always come easy for these people.  They’re techies after all, and the nature of that training requires long hours of thought and problem solving.  But those who could talk the talk and walk the walk, those were the ones who changed history.

How to Use Effective Communication Skills while Crafting your Online Profile

Whether you were the star town football player or the captain of the debate team in high school, there’s always a small sense of nerves that accompanies you when you meet someone. To worry about what that person will think is only human. Nowadays though, you have the ability to meet someone without shaking hands (well, let’s be honest, that was never a requirement), but to do so online.

We live in a world where online profiles exist and are used as a means to meet people. Whether you have an online profile on a dating website, a professional forum, or a community-based meeting site, these profiles are your representation of yourself. Here are some tips on how to use effective communication skills to portray yourself in a positive light.

Get Excited, Not Nervous

You can be anyone you want online. Of course, we want you to be who you are—don’t change (or lie)! What I’m saying is, you can be as confident as you’d like. No one has to know that you’re writing your online profile in your pajamas at 10 o’clock at night. Go into writing about yourself with a confidence. After all, you’re here to tell people how great you are, not bring up your faults (which we all have, by the way).

Play Up your Interests

Maybe you like to read comic books in the park or go running by the river. Or maybe you like to have movie marathons every weekend or get together with friends every Monday night at a new restaurant. Chances are that there’s at least one other person out there with the same interest(s) as you, who is looking for a new activity partner in crime. Use your effective communication skills here to voice what it is you’d like to do with someone else.

What Haven’t You Done?

Be sure to mention something you’d like to try. Maybe you’re scared to try a new food from a cuisine you aren’t familiar with, or maybe you’ve been dying to explore a new neighborhood to town. Someone else is, too! It’s simply a matter of using your effective communication skills to ask. Who knows, if you include this in your profile you could end up conquering a fear (or in my case, finally tasting squid).

Mention What You Don’t Want

While your online profile certainly isn’t a place for negativity, be upfront about what you expect from the online community. Maybe you want to meet people in your profession to network, maybe you want someone to participate with in your new hobby, or perhaps you’d like a date. Be honest and straightforward about what you expect. This is an advantage of representing yourself online, because really, would you ever shake someone’s hand and immediately say “Would you like to go rock climbing?”

Online profiles are the perfect place to present yourself and your interests appropriately. Using this article you can now incorporate effective communication skills to meet new people online while remaining confident in yourself!

Effective Communication Skills, and Me.

Effective communication skills – before the making of SPEAK, I honestly had never even thought of how important public speaking or effective communication skills could be.  It never crossed my mind, to be honest.  But as we looked for a documentary to make, and find a compelling subject matter, fear of public speaking began to be very interesting.  Then we met the Toastmasters, and then we started to understand how effective communication skills permeate daily life.  It’s everywhere.  Being able to communicate effectively, especially in a public setting to a large group of people, all of sudden seemed the key to personal fulfillment, even political power.  All of a sudden, a quirky documentary about a basic human fear began to feel like a documentary about something much more.

When I think of LaShunda Rundles, for example, and her role in SPEAK, I see how her story, and how effective she was at communicating her story, has changed thousands of peoples lives.  Audience members email us all the time saying they didn’t know how important speaking was, or that before they heard Lashunda’s speech speaking was an afterthought, something that you had to do at a wedding or some social affair.  But it’s everywhere.  And being able to communicate effectively, to speak compellingly, all of a sudden seemed like the secret recipe for success, in work and in life.

SPEAK, then, became a journey of personal discovery for both Brian and me, on many different levels..  Intellectually, the discovery was how important communication on a group level was to self-actualization.  Professor John Daly broke it down for us simply – studies have shown that people who are extroverts and take communication seriously are more prone to success  and happiness.  Even in math, they get better grades than the quiet ones in the back of the room that are too afraid to raise their hand.  On a daily basis, if you have effective communication skills and are able to speak compellingly in public, your ability to rise in your career and life will be greatly affected.

Strange how documentary films can take you from one understanding of life to the other simply by turning on the camera and being curious.  We get to take the ride with the audience and learn with them.  Put simply, what seemed like a film about an obscure and quirky subject matter became a story of vital importance to what it means to be essentially human.

How to Use Effective Communication Skills to Improve Efficiency in the Workplace

I’ve never quite had a problem with communication, in general. As a child, my parents had to keep a close eye on me at restaurants to ensure I wasn’t sneaking off to join other tables and start conversations with people I didn’t know. Let’s just say strangers weren’t something that was ever concretely defined for me. That said, it’s taken some time for me to learn how to use effective communication skills in my adult professional life.

Time is precious, especially when we’re talking about time that is paid out by a salary (and if you’re lucky, includes benefits). Your colleagues and manager do not have time for unnecessary interruptions and so I’ve come up with a list of how to incorporate effective communication skills into your workday to ensure efficiency.

Have a To-Do List

Before including other people in your day-to-day tasks, make sure you know your own responsibilities first. Make a to-do list for yourself every day and cross off the items as you go. If, as you go along you find you’ll need feedback or a material from a coworker, add that discussion to your list.

Follow Up

Email and instant messaging is often used in the workplace these days and can be a great way to ease tension in chats (thank goodness for the smiley face). That said, while quickly asking a colleague if you two can meet to discuss an issue at a later time, be sure to follow-up on your request. The follow-up is one of the most important aspects of effective communications skills, and so once you have the go-ahead from your colleague about meeting, send them a formal calendar request to communicate that this meeting is important.

Prepare Appropriately

In grade school we were always given a list of items we needed to complete our activities. Without an item, a project could easily be slowed or interrupted. When you go into a meeting of any sort, be prepared with topics you would like to address. If you assume that your colleagues will need additional materials, do not be hesitant to provide them. They will be happier to be over prepared, rather than lacking.

Be Upfront Immediately

Issues can arise within the workplace, just as in any relationship. Perhaps you feel credit wasn’t given to you (and you’re up for a raise) or that you disagree with how an upcoming situation should be handled. Do not wait around for someone else to bring up the subject. If it concerns you, take responsibility upon speaking to the appropriate representative (be it your manager or HR) immediately. (Note: it is important to know that should an issue, professional or personal arise in the workplace, you understand the protocol on who to address about your concerns.) Remember, time is important, and the longer you wait, the more the issue could grow.

Having a to-do list, making scheduled meetings, following-up on discussions, and being upfront about concerns are four ways you can use effective communication skills to form a more efficient workplace environment. Good luck!


How effective communication skills changed my life

I’m an introvert. You wouldn’t know it from the volume of my normal indoor speaking voice but I am. Comically speaking I’m an extroverted introvert: I’m so introverted that I compensate with that loud voice. I used to dread parties. Job interviews gave me near panic attacks.

Before I adopted effective communication skills, I was a very isolated young adult, which can lead to problems when you’re trying to meet people are become employed. I’m not sure what changed or when those changes happened, but slowly I developed effective communication skills for all walks of life. Well, almost. I did severely geek out when I met George Clooney (but that just means I’m a human being with a working heart).

In the Workplace

Before you can enjoy weekly happy hours with your coworkers, you need to be hired. Of course. A job interview can be daunting. Maybe you’re applying above your level of expertise. Maybe you exaggerated one or two items on your resume. Maybe the person interviewing you is 7 feet tall. If this is your dream job you’re interviewing for, none of those obstacles matter. Articulate why you’re ready for a more advanced position based on your years of related experience, and why you’d like to cut your teeth with this particular employer. Do your best not to lie on your resume, but do revise your resume to highlight strengths from previous employers that will back you up during the interview. And if the person interviewing you is 7 feet tall, don’t crack any jokes. They’ve heard them all.

Once you land the dream job and your other dreams start to expand, you might find that you deserve a pay increase: the illusive raise. When you are ready to ask for one, make your case as professional as possible. Make a proper appointment with your supervisor, have evidence of your hard work in mind, and use effective communication skills to articulate why you deserve that raise.

Outside the Workplace

For a while after you graduate college, you’ll find yourself attending the same parties with the same people, and there’s a comfort in that, but it won’t last. You will get tired of some of these personalities and find yourself wanting to branch out.  But how can you effectively strike up a conversation with a stranger?

Ask questions about them. Make it your mission to get to know a new person as much as you can. Instead of chiming in to relate or go off on a tangent, broaden what the people have said into further discussion about themselves.  Before you know it you’ll have made a new contact and maybe even a friend!

- Marissa


6 Commandments for Effective Communication Skills

Reports of social anxiety have ballooned to biblical proportions (pun intended, and acknowledged). Why are we so bold on an online message board and so shy in real life? When was the last time you looked your Starbucks barista in the eye?

We at SPEAK are here to help. We proudly present to you the 6 Commandments for effective communication skills with some science, some tough love, and of course, a sense of humor.

  1. Thou shalt not picture thy audience naked

What nut job came up with this pearl of wisdom anyway? It’s one thing if you’re talking to Kate Upton, but more often than not you’re talking to an Average Joe. There’s nothing wrong with Average Joe but we just met and we’re not quite ready for that mental picture.

The sentiment is what matters. The science behind picturing your audience naked is not only a way to alleviate your anxiety with a quick laugh, but also a reminder that your audience is human, just like you. Whether you’re ordering a cheeseburger or interviewing to be Google’s next CEO, you can relax a bit knowing that you’re talking to another human being. Well maybe not at Google. We heard they have robots.

  1. Thou shalt make eye contact

It can be daunting, but a gold star in the handbook for effective communication skills is maintaining eye contact. It assures your audience that you have their undivided attention and that you are picking up what they’re putting down.

Don’t panic, start with baby steps. Try it with your friends. You might be surprised to find out you haven’t been giving them 100%.

If you really can’t pull it off–

  1. Thou shalt fake eye contact

Here’s an old trade secret: if full eye contact still scares you more than Insidius 2, instead, focus your eyes on the space between the person’s eyes, right at the top of the bridge of their nose. Voila.

  1. Thou shalt know thy audience

You may be the foremost scholar on nuclear physics, but if you were booked to speak to a kindergarten class you might need to tweak your material. Being aware enough to consider who you’re talking to is a staple of effective communication skills.

  1. Thou shalt have confidence or fake it till thou makest it

Shoulders back and strut! If you need any help in this matter, hop over to YouTube and search “Beyoncé”. When Beyoncé is ready to communicate, her audience listens. She exudes confidence. For all we know, the minute she leaves stage she needs an hour alone to herself, but on stage, we see confidence for days. Go ahead. Be Beyoncé.

  1. Thou shalt listen (and not wait for their turn to talk)

There is a big difference between listening and waiting for your turn to talk. You might be hearing your best friend complain about their insensitive boyfriend for the 80th time, but make sure you are present and listening. Then when you have absorbed her story, iron out a game plan for her to leave that chump.

Our list of commandments is a good place to start. What are your commandments for effective communication skills?

The 5 Most Effective Communication Skills

Effective communication skills do not happen by accident. Getting up in front of a roomful of people, whether that audience is filled with family, friends, colleagues or strangers, can be downright terrifying. However, with time, effort, practice and a positive attitude, a person can learn effective communication skills.

Fit the Audience
A speaker quickly loses the audience if the demographics of the audience are not taken into consideration. A speaker needs to tailor the speech or talk toward the audience. While information to different audiences may be similar, it needs to be focused on the needs and wants of each audience. Before formulating the speech, speakers need to research their audience. Care enough to know the type of individuals who will make up the audience. Don’t come across as talking down to them.

Create a Bond
The best speech in the world will miss if the speaker thinks all that is necessary is to project information. Whether the setting is an intimate setting with only a few or an auditorium filled with expectation, a speaker needs to find a way to create a bond with the audience. Share something personal, something those listening can understand and to which they identify. Once a bond is created, an audience will listen not to a stranger, but to someone who shares a bond.

Read Body Language
Become aware of body language. Speakers need to be careful in what they project by their words, speech patterns and how they present their physical presence. A speaker with arms crossed, alerts the audience of discomfort, of distance and, maybe even, hiding something. Bold, wide marching across the stage may come across as confident or threatening.

It is also important to watch and listen to members of the audience. When the audience begins whispering or shifting in their seats, they are projecting boredom or disapproval. Body language can help a speaker stay on target with the audience.

Articulate Clearly
Microphones make many speakers forget they still must project clearly. Speakers need to hold their chins up, look out directly and project toward the audience. They need to practice often enough to know their material without ducking their heads every moment to check notes and know the material well enough they don’t mumble and fumble over words. If they don’t, they may project fear, unfamiliarity with the subject or lack of self-confidence. If speakers want the audience to listen, they need to smile and articulate clearly.

Follow up
The best speakers follow up. This may include a question and answer session or asking members of the audience to fill out a short survey about the topic and how the speaker came across.

Effective communication skills means worrying less about self and more about communicating with the audience.

Effective Communication Skills For Professionals

As a professional, you work continuously for your professional development. You refine your business skills regularly to boost your demand in your field of profession. For this purpose, one of the important tools at your disposal is your communication skill. The best of business skills can’t help if effective communication skills do not exist.

Communication is not limited to verbal and written communication. It’s also visual, i.e. your body language. You can communicate via your appearance, mannerisms, etc. Whether it’s public-speaking, giving presentations, or making your boss/team members listen to what you have to say, effective communication skills are a must for every professional.

Here I will share the basics of effective communication skills in a series of posts for your professional development.

Follow the points below to learn how to communicate better and improve your business skills:

(1) Prepare what you want to communicate and stick to the topic.
In a business environment, there is no room for extra time or second guesses. So decide what you want to communicate before you go up to your boss, stand in front of an audience, or write a memo. Keep it short and to the point. Don’t pile on irrelevant details. You will waste time, not impress anyone with unnecessary details.

(2) Overcome fear.
Fear can make you stammer while you speak, or lose concentration while you write, the result being a confused audience. Lose your anxiety. Concentrate on what you have to communicate.

(3) Avoid arguments.
Every effect has a cause. Your communication will invoke some reaction from others. Listen to or read the reactions carefully. Handle feedback in a positive manner patiently. If you get into arguments, you will lose goodwill. And you certainly don’t want to lose that goodwill.

(4) Mind your body language.
When you are speaking to a person or an audience, avoid negative gestures like flapping your hands around while talking, standing with your arms crossed over your chest, chewing pens, etc. Dress comfortably. And pay attention to your posture.

Whether you communicate with your boss, or prepare a presentation, the above points can help you design your communication in such a way that others understand you, and you are pleased with the outcome. Practice these points to develop more effective communication skills for your professional development.

How to Have Effective Communication Skills for Healthier Relationships

Having effective communication skills is extremely important. If you can’t get your ideas across to another individual, you will have an extremely difficult time with social interaction. Unfortunately, effective communication skills are not taught in the classroom, so many people go throughout life without being able to communicate the way they want to. Fixing this problem is absolutely crucial to having a fulfilling social life. No matter if you need to get an idea across to your boss, or would like to go out and make new friends, having effective communication skills will help ensure that you have the tools necessary to do whatever you want.

Effective communication skills don’t only come from your ability to talk. There are plenty of people who could talk all day long, but they have awful communication skills. To have effective communication skills, you need to know what people actually want to talk about. You want to make sure that you can get your ideas across without triggering negative reactions in the person you are talking to, to ensure that you get your point across.

Where most people come into communication problems is when they have a specific idea. When you present an idea to another person, they can react three different ways. They can have a positive reaction, a negative reaction, or a neutral reaction. With effective communication skills, you can almost eliminate the negative reaction possibility, because you will know exactly what needs to be done in order to have a pleasant interaction with the other person. This is especially true when presenting an idea to someone who might already be opposed to the idea.

It is important to present ideas to people based on their own personality. For example, if I was presenting a new way to make my job easier to my boss, I would need to approach it from the angle of what would help the overall company. Saying you want to work from home because it would be more convenient for you is far less effective than saying that you want to work at home because it triples your productivity, thus helping the company. Knowing the personality of the person you are talking to before you start talking to them can really help you know what angle to approach them from. This way, you will have the best possible chance of getting your idea across without any problems.

Gaining effective communication skills can be hard work. This is especially true if you’ve had a difficult time communicating your entire life. Don’t worry, though, now is a great time to change that! You can start by focusing on presenting your ideas from an angle that will help the other person relate to what you are saying. If you can do this consistently, you will find that the vast majority of people will agree with you, or at least understand what you’re trying to say. This is just the first step, but it will help you get that much closer to having effective communication skills.

5 Powerful Effective Communication Skill Secrets

Possibly the most important skill you could ever learn is how to communicate effectively with other people; having the right type of effective communication skills will help you in all areas of your life; that could be in your work, with your partner or spouse, with your friends, or anyone that you have to communicate with and have to get a point across to.

An effective communication skill makes it so much easier to be understood and listened to, leaving you feeling much calmer and more appreciated, thus eliminating a lot of tension that people have in their lives.

But what is an effective communication skill? There are a few of them that will help you in your day-to-day communication.


This is an effective communication skill for avoiding and defusing tensions and disputes. If people feel that you respect their point of view and have listened to it, then to the vast majority of people it won’t matter whether they still disagree with you or not: they will be polite about it. There is no need to worry about differences of opinion; these are healthy so long as people remain calm and state their opinion politely.

Respect is a really effective communication tool for allowing you to do that because it emphasizes the other person’s right to have a different viewpoint to your own. There doesn’t have to be a right and a wrong in everything.

2. Focus on the other person

Trying to put yourself in the other person’s shoes should help with communication. You should be able to understand and appreciate what he or she is saying more easily. Really listen to what they are saying and give them a chance to speak.

A good point to remember is that is impossible to speak and listen at the same time, so you need to make sure there is plenty of time when you are not speaking, so that you can hear what the other person has to say.

Take note of what is being said. No other communication skill counts for as much as being able to understand what is said.

3. Read between the lines

Yes, assumptions can lead to a whole host of problems, but there is a middle ground. Often, people can be nervous of speaking their mind, but their worries and their feelings don’t go away; they just fester and make people feel bad.

You can employ a little of your knowledge about the person you are talking to, to know if they are holding back on you. You could then gently probe in the area or reassure them that they are safe to speak their mind.

Knowing where the gaps are in what is being said depends a lot on being sensitive to the next point:

4. Body language

It may surprise you that more of your message is conveyed through body language than by verbal communication. Make sure that your body language says that you are open and willing to listen, and watch out for what the other person’s body language is saying to you. Reading body language is a really effective communication skill.

5. Consider your response

Too many conversations are thrown off course by an over-emotional response. That wrecks effective communication and can be avoided by taking a deep breath, stepping back and thinking before you speak.

One effective communication skill that is often over-looked is the acknowledgment of gender differences in communication. It may sound stereotypical, but men often communicate on a factual level, women on an emotional level. It can lead to misunderstandings.

Keeping all of these points in mind will help you to get your message across and to learn valuable insights from other people. They all complement each other so you should try to use each of these techniques in your conversations, instead of thinking which of them is the most effective communication skill.

© 2012 Tumbleweed Entertainment
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