Great leaders communicate and great communicators lead. – Simon Sinek
Students, professionals, and many at organisations always have always posed a question that seems to resonate with almost everyone; It is often the question, more so, the reason for selection, rejection, acceptance or any consideration at an event or events that involve induction of employment at any business or business-related positions.
The question is, ‘how important are communication skills to their business?’
The answer is always in affirmative. Many leaders would vouch that communication skills indeed play an important, an imperative, and an undeniable role in their organisation, and at any cost, must not be compromised in any fashion whatsoever; any sort of compromise is considered unethical and could have dire consequences – there are many tales that provide sufficient lesson on such enterprise.
The Indian Context
Further one must also question the aspect of communication we are attempting to refer here; the reference is particularly made in the Indian context. More often than not, one will see English language as the elephant in the room when communication skills seem to be at stake. They usually mean English language communication skills! We can safely propound at many levels that communication skills are akin to English language communication.
English is the language of some small-scale and many large-scale businesses, at least, in India. The same may be interpreted in a completely different fashion where English is the primary language, e.g. the UK, the US, etc. The communication skills at such regions will usually juxtapose with interpersonal, behavioural, or related business skills albeit the same is also expected in the Indian context as ad addendum where the core of the issue is obviously and majorly enveloped with English language communication skills.
A report published in November 2016 by Cambridge English ‘English at Work: global analysis of language skills in the workplace’ states that Over 90% of employers in India say that English language is significant for their organisation. We also know that almost all of large-scale businesses in India use English as a medium of conducting their business. In fact, many interviews are almost always conducted in English.
Therefore, the need to develop such communication skill is even more so a greater focus of many intervention today. This short article attempts to elucidate the 3-Ps of oral communication with special emphasis on English language.
Once mastered, they can impressively enhance speech delivery of any individual.
The Language Function
Before we dive deep into the topic, it is safely assumed that you have a plausible foundation in English. An understanding of how a language functions will prove useful in our trajectory. Hence, to concretise the foundation of how language functions, I refer to linguistics on the style of Noam Chomsky whose theories have transformed the arena of modern linguistics in many a myriad way.
Chomsky points out two aspects of any language acquisition and delivery in his theory of Generative Grammar; linguistic competence and linguistic performance, which in 1986 he revised as I-Language (Internal Language – from a probable grammar that seems universal), and E-Language (External Language – The observable production from the I-Language). What we are chiefly concerned in this article is the observable language, call it E-Language or the performance aspect generative grammar.
For the sake of simplicity, I’d like to hold on to ‘performance’ – the delivery part of the language with focus on the 3-Ps that have known to enhance meaning of any utterences.
Our focus, as mentioned above, therefore will be English linguistic performance, stated by Chomsky as ‘the actual use of language in concrete situations’.
It means our emphasis on HOW of what we communicate. The ‘HOW’ here relates to the meaning-making mechanism of speech, our utterance, and ‘what’ refers the content, the subject of our communication.
The Key to Language Fluency
A lot of literature on language acquisition, comprehension and delivery has established that linguistic competence is built by the comprehensive acts of reading and listening, and productive acts of speaking and writing – Listening, Reading, Speaking, and Writing – the four key aspects of any language learning.
The structure and pattern of sentences, the grammar, the meaning making – pragmatic element of the speech which means pronunciation, and register (vocabulary related to the subject of study) further enhances and develops when these acts are performed continuously, consistently and credibly.
Who Will This Help?
Students – young and new. Particularly, ones making a transition from campus to corporate. English language communication skills is one of the most sought-after employable or transferrable skills that companies look for. Almost all of the properly drafted job descriptions have excellent communication skills as one of the leading parameters or qualifiers, and companies have known to consider this parameter in an uncompromising manner. Mess up your English communication skills and you definitely have a one hundred percent chance to be rejected. At a management level hiring, it’s even more demanding. You not only are required to communicate effectively in English but also are required to negotiate, persuade, and articulate like a leader – these are advanced communication skills.
Corporate professionals – They could be at any level from any stream or line of business. Some that catered only to Indian markets now are going global, hence the need to learn proper articulation in English seems even more imminent. Some professionals are on the verge of a life-changing opportunity; a promotion or a new job offer that has the opportunity to elevate their career progression that demand superior communication skills.
Almost anybody who wishes to work on polishing their articulation: the art of speaking clearly, credibly and comprehensibly.
The learning of these skills become even more pertinent in the wake of Covid19 crisis where most of our interactions are going online. Meeting, conference calls, virtual lectures, etc. definitely demand the application of paralinguistic features – the 3-Ps we are giong to discuss. They have the potential to keep the audience engaged, interested, and more often than not entertained.
So, if you wish to develop your act of speaking, i.e. articulation, here are the 3-Ps.
These are the 3-Ps of English language performance on developing your voice; Pitch, Pace, and Pause – Thorough practice on these elements can have the potential to develop YOUR OWN STYLE of vocal delivery. The awareness and practice of the these elements will ensure that you sound clear, credible and comprehensible.
The modulation of our voice.
Our voice has a distinct pattern of modulation as no two persons sound the same. People, however, can definitely sound similar – The key to understanding accents! We learn the modulation of our voice from each other through our interaction with the environment we live in, our family, friends, and the whole wide world we have been exposed to.
You can tell by listening acutely to a person accent that he/she hails from a particular region, country at large; it is the uniqueness in their accent they carry. The accent has a peculiar intonation pattern, pronunciation, and placement of sounds. Research suggests that by the age of 11 or 12, you developed a fairly comprehensible accent, and so the pitch is identifiable.
However, as the success of any communication depends on the response, it is important that you develop a pitch that is even clearer, more credible and globaly comprehensible. The best part of the whole thing is you can definitely work on enhancing your accent, your pitch. A caveat, a consideration you must know that at no point in time you must make an attempt to get rid of your mother-tongue, or first-language influence as it is ingrained and will remain imprinted on to the mosaic of your brain! Getting rid of it will definitely prove a futile exercise. You have to learn to beautify it the best possible way; I say you must be proud of the uniqueness you get into your speech by your unique accent. The deal here is to sound comprehensible.
To this effect, it is also imperative to know that there is no right way or the wrong way of speaking. Any way is a unique way. Clarity, comprehension, and credibility must be the criteria to decide the best course of speech delivery. You see any of those criteria in dilemma, the following can help.
Firtsly, begin learning to modulate by imitation – one of the ways is to imitate the speakers you admire; people that you look up to for the way they speak. I look up to Stephen Fry, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, BBC News English and the like for English. I look up to BBC news Hindi and OSho’s speech delivery for Hindi.
Model their pattern by imitating them as closely as possible. Pay attention to the way they intonate, the way they stress on certain words, the way they pronounce novel words, and the way make an attempt to enhance the meaning of what they are stating. You will in process develop a keen acuity for listening. That’s when certain vocabulary will begin to imprint on your memory.
The learning, here, I call subconscious where I do not have to look for a word to map the meaning of my speech, but where meaning is produced the words from richness of my memory. The former effort is a travail, a worthless exercise.
The patterns of speech, the intonation on sentences, and the inflection of their voice should seep into the dailiness of your conversation. People will tell the difference. They will definitely say that you sound so different. For many you might come across obtrusive, unusual, or at times a crack. Make an attempt to sound like them at least till the time you develop your own style. Eventually, you will be compelled to develop YOUR OWN STYLE as that’s what it has to come down to, and it will come down to. YOUR OWN STYLE.
Having said that, you should be aware of cultural implications of your pitch. You don’t want to conduct mockery or defamation of any kind towards any community even in stark innocence; the activity has to be one of learning, and therefore in a place and time that appreciates your learning. Know thath there will be times when congratulation can mean commiseration! The accent might dicatate it so. Such times in the period of your learning are normal, however one needs to have a judicious eye, and an ear to such dealings. Once you adjust, you will reap the fruits gracefully. Also remember that pitch enhances sarcasm and satire in speech production as intonation is a property of pitch. Play with it gracefully, and at your own risk!
Appropriate intonation pattern develops interest in the audience. Generally, there are three ways people intonate: The questioning tone, the statement tone, and the command tone.
E.g. You work here. This statement can be said in a questioning tone, a statement (general) tone, or a command tone. You will see and hear that the meaning changes completely with intonation.
Hence, imitation, modelling, and subsequently developing your unique intonation style is the key to enhancing the pitch, the accent – YOUR STYLE.
The speed and frequency of your speech.
This element is natural and can defintely be enhanced just like pitch. When you are communicating in a business environment it is even more imperative that you sound comprehensible and intelligible.
Sometimes a fast rate of speech might make you come across confusing. It may take the listener a lot of effort to unpack the meaning of your fast-paced sentences. Whereas, a slow rate of speech can be irritating and unnerving to many. In business, time is money and rest assured many wouldn’t wait for you to complete your sentences! The business will pack their stuff and move on before you explain what you mean by what you meant to say.
The meaning of your speech has to be sufficiently quick and yet intelligibly clear. It very aptly goes with Shakespeare who said, ‘Brevity is the soul of wit…,’ in his famous play ‘Hamlet’. Brevity is the key to moderate your rate and frequency of speech.
Remember we often listen to the meaning of what is uttered rather than the enunciations, letters, or unique utterances themselves. It’s always a good idea to speak in a moderate, comprehensible, and intelligible pace and learn from listeners expressions and confirmations.
For a crowd, being a bit slower, yet engaging can be the key and for an individual, a tailor-made speech can be the key – To each their own. Your audience will definitely give you a lot of signals to train you on your rate of speech with the overarching crtietion of being understood.
If you have a natural disposition to speak fast then know that there might be a possibility of being misunderstood as rampant delivery of words and phrases might mix the meaning of what are saying. There could be distortions, e.g. He likes meat too can come across He like me too, or the other way around. The best strategy therefore to manage rate of speech is to pronounce key words clearly.
Make an honest attempt to pronounce them the way they are supposed to be pronounced. The key words mentioned above are also called the content or information words. They are usually nouns, adjectives, adverbs, main verbs, and negations. They are usually longer words. Without them, the sentence cannot stand. Pronounce them clearly – That’s a technique by itself.
The meaningful breath.
It refers to the invisible punctuation marks. It is used to further and enhance meaning of what you are uttering. We speak with emphasis on phrases as they are usually uttered in shorter breath that resemble short pauses.
Let’s take this sentence, ‘Our month-end review meeting has to be postponed by a week at least to accommodate this important client visit.’ Try saying it aloud, and you will notice that you read it in parts or phrases that make sense to you, e.g. our year-end meeting – a short pause – has to be postponed by a week at least – another short pause – to accommodate this important client visit. That’s the role of pause we are talking about here. Saying the whole sentence in one breath may come across unusual and way too fast.
The meaning is enhanced when we group the phrases appropriately. Pauses have the authority to distort meaning of sentences. They go along with sentence-stress, also known as prosodic stress where stressing on a particular word in a sentence can change the meaning of the sentence.
E.g. ‘You are responsible’ stressing on either ‘you‘, ‘are’ or ‘responsible’ can change the meaning of the sentence – pauses can dramatize its effect; it can move from a statement of compliment to one that of blame. Another example of change of meaning is as follows.
The manager says his boss is exceptionally irritating.
Deliberate placement of pause will decree the meaning of this sentence.
1. ‘The manager says – a short pause – his boss is exceptionally irritating,’
2. ‘The manager – a short pause – says his boss – a short pause – is exceptionally irritating.’
You very well know who you mean is exceptionally irritating – the pauses do the job artfully. I say your intention pontificates the pauses in your speech.
Just like pitch and pace, imitation is the key to enhance pause too. However, careful and deliberate listening plays a vital role here too. Every language has unique style of pausing and articulating therefore paying attention to the way how pauses distort the meaning of the language you are speaking in is of utmost importance.
One of the ways to further master this is through recording your voice as you read a credible piece of writing. After you have recorded it, play it for yourself and assess your understanding. Share it with your friends, colleague, and ask them for feedback. Of all the feedback you would get, you must definitely ask for feedback on if they understood you on the first go, and if you sounded engaging and interesting. Besides, critically ask yourself if the meaning is clear in one go, then listen to the pauses again to evaluate how they have helped in generating the intended meaning. After thorough practice, you will arrive at a stage where you begin to play with pauses to enhance your speech.
Focusing on developing the 3-Ps of articulation should definitely enhance your speech delivery. You can use this to rehearse your speech, presentation, or any form of discourse. The intelligibility and comprehension of your delivery will be greatly enhanced.
Sufficient practice means a compelling and impressive display of a changed verbal behaviour in your daily routine.
The 3-Ps not only work with English, but also with any language you plan to master. What you have to consider is obviously the uniqueness and the beauty of the language you are studying. To think about it, this can definitely facilitate rapport and trust in your dealing with people.
Practice, rehearse, and present with your style; the style you will have developed through 3-Ps on developing your voice.