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Oral Communication

Oral Communication is expressing oneself clearly in conversations and interactions with others.
An employee demonstrating this competency:
  • Speaks clearly and can be easily understood
  • Tailors the content of speech to the level and experience of the audience
  • Uses appropriate grammar and choice of words in oral speech
  • Organizes ideas clearly in oral speech
  • Expresses ideas concisely in oral speech
  • Maintains eye contact when speaking with others
  • Summarizes or paraphrases his/her understanding of what others have said, to verify understanding and prevent miscommunication
Importance of this Competency
For most work, oral communication is the most frequent and most important means of communication. We use oral communication to express and explain ideas, to ask questions, engage in discussion, seek support, negotiate, make presentations, and leave voice mail messages. Even if your job involves extensive written or graphic communication, your ability to express your ideas orally is probably very important to your effectiveness. As more work is done by teams, Oral Communication will become even more important.

Oral communication includes a number of related abilities:
  • Speaking clearly enough so that others can understand your words (e.g., without mumbling, slurring words, or speaking with a heavy accent)
  • Speaking logically, so that others can follow your reasoning
  • Using appropriate grammar and vocabulary, that do not detract from your credibility
  • Maintaining and directing the flow of a dialogue (e.g., by paraphrasing what the other person has said, to verify one’s understanding)
General Considerations in Developing this Competency
Developing this competency is like learning a new sport. If you were starting to play tennis, you might look for opportunities to play, but you would probably not show significant improvement until you found a coach who could give you specific instructions, observe you trying to follow these instructions, and provide feedback and suggestions for improvement. To develop Oral Communication skill, you also need instruction, opportunity for practice, and constructive feedback. You can find these components in courses on public speaking and presentation skills. You can also learn by getting coaching and feedback from your manager or another coworker.
Practicing this Competency
  • Practice speaking clearly, without mumbling.
  • Before a meeting or presentation, think about the background of your audience. What examples can you use that would be familiar to this audience? What technical terms or jargon should you avoid using, because it will be unfamiliar to the audience?
  • Before a meeting or other situation where you plan to express your ideas, write them down on paper and find a clear way to organize them.
  • Practice maintaining eye contact during conversations, to show that you are attentive and interested.
  • During a conversation, periodically summarize or paraphrase what the other person has said, to verify your understanding, e.g., “You have expressed three concerns: (1) that the new product will have to be priced at a level that won’t be competitive, (2) that the development process is likely to take much longer than eight months, and (3) that the Sales staff may not understand and support it. Have I captured your concerns accurately?”
  • Look for opportunities to express ideas orally or to make presentations. Plan what you will say and evaluate your effectiveness in saying it.
Obtaining Feedback
Before a meeting or presentation in which you plan to express yourself orally, ask someone to observe you and to give you constructive suggestions on how you can express yourself more effectively.

During a presentation or meeting at which you are expressing ideas, when you see nonverbal signs that people are not following you, stop to check for understanding (e.g., “Are you following me?”). Then, if necessary, explain your ideas again, in a different way.
Learning from Experts
Listen carefully to someone skilled in Oral Communication. Notice how the person introduces his/her talk and how he/she communicates the organization of ideas. Pay attention to the choice of examples and stories. Observe the person’s pace, gestures, and animation.
Coaching Suggestions for Managers
If you are coaching someone who is trying to develop the compentency, you can:
  • Model good Oral Communication.
  • Provide specific suggestions and constructive feedback.
  • Notice and praise improvements in Oral Communication.
  • Provide opportunities for training in public speaking and presentation skills.
Sample Development Goals
By October 8, I will make an oral presentation of my competitive analysis to the Product Development Team. Before the presentation, I will outline my ideas and get feedback from Rob Sanders. After the presentation, I will ask for feedback on the presentation from Judy Johnson and Mike Babbitt.

During the week of October 7-11, I will maintain eye contact at least 80 percent of the time in all conversations at work.

By December 18, I will complete a course on presentation skills.


Cognition and Communication at Work, by Yrjo Engeström & David Middleton. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Dazzle ‘Em With Style: The Art of Oral Scientific Presentation, by Robert R. H. Anholt. San Diego, CA: Elsevier Academic Press, 2006.

Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss what Matters Most, by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen, & Roger Fisher. New York, NY: Penguin Putnam, Inc., 2010.

How to Talk So People Listen: Connecting in Today's Workplace, by Sonya Hamlin. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006.

Managing Difficult, Frustrating, and Hostile Conversations: Strategies for Savvy Administrators, by Georgia J. Kosmoski & Dennis R. Pollack. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2005.

Power Phrases: The Perfect Words to Say it Right and Get the Results You Want, by Meryl Steinunn Runion. New York City, NY: Morgan James Publishing, 2011.

Speak for Yourself: A Handbook on Practical Public Speaking, by C. Curtis Trent & Charlotte A. Gorman. Blaine, WA: Nottingham Books, 2001.

The Secret Life of Pronouns: What out words say about us, by James W. Pennebaker. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Press, 2011.

Voice Power: Using Your Voice to Captivate, Persuade, and Command Attention, by Renee Grant-Williams. New York, NY: AMACOM, 2002.


Decker Method: Communicate to Influence. Two days. Decker Communications. Tel. 877 485-0700. http://www.decker.com/what-we-do/group-training.php#communicate-to-influence  

Effective Executive Speaking. Three days. American Management Association. Tel. 877 566-9441. www.amanet.org/seminars/seminar.cfm?basesemno=2522

Execu-Speak. Two days. Frederick Knapp Associates, Inc. Tel. 631 329-2449. www.frederickjknappinc.com/execuspeak.htm

Presentations That Work. Two days. Booher Consultants, Inc. Tel. 817 318-6000.   www.booherconsultants.com/programs/oral/effective_presentations.html

Speak! Present! Influence! Two days. VOICE-PRO, Incorporated. Tel. 800 261-0104. www.voiceproinc.com/wspeak.aspx


See Appendix