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How to Improve Communication Skills

Expressing one’s self is harder than it seems, especially since communication protocol changes based on whom you’re speaking to and the specific environment you find yourself in. As a student, you will find the need for strong communication in a number of situations, such as presenting a group project to the class, running for student body president, or writing a guest column for the school paper.

Here are three universal tips that can greatly improve your communication in class and beyond:

1. Take a public speaking course.

My senior year of college, I took a public speaking course in Spanish. While not all public speaking courses are run the same way, I particularly enjoyed mine for the feedback it offered. At the end of our speeches, both my professor and the class at large would have an opportunity to offer up their praise and criticism. The feedback of the class allowed me to notice aspects of my speaking that I may not have noticed otherwise, such as the amount of eye contact I was making with the audience, or whether I was mispronouncing a word. On the other hand, hearing the things I did well affirmed my progress and improved my confidence. Yes, public speaking can be intimidating, but the sooner you accustom yourself to it the better, as you’ll inevitably have to put those communication skills to use in the workforce later on.

2. Learn new words.

Whether you’re trying to make a class presentation or simply hold a conversation with a good friend, the right vocabulary is crucial to getting your point across. For instance, did you know that fearful, apprehensive and afraid all mean something slightly different?

According to Merriam Webster, “Fearful implies often a timorous or worrying temperament (The child is fearful of loud noises). Apprehensive suggests a state of mind and implies a premonition of evil or danger (apprehensive of being found out). Afraid often suggests weakness or cowardice and regularly implies inhibition of action or utterance (afraid to speak the truth).” If you don’t choose your words carefully, you may end up saying or writing something you don’t mean and misleading your listener(s) or reader(s) as a result.

The beauty of this “tip” is that it can be implemented in a variety of ways. Word-of-the-day emails and calendars, vocabulary games, and even watching TV. I, however, have found the most effective way to be reading because it gives you the word in the broadest possible context – i.e. an entire scene or paragraph as opposed to a single phrase or sentence.

3. Put it in your own words.

From personal experience, I can say that one of the most useful communication strategies I’ve learned is repeating what I believe the other person has just said – in my own words.

In class this might look something like this:

Student: So the Civil War took place because the North wanted to abolish slavery but the South didn’t?Teacher: Yes, that was one of the reasons. But it was much more complicated than that. Some other reasons include X, Y and Z.

As you can see, this quick Q&A gives the teacher an opportunity to clarify the student’s misunderstanding and give additional useful information. Paraphrasing in the classroom not only allows you to confirm that you have heard correctly – it also ensures that you have the right information to study for the upcoming test.

I leave you with the encouraging words of author Brian Tracy:

“Communication is a skill that you can learn. It's like riding a bicycle or typing. If you're willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life.”

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