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Commentary

The forgotten art of (oral) communication

12:09 AM December 02, 2015

After years of writing for newspapers, one sometimes forgets that “writing” is just one of two forms of communication. The other is “oral communication,” which we do 70 percent of the time in our daily lives.

Realizing that saying “Your check arrived without a signature” is more effective, if more polite, than saying “You did not sign the check” made us realize the need to be refreshed on the do’s and dont’s of verbal communication.

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After years with Toastmasters International, a “Tricks and Tips on Communication” forum by academicians sponsored by Finex (the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines) gave us a refresher course in public speaking. Realize that in a survey of 10,000 people in the United States, public speaking scored more dreaded points than both flying and dying as an activity of which most people are most afraid.

But since one “cannot achieve what one cannot communicate,” there is the challenge stating that true leadership always requires that one be skilled in both the written and (especially) the spoken word.

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One good axiom to start with is that “quantity is not quality.” One can suffer from a “diarrhea of words” and still suffer from an “anemia of substance.” Brevity, also, is the key: Short sentences win.

Excessively long sentences are a waste of time (for both speaker and listener) and can be mistaken as an attempt to hide lack of substance. Unless one is like the stentorian Winston Churchill, any speech beyond 10 minutes can bore. Worse—in the written world, of course, where there is a deluge of competing visual information—a memo reader has an attention span of 45 seconds.

A trick we have learned is that to be understood better, one must write as if one were speaking. But speaking as though one were writing is a catastrophe.

Few realize that 80 percent of communication is not by words, but by body language.

Stooping while talking is a sign of lack of energy and makes everyone fatigued as well, much like a limp handshake says one does not really like meeting you. “How do you do?” said with a Good Friday look is equivalent to asking “When did you resurrect from the grave?” And your name is not Lazarus.

Genuine eye contact with the audience displays warmth. Hands in pockets is casual, and you are not FPJ, our dear Lord. Folding hands means you are not receptive to your audience or insecure with your whole being.

The cardinal rule is to dress for the occasion. In a formal engagement, striding into the room in a suffocating top and abbreviated skirt may make people mistake you for Lady Gaga doing the entertainment act. But voice is king.

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The TV hit “Your Face Sounds Familiar” is predicated on the correct theory that one’s voice is one’s second face. Thus, voice tone, pitch, tempo and volume must stay on the moderate side, not on either extremes.

Of course, vocal variety is important—for emphasis, pauses can be used—but always pregnant with meaning. Distractions such as too many ahhhs (like the late Ferdinand Marcos) and “you know” in excess are not encouraged. Talk straight off, and one will sound self-assured. Vocal variety is the spice of speech.

Pia Redempta Manalastas, chair of the Management and Organization Department of the Ramon V. Del Rosario College of Business at De La Salle University, shared her ABCD of good speeches: A for accuracy, B for brevity, C for clarity, and D for dignity.

Accuracy results from impassioned research and faithfulness to truth. Brevity is a sign of the mastery of the subject matter because one can distill a dissertation in a few words. Clarity: Listen to Lea Salonga or Tina Monzon-Palma pronounce their words—that’s clarity. But it also means the substance is captured in picturesque, appealing words, and there is logic in the sequence of the presentation. Dignity means using refined words with finesse, respectful of the sensibilities of the audience.

To make a good presentation, one must have a purpose of the speech that defines and unites all the sentences therein. One must know the audience. A story is told—true or not—that former prime minister Cesar Virata, an economist and engineer, spoke about economics when talking to engineers and about engineering when talking to economists. Both audiences left impressed by an alien topic delivered in an understandable manner.

If possible, visit the venue and test the sound system. Be prepared to speak using one’s voice without audio help. What if the sound system malfunctions? PowerPoint is now the vogue. But one slide a minute, please, and do not read the slides verbatim. The audience can do that for you.

Try to stick to the logic of the presentation and put one’s best foot forward, as one’s “general attitude” will always show in the personality one projects. It’s like going to war or a competitive sport: Nothing can substitute for preparation. Thus, practice, practice, practice.

Finally, space the speech appropriately. Here is a general rule in terms of allocation of time: introduction/heading, 15 percent; body of speech, 70 percent; ending, 15 percent. A good speech relates the beginning and the end, like a snake whose head must kiss its tail.

Rome was not built in a day, and a good speaker is honed over time.

Let us not forget this one mode of communication. It can turn the tide to personal success.

Bingo Dejaresco (dejarescobingo@yahoo.com) is a financial consultant, media practitioner and political strategist, and also a former banker and president/charter member of the Presidents Toastmasters International. He is a life member of Finex but his views here are his own.

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TAGS: oral communication, Public Speaking, writing
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