Simple yet effective tips to fine-tune your verbal communication skills — R Voice

Simple yet effective tips to fine-tune your verbal communication skills

This article first appeared on Editage Insights.
R Voice Team
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Note: This article has been written by Amanda Sparks (Professional blogger, dedicated writer and tutor, passionate about psychology and making learning easy). It was first published on May 27, 2020, on Editage Insights.

The journey of a researcher is an amazing experience, full of discoveries and exploration. Whether you are at the very beginning of your academic journey or if you have already made some progress by publishing a few works, you know that the joy of spreading your knowledge with others and communicating your findings is like a dream come true.

You may also have noticed that as a researcher, regardless of the stage of your journey, you need to rely on good communication, not just of the written kind. I am talking about verbal communication – formal and information discussions, chats, meetings, or presentations. Speaking with supervisors, fellow researchers, audiences at academic conferences, science journalists, and others is a big part of your life. Verbal communication complements written communication and can help you distinguish yourself to be recognized in your profession. Needless to say, to make your journey as a researcher as successful and enjoyable as possible, you need to have good verbal communication skills.

In this article, I will talk about the role of verbal communication for some areas of your work as a researcher.

The role of verbal communication skills

You may feel that as a researcher you don’t need to worry about verbal communication because you primarily need to focus on written communication – in the form of emails or journal articles. This is not true. As a researcher, you need to heavily rely on verbal communication for several things:

  • Collecting information and data for your research
    • Field surveys
    • Interviews with study participants
    • Community-based projects
  • Communicating with colleagues and seniors or supervisors
    • Building a working relationship with your supervisor or PI
    • Communicating with your colleagues or lab mates
    • Working with your collaborators
  • Networking
    • Speaking at panel sessions
    • Participating in science talks
    • Giving talks at conferences
    • Making poster presentations
    • Meeting other researchers at conferences to deliver an elevator pitch for your work
    • Participating in discussions with policymakers and entrepreneurs
  • Professional development
    • Talking to recruiters and hiring managers
    • Appearing for professional or academic interviews
    • Defending your PhD thesis

Each of these could have a tremendous impact on your academic life and progress, and ultimately, on your career. That is why developing verbal communication skills should be an important goal for every researcher.

Tips for effective verbal communication

Below, I have listed some tips for effective verbal communication in some of the situations you might most commonly find yourself in, including conducting research, communicating with dissertation mentors, and networking.

1. Communicating with research participants

Let’s say you’re conducting a qualitative study where you need to conduct a series of interviews with participants. Most researchers go through a steep learning curve with the interviews they need to conduct for their research and reducing bias in qualitative research, not just in terms of data collection but also effective verbal communication.

The best way to start is to plan the interviews carefully and build a guide (for yourself) for taking participants through the questions. If you are feeling less confident, consult your supervisor for guidance with conducting the interviews. This may help you get more clarity and confidence about how you can conduct your interviews.

Also, while preparing for interviews, consider cultural differences to ensure the appropriateness of the questions or how you are asking them.

Next, during the interview, try to build a rapport with your research participants by approaching them with a curious and open, yet professional attitude.

Good example: “Could you please tell me about your experience at the hospital?

Bad example: “Identify the rules you had to follow during your hospitalization.”

2. Communicating with dissertation mentors or supervisors

To ensure the successful completion of your doctoral degree, you will need to have frequent face-to-face meetings and formal or informal discussions with your dissertation mentor or supervisor. You must be well prepared as your mentor or supervisor could be really busy and not be available as frequently as you would need them to be. You need to make the most out of every opportunity you get to speak with them.

Verbal communication tips to ensure productive and focused meetings:

  • Give your supervisor/mentor facts, not emotions and speculations. “Try your best not to let personal problems and feelings undermine the outcome of your project,” recommends Nathalie Branson, a project manager at TopWritersReview. It is important to focus on the problems you are facing and the quality of your discussions rather than the emotions you are experiencing.
  • Be honest if there’s something wrong. Your relationship with your supervisor may not always be educational – you may occasionally need to express ideas or opinions that differ from them. Remember to be polite in such situations and present your views with a sound logical argument. If you’re concerned about something related to your dissertation, inform them about it right away. Is the project taking too long to complete? Is it not going the way you expected? Are you concerned about the fact that you might exceed the budget for your research? Is there a person you are finding difficult to communicate with? Don’t hesitate to seek the clarifications you need. Remember that if you express your ideas in an assertive manner, there’s a chance that it might cause some disagreements or misunderstandings with your mentor. Always ask your mentor for feedback, and end your conversation with a decision or clear next steps, especially after a long discussion).

For example, at the beginning of the meeting, you can share some good news about the progress you’ve made.

3. Communicating with audiences at conferences

Attending an academic conference or presenting a paper at one could be one of the most exciting moments of your career (if you do it right and with confidence).

This is the perfect opportunity to let your verbal communication skills shine and let everybody know that you’re a confident speaker willing to engage in discussions. Here are some verbal communication tips to take advantage of this opportunity.

While attending a conference

  • Mingle and introduce yourself. If you’re attending a seminar or session, try sitting next to someone you don’t know and simply introduce yourself. This will work as a good conversation starter that could lead to new professional relationships.
  • Ask fellow researchers about their work. This is a great way to start a conversation with someone who loves their job - let’s be honest, researchers love talking about their work - so you could make many new acquaintances this way.
  • Be ready with an elevator pitch. Prepare a short introduction, of about 90 seconds, to talk about yourself and your work. Make it interesting. Those who listen through your elevator pitch will be most likely to engage with you further during the conference.

While giving a conference talk

  • Focus on critical details. You can begin your speech with a broad theme, but it’s necessary to focus on the precise details needed to understand your main points. The urge to share how much time you spent researching, experimenting, and then writing your project may be hard to curb but you risk to tire your audience out so they will miss the crucial ideas. Use simple sentences, try to share as many examples as possible, and take relevant pauses.
  • Know how quickly you need to speakCarol A. Fleming, a communication coach and author of It’s The Way You Say It, says that you need to spend about 1 minute on saying about 160 words. An easy way to practice this speed is to prepare a 160-word script and record the time you take to narrate it - use a stopwatch.
  • Throw the floor open to questions after your talk. Take the time to hear the question out and respond to it the best you can. If you are unable to respond to a question, it’s fine to politely acknowledge it and say that you would like to catch up after the session/conference to discuss this further.

Concluding thoughts

To many people, researchers spend most of their time in the lab in their white coats. The reality is pretty different: researchers and scientists take an active part in numerous conferences, lead workshops, conduct interviews, record videos for YouTube, or even lead science podcasts. In any of these instances, verbal communication skills are an absolute must. The training you need to undergo as a researcher may not have changed much but verbal communication is becoming increasingly important for academic success.


  • Andrea Hayward
    Andrea Hayward Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 941 admin

    When it comes to communication skills among researchers, I've always felt that written communication takes precedence over spoken interaction. But this insightful article has made me reconsider and reflect.

    The part I personally identified with are the tips on speaking at conferences or making presentations in general. It's so important to think about things like speed, how much information is too much information, audience fatigue, how you respond to questions if you don't have an answer, etc. It's something that I've gotten better at with time. But guidelines like these would've been extremely helpful had I come across them before.

    What about you? Which aspects of your work life require great verbal (spoken) communication skills? Are there any tips here that you identify with? Any personal tips you'd like to share with the community?

    @Omololu FAGBADEBO @Soumi Paul @Gayatri Ramachandran @Michael Matulile @Abdirisak Mohamed Abdillahi @Vivien Kretz @Praveena Ramanujam @DEBPRASAD DUTTA @Isurika Sevwandi @Yufita Chinta @Adaora Anyichie - Odis @Aysa MC @Suman Mundkur @Karen Hall

    I'd love to hear your thoughts on this ☺️

  • Isurika Sevwandi
    Isurika Sevwandi Member Posts: 120 ✭✭✭✭
    edited July 8

    @Andrea Hayward great piece to read and end this week so I can think on it further during this weekend!☺️

    I have recently understood the importance of spoken communication even as we again had to switch to the online mode of teaching due to the programmed power cuts scheduled all across the country as of the economic crisis. In order to convey liveliness in spoken communication whether it is in person or in an online presence, I think authenticity plays a major role. That is actually what I am seeking everywhere whenever I listened to a podcast or watch a youtube video; if it doesn't come from the heart of the speaker. say it is something he has read, experienced, or come across, I don't feel a bond with that story, it never convinces me to listen further. He/ she might be delivering a masterpiece but for me, authenticity is the number one ingredient in speaking.

    I don't know how to tightly knot this idea but sometimes people listen to you not because you are presenting an amazing speech or your slides are full of trending facts and proven information but because you are sharing a story that everyone can resonate with; whether it's because of your tone, your mood, the smile on your face or the way you have combined your words together to convey the message without letting our expectations down. Sometimes I watch hours-long YouTube videos where the youtube is in just one position throughout the video, with no animations or graphical illustrations at all but because it feeds your craving heart and you feel it is specifically created for you. I am not sure whether it's the same for you but for me, the "flow of the story" is worthier than the value it adds to me because if you do not present your ideal pitch in an attractive way, no one is going to spare a second.

    Regarding tips and hacks on maintaining an engaging audience while you present, this is what I used to do with my students.

    😀 Start with a question to arouse curiosity and test the existing knowledge/ identify gaps/ urge them to think out of the box (I used to have centimeters as an online survey tool to build word clouds on the discussion topic prior to my class. students absolutely loved it.

    😀Leaving students to ask questions via any means (raise had option, chat, Q&A, private meetups, or via email/ WhatsApp group)

    😀 Asking students for ideas/ opinions/ own stories on the topic free of judgment to encourage engagement

    😀Getting feedback (both compliments and critiques) at the end of the lecture

    😀 Follow-up activities to apply the knowledge gained and extended discussions to support further criticisms

  • Andrea Hayward
    Andrea Hayward Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 941 admin
    edited July 8

    @Isurika Sevwandi thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts. You've covered such an important aspect of researchers' lives, where spoken communication is crucial - teaching and delivering lectures. Sure, this might be applicable only to researchers who are also faculty members but it's a great addition to this article 🙂

    I am so sorry to hear about the schedule power cuts you have to deal with. I read about the economic crisis but I had no idea how it was affecting day-to-day life. It must be so difficult to carry on with work and life as usual 😥

    I really like your point about the speaker's authenticity and how this impacts you as a listener. I think we can all learn an important lesson from this. If we're not conveying passion and excitement about our work, then we can't really expect to inspire interest in others. You're so right! Learning how to work a room such that the audience is journeying through your story with you is a skill - one that is quite difficult to master, but the results are always worth the effort.

    I also love the tips you've shared. The one about piquing curiosity at the start is an important one. I usually do it with an audience poll but a question works equally well. I also love that you're encouraging application-based activities for your students. In this way, you're extending your interaction with them for a much longer period of time, even after the lecture is complete.

    P.S. As I always say, your students are truly blessed to have a teacher like you to guide them and help them learn new things in such a safe and engaging environment 🤗

  • Isurika Sevwandi
    Isurika Sevwandi Member Posts: 120 ✭✭✭✭

    Much thanks @Andrea Hayward for appreciating my passion for teaching as always💝 I always feel much lucky to be associated with curious minds where I can inspire them at least a bit to broaden how they perceive this world while adding both sensitivity and sensibility while teaching. Before delivering lectures I love to do thorough research on the topic (depending on the circumstances) and I usually try to wear my students' shoes so I can deliver what I want, but the way they want to receive it (hope it makes sense)😉

    Regarding the crisis situation in Sri Lanka, I know even we can't imagine what is going on but we are thankful to the Indian government for all the support extended; providing material goods and specifically oil to run my country. We've been experiencing scheduled power cuts from the start of this year, critical school examinations were postponed, already 17 people have died waiting in lines to get petrol/diesel and the prices for both goods and services have skyrocketed compared to the income received by a typical household. Most of the universities are closed provided not able to provide food for students due to fuel shortages and many are leaving the country as it is the only option they can foresee🤐

    Being a teacher seems a relief to become from this reality and spend time with students but knowing that they are also harshly hit by the circumstances, focussing is a real challenge nowadays. Pray for my country!😥💐

  • Adaora Anyichie - Odis
    Adaora Anyichie - Odis Member Posts: 128 ✭✭✭✭

    Thank you @Andrea Hayward for the tag, verbal communication skills are a must-have for everyone. You need it as a Researcher (when you administer a questionnaire to respondents), or as a Project Manager, especially during an intervention. The act of storytelling prompts action for positive change.

    During my Viva Voca, it was storytelling that helped me to score an A.

  • Soumi Paul
    Soumi Paul Member Posts: 202 ✭✭✭✭

    I love the article for its relevance. Confidence/spontaneity in verbal communication comes from what you are speaking know the best. Reading and updating yourself is much more necessary. You better be aware of questions that would come your way and be ready to answer them. At the same time, accept the fact some people only prefer criticizing without taking any answer in return. Also, sometimes, you may not think of an immediate reply. I believe a good communicator can handle both praise and criticism.

    P.S. Your subject knowledge (love for your work) will allow you to enjoy two-way communication. However, any non-English speaker generally suffers from fluency despite having considerable knowledge. Under such instances, only trying to speak more in English can help. People who are not fluent English speakers must avoid the fear of being judged.

    Communication is the key to thriving! 😊

  • Andrea Hayward
    Andrea Hayward Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 941 admin

    @Isurika Sevwandi I can't imagine how terrifying it must be to live in the midst of all this uncertainty 😥 I wasn't aware about the support from the Indian Government and am glad to hear that it's helping to provide some relief. I sincerely hope that the worst is over and that officials are able to get the situation under control soon. Will keep you in my prayers and thoughts 🙏

    Being a beacon of hope for your students under such trying circumstances must be so emotionally and mentally exhausting 😣 If you're ever feeling like you need to talk about it or simply vent, please know that we're all here for you on R Voice. Don't hesitate to reach out.


    Coming back to what you said about your teaching methods, I am simply amazed. I loved the part about "adding both sensitivity and sensibility while teaching". You've been teaching with empathy. No wonder your students have such a strong bond with you!

  • Andrea Hayward
    Andrea Hayward Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 941 admin

    I completely agree with you @Adaora Anyichie - Odis. Storytelling really helps with engaging an audience, even it's just a few people. And you're right - it does prompt action for positive change, especially when the listeners feel like they're going through the journey with you. Glad to learn that this helped you during your viva 🙂

  • Andrea Hayward
    Andrea Hayward Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 941 admin

    Great points @Soumi Paul! I too try and anticipate questions if I'm ever making a presentation. It helps me prepare better. I am very intrigued about what you've said regarding being prepared for different types of listeners. Any tips on how we could do this? It's usually more difficult to deal with criticism. Any and all ideas are welcome 😊

    I also agree with what you've said about the challenges experienced by those who don't have English as a first language. I feel like in such cases, even the listener has a responsibility. I often interact with ESL (English as a second language) researchers and academics, and I've found a few things to be helpful. For one, I try to speak as slowly and clearly as I possibly can. I also try avoiding any slang or specific words that might not be universally understood. I try to convey my message as simply as possible and I am also very patient when it is my turn to listen. In case the opposite person is ever struggling to think of a word, but I can make a guess based on context, I try and offer up that suggestion to ask if that's what they're referring to. In my experience, this makes for a very effective two-way communication and both parties feel seen, heard, and respected. Do you have any experience in this area? Would love to hear about it.

  • Soumi Paul
    Soumi Paul Member Posts: 202 ✭✭✭✭

    @Andrea Hayward, I am still in the process of learning tackling different listeners. As per my observations, the constructive critics have patience and expect an answer. So, under such criticism, you may give an immediate reply, or you may say I shall look into this matter for sure, thank you for pointing it out, etc. On the other hand, stubborn critics are happy to criticize you and ready to break you down no matter how good you attempt to reply. In those cases, you can only humbly say thank you, whatever is appropriate, and maintain your profession highness. I try my best that under no circumstances does other negativity influence me, and I believe in retaining professionalism no matter what life situations I experience. So, I try to perform my beliefs.

    I interact with ESLers every day. Even I am an ESLer myself. However, the academics I interact with have much difficulty speaking (to some extent writing) English. Thereby I keep my expression and behavior always humble and helping towards them. When you want a person to overcome difficulties, eliminate their insecurities of being judged. Besides, I believe (based on observations) body languages speak before actual words. So, body language has to be person/situation-specific. Mostly subconsciously, these changes happen only sometimes need a conscious effort.

    Communication is the key to thriving! 😊

  • Yufita Chinta
    Yufita Chinta Member Posts: 156 ✭✭✭✭

    Oh my.... This is a tough topic for me, @Andrea Hayward

    In my case, I have lost my trust to talk with other researchers. I have limited my communications, especially oral ones, with other researchers or supervisors. I think I do not lose my confidence in presentations and meeting new researchers. But, due to the Covid pandemic, all scientific face-to-face meetings I planned to attend have been canceled or changed to web-based meetings. It worsens my recent communication style.

    I do understand the tips, but all that I have now is giving myself a chance to find a new way and style of communicating with people, especially in academia. During my hard time, I clearly know that people in academia are not always friends. So I remind myself to slow down in communication and not to count (how many people I know and communicate with).

    I was and maybe am a talk-active. To slow down, I change to less talking and more listening. Is this a tip from me? Maybe 😜

  • Andrea Hayward
    Andrea Hayward Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 941 admin

    @Yufita Chinta thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts ☺️

    I can relate to what you're saying a great deal. The pandemic and the reduced social interaction because of it, has surely made face-to-face communication a bit more complicated and also more awkward (for me, at least). This might seem silly but I feel like I never know what to do with my hands during in-person conversations now. I've become so used to placing them on my desk or am busy taking notes on my laptop. So when I'm in person, I struggle to figure out where I should keep my hands. I'm sure I appear quite uncomfortable to the person I'm taking to. Have you experienced anything like this.

    I'm sorry (and also sad) to hear that you've lost trust in your communication skills. As someone who has enjoyed your company virtually several times, I want to take a moment to reassure you. Speaking to you is always a great experience for me. Your passion and knowledge always come through and it's always easy to follow the message you intend to convey. You also come across as a very calm and kind person, and this definitely increases the opposite person's comfort levels ❤️

    I really like how you're approaching this change. You seem to be taking it in your stride and instead of labelling it as negative, you're viewing it as something that's new. And that's exactly what it is. 🙂

    P.S. I think all of us could learn how to be better at listening. So thank you for the reminder 😃

  • Andrea Hayward
    Andrea Hayward Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 941 admin

    @Soumi Paul this is very interesting. Thanks for sharing! I did some reflection after reading your comment and realized that I too have interacted with both kinds of listeners - those that provide constructive feedback and critique, and others who simply want to point out flaws in your work. I like how you've decided to handle such situations. Negative comments can and do influence us, and if we let them get to us too much, it could results in us feeling afraid the next time we have to make a presentation or speak publicly. I try to approach such comments from a learning standpoint. I ask myself if there's anything I can learn from these comments or if they're pointing to an area in which I could do some improving. If yes, then I duly note them. But if not, then I try not to spend too much time thinking about them.

    "When you want a person to overcome difficulties, eliminate their insecurities of being judged." - THIS IS SO POWERFUL! I'm going to carry this piece of wisdom with me. Thank you! 🤩

  • Yufita Chinta
    Yufita Chinta Member Posts: 156 ✭✭✭✭

    @Andrea Hayward I feel more positive after reading your response. Thank you for giving sweet comments about my personality. I'll tell you a secret: I find and grow the skill of being kind in R Voice. I learn a lot from you too. So thanks to R Voice and you 😍

    I don't think I confuse myself about my hands during face-to-face interactions. Maybe because I really limit the oral communication (face-to-face and on-line) and turn almost 100% of email communication. When I directly talk to my supervisor or friends or families, I cross my fingers (with relaxed mood) and focus on their faces. Maybe this could help you.

  • Soumi Paul
    Soumi Paul Member Posts: 202 ✭✭✭✭

    @Andrea Hayward, 😊! I am happy to know that my ordinary line has power! 🤗

    Communication is the key to thriving! 😊

  • Andrea Hayward
    Andrea Hayward Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 941 admin

    @Yufita Chinta glad to hear that my comments made you feel a little better. "I find and grow the skill of being kind in R Voice" - I cannot even begin to explain how much this sentence means to me and how happy it makes me. Thank you for kick-starting my week on such a wonderful note 😍🤗

    Thanks for the tip on crossing your fingers during face-to-face interactions. I think this would definitely help me be a little less fidgety and more focused 😅