Strengthen Professional Communication Skills
Jump down to: Consider your Audience | Improve Writing Skills | Improve Presentation Skills
Impress future employers by strengthening your communication skills. Communicate professionally by being clear, accurate, and succinct. Remember that communication is both written and oral and that it could be as informal as an email or introduction or as formal as a written report or interview. Also keep in mind that audience is important and communication should be tailored to fit your audience. Read more below on how to hone your communication skills to communicate more effectively.
Consider your Audience
As a professional, you will interact with a variety of people on and off the job. The most effective employees are adept at communicating with co-workers with similar backgrounds as well as those from other disciplines. Often, professionals will also need to communicate with others who rely on them as 'experts' for a particular field or topic, including clients, media, politicians, and the general public. Thus, it is important to have effective communication skills for a variety of audiences.
This involves determining what level of communication is appropriate and then adapting presentations - whether written or oral - accordingly. Some of these audiences will have an extensive scientific background and others will have none. For example, an entry-level environmental consultant could routinely communicate with the following audiences: co-workers at their peer level (e.g., other hydrologists), co-workers from other disciplines (e.g., chemists), project managers, executives, clients, technicians, drillers/tradespeople, site owners/managers, regulatory agencies, and stakeholders (e.g. community groups, parents, Nature Conservancy).
Ways to practice communicating to different audiences:
- Compare literature written for various audiences, like articles from Science and Scientific American, and attend talks and lectures for various audience types for examples of how to communicate to others within or outside of the sciences.
- Informally practice communicating to lay audiences (e.g. the community) by talking about your school work, research and/or work with family members or friends outside of your major - if they have a blank or confused look on their face, chances are you're communicating with too much jargon, haven't sufficiently explained jargony terms, or are otherwise communicating at too advanced a level.
Improve your Writing Skills
Writing skills are utilized in email communication as well as professional report writing, both of which are common in the workplace. Employers tend to prefer clear, common-sense writing that gets the point across rather than verbose reports that are heavy with jargon. Regardless of what you are writing, there are three guidelines you should always follow: know your audience, be clear, and keep the goal in mind.
Whether writing an email or a report, some common writing tips include:
- know your audience
- be professional - do not use slang terms or text abbreviations
- be clear and concise
- focus on the take-home message
- The On the Cutting Edge module about assessing student learning has some great tips on how professors grade written reports. Take a look at the guidelines and rubrics associated with good writing to get ideas.
Improve your Presentation Skills
The Elevator Talk
The elevator talk is a short, 1-2 minute conversation-starting technique that can be used to introduce and 'sell' yourself and your work to potential future employers or collaborators. While it is a short introduction, you will benefit by practicing it with peers and mentors. An elevator talk should be professional, succinct, and should be tailored to its audience, meaning, be cautious to not get bogged down with jargon that makes it difficult for your audience to understand. Learn more about elevator talks.
Short and Long Talks
Like the elevator speech, a talk should be aimed at the appropriate audience level, be clear, and free of superfluous jargon. Some presentation tips include:
- use clear and not overly complicated visuals such as images and graphs to illustrate points
- stay away from using strange fonts
- keep animations to a minimum
- humor is generally well-received, but be cautious on overstepping bounds with humor
- practice several times prior to giving your talk; this can help with timing, pacing, and overall comfort of giving the talk.
A general rule of thumb is to spend 1 minute on each slide and to allow time for some questions at the end of the talk; it is important to stay within the allotted time. Presenters should think about and anticipate how they would answer questions they receive following the talk (practicing in front of peers and colleagues can help to identify some of these questions). It's okay to say you don't know the answer to particular questions, but do so gracefully.
- The Effectively Communicating Your Research: From Elevator Talks to Job Interview Presentations webinar contains lots of good advice, especially for those interested in academic careers.
- If you make poster presentation at a professional conference, learn about some strategies for creating a memorable poster presentation provided in this GSA Today article.
- Learn from assessments: the On the Cutting Edge module about assessing student learning has some great tips on grading oral reports and poster presentations you can use to get tips and guidance on giving presentations.