How can I ever forget that particular school function day when, as a boy, I walked on to the raised platform, positioned myself behind the podium and faced the audience. And then it happened: All the hitherto excitement of my first public speech squeezed out of me leaving behind an uneasy emptiness borne of nervousness. Legs shaking and sweating gallons, I felt my voice vanishing from my parched throat even as my mind blanked out. I stammered and managed to utter one incoherent line and finally squeaked a “thank you” and left the stage obviously accompanied by none other than extreme humiliation.
We all have, no doubt, faced the above scenario at some point of time in our lives. I bet, the fear of speaking frighten us beyond anything on this earth causing us to shy away from the world and be locked in our room alone even when we know that it’s not the key!
Among the multifaceted forms of communication, let me zero in on a particular skill that prevails over other forms and is an inevitable yardstick of our success. Though we term it as soft skills, yet, ironically, it is quite hard to master! Of course I agree that there are few born with the inborn gift of gab ever ready to mesmerize the listeners with the power of their eloquence and confidence. However, for many of us – it’s not an open sesame!
Soft skills can be defined as the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, interpersonal skills, managing people, leadership, etc, that characterize relationships with other people.
Well if you ask a person about the definition of soft skills, you may probably hear the person terming it as “talking skills”. Recently, at a party, I came across a guy and struck a casual conversation. The guy kept talking, talking and talking with lots of gestures and gesticulations. Okay that was fine. The problem was: he just kept talking about himself: his ideas, his achievements, his problems, his business, his life – He didn’t even bother to ask my name! Wow! Talking skills! No wonder, people were always so willing to run away from him!
Speaking about soft skills, it’s not about just talking, not about memorizing a bunch of bombastic words and throwing them to the listener. It is broad term with wide meaning and huge sphere of elements – body language, tone, pitch, pause, pace the content, the delivery, the fluctuation of facial expressions, and so on.
Well, don’t you confine the soft skills only to public speaking; it is an ubiquitous skill - Whether you are convincing your client, talking to your seniors or juniors, cracking a good joke, interacting with a stranger, striking a business deal, speaking over phone, talking to your family or even bargaining with a vegetable seller!
Mathematically, while having a conversation, the level of interest shown to you is directly proportional to level of interest you show to others. Oh yes – it’s what we could say, the formula of: Give interest, Get interest! Especially, while striking a conversation with a stranger, one must consciously and tactfully ask about their hobbies, interests, career, business, etc, while, at the same time, expressing yourself in a legible manner so as to give the stranger a chance to know more about you. The idea is to get genuinely interested and not just pretending or faking. Well, it takes practice and patience, but over time, one is able to master it.
Many a times, you happen to attend a social event where everyone is a stranger to you. And what’s more worrying is that the people in the party belong to some other field of work completely different from yours. Well, believe me, in such a case, we always feel like we are in a hot crucible where our communication skills are severely tested. We have quite a hard time meeting the people and introducing ourselves. Recently a friend of mine faced this situation. She was a chartered financial analyst and attended a party full of artists and designers. While talking to an artist, she introduced herself and stated her degree. Well, the artist merely nodded, the technical sounding degree bouncing off his mind, and merely managed to say: oh..umm..okay!. Well, she understood the communication gap and tactfully explained that she was a financial planner, arranges finances, advises productive investments for a better return and was also a tax planner, helping people to save their taxes. No doubt, they had a creative discussion, and at the end of the day, the artist became her client.
So, the basic idea, particularly while talking to a stranger, is to introduce ourselves not just by degree or qualities but by also stating the worth of our degree or qualities and the benefits the stranger may get.
I was enrolled in a personality development course and we played a game called: The eye effect. We were divided into two groups: Talkers and Listeners. We were to have one-to-one conversation. Now, half of the talkers were secretly instructed to not to have an eye contact while talking to their respective listeners and other half were instructed to maintain a good eye contact. The listeners, of course, had no idea about this. The conversation began and continued for ten minutes. Then, the listeners were told to share their experience with everyone. What they shared was indeed exciting. Half of the listeners complained about the talkers not looking at them, having a bad eye contact. These listeners were actually enraged and felt insulted! The other half listeners were content and reasonably praised the talkers!
So, you must have got the idea from the above game. But you must be frowning with the thought that it’s not a big deal! Even a child knows this etiquette. But then, you cannot deny, that in many instances of our real life, we consciously or unconsciously, do not maintain a good eye contact. Isn’t it?
Kinesics-the body language like: facial expressions, body posture, fidgeting, fumbling, crossing your legs, even the tiniest movements of your eye lashes or lips communicate lot about a person. Communication experts almost always know whether or not are lying by merely observing his/her body language. In fact, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that body language speaks more than the tongue itself! The way of speaking must correlate to the body language. You cannot get angry with a smile on your face!
The internet-information-boom has benefitted the world at large; the advent of social media sites: Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter, etc., have definitely strengthened the connectivity, no doubt. However, since today’s teenagers spend most of their time in typing and texting messages rather than speaking or doing face to face interaction, it unfortunately hampers their soft skills and hence, their overall personal progress. A research has also shown that excessive indulgence in internet media can lead to feelings of loneliness, isolation, anxiety, and even depression because the child or teenager is unable to blend in with the society or friends due to lack of soft skills. Another research has astonishingly yielded that people fear public speaking even more than death!
Well, it would really take a series of books to conclude the complexity and intricacy of soft skills, but I would like to conclude that no matter how many piles of books you devour through, no matter how much you by-heart the techniques, the art of soft skills can be honed and hardened only through three “P”s: Practice, Practice and just Practice. Trust me; it’s just like learning to swim. You have to take the plunge! Good luck!