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Being able to communicate with confidence is a game changer. It’s the difference between getting people to believe in you and your organization, or causing people to quickly forget about you and your cause.

If your professors and campus administrators are inspired by your passion, they’ll invest in you and your college experience. If employers trust in you, they will hire you. If your fellow students believe you, they’ll get behind your cause and you don’t just have a team – you’ve sparked a movement.

During my 10-year career working in the television industry as a reporter and host for networks like NBC, PBS, BET, Nickelodeon and more, I interviewed Grammy and Oscar Award Winners, Heads of State, and top CEOs. Though many of the people I interviewed excel in their work, one thing many struggle with is basic interpersonal communication skills. In fact, many can be painfully awkward in public.

Is this you? Do you have a minor case of social anxiety? Are you more comfortable online rather than off? Is a good conversation for you a Gchat?

If so, take a deep breath. I have good news. Being less awkward is easier than you might think.

Here are five surefire steps you can take to improve your communication skills and become less awkward.

1. Use the one out breath rule.
People are always going to ask you some version of: “What do you want to do?” Have a clean answer ready to go – with one caveat: Use one exhale. By the time you run out of breath, you should have completed your answer. If not, you’re blabbing. If you’re clear and concise, your reward will be hearing, “Tell me more about that.”

2. Winging it is for amateurs – stay on message.
Take a cue from top politicians and learn to stay on message. Have you ever noticed that regardless of what politicians are asked by reporters, their answer is often unrelated to the question? This is because they have an agenda. So do you. I’m not asking you to be inauthentic. Just know what’s most important to you and what you want your listener to remember. This could be getting an internship, getting funding for your organization or raising interest in a pro-social cause.

3. Listen – people love to talk about themselves.
The easiest way to build immediate rapport with someone is by being interested in them. Here’s the deal: People love to talk about themselves. If you want to be the most interesting person in the room, play the role of journalist and be a great listener. Try paraphrasing someone’s answers back to them for clarity. Provide guiding cues like, “Tell me more about that.” Listen closely enough to create value. Don’t be afraid to make an offer like making an introduction or suggesting a new album or app they may like.

4. Get your non-verbal on.
Nothing is worse that being perceived as indifferent, unless you’re a hipster living in Brooklyn. So elevate your communication skills without even opening your mouth. Use your hands to make points (but be careful not to knock anything over) and make firm eye contact with others when they’re speaking. If you’re interested, nod your head to show you’re in agreement or smile. A little goes a long way.

5. Do your research (ahead of time).
Whether you’re meeting someone for coffee, attending a career fair or a networking event, learn all you can about people in advance via LinkedIn, their website, About.me or articles that mention that person’s name. If you’re attending a conference, find out who else is attending and make sure to follow the conference’s hashtag on social media. Get in the loop. This creates an opportunity to form context and an alleyway to success. There’s more connective tissue out there than you can imagine.

Credit // Author: Antonio Neves


Learn more about Antonio Neves and his communication keynote, #BeLessAwkward, at campuspeak.com/neves.