Why are communications skills so important?
According to Aristotle, "the use of rational speech is more distinctive of a human being than the use of his limbs" (ὃ μᾶλλον ἴδιόν ἐστιν ἀνθρώπου τῆς τοῦ σώματος χρείας).
Words are supposed to be a means to an end, but without them you are unable to effectively communicate your thoughts and ideas. Ultimately the listener should be only interested in the content of your speech, but the truth is you are more likely to listen to somebody who speaks clearly, with a gentle voice, ideally with RP pronunciation, than somebody who might have the best ideas but can't properly communicate them.
The other night, I was watching the Young Apprentice and Lord Sugar did not fire one of the contenders, who did not perform particularly well in a few tasks, due to his exceptional presentation and communication skills.
Every time I work on a new interim project, our clients always require candidates with robust communications skills. In other words, they want individuals who are able to get the buy- in from senior stakeholders and can make things happen.
Therefore, how can you communicate well? You always have to remember that English is a stress-timed language, very different from Latin languages such as French, Italian or Spanish, which are syllabic languages. In English you don't pronounce every single word, but you tend to highlight and stress only the words that are conveying a meaningful message. In fact, you can only communicate well in English if you have the right intonation. In addition to that, always remember to insert pauses while talking. Pauses define the units of your thoughts. You might have a good intonation, nearly deploy a range of vocabulary like James Joyce's, who used over 50,000 different words in the novel Finnegans Wake, but if you talk too fast the listener will get completely lost.
To summarise, possessing strong communication skills requires effort and commitment but makes you a more credible and confident candidate. Even though companies are not looking to hire actors, they are only interested in individuals who can concisely communicate great ideas thanks to their ability of setting the right pace and developing a good vocal intonation in their speeches.
Susanna Hofman is a candidate manager on the Interim Consultancy team for FreshMinds Talent