Tips to improve your verbal communication as a researcher
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
- 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 interview, 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 rightaway. 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 speak. Carol 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.
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.
What other situations in a researcher’s life can you think of where verbal communication skills could play an important role? What do you have any other verbal communication tips for researchers? Head on to the comments section below to let me know!
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