What is communicative competence?
It is just a fancy term that means how good you are at communicating.
Communicative competence is critical in all communications, being measured by the amount of information that the speaker is able to accurately get across to their audience.
Simply put, it is whether or not one is able to accurately and efficiently allow another person to understand the subject at hand. At first, this often appears to simply mean whether or not the speaker is intelligent or well spoken. In fact, the issue is highly nuanced, and much more expansive than simply being a matter of knowledge.
Sometimes, a measure of communicative competence has more to do with social skills and linguistic understanding than it does with actual intelligence, or understanding. This is demonstrated through the oratory skills of highly intelligent, but dry, people.
Take a professor who knows everything that there possibly is to know about their subject, but is unable to convey the information so that students apprehend it.
Such is a highly intelligent person who lacks communicative competence and its accompanying skills.
The ability to make an audience understand a subject can be learned however, and through a variety of inputs it can be improved. Both one’s speaking and writing skills stand to benefit enormously from such strategies, often making the author or speaker appear more intelligent, for their knowledge is no longer being lost in the transaction.
With practice, great strides can be made, and it is possible to improve communication in public or interpersonal speaking. The same is true of writing.
All that it takes is knowledge of one’s subject, and an education in the way that others absorb information within different contexts. Take these strategies into consideration, and it is not unreasonable to think that a nearly immediate improvement is possible.
- Know your subject as thoroughly as possible
The most important part of making an audience understand your material is knowing the material yourself. Through complex rhetoric you could convince an audience that you are an expert when you are not, but this would be disingenuous and unethical.
Instead, be sure have a true and thorough understanding of the subject matter. If you do not, be up front on this point, and suggest that you could both benefit from a further education.
When possible be the first part of our professor example and know all that you can. But unlike the professor, you will use your knowledge of sociolinguistics to more effectively illuminate your point.
2. Remember what it is like not to be familiar with the topic
Whatever the subject, first keep in mind what it is like to be in the position of the learner, and to not be acquainted with the topic. As our specific field of expertise becomes more ingrained into us, it becomes easier to forget what it was like to learn it for the first time.
Instead, consider the foundational knowledge that was necessary for you to get to the more advanced knowledge. Like the professor who has lost touch with his students, skipping the beginning or intermediate steps of learning can lose people in the fray.
Instead, risk over-explaining. Without taking it to the extreme of boring people to the point of losing them, simply ensure that they know too much when it comes to foundational knowledge.
3. Reduce social and speaking anxiety
A critical element of your content is how it is delivered. Ultimately, this is our entire struggle, as all of the information presented by the good professor and the boring professor is virtually the same. One just knows how to deliver it in a way that their audience can understand and appreciate.
The first step in getting your delivery where it needs to be is making your performance without anxiety, or with as little anxiety as possible.
Following all of the points included in this list will go quite a distance towards anxiety reduction, but keep in mind anxiety is often part of a larger lifestyle issue as well. Lack of sleep, dehydration, and improper nutrition all play a role in setting you up for failure before you even step on stage, so to speak.
Meditation is a powerful tool that ties into anxiety reduction, which leads us to our next point.
4. Visualize the content beforehand
Although a competently conversational speaker is not necessarily planning out their every move, they will usually go in with at least a rough guideline or game plan for their attack on the information.
The best way to do is actually not by taking the hyper-analytical approach of making step-by-step plans for every action.
Instead, take a moment to close your eyes and visualize how the presentation would go under ideal circumstances. Be thorough here: imagine everything from your posture, tone of voice, and content, all the way to your audience’s reactions.
Too much planning can lead to cognitive dissonance when things start to stray from the plan, but visualization simply primes you. By taking a moment to imagine the perfect outcome, you subconsciously assure yourself that it is indeed possible, and that you can achieve it.
5.Control posture and breathing
Once you have visualized your outcome and have an idea of what the perfect scenario is going to be, begin to include physical preparation as well. Generally neglected, posture has an enormous effect on overall performance. By simply standing up straight, pulling the shoulders back, and looking straight ahead we can deeply affect both physical and mental acuity.
During any presentation, remember the importance of posture, and observe how it affects your breathing. When you stand up straight, you improve the function of your diaphragm, which in turn allows your lungs to process more oxygen. This leads to an overall improvement in heart function and blood flow that ultimately allows your brain to function better, as it gets more blood and oxygen.
6. Remember to Connect to your audience (sociolinguistic nuance)
This is potentially the most important point of all to keep in mind.
No matter what the information is and no matter who you are, the most important thing is actually who you are speaking to. Many people take this to be common sense, yet many also disregard this important consideration. Too many speakers and writers simply approach every interaction as though it is with the same audience.
Our professor who fails to connect with the students is a great example here. Although he or she is obviously highly educated and capable of discussing the topic, they are forgetting whom they are talking to. It may be the case that they are skilled in presentation during say, an academic conference, but are unskilled in speaking to young people.
Their issue is merely that they have forgotten their audience, and how important it is that you relate information to the people you are speaking with. It sounds like common sense, but if you look around you will see it neglected frequently.
The International Journal of English language, Literature, and Humanities has a terrific article that gives much perspective on this topic.
7. Take into account the listener’s background
To connect with one’s audience, it will be necessary to consider where they came from. Are they students, or fellow professors? Are they of Western culture, or perhaps East Asian?
All of the variables that make a person who they are will come into play here. What could be an amusing joke about hamburgers to one person might be a major faux pas to another. These are all things to keep in mind.
If someone is clearly not formally educated, do not make references to obscure philosophy to establish your point.
As such, the effective thing to do could be to make a popular culture reference. Nothing is out of bounds.
8. Have an accurate understanding of English & Grammar
This falls under the category of knowing rules in order to break them, as we have established it could be necessary to do so in certain situations.
There is nothing wrong with saying “ain’t” if the context means it will make you more of an effective speaker. However, it is equally important to know whether or not your audience would respect your use of the word “irregardless” (play it safe and avoid such contested words). This is why you need to have a full grasp of English language and grammar.
9. Read varying literature
In order to achieve the mastery of language one will need for effective communication, the most important thing to do will be to read. Do not read just one sort of text, but consume as many styles as possible. Read the classic literature of all cultures, Shakespeare, great poets, philosophers, and writers of the modern era.
By doing so you will learn the many different ways that language can be manipulated, as the different writers you observe are doing what you are trying to do as well: get a message to a specific audience.
In addition, learn other languages as well. Language is foundational to our view of the world, and knowing others can open you up to entirely new ways of seeing things.
As you have now seen, we have many means of improving our capabilities when it comes to communication skills, and or ability to speak or write effectively. These are things one can practice on a daily basis, and I certainly hope you will do just that. Success is the byproduct of habit, and good habits are only formed through daily repetition.
You can constantly do things like focus on your posture and make efforts to improve your overall lifestyle in such a way that will optimize performance.
Daily, you can read, write, and speak to people. Take note of what you notice in your interactions. Where are they from, and how does this affect their worldview? What level of education do they have? Can you adjust your diction and syntax to suit the situation?
Always, keep improving. The point will never come in which you are ultimately effective, and have nothing more to learn in order to be better. There are always new people whom you will pick up on particular subtleties with, and you should seek them out.
The goal is to always be prepared.
Moving forward, you now know that all of the tools to succeed are within your understanding, and improvement is more a matter of habit than having special insight.
Anyone can become a more competent and compelling speaker, you simply need to keep in mind who you are speaking to, and how you are speaking to them. As I pointed out with the importance of literature, language can be manipulated however is necessary to make your audience grasp your message.
For a fine, very comprehensive text on our subject be sure to look into Jack C. Richards’ and R.W. Schmidt’s text Language and Communication.
It can easily be found on Google Books at:
Learn, practice, and listen. It will soon come naturally.
For more in-depth communication training, you check the information about the courses and memberships Communicatorz Academy. The course Communication Supercharger 1 has been crafted to increase the communicative competence of the students.