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June 2024
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Is Your Interpersonal Communication Personal?

Discover the value of the spoken word.

By Bill Brown, DTM

Woman holding coffee cup while speaking to another woman outside with buildings and sun in background

There is a trend today. Go, go, go. Rush, rush, rush. This has taken over much of our communication, especially with modern technology.

We went from phone calls to emails to texting. When we do talk, we frequently talk swiftly because our time is valuable. Get it out and get on with our day.

But have we lost something in the process?

I am fascinated by another trend in our communication. When emails first came out, they were only plain text. But sometimes, if we had a light-hearted comment, it was taken seriously. So, we started using the symbol :-).

That soon gave way to other symbols, each with its own meaning.

In spoken-word communication, our voices not only carry words, but they also carry emotions. And those emotions carry expanded meaning. If we say something tongue-in-cheek, we don’t need a special symbol to tell the listener that they should take it that way. It is obvious.

Plain text took that away. So, the emoji was added to bring a hint of emotion back. And now our texts are filled with symbols and abbreviations. But why?

I believe that the emoji is a desperate attempt to regain part of what we already have in spoken-word communication. We have always had a strong, personal, and emotional component when we speak. The emoji, while somewhat filling the gap, does not do so fully. So why are we trending toward that method of communication rather than keeping what we already have?

I get it. Sometimes quick communication is best. When I leave my Toastmasters meeting, I text my wife, “On my way.” We don’t need to talk. But texting has been leaning toward ubiquity.

I suggest that we consider the question, “Has our interpersonal communication become impersonal communication?”

Maybe actually talking to somebody has value. 😀

One important aspect of interpersonal communication is the speech.

What? How could speaking to a large group of people be interpersonal communication? Simple. The most effective speeches do not involve a speaker talking to a collective group. They involve the speaker talking to each person directly. Putting it another way, each member of the audience likes to feel that the speaker is talking directly to them. That makes it personal.

But how do you do that when you are talking to a group? Let’s look at a few ways.

One component of our Toastmasters evaluation form is eye contact. What is the message that you are sending if you are constantly looking down at your notes? Or if you are always looking to one side of the room, ignoring the other side?

Maybe actually talking to somebody has value. 😀

If you look directly at a person, they get the impression that you are, in fact, talking to them. You don’t have to look constantly at them, but at least acknowledge that they are there. In a larger group, look in their general direction. Eye contact is an important skill in public personal speaking.

The way you phrase your statements is another way that you can communicate on a personal basis.

It is quite common to hear a speaker say, “How many of you have ever [fill in the blank]?” That is speaking to the audience as a group. What if you said, “Have you ever … ?” Or possibly, “How many times have you … ?” Although you are talking to everyone in the audience, you are addressing each listener individually.

Your tone of voice is also important. How many times have you heard a speaker talking in an emotion-starved manner? I call that cardboard delivery. Did you listen intently? If the information was critical, yes. But if not, your mind could have easily wandered.

Speaking like you care and using effective vocal variety can go a long way toward moving your audience members to action. Remember, even group decisions are made by individuals. And you reach them through personal, and hence, interpersonal communication.

Years ago, there was a television commercial that advertised telephone services. Their tagline was “reach out and touch someone.” Our goal is to reach out and touch everyone we talk with, whether it is one person or a group. And that includes touching them on an emotional level. Spoken-word communication does that better than the alternative. Let’s not lose that important skill as we rush quickly through our day.


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