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Soft skills: Practice makes perfect


You've got the skills, you just need to hone them. Emma Oakley from RADA in Business tells us how.

Soft skills - for many these are some of the hardest skills to acquire, teach and quantify. Effective communication, conflict management, personal impact, influencing and selling – these are all essential business skills and we tend to assume that one is either good or bad at these. Of course there are some people that naturally have that Holy Grail ‘presence’, but these are not supermen or women. The skills they are using are ones that we all possess, and to be more effective in business just requires technique and practice.

Why bother?

In a world where so much is available at the touch of a button, what matters most is trust. The latest research shows that we have 24 seconds in which to make a first impression, (Alan Pease, Body Language Expert) and more often than not this is done before we even say a word. It is important to recognise that how you behave and how others perceive you impacts on how willing they are to listen, trust, hire, commission, promote you etc. It doesn’t matter how technically competent you are, how factual your presentations are or how well written your speech is, if you haven’t engaged your audience through your voice and body language then they almost certainly won’t be listening to your content, no matter how interesting.


Many people in business don’t realise that they can change what they do. Communication is a physical activity and so in order to improve as a communicator it stands to reason that you should physically practise new skills so that they become habitual. By rehearsing you can break away from your old physical habits and imbed new skills into your muscle memory, ready to use in any business situation.


Practice makes perfect, so here are five top tips that you can practise in your work life in order to improve your soft skills and become a better, more compelling communicator.

1. Think. Breathe. Speak.

Preparation is important for developing your communication skills. A quick stretch before stepping in front of your audience can really help, particularly stretching out the ribs and allowing the breath to settle lower in the belly. Check whether you're holding your breath when you walk on stage or go into an important meeting. If so just exhale and take a breath, again letting the breath settle low in the belly. Breathe fully in and out a few times before you start so that you are ready to meet and engage your audience.  

2. Own the space

You want to be able to walk, stand and sit as if you own the space you are in to make a powerful impression on your audience. Take your time as you enter the room and don’t start speaking until you have decided where you want to stand. Keep your weight slightly towards the balls of your feet and don't lock your knees. Think of your feet making a connection with the ground. This will help you feel rooted, which inspires confidence and relaxation for both you and your audience.

3. Don’t be afraid of eye contact

Make meaningful eye contact. A general 'wash' of eye contact is easier to do but has far less impact, so dare yourself to look your audience in the eye as you would in a one-on-one conversation with a colleague or friend. Eye contact also helps us to assess whether we are being understood. Do we need to expand on what we're saying or move on quickly? Remember the people sitting on either side of you are the hardest to connect with.

4. Make the most of your voice

Our voice says so much about us and is our primary method of communication, so it must be powerful, flexible and confident. Ensure you have enough breath to comfortably support your voice so you don't trail away at the end of the sentence and sound tentative. You should have enough breath to project your entire message and don’t forget to speak at a volume that can easily heard at the back of the room.

5. The power of the pause

Silence can be incredibly powerful. Try to take a slight pause at the end of your sentence. This will allow the audience to catch up with what you're saying and absorb your key points. Pausing also demonstrates your confidence that the audience are listening to what you are saying. The beauty of this is that even if they aren’t listening at that moment a well-timed pause will catch their attention and re-engage them with your message.

So don’t just read and remember these tips – practise!

Emma Oakley is a Business Development Manager at RADA in Business. RADA in Business offer theatre-based communications skills training, which draws on over a century of experience and expertise from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Through work on the body, breath and voice, they enable business people to become effective and engaging communicators and develop greater personal impact

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