No matter the role, interviews are a vital part of the job application process and one that many candidates worry about. Speaking effectively about how you suit an advertised role can seem challenging at first, with employers agreeing that one of the most important skills for interviews is communication, in particular speaking. However, it is one that you can develop in order to feel more confident and prepared.
The Skills Builder Universal Framework defines speaking as the oral transmission of information or ideas and research shows that applicants are more likely to be successful in interviews when they speak clearly and effectively, focusing on appropriate content. However, employers have also acknowledged that presentation skills are frequently lacking in interviews they have conducted.
It is therefore more important than ever for candidates to build their speaking skills. Read on for 5 top tips that will provide advice and guidance on how to do so as well as ways that this will help you with interview preparation.
1. Speaking Clearly to an Unfamiliar Audience
When we speak, we want someone else to understand what we are saying so we should try to speak clearly. If we don’t then we might not be understood or our meaning may be misinterpreted.
Most people also find it more difficult to speak to people that they don’t know well, than to people they already do. When you know someone, it is easier to predict what their reactions will be to something that you say and you will have a better idea of what they already know.
This is something that you will encounter in an interview as you will often be interviewed by a panel of employers, and you will probably not know the people you are speaking to. As a part of the process, interviewers will observe this employability skill by seeing how you present and interact with them. A recruiter may also measure it by seeing how you interact in group tasks with other candidates, or by asking you a situational-based question and seeing how well you answer.
There are different strategies you can use to help you speak clearly to unfamiliar individuals:
- Thinking about what you want to say before you start speaking
- Take a deep breath
- Make sure you have the attention of the person who will be listening
- Look at them and speak loudly enough so that they can hear
- Speak slowly so that they can follow what you are saying
- Do not try to say too much in one go
2. Speaking Logically
When speaking for longer periods of time, or giving more detailed answers, you should try to put ideas into a logical order. If ideas are not in a logical order, it is difficult for a listener to understand, process and remember what you have said. The meaning that you were trying to communicate gets lost.
Certain interview questions will require logically-structured answers, and there are three main ways to do this:
- Talking about cause and effects – Making a clear connection between how one thing led to another.
- Putting things in the order in which they happen – Putting events in the order that they occurred, also known as chronological order, makes it easier for a listener to remember what you’ve said.
- Starting from the most straightforward idea – Thinking about what someone else needs to know to understand the meaning of what is being said, then beginning with the most straightforward idea and building up from there.
In an interview you will be using this employability skill to persuade the interviewer that you are the best candidate for the position. It is useful to think about when showing how your previous experience applies to this role, as well as outlining how you would tackle different scenarios. The listener will have a greater understanding of your ability and capability if you have thought through the order of what you are planning to say.
3. Speaking Effectively
The employability skill of being an effective speaker is about being able to share ideas and build understanding in your listeners. Therefore, good speaking means thinking about how best to help your listeners to understand you.
When we speak, we all have a view on what our listeners already know – we might call this an expectation or an assumption. For example, when we use technical language, we are assuming that listeners understand what they are. If we do this without thinking, it is possible for listeners to become confused quickly.
In an interview, you should try to consider what the interviewer already knows. There is only a finite amount of time for the meeting, so you should try to speak effectively in order to convey the most relevant information for the role you’ve applied for.
If the interviewer understands less than you assume, they might quickly become lost and unable to follow the meaning of what you are saying. On the other hand, if they understand more than you assume, they might quickly become disinterested because they already know many of the things that are being explained. In both examples, the interview may not go successfully because you may lose the attention and interest of the interviewer.
Once you have identified what the interviewer already knows you can then change how you speak to ensure that you do not repeat any information they already have. For example, when speaking about a project you are working on or technology you have experience using, working out how familiar the interviewer is with either the situations or platforms means that you will be able to know what technical language you should or should not use and how much explanation you need.
4. Using Tone, Expression and Gesture
When speaking, alongside our vocabulary and the information we share, we also use tone, expression and gesture to convey meaning. These employability skills often happen automatically but require thought and consideration when approaching situations such as interviews.
Tone is how we say the words that we are speaking. The way a phrase or sentence sounds and its meaning can change a lot depending on the way you say the words. When thinking about tone we mean the pitch, tempo, volume and intonation that something is said at. In different settings, different tones will be seen as appropriate. In an interview some tones can come across as rude or aggressive if used wrongly so it is important to use a calm, steady tone to make a great impression.
Expression is how our face communicates information as we are speaking. Our faces convey a lot of emotional information so we should pay attention to how we look. For example, when speaking in an interview about your strengths you will want to show a positive facial expression, whereas if you are talking about a difficult situation that you’ve handled at work in the past you might use a more measured, sincere expression.
Alongside facial expressions, gestures help to convey extra meaning when you are speaking. While we can control our gestures when we think about them, sometimes we automatically make certain gestures without thinking about it. As with facial expressions, these may not always be appropriate for the message that we are trying to convey. It is challenging to appear confident and knowledgeable in an interview if your tone, face and body all seem nervous.
When speaking in an interview, you should make sure you use a tone, expression and gesture to match the situation. Fun and loud-speaking may be appropriate with friends but a more measured approach may be more appropriate when presenting to an interviewer. Energy and volume need to be balanced with professionalism and competence.The use of inappropriate tone, expression or gestures can mean that the interviewer misunderstands the meaning of your words and may think of your application less favourably.
5. Using Facts and Examples
In an interview, it is important to back up any strengths and statements about relevant experience with examples, to prove what you are saying. Part of the speaking employability skill is being able to use these examples but also knowing when to mention them in the most effective and engaging way.
Supporting examples should be made up of facts (things that are known or proven to be true) and, if relevant, statistics (pieces of numerical data). Including them in your answers in interviews means that you are providing evidence that adds truth to the point you are making. Using these effectively means that it is more difficult for an interviewer to disagree with you. It is also a vital skill to develop as it demonstrates how your experience is applicable to the role you are applying for.
However, any facts or statistics you use must be relevant to the point you are making or the question you are answering and not used too much, otherwise they become distractions and the interviewer might lose interest. They should also be accurate or you can quickly lose the trust of the panel asking the questions.
There are a few different ways you could structure the sharing of examples in an interview. The first is:
- Facts or Statistics
- How those justify your opinion
Whilst another common one is:
Both enable you to explain your response, use evidence to support your point and then link it back to the initial question to show why it is applicable at the end of your answer.
This can be practised before an interview by going through the job description and person specification. Think of examples and experiences that demonstrate how you have met the criteria for the job and practice speaking these through, remembering to include facts to prove your points.
Ways to build these speaking skills
To practise these different speaking skills in advance of an interview, you could try:
- Speaking to friends or family about a recent event or topic you enjoy
- Listening and observing someone you know speak to people they both know and do not know already
- Watch videos of specialists presenting information about a topic
- Record yourself speaking about a topic and watch it back
- Watch colleagues present in meetings
In each situation, think about what information is being conveyed, the language that is being used, the tone and expression of the speaker and how they approach the audience. If you are the speaker then it is also worth thinking about your own clarity, particularly around the way you structure your points - something that can be identified through self-reflection or feedback from others.
Using a combination of these strategies during an interview will mean that you have considered your presentation style and identified the most appropriate approach for that situation.
1. Archer, William, & Davison, Jess. (2008). Graduate Employability: What do employers think and want?. London: Council for Industry and Higher Education.
2. Morreale, Sherwyn. P, Spitzberg, Brian. H, Barge, J. Kevin. (2007) Human Communication: Motivation, Knowledge, and Skills. 2nd ed. Belmont: Thomson Wadsworth.