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Listening

The receiving, retaining and processing of information or ideas
This skill is all about being able to effectively receive information - whether it comes from customers, colleagues or stakeholders.

Initially, the skill steps concentrate on being able to listen effectively to others - including remembering short instructions, understanding why others are communication and recording important information.

Individuals then focus on how they demonstrate that they are listening effectively, thinking about body language, open questioning and summarising and rephrasing.

Beyond that, the focus is on being aware of how they might be being influenced by a speaker, through tone and language.

The final steps are about critical listening - comparing perspectives, identifying biases, evaluating ideas and being objective.

Speaking

The oral transmission of information or ideas
This skill is all about how to communicate effectively with others, being mindful of whether they are talking to customers, colleagues or other stakeholders and in different settings.

Initially, this skill focuses on being able to speak clearly - first with well known individuals and small groups and then with those who are not known.

The next stage is about being an effective speaker by making points logically, by thinking about what listeners already know and using appropriate language, tone and gesture.

Beyond that, individuals focus on speaking engagingly through use of facts and examples, visual aids, and their expression and gesture.

Beyond that stage, speakers will be adaptive to the response of their listeners and ready for different scenarios. The final steps focus on speaking influentially - using structure, examples, facts and vision to persuade listeners.

Problem Solving

The ability to find a solution to a situation or challenge
This skill focuses on how to solve problems, recognising that while part of Problem Solving is technical know-how and experience, there are also transferable tools that individuals can develop and use.

The first steps focus on being able to follow instructions to complete tasks, seeking help and extra information if needed. The next stage focuses on being able to explore problems by creating and assessing different potential solutions. This includes more complex problems, without a simple technical solution.

Beyond this, the focus is on exploring complex solutions - thinking about causes and effects, generating options, and evaluating those options. This extends into analysis using logical reasoning and hypotheses.

Finally, individuals implement strategic plans to solve complex problems, assess their success, and draw out learning for the future.

Creativity

The use of imagination and the generation of new ideas
Creativity is the complement to Problem Solving, and is about generating innovations or ideas which can then be honed through the problem-solving process.

The first few steps focus on the individual's confidence in imagining different situations and sharing their ideas.

The focus is then on generating ideas - using a clear brief, making improvements to something that already exists and combining concepts.

Individuals then apply creativity in the context of their work and their wider life. They can build off this to develop ideas using tools like mind mapping, questioning, and considering different perspectives.

The most advanced steps focus on building effective innovation in group settings and by seeking out varied experiences and stimuli. Finally, individuals support others to innovate, by sharing tools, identifying the right tools for the situation and through coaching.

Staying Positive

The ability to use tactics and strategies to overcome setbacks and achieve goals
This skill is all about individuals being equipped to manage their emotions effectively and being able to remain motivated, and ultimately to motivate others, even when facing setbacks.

The early steps focus on identifying emotions - particularly feeling positive or negative. Building off that is the ability to keep trying - and then staying calm, thinking about what went wrong, and trying to cheer up and encourage others.

The focus then turns to identifying new opportunities in difficult situations, sharing those, and adapting or creating plans accordingly. At more advanced steps, individuals identify and manage risks and gains in opportunities.

Finally, individuals support others to stay positive by managing their own response, helping others to see opportunities and creating plans to achieve them.

Aiming High

The ability to set clear, tangible goals and devise a robust route to achieving them
This skill is about being able to plan effectively - both to achieve organisational goals, and also to set their own personal development targets. Initially, this is about knowing when something is too difficult, and having a sense of what doing well looks like for an individual.

The focus is then about working with care and attention, taking pride in success and having a positive approach to new challenges. Building on this, individuals set goals for themselves, informed by an understanding of what is needed, and then be able to order and prioritise tasks, secure resources and involve others effectively.

At the higher steps, the focus is creating plans informed by an individual's skill set, with clear targets, and building on external views. At the most advanced level, individuals develop long-term strategies. These are informed by an assessment of internal and external factors, structured through regular milestones and feedback loops.

Leadership

Supporting, encouraging and developing others to achieve a shared goal
This skill is relevant not only for individuals in positions of management with formal power, but also for individuals working with peers in teams.

At the earliest stages, the focus is on basic empathy - understanding their own feelings, being able to share them, and recognising the feelings of others. The focus is on managing - dividing up tasks, managing time and sharing resources, managing group discussions and dealing with disagreements.

Beyond that, individuals build their awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses, and those of their teams. This allows them to allocate tasks effectively. They then build techniques to mentor, coach and motivate others. At the highest steps, individuals will be able to reflect on their own leadership style and understand its effect on others.

Ultimately, they should be able to build on their strengths and mitigate their weaknesses, and adapt their leadership style to the situation.

Teamwork

Working cooperatively with others towards achieving a shared goal
This skill applies to working within both formal and informal teams, and also with customers, clients or other stakeholders. Initially, this is about individuals fulfilling expectations around being positive, behaving appropriately, being timely and reliable and taking responsibility. This extends to understanding and respecting diversity of others' cultures, beliefs and backgrounds.

The next steps focus on making a contribution to a team through group decision making recognising the value of others' ideas and encourage others to contribute too.Beyond that, individuals improve their teams through managing conflict and building relationships beyond the immediate team. At the top steps, individuals focus on how they influence their team through suggesting improvements and learning lessons from setbacks.

Ultimately, individuals support the team by evaluating others strengths and weaknesses and bringing in external expertise and relationships.

To achieve Step 10, individuals will show that they are aware of the response of their listeners, and that they can change their language, tone and expression accordingly. 

Up to now, the steps have been focused on how to speak clearly so that an individual can be understood, then how to speak effectively so that the order of words is logical and meaningful, and then thinking about how to make speech more engaging by using facts, examples, and visual aids. 

The focus is now on the ability to speak adaptability, responding to the listeners to communicate their ideas more effectively.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • How to prepare for your audience
  • How to read your audience
  • How to adjust your language, tone and expression in response to your audience

Reflection questions

  • How do you know what someone listening to you is thinking or feeling?
  • How can you do this when you have several people listening to you? 
  • How can you adapt your language, tone and expression to your audience’s reaction?
  • What is the value of doing so?

What you need to know

Audiences

Being able to read your audience is one of the things that distinguish good communicators. If you can read your audience, you have a way of getting instant feedback about whether you are achieving your goals as a speaker.

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Preparing for your audience

Before you even start communicating, you make sure you are adapting to them by thinking about some of these questions:

  • Why are they there? Think about what your listeners are wanting to get out of listening to you. Successful speakers are those that think about what their listeners already know and engage them (see Step 4)
  • How long do you have? If someone has asked you quickly to share an opinion, then you might only have a couple of minutes. If asked to share your thoughts to a group, you might have even less time. On the other hand, you might give a presentation to a team for five or ten minutes, or to a larger audience for even longer. 
  • What is the context? Think about what the context is even before you start speaking – for example, should you use formal, informal or technical language (see Step 5), what volume will you need to speak at, are the proceedings formal or informal.
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Reading your audience

Careful preparation will help set you up for success. However, adaptive speakers are also able to react to how they see the audience, and this uses lots of the skills steps that are part of Listening. 

The good news is that your listeners are probably not thinking about their body language and so you can get honest insight into how they are feeling. Some of the things to look for are:

  • Speaking: Are your listeners speaking to one another? An early sign that you might be losing the attention of your listeners is if they start talking to one another – this is a sign that you do not have their full attention. 
  • Eye contact: Are your listeners looking at you? If so, this is a sign that they are engaged, but if they are looking down or seem distracted by other things, you might be beginning to lose their attention. 
  • Nods and smiles: Are your listeners agreeing with you? Nods and smiles are a good sign that your listeners are taking in what you are saying and are in agreement with you. On the other hand, shaking of heads is a good sign that they are disagreeing. 
  • Body language: Are your listeners leaning forwards? If your listener is leaning forwards then this is another good sign that they are engaged. On the other hand, if they are leaning away or have their arms crossed this is a sign that they are not engaged with what you are saying. 
  • Fidgeting: Are your listeners distracted? If your listeners are starting to fidget or to look at phones or other distractions, then this is a warning sign that they are losing interest and need to be reengaged. 
  • Applause and verbal agreement: Are your listeners enthusiastic? This is the most obvious sign of agreement and engagement from an audience.
  • Other emotional responses: Are you seeing the response you expected? At other points when speaking you may be looking for other emotional responses – perhaps surprise, concern, or excitement. Look at your audience’s faces to see whether you are having that impact. 

If you have lots of listeners, then it is important not to just read one or two of your audience members (your eyes might be drawn to those with the strongest reactions) but to keep looking at different audience members to read what they are thinking.

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Responding to your audience

It is possible to change the mood of an audience quite quickly if you are able to adapt your language, tone and expression.

  • If your audience is starting to look distracted, you could add energy to your speaking by raising the pitch of your voice, talking more quickly or using expression to convey more energy and enthusiasm for what you are saying.
  • If your audience is starting to seem bored, then you might need to engage them through lowering the volume of your voice, drawing them in to concentrate more on listening to you. 
  • If your audience does not seem to be thinking about something as seriously as you would like, then you can introduce more pauses to help give them space to think about something properly. 

In subsequent steps, we will look at how you can plan for different responses from your audience and how you adjust for them. We will also look at how you adapt your content to keep your listeners engaged.

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Advice for

Educators

Teaching It

To teach this step:

  • The teacher can lead a discussion of how they look around the classroom to understand how engaged their listeners are, and what some of the different clues are. 
  • The learners could then practice acting out different attitudes on behalf of themselves as listeners, so that they can look around and see what that looks like (for example, boredom, distraction, engagement, difficulties hearing, and others). 
  • Learners can then practice giving a short speech and trying to read what the reaction is of their listeners. They could try out some different techniques, varying their language, expression and tone to elicit the audience response they are seeking. 

Reinforcing it

This step is more difficult to practice in the day to day of the classroom. However, for extended presentations and other pieces of presented work, it would be worth reminding learners about the value of trying to read their audience and adapting their tone and expression to engage them best. Presentations in assemblies or other events also provide an excellent opportunity for this. 

It is also possible at points for the teacher to pause teaching and to model how they are reading their audience and adapting to their reactions. 

Assessing it 

This step is best assessed through observation and reflection with the learner. For example:

  • The learner gives a short 3-5 minute talk with a live audience. They should be encouraged to think about the reactions of the audience and to adjust accordingly.
  • Afterwards, they can reflect with the teacher about how they read their audience and what adjustments they made as a result.

Build this step

Advice for

Employers

Build it at work: 

This step will be relevant to those who will speak to others in order to engage or persuade them.

To build this step in the work environment, managers could:

  • Discuss with the individual what signs they could look for when speaking which tell them they need to adapt to engage their listeners.
  • Explain how they might respond to these signs in order to communicate effectively.
  • Model exaggerated body language during an individual’s presentation to help them recognise examples of what this looks like.
  • Set an exercise where two individuals practice delivering and listening to a short speech. During this exercise an individual could feign an emotional response to support the other individual to practice adapting to this signal. 
  • Reflect with the individual about how they might adapt their presentation to these examples of body language.

Practising it:

There are plenty of opportunities for building this skill in the workplace:

  • Working with colleagues: During extended presentations to team members, where audience members may have more than emotional response to what is being said
  • Working with customers or clients: When communicating ideas to customers or clients, focusing on gathering their response

Reviewing it:

For those already employed, this step is best assessed through observation. For instance:

  • Observing the individual during a team discussion or presentation, to see whether the individual is able to adapt to cues from their listeners about how engaged they are.
  • This can be complemented by reflection with the individual about what they observed in their audience and how they adapted in response.  

Spotting it in recruitment: 

During the recruitment process, this step could be assessed by:

  • Observing an individual during an assessed presentation to identify how they adapt their language, tone and gesture in response to the audience’s reaction. 
  • Observing an individual during a team exercise, to identify how they adapt their language, tone and gesture in response to others in the group.

Build this step

Advice for

Organisations

We work with a wide range of organisations, who use the Skills Builder approach in lots of different settings – from youth clubs, to STEM organisations, to careers and employability providers.

We have a lot of materials available to support you to use the Skills Builder Universal Framework with the individuals you work with, including:

  • Tools for self-reflection
  • Materials to support you to teach the skills, if appropriate in your setting
  • Reward systems like printable certificates

We also do a lot of work with organisations who join the Skills Builder Partnership to build the Universal Framework into their work and impact measurement systems. You can find out a lot more using the links below.

More resources

Advice for

Individuals

Why this skill step matters in education

The ability to present to others engagingly is an asset in any educational setting. Your friends and peers will appreciate your ability and tend to find you interesting to listen to. However, mastering this step of Speaking, and the following steps, will raise your speaking skills to a significantly higher level than many others around you. The challenge in school or college is to identify as many opportunities as possible to speak in front of others, so you can start to read an audience and recognise the response of the listeners. Every group of listeners is different and every group response unique, therefore practise is the key to learning and mastering this step.

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

The reason for speaking to others in the workplace is often to persuade or convince the listener, this is particularly the case when speaking to your manager, a customer or a new client. The listener is only going to be persuaded or convinced if you have their full attention and they trust or believe what you are saying. It is therefore imperative, if you are to win them over, that you can identify when you are losing or confusing them. The ability to adapt your content or style to maintain engagement or re-engage them, is an extremely powerful skill.

Why this skill step matters in wider life

Socially, in the wider world,we speak to many different people, not necessarily in terms of a formal presentation, but going about our normal business in our everyday life; the bus driver, the shopkeeper, doctor, policeman, members of a club or choir, as well as our friends and neighbours. In the wider world, if someone is not understanding we may have already learned to simply repeat ourselves. However, by mastering this step you will be able to adapt your words in a variety of ways to accommodate the listener, and not rely on repetition.

How to practise this skill step

To best practise this step of Speaking, apply what you have learnt to a real-life situation. Choose one or more of the activities below, remind yourself of the key points and strategies in the step,and have a go!

  • If you are in school or college, listen and watch very carefully to one of your teachers or lecturers in a specific lesson. During the lesson, identify any changes in their language, tone or expression. Can you recognise why the teacher made the change? Can you observe anything in the response or reaction of the listeners that suggested the change was necessary?
  • Observe a presentation to the whole organisation. Is it evident they are reading the response of the listeners? How can you tell? Do you think they have they adapted their speaking during the talk?
  • Prepare and give a short talk at school, college, or work. Practise your talk so that you are confident in your ability to look at the audience many times while you speak. Do you focus on one person, a group, everyone? What do you notice about the audience? Any fidgeting, looking around, on their phone? Are they looking at you? Smiling, nodding? Try to read the listeners’ response to what you are saying.

Build this step

Advice for

Parents & Carers

As a parent or carer, you might be thinking about how best to support your children to build their essential skills. The good news is that there is lots that you can do that will have a big impact, including:

  • Talking about how you use these skill steps in your own life
  • Trying to show how to use the skill steps, and explaining why you are doing what you are doing
  • Praising your children when they show they are using the skills well, and help them to see that as a worthwhile achievement

We’ve developed a whole series of tools and resources to help parents to build these skills, including:

  • Skill stories for the youngest children (aged 3+)
  • Short activities that you can complete together
  • Regular challenges that you can complete at home to build the essential skills
  • Reward systems like printable certificates and badges

There is also content for older children and young people, including short activities and reflections that they can complete alone, or with you.

Build this step