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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 8, individuals will be able to use visual aids to support the points they are making when they are speaking. 

The focus in the last step was how to talk engagingly by using facts and examples to support the points that have been made. This step extends that by looking at how visual aids like props, drawings or written slides can help to make speaking more engaging.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • What visual aids are and how they can help
  • How to use visual aids effectively
  • Some of the traps to avoid when using visual aids

Reflection questions

  • What are visual aids? Can you give some examples?
  • When have you seen someone use a visual aid effectively? 
  • When have you seen visual aids used badly?
  • Have you had any experience of using visual aids already? What worked well and what worked less well?

What you need to know

What are visual aids?

A visual aid is something that helps to illustrate or show what is being said.

Examples of visual aids include:

  • Images or photographs 
  • Written text, particularly a summary of key points (for example, bullet points) 
  • Films or animations
  • Props or models
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The benefits of using visual aids

There are several benefits of using visual aids when you are speaking:

  • Visual aids can be particularly helpful in sharing new ideas or concepts with listeners, or if you are trying to help people imagine something that they have not seen before. It can be difficult only to describe things in words, and sometimes it is necessary also to see something for it to make sense. 
  • If you are speaking for a longer time, having visual aids will help people to follow and understand your talk. That is because what people remember is a combination of what they hear but also what they see or read. 
  • It can be tough as a listener just to concentrate on the words that someone is saying for an extended period. The use of visual aids can help to break up that period of just listening. 
  • If you are sharing statistics or facts to support what you are speaking about (as explored in the previous step) then sometimes a visual graph or some of the critical statistics written down can help listeners to understand that information better. 
  • Finally, visual aids can help to provide a context to what you are saying. For example, a short film clip of a particular country or event can help bring it to life for the listeners, who will then be ready to hear what you have to say about it. 

Therefore, giving opportunities to use these other senses will help listeners to take in and recall what they have heard.

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Using visual aids well

While visual aids can be hugely helpful when you are speaking, it is also easy to make some simple mistakes which stop visual aids being effective. 

Some tips for using visual aids effectively are:

  • Make sure the listeners can see them – if you are planning a longer speech, and you want to use visual aids, it will be frustrating for any listeners who can’t see them.
  • Make sure the technology works – if you're going to show slides or a video clip, then you should practice with it and make sure that the technology works before you start your presentation. 
  • Make sure the visual aids are relevant – you should always choose your visual aids to support what you are trying to say, rather than just because you think something is interesting
  • Keep your visual aids clear and short – visual aids should add something to what you are saying, but they should not be a distraction from it.
  • Make your visual aids attractive and appropriate – it is worth spending some time to get these right. Slides or images that look poor quality will make your listeners feel that your whole speech is of poor quality. Similarly, pictures, diagrams, charts or graphs that you make should be clear and well produced. Be careful when thinking about the fonts or clip art you might choose to use, and make sure they are appropriate to the setting. 
  • Think about variety – do not just use the same visual aids over and over again. Instead, you could combine a model with a graph, and then some images at relevant points. 
  • Think about the size of your audience and the context – some visual aids will be more appropriate in some settings than others. If you are just speaking to one person, putting up a big presentation might seem strange. On the other hand, a small model will not be useful if you are presenting to a big room of people who might not be able to see it.
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Visual aids: traps to avoid

When it comes to visual aids, there are also some easy traps to avoid:

  • Do not introduce a visual aid too soon: as soon as you have a visual aid visible to the audience – whether it is a picture, a film, some words or anything else – they will immediately look at it. Therefore only introduce the visual aid at the point that it supports what you are saying. 
  • Do not just read your visual aids: for longer presentations, it can be helpful to have some of the critical points or bullet points on a slide to help listeners to take in and understand what you are saying. However, you should never put the full text of what you were going to say on a slide – people can read faster than you can speak, which means they will read before you have said what you wanted to, and then stop listening to you.
  • Do not use too many visual aids: it can quickly become overwhelming for an audience if there are too many visual aids. It means too much information for an audience to absorb, and then adds to the confusion rather than helping provide a clear explanation. 

There is a lot more guidance available on how to create visual aids out there and how to use popular tools like Microsoft PowerPoint or other presentation programs.

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Advice for

Educators

Teaching It

To teach this step:

  • The teacher can ask learners to think about how they see visual aids being used in the school day and beyond it. In the context of the school day, that might include presentation graphs, pictures, slides, posters or films. Beyond the school day, they might see people using props when talking, or posters or clips – for example, News programmes combine a presenter and visuals to tell a story. 
  • Learners can create a short presentation on a topic – this might be linked to something already being studied, or given to their choice. They could be asked to use two different visual aids – for example, a picture and some bullet points, or a short film clip or similar. They should look to build that into their presentation.
  • Learners can then give feedback about how to make the visual aids as useful as possible in backing up what the speaker is saying. 

Reinforcing it

This step is well reinforced when learners have opportunities to present their ideas or their work. On occasion, they could be encouraged to produce some slides and to talk about their response to a question, rather than just providing a written response. 

This step can also be reinforced through computing lessons when learners can practice how to create visual aids and presentations, and then take the next step in presenting them. 

Assessing it 

This step is best assessed through a structured observation activity. For example:

  • Learners prepare a short presentation of 5-10 minutes which has to include the effective use of at least two visual aids. The topic could be linked to existing subject learning or created for the occasion.

Build this step

Advice for

Employers

Build it at work: 

This step is relevant to individuals who use verbal communication to persuade others or support them to make decisions. 

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

  • Discuss with the individual what visual aids are and how they can help.
  • Explain to an individual what the benefits of using visual aids are and how they support the individual to speak engagingly.
  • Model use of a visual aid when introducing a new idea or concept to an individual to demonstrate using them effectively.
  • Set an exercise where an individual writes guidance on using visual aids which others in the team can use when delivering a presentation. 
  • Reflect with the individual about where they have seen visual aids used well or badly, and also their personal successes and challenges in this area.

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: During team presentations or training, when speaking for an extended period of time explaining an argument or idea. 
  • Working with customers or clients: When sharing new or difficult to grasp ideas or concepts with customers or clients.

Reviewing it:

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

  • Observing an individual as they deliver a presentation to see whether they can use visual aids effectively.
  • Identifying how successfully each visual aid is at supports listeners in the audience to engage with the conversation. This could be achieved by asking listeners in the audience to reflect on whether the visual aids helped them to engage with what was said. 

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Observing an individual deliver a presentation where visual aids can be introduced to see whether these can be used effectively. 
  • This can be complemented by a reflective discussion to explore the individual’s understanding of the range of visual aids available, and for them to justify the choices they made.

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

In education, you are likely to have many opportunities to present your ideas or talk to others about something familiar to you. Subject talks, persuasive presentations and assemblies are likely to be improved by the use of visual aids. It is important that you learn how to prepare a wide variety of visual aids to enhance the power of your presentations. The successful use of visuals requires you to consider and plan for any barriers to sharing the prompts, such as problems with technology, as well as ensuring they are engaging for the whole audience. It can be useful to pay attention to the talks of others so you appreciate the impact of visual aids that are inappropriate or excessive.

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

When speaking or presenting to colleagues, managers, clients or customers, the message will often be enhanced by the use of visual aids, whether a graph to demonstrate weekly sales figures, posters to demonstrate new marketing campaigns or images of new equipment. It is a useful skill to be able to use the most appropriate aid to make your point but also to be able to prepare the visual aid for yourself. Taking time to increase your ability to prepare visual aids is likely to be very useful in your future working life.

Why this skill step matters in wider life

When meeting with friends, participating in social activities or engaging with people in the wider world, we are less likely to need to prepare a presentation or use visual aids to enhance our conversations. However, there may be a unique situation where a presentation is necessary, applying for funding for a charity or event, a talk at a social event or club or even presenting your holiday slides. The learnings at this step, in terms of good practise, apply to every situation including social and informal events.

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!

  • Make a list of all the types of visual aids you could use in a presentation or when speaking to others.
  • Identify two visual aids which you have not used before, for example a PowerPoint or graph and learn how to create the visual aid. Ask someone to teach you or use the guidance available on how to use popular tools like Microsoft PowerPoint or other presentation programs.
  • Watch a presentation or talk about something you enjoy on the internet or pay specific attention to a presentation by teacher, lecturer or manager. List the visual aids used and decide whether you think it added to the message or was a distraction? Was there anything you would recommend to the speaker to improve their use of the visual aids?
  • Agree to give a talk or presentation when the opportunity next arises at school, college or work. Plan the content of your talk and then consider which points would benefit from a visual aid. Choose the most appropriate visual aid for each point. After the presentation ask the listeners for feedback about the number, style and appropriateness of the visual aids. Would you change anything if you repeated the presentation?

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