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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 9, individuals will show that they can use their tone, expression and gesture to engage listeners with what they are saying. 

In Step 6, the concepts of tone, expression and gesture were introduced. This step goes much further than that by focusing on how to use tone, expression and gesture to speak engagingly.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • What are tone, expression and gesture (a reminder from step 6) 
  • Choosing tone to be engaging
  • Adapting expression to be engaging 
  • Using gestures to be engaging

Reflection questions

  • What are tone, expression and gesture?
  • How do they work together to affect the meaning of what is said? 
  • How can you use tone, expression and gesture to make your speaking engaging?
  • Are there things that you should avoid?

What you need to know

What are tone, expression and gesture?

As a reminder of Step 6:

Tone: We can refer to this way that something is said. This tone varies by several dimensions:

  • Pitch: This about how high or low someone is speaking 
  • Tempo: How quickly someone is speaking 
  • Volume: This is how loudly or quietly someone is speaking
  • Intonation: This is about where the emphasis is placed on different words

Expression is how your face communicates information to whoever you are speaking to. By moving our faces in different ways, we convey a range of emotions from joy to disgust. 

A gesture is a movement of the body which means something.

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Why are they important?

When we are listening, we are building up an understanding of what is being communicated. This understanding is not just from the words themselves, but also how they are being said and the way someone is moving their body and their face. When we listen, we take clues from each of these to build up our understanding of what someone is communicating.

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Choosing the right tone

  • Pitch: Try to keep your pitch from low to medium. Low pitch gives the appearance of calm and confidence, whereas a high pitch gives the opposite impression. However, some changing of your pitch through your talk can help to provide variety that makes listening more interesting. 
  • Tempo: Try to speak at a moderate pace. Speaking slowly gives the impression of calm and control, whereas speaking too quickly makes someone seem panicked and not in control – and can also be hard to follow. It can work well to speak at a moderate pace so that the audience does not get bored, but to include pauses so that they can think about what you have said. 
  • Volume: Speak at a volume that makes it easy for the listener to hear you, but not too loud that they are uncomfortable. You can change your volume over time – for example, if you want someone to pay close attention or lean in, you can slightly lower your volume. Sometimes speakers, particularly with larger audiences, speak more loudly at other times to show passion and emphasis on what they are saying. 
  • Intonation: Generally, a downward intonation adds gravitas and authority to what is being said – it sounds like a statement rather than an invitation for discussion or disagreement.
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Adapting your expressions

As a general rule, you should think about what emotion you want your listeners to feel, and ensure that your facial expressions support that. 

Normally, if you are sharing information, you will want to keep an expression of being interested and enthused. 

However, sometimes you might be trying to get your listeners to have a different response – perhaps you want them to be shocked, surprised or embarrassed. In each case, how your facial expression changes will influence how they feel about the words you are saying. 

If you are speaking for an extended period, you might want to think about how to create variety through what you are saying. For example, you might want your audience to be initially puzzled by a problem you pose, then surprised by some facts that you share, then excited when you show a solution.

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Using appropriate gestures

Generally, gestures are also a way of conveying emotion but we are often less aware of them than we are of our facial expressions. 

Normally, if talking we want to show an openness and interest in what we are saying – in which case, we want to face the people we are speaking to, use open gestures with our hands and use eye contact to show engagement.

However, as with facial expression, sometimes you are looking for a different emotional response from your audience and it can be helpful to model that with how you use gesture.

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Advice for

Educators

Teaching It

To teach this step:

  • The teacher can model how they use tone, gesture and expression to engage learners when they are talking. They can pause at different moments to provide a commentary of how they are using those elements to engage their listeners. 
  • Learners can then practice giving a short, prepared speech of maybe 1 minute, trying out different variations of tone, expression and gesture. Working with a partner, they could get feedback on what the impact is of how they have spoken. This could be repeated with the goal of eliciting different responses from the listener (boredom, excitement, curiosity or others). 
  • Learners can then prepare a short speech of up to 3 minutes that they aim to deliver to achieve a goal around the response they want from their audience. If they feel able to, they could even seek to add variety into how they deliver the speech to achieve a different emotional response from the audience at different points in their speech. 
  • Other learners might observe and look to identify examples of how tone, gesture and expression have been used through the speech. 

Reinforcing it

This step lends itself well to reinforcement in the setting of a classroom. Learners can be reminded of how they might use their tone, expression and gesture before giving presentations or speaking in front of their peers.

Opportunities like presentations, assemblies, shows or other events can help learners practice using these elements to make their speaking as compelling as possible. 

Assessing it 

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

  • Asking learners to prepare a short speech of 3-5 minutes, being warned in advance that they will be assessed on their ability to use tone, expression and gesture.
  • These can then be assessed by a teacher.

Build this step

Advice for

Employers

Build it at work: 

This step is relevant to people who use extended verbal communication to engage or persuade others in the course of their work. 

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

  • Discuss with the individual what they know about tone, expression and gesture and how they currently use it when speaking.
  • Explain how to choose tone, expression and gesture which helps them to engage their audience. 
  • Model how to adapt gesture, expression or tone to create variety through a speech. A manager might demonstrate how to make these choices based on the emotional response they want. 
  • Task an individual to brainstorm how they will vary their tone, expression and gesture to achieve three emotional responses from an audience. 
  • Reflect with the individual about how well their variations in tone achieved the desired emotional response.

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: During presentations to other team members, or when trying to persuade in conversation. 
  • Working with customers or clients: When having persuasive conversations or presentations. 

Reviewing it:

For those already employed, this step can be assessed through observation or asking customers or colleagues to supply feedback on an individual. For instance:

  • Observing an individual during a presentation or an extended team meeting to observe how well they adapt their tone, gesture and expression to match the energy of the audience.
  • Reviewing whether the individual is generally successful in engaging customers or clients through their tone, expression and gesture. 

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Observing an individual’s assessed presentation and looking for evidence of engagement. This might include looking particularly for evidence of tone, gesture and expression being deployed effectively.

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 school or college, there are many opportunities to speak or present to others. We may aim to interest and engage people in a subject we have studied and share our enthusiasm or we may aim to persuade others, for example, senior staff or student council. In each situation the use of tone, expression and gesture will need to be varied according to the message you are trying to impart and the reason for the talk. You may need to talk with passion and enthusiasm at about something you feel strongly about at a student council meeting, but calmly and respectfully in an assembly.

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

When speaking to colleagues,clients or customers, care is required to ensure you use a tone, expression and gesture to match the circumstances of the situation. Fun, vibrant and loud speech may be very engaging and interesting at lunch break with colleagues but a more measured approach or even a variety of approaches might be called for when presenting new ideas to management or potential clients.

Why this skill step matters in wider life

The use of appropriate tone,expression or gestures can ensure the listener understands the meaning of your words and is totally engaged with the content. Friends who know you well will have an even greater understanding of your meaning and are likely to fully engage with the subject and possibly replicate your mood. However, with people less known to you, in shops, on public transport or at sports matches and concerts, there is a need to be more considered with your tone, expression and gestures if you are to engage the listener. The listener is more likely to disengage if any features are inappropriate for the purpose.

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!

  • Think about the teachers you currently have, or had when you were at school or college. Think about one whose lessons you particularly enjoyed. Can you visualise them teaching? Think about how they used tone, expression and gestures to engage you in the lesson. Compare with the actions of a teacher whose lessons you did not enjoy quite as much.
  • Plan a short talk for a lesson or meeting on a subject you enjoy. Annotate your planning notes with places where you think a particular tone, expression or gesture would help to engage the listener. Have you included much variety?
  • Watch an internet talk by someone who is enthusiastic and excited about their subject or job: for example, Ore Oduba, Mary Berry, Chris Packham, Stacey Dooley, James Cracknell, Samira Ahmed, or any number of TED Talks. Watch the talk without sound and observe their gestures and expressions. Listen to the talk. Do they engage you?

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