It was one of those pleasant spring days, where the weather is still rather cool and you can see a mellow morning sun shining through puffy cumulus clouds. It was 7 pm and I was coming back from my morning commute. I always listen to an audiobook or a podcast on my way back and this morning I was listening to Neil Gaiman talking to Tim Ferriss on his podcast.
Neil is one of my favorite authors and I’ve read many of his books such as “The Graveyard Book“, “Norse Mythology“, and “American Gods“, as well as relished some of his books in movie format, like “Coraline” which I enjoyed immensely.
Neil Gaiman is a proficient writer, a multi-award-winning author, and even more important, a truly great storyteller.
But another aspect of his craft which sets him apart from other great authors, at least for me, is his tone of voice. He can mesmerize you. He has a deep voice that rises and falls from a Baritone to a Contralto and back again, infused with thoughtful silences that make his anecdotes an absolute pleasure to listen to.
His voice is a mixture of David Attenborough talking about the emperor penguin’s survival in sub-zero temperatures and Baloo singing to Mowgli, the whole marinated in a warm chocolate honey syrup that has little sweet crackers in it.
Neil Gaiman could read your vacuum cleaner’s manual out loud and bring tears to your eyes.
So, back to my commute. As I reached home and started parking my car, still enjoying Neil’s story-telling in his sultry voice, I was viciously torn away from my reverie by my neighbor’s coma-inducing flurry of words coming at me in an indiscernible pattern of syllables and vowels, in no particular or understandable order.
He’s no Neil Gaiman, to say the least. In fact, he has decided to supplant Neil’s hot chocolate syrupy vocal mix with a version of his own which I could only characterize as a “Dried Grass and Gravel Smoothie”.
His technique is to align a throng of words in a series of strings that he utters in a low monotonous drizzle, frequently repeating certain segments, while trying to avoid breathing in between words, probably in an attempt to suppress any intrusion or conversation from a third party.
I couldn’t listen to him if I was in a critical life or death situation, even if he was telling me to cut the blue wire instead of the red one. It would probably be a useless attempt anyway since by droning on endlessly, the timer would run out on any dirty bomb I was supposed to diffuse.
The sad part is that I believe he’s a decent human being.
My criticism isn’t due to a lack of empathy toward a physical disability he may have; I’m not criticizing his tone of voice. What I’m talking about is the skill, or lack thereof, of effectively communicating with other human beings in a manner that incites interest and that engages emotions. It’s a skill that can be acquired.
If your parents did not slap you silly in your teens (yes, I know it’s illegal now, it’s a figure of speech) when you spoke like a 1920s steampunk automaton, please use some of the following tips to improve your communication skills.
One of the critical issues when it comes to communication skills is how you teach your mind to think before you open your mouth to utter any words.
You must train your brain to think in an organized and hierarchical manner that is understandable to other humans.
It’s a bit like coding; you can’t leave any unclosed parenthesis or the whole thing will just give errors.
I’ve provided some tips below that could help improve your communication skills.
Slow downThere are no sentence deadlines and you won’t win any medals for speaking so fast that you stumble unto your own thoughts. When you slow down, you can control your voice, your thoughts, and can better enunciate your words. Slowing down also gives you the opportunity to think properly, to create better sentences, and to know how and where you should stop speaking.
After you’ve gone through some reading, try to summarize some of the books you’ve read. One of the reasons they forced us to write summaries in school, apart from the fact that teachers just love to torture kids, was to train our brains into capturing the gist of a story. It’s an immensely valuable skill that can help you in other facets of your life.
Of the 4 Cs of education which are “Critical Thinking“, “Collaboration“, “Communication“, and “Creativity” (they have recently become 6 Cs apparently), communication is the one which allows for the most social interaction.
The biggest regrets we human beings have on our deathbeds are related to our social interactions; people crave strong, stable social relationships and communication is the tool that will allow you to create and fortify those relationships.
Learn to communicate effectively and engage your audience with a symphony of words and thoughts.
I just hope that my neighbor hasn’t ruined Neil Gaiman’s voice for me forever.