What is oral communication and why is it important?

Updated 30 September 2022

Oral communication is the transference of information via speech. Despite technologies that enable people to convey written messages almost instantaneously, verbal communication remains the chief mode of communication in today's business environment. From the interview room to the boardroom, verbal communication persuades, cajoles and convinces. In this article, we explore what verbal communication is and why it's important.

Related: What Are Communication Skills?

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What is oral communication?

Oral communication, also known as verbal communication, refers to the variety of ways in which people communicate using spoken language. The development of verbal communication is arguably what sets humans apart from other species. It allows you to share vital information and express complex thoughts and ideas. Examples of verbal communication include conversations, interviews and presentations.

What is verbal communication comprised of?

There's more to verbal communication than the words we use. It involves:

Verbal communication

Verbal communication refers to the words we use when we communicate. Our choice of words shapes how others perceive us, and this can affect the outcome of the communication. For example, if you were interviewing two candidates and candidate A says they were previously responsible for expenditure, while candidate B says they were previously responsible for how much money got spent, you may perceive candidate A to be more knowledgeable.

Related: What Are Verbal Communication Skills? (With Tips)

Nonverbal communication

Nonverbal communication includes non-spoken elements of communication, such as facial expressions, gestures, eye contact, body language and even appearance. Each one of these nonverbal elements has the potential to strongly influence how people interpret what you say. For example, if you don't make eye contact during a conversation, those listening are likely to have less trust in what you are saying.

Related: Nonverbal Communication Skills: Definition and Examples

Paraverbal communication

Paraverbal communication is the meaningful variations in the sound of the language we use. The three main components of paraverbal communication are tone, pitch and pace. Tone of voice is how your voice sounds and often reflects how you feel about what you are saying. For example, someone's tone could be serious, authoritative or sarcastic. Pitch refers to how high or low your voice is during speech, and pace is the speed at which you speak. Paraverbal communication also includes laughter, the volume of your voice and the emphasis you place on certain words.

Formal vs. informal verbal communication

Formal verbal communication follows a structure and usually takes place in official settings, such as presentations, speeches and lectures. It uses more formal language, and speakers often plan what they're going to say in advance.

Informal verbal communication takes place in relaxed settings and is largely based on social relationships. The language is more casual and there is no set form to follow. Examples include phone conversations and casual chatter between colleagues.

Related: Formal and informal communication: what's the difference?

Modes of verbal communication

There are an increasing number of ways in which verbal communication can take place. These include:

  • face-to-face conversations

  • phone calls

  • in-person meetings

  • teleconferencing and video conferencing

  • conferences

  • lectures

  • debates

  • workshops/training sessions

  • presentations

  • speeches

  • interviews

Advantages of verbal communication

Oral communication is frequently the preferred mode of communication because of its many benefits. Some of these are:

  • Speed: Verbal communication is much faster than written communication. It allows you to convey a lot of information in a short amount of time, and for those receiving the information, it's much faster than reading.

  • Immediate feedback: Verbal communication removes the requirement of having to wait for someone to write back before communication continues. This saves time and, in some circumstances, allows the listener or audience to immediately seek clarity.

  • Adding a personal touch: Listening to someone's voice is much more personal than reading words on a page or screen. Paraverbal communication, such as tone and pace, adds a personal touch, and nonverbal communication, such as body language and facial expressions, is incredibly effective in building relationships and trust.

  • Impact: The paraverbal and nonverbal elements of verbal communication make it significantly more impactful than written communication. This is especially evident in motivational speakers, who make great use of verbal communication to inspire and motivate their audiences, or politicians, who carefully construct and deliver their speeches to be as persuasive as possible.

  • Flexibility: With verbal communication, you have the flexibility to react to your audience. For example, if you see that you're losing your audience's attention during a speech, you can adjust what you're saying or employ nonverbal methods of communication to regain their attention.

  • Group communication: Verbal communication is particularly useful for groups and teams. It facilitates interactive environments, which makes communication between numerous people more practical.

  • Confidentiality: Verbal communication is well suited to transferring private and confidential information. If no one is in earshot, conversations can take place with an assurance that is absent in written communication.

Challenges of verbal communication

Verbal communication is not without challenges. Some of these are:

  • Poor retention: People can only remember so much. Unless listeners take notes, they can quickly forget what was said.

  • Difficult to document: Unless you make digital recordings, there's a danger of the audience forgetting what you said.

  • Requires receptive listeners: Grasping spoken information requires active listening. It can be easy to become distracted, and inattentiveness can lead to misunderstanding.

  • Time-consuming: Verbal communication is prone to veering off-topic. Meetings often fall behind schedule or run overtime.

  • Less precise: Verbal communication can be imprecise. It's easy for listeners to misunderstand the information they hear, especially if the speaker and listener have cultural or linguistic differences.

Related: 6 fun communication games to improve communication skills

Elements of effective verbal communication

For effective verbal communication, it's important to:

  • Know your audience: This involves making sure your language and nonverbal signals are appropriate for those listening.

  • Consider your purpose: It's important to consider the intent of your communication. For example, if you want to get your audience excited about a new product, rather than focusing on its technical details, you can speak about what it can do for them.

  • Follow a logical sequence: Present information in a logical order. This assists with overall cohesion, which helps keep your listeners engaged.

  • Speak clearly: To ensure the audience understands your message, you need to pronounce your words clearly and correctly. The pace is also important. If you speak too quickly, listeners may miss important information, and speaking too slowly runs the risk of losing the audience's attention.

  • Be concise: Use concise language to keep listeners engaged and focused. People quickly lose interest if speakers use unnecessary words, ramble or go off-topic.

  • Choose the right words: Be sure to choose words that clearly express your message in a way that is straightforward and not open to misinterpretation. Be aware that some words carry different meanings, and take steps to be sure that everyone interprets your meaning in the same way.

  • Avoid cliches: Using cliches can sound unoriginal and uninspired. Unless it's necessary, try to avoid using them by choosing your own words to convey the same meaning.

  • Speak with conviction: Having conviction in what you say can help your listeners believe in you and buy into the message you're communicating. Your nonverbal and paraverbal communication can also reflect conviction.

  • Summarise: If you've presented a lot of information, summarise it so those listening remember the key points.

  • Rehearse: Whether it's an important phone call or a presentation, rehearsing beforehand helps eliminate anxiety and makes it easier to deliver a message that is clear and concise.

Verbal communication in business

Effective verbal communication is an invaluable business tool and a core competency of many professions. It's the preferred mode of communication throughout the workplace because:

  • It's powerful: Spoken language can motivate, excite, persuade and convince an audience. This makes it an incredibly effective method for presenting ideas and marketing.

  • It enhances visual aids: People often use visual aids to complement presentations and highlight key information. You could just send this information as slides or an infographic, but combining it with an oral presentation is much more effective.

  • It's an effective way of imparting information: verbal communication is fast and particularly effective in helping people understand complex concepts. When you communicate verbally, you can offer further explanations and examples and adjust when necessary to ensure your listeners understand.

  • It's efficient: Verbal communication is efficient because it often involves using fewer resources than written communication. Technology that enables face-to-face conferencing can save time by eliminating miscommunications that often occur as a result of lengthy email exchanges.

Related: 8 tips for effective communication in the workplace

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