Like my blog on



Share my blog on Twitter!

Powered by Squarespace

Communication in the Real World: Blog

Entries in communication tips (2)


Communication Competence Part 1: Getting Started on your Road to Communication Competence

Note: This is the first post in a series that will focus on communication competence.

As we prepare for a new academic year, many students will take a communication course for the first time. Perhaps you visited this blog because my textbook, Communication in the Real World, is being used in your course. If so, thank you for visiting, and please feel free to contact me with any questions or feedback about the book.

 For many students, their introductory course in communication is the only communication course they ever take. But, that doesn't mean that the need for improving our communication skills and increasing our communication knowledge will be met completely.

Being competent at something basically means you know what you're doing. Communication competence refers to the knowledge of effective and appropriate communication patterns and the ability to use and adapt that knowledge in various contexts.  To better understand this definition, let’s break apart its components.

Gaining Knowledge and Communication Competence

The first part of the definition we will unpack deals with knowledge. The cognitive elements of competence include knowing how to do something and understanding why things are done the way they are.[i]

People can develop cognitive competence by observing and evaluating the actions of others.

Cognitive competence can also be developed through instruction.

If you are currently taking a communication class, I encourage you to try to observe the communication concepts you are learning in the communication practices of others and yourself. This will help bring the concepts to life and also help you evaluate how communication in the real world matches up with communication concepts. As you build a repertoire of communication knowledge based on your experiential and classroom knowledge, you will also be developing behavioral competence.

Using Your Knowledge to Communicate Competently

The second part of the definition of communication competence that we will unpack is the ability to use.

Individual factors affect our ability to do anything. Not everyone has the same athletic, musical, or intellectual ability. At the individual level, a person’s physiological and psychological characteristics affect competence.

In terms of physiology, age, maturity, and ability to communicate affect competence.

In terms of psychology, a person’s mood, stress level, personality, and level of communication apprehension (level of anxiety regarding communication) affect competence.[ii]

All these factors will either help or hinder you when you try to apply the knowledge you have learned to actual communication behaviors. For example, you might know strategies for being an effective speaker, but public speaking anxiety that kicks in when you get in front of the audience may prevent you from fully putting that knowledge into practice.

Adaptability and Communication Competence

The third part of the definition we will unpack is ability to adapt to various contexts.

What is competent or not varies based on social and cultural context, which makes it impossible to only have one standard for what counts as communication competence.[iii]

Social variables such as status and power affect competence. In a social situation where one person—say, a supervisor—has more power than another—for example, his or her employee—then the supervisor is typically the one who sets the standard for competence.

Cultural variables such as race and nationality also affect competence. A Taiwanese woman who speaks English as her second language may be praised for her competence in the English language in her home country but be viewed as less competent in the United States because of her accent.

In summary, although we have a clear definition of communication competence, there are not definitions for how to be competent in any given situation, since competence varies at the individual, social, and cultural level.

Developing communication competence takes time and effort, but it can also bring many rewards. In the next entry, we will learn more about the types of communication competence that college students should gain and the potential benefits of them.

[i] Owen Hargie, Skilled Interpersonal Interaction: Research, Theory, and Practice (London: Routledge, 2011), 9.

[ii] Ralph E. Cooley and Deborah A Roach, “A Conceptual Framework,” in Competence in Communication: A Multidisciplinary Approach, ed. Robert N. Bostrom (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 1984), 24.

[iii] Ralph E. Cooley and Deborah A Roach, “A Conceptual Framework,” in Competence in Communication: A Multidisciplinary Approach, ed. Robert N. Bostrom (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 1984), 26.


Practical Ways to Manage Your Fear of Public Speaking

This article is the first in a series on public speaking anxiety. Check back for more posts on the most recent public speaking anxiety research and more strategies for addressing this common problem. 

If you feel fear, anxiety, or discomfort when confronted with the task of speaking in front of an audience, you are not alone. National polls consistently show that public speaking is among Americans’ top fears.[i] Yet, since we all have to engage in some form of public speaking, this is a fear that many people must face regularly.

Effectively managing speaking anxiety has many positive effects on your speaking. One major area that can improve with less anxiety is delivery. Although speaking anxiety is natural and normal, it can interfere with verbal and nonverbal delivery, which makes a speech less effective. In my book, Communication in the Real World, I address public speaking anxiety in more detail, but below are some tips for addressing public speaking anxiety.  

What is Public Speaking Anxiety?

Public speaking anxiety is a type of communication apprehension that produces physiological, cognitive, and behavioral reactions in people when faced with a real or imagined presentation.[ii]

Physiological responses to public speaking anxiety include increased heart rate, flushing of the skin or face, and sweaty palms, among other things. These reactions are the result of natural chemical processes in the human body. The fight or flight instinct helped early humans survive threatening situations. When faced with a ferocious saber-toothed tiger, for example, the body releases adrenaline, cortisol, and other hormones that increase heart rate and blood pressure to get more energy to the brain, organs, and muscles in order to respond to the threat. We can be thankful for this evolutionary advantage, but our physiology hasn’t caught up with our new ways of life. Our body doesn’t distinguish between the causes of stressful situations, so facing down an audience releases the same hormones as facing down a wild beast.

Cognitive reactions to public speaking anxiety often include intrusive thoughts that can increase anxiety: “People are judging me,” “I’m not going to do well,” and “I’m going to forget what to say.” These thoughts are reactions to the physiological changes in the body but also bring in the social/public aspect of public speaking in which speakers fear being negatively judged or evaluated because of their anxiety.

The physiological and cognitive responses to anxiety lead to behavioral changes. All these thoughts may lead someone to stop their speech and return to their seat or leave the room completely. Anticipating these reactions can also lead to avoidance behavior where people intentionally avoid situations where they will have to speak in public.

Since we can't always avoid public speaking, the tips below can help you address your fears of public speaking.

Click the infographic thumbnail below for a downloadable version of the list. 


Top Ten Tips for Reducing and Managing Speaking Anxiety

10.   Remember, you are not alone. Public speaking anxiety is common, so don’t ignore it— confront it. 

9.     Remember, you can’t literally “die of embarrassment.” Audiences are forgiving and understanding   

8.     Remember, it always feels worse than it looks.

7.    Take deep breaths. It releases endorphins, which naturally fight the adrenaline that causes anxiety.

6.    Look the part. Dress professionally to enhance confidence.

5.    Channel your nervousness into positive energy and motivation.

4.    Start your outline and research early. Better information = higher confidence.

3.    Practice and get feedback from a trusted source. (Don’t just practice for your cat.)

2.    Visualize success through positive thinking.

1.    Prepare, prepare, prepare! Practice is a speaker’s best friend.

Click "Share Article" below to easily share on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media. 

[i] Graham D. Bodie, “A Racing Heart, Rattling Knees, and Ruminative Thoughts: Defining, Explaining, and Treating Public Speaking Anxiety,” Communication Education 59, no. 1 (2010): 70.

[i] Graham D. Bodie, “A Racing Heart, Rattling Knees, and Ruminative Thoughts: Defining, Explaining, and Treating Public Speaking Anxiety,” Communication Education 59, no. 1 (2010): 71.