Communication is, literally, everything. But with emails and texts flying back and forth, we might all need a refresher course in face-to-face (and phone!) skills. According to Theresa Flormata-Ballesteros' book "Speech and Oral Communication," to effectively transmit information, ideas and attitudes, a clear speaking voice is first and foremost 1. Also key are good pronunciation and the ability to adequately convey your meaning. Then there are nonverbal communication skills, such as posture and body language, that play an important role as well.

What Should Your Speaking Voice Be?

When honing your public speaking skills, an appropriate volume level is a must, but it's just as important in a one-on-one or phone conversation. Flormata-Ballesteros suggests finding a volume and loudness level that is appropriate to the situation. If you are standing next to someone, it's obviously inappropriate to shout in order to be heard. On the other hand, when speaking to a large group of people, you'll need to raise your voice loud enough so that everyone is able to hear you. But there's a fine line: Everyone should be able to understand what you are saying without straining their ears WITHOUT getting irritated because you are speaking too loudly. You'll also want to avoid the all-too-common monotone. Using the appropriate intonation and tempo also helps to convey your message. For example, if you want to convey extra emphasis to an important word, you might speak more slowly and emphatically.

How to Speak More Assertively

Heads up to the wallflowers: Good verbal communication requires the ability to be assertive. In fact, numerous studies have identified a significant correlation between assertiveness and psychological well being, so practicing this skill can have a positive effect on your self-confidence and self-esteem. Thankfully, there are a few tricks to adding this secret ingredient into your conversations and presentations. Try to use "I" statements when conveying your feelings or opinions to others. This helps you to sound less accusatory and others will be less likely to take offense, particularly if you are broaching sensitive topics. Learn to say no to other people -- and mean it. You don't have to beat around the bush if you have to turn someone down. Short and concise replies and explanations generally work best, and you won't come across as a pushover.

How to Know When to Tone It Down

While speaking more assertively is necessary for some people, others might need to take it down a notch. Try to keep your emotions in check -- getting too angry or frustrated makes your message totally ineffective. To improve overly assertive communication, start by recognizing that violating other people’s trust is not the way to gain it. You can come across as in charge and knowledgeable and still show respect for the feelings and opinions of others. Randy J. Paterson, PhD, author of “The Assertiveness Workbook: How to Express Your Ideas and Stand Up for Yourself at Work and in Relationships”, discusses how “assertiveness isn’t about building a good disguise -- it’s about developing the courage to take the disguise off.” Resorting to condescension, biting sarcasm and insults mask the desire to control the behavior of others, so learning to let go is the biggest step you can take in the right direction 2.

Check Your Body Language

Being aware of your body language can help your oral communications to be more effective. You can lend your words more authority by holding your body in a relaxed manner, neither tense and threatening nor small and cowardly. When practicing this relaxed posture, take a quick scan of your body: Where are you holding tension? Take note of your posture. Standing with your arms crossed or lean away from the other person may seem detached or defensive. Also be sure to make appropriate eye contact. If you look away frequently, you may seem distracted or uninvolved in the conversation. Don't distract from your message by wringing your hands or making dramatic gestures. Regardless of what you are actually saying, fidgeting and tapping your foot run the risk of coming across as nervous, dramatic or unsure.