insights on communication skills

Insights on Communication Skills and Relationship Building

How Your Commute Can Improve Your Professional Communication Skills

Posted by Bridget Beirne on March 28, 2014

It's possible to (Safely! Safety first!) make use of that precious commute time. Considering 128.3 Million Americans are logging commute time, with the average time being 25.4 minutes, that's almost an entire hour of "found" time that you can put to good use. 

Wondering how to improve your communication skills during this time? Improving those skills takes effort, practice, and dedication whether you're preparing for a professional presentation or an important conversation with a colleague. Your commute time is set- it's not like you can go anywhere else for that window of time! Why not dedicate part of that window to working on your professional skills?

Let's get two big thoughts out of the way: 1. Safety first! While nothing on this list will require you to put in much more mental effort than singing along with that Happy song when it comes on the radio- (click with caution- you know the awesomeness of this one will get stuck in your head...) ALWAYS use your best judgment. No matter what, do not involve any of your other technology while you're driving. None of these exercises require you to do so, anyway. If you're taking public transportation you have a little more freedom as to what you can do. However, in all situations, lead with safety. 2. Use these exercises to supplement your rehearsal time, not completely replace it. In fact, these tips and tricks will be most effective if you've worked on things beforehand. That being said...

For many people, their commute time is sacred- it's a bit of quiet solace before getting to the office. (Even if laden with traffic or bus changes...) Instead of just using this time to listen to the news, try some of these:

If your commute is:

10 Minutes Driving or on Public Transportation: We've all heard of the different psyche-up techniques of athletes. (This article discusses just that, as well as interesting info on performance anxiety in sports terms.) Actors often do the same on their commute to a performance or an audition. (I'll come clean- I had one Billy Joel song that I listened to on repeat before a show, just to put myself in a different frame of mind.) Your brief commute is a great time to take advantage of the power that music has to affect us. Excited for a big presentation coming up? Put on something upbeat and enjoy the good mood. Feeling anxious about a speech or a difficult conversation? Classical music has been known to soothe the savage...communicator. Give it a listen. (For more on how music affects our brains, click here.)

25 Minutes Driving: Nail a small, tricky part of an upcoming presentation by rehearsing it in isolation. Just how-to-improve-your-professional-communication-skillslike an actor with a tricky line of dialogue, you may have a section of your presentation burdened by complex terminology or content. Start your commute with a few specific lines in your head that you need to master. Start by repeating them very slowly, then increase the speed as you travel. No more complex than singing along with the radio.

25 Minutes on Public Transportation: You may have the luxury of looking at your notes, but will probably feel more uncomfortable reciting out loud. (Hey, we hear ya!) But that doesn't mean you can't work out a tricky section as well. If you are able, read through those few tough lines, and then slowly go through them in your head. If you've used your rehearsal process beforehand, this will help polish off the groundwork that you've already laid. Even silently mouthing difficult passages can get that muscle memory kicking in.

45 Minutes Driving or More: Have an Italian Rehearsal for an upcoming professional presentation, or rehearse a difficult conversation. An Italian Rehearsal is also known as a "speed through" among actors- it's when the actors simply sit and say the lines to the play as fast as possible to work on pace, facility with the language, and knowledge of the content.  To ensure that your best professional communication skills are at play when your present, use your nearly one-hour of commute time to just speak your presentation as fast as you can. Again, safety first! This should not be any more distracting than yelling back at the radio during a call-in show. This can be helpful even if you don't have your content memorized. It will help increase your comfort with the flow of your presentation, even if you have to say things like "this is the part where (x,y,or z) happens."

Rehearsing every side of a difficult conversation is a good use of that commute time, as well. If you know you've got a big talk coming up, hash it out in the car. Practice what you will say. Brainstorm how your conversation partner will respond. The more unexpected variables you can mentally remove from the equation, the less you run the risk of confidence-crumbling nerves.

45 Minutes or More on Public Transportation: You can still reinforce the flow of your presentations or work on a difficult conversation! Give yourself a bit of a quiz and just write out a quick outline of your presentation from memory- again, the same rules apply as above. If you hit a point that you are unsure of, no need to fear! Make a note to revisit that section later. The fact that you are having difficulty remembering what comes next may be a good indicator that something is amiss with the content or structure of that section of your presentation.

Use the same exercise for a difficult conversation, but draw yourself a map. It is a great way to visualize the possible routes that the conversation might take. Start with your opener, and then branch off with the possible responses from there. For example:


"Jean, I'd like to talk to you about an issue on my mind. Is now a good time?"

"Sure, what's up?           "No, I'm not available."      "Later would be better"


Branch off your responses to each, and so on and so on. It doesn't need to be fancy or complicated- it just needs to help you prepare and organize your thoughts. Remember, the more unexpected variants you can eliminate, the better.

Your commute doesn't have to be a waste of time. A few simple exercises can help you use that time to polish your already formidable communication skills. If life is a highway, you'll be a master communicator in no time.


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