How to become a better listener and why it’s important for building relationships

I’m a language teacher. You hear a lot about listening skills in language courses. It’s an important skill to develop, but most of the time, the exercises are something that you have to listen to and write down some important information. That’s fine as a way to test that people have understood what they were listening to, but most of the important information we get from listening doesn’t happen when we’re listening to something where we have no input. It comes from conversations.

We all need to listen

It’s not just learners of a language who should improve their listening skills. It’s something we all need to think about.

Blind people and listening

Let’s quickly use this opportunity to deal with the myth that blind people’s hearing is naturally better. We may train our ears to be more perceptive because we don’t have access to the sense of sight, but it’s not some kind of automatic super-sense. In any event, hearing and really listening are not the same thing. I know blind people who don’t listen well and rarely pay attention. So what I mean is that this whole listening thing is not automatically easier for me. It’s something that we all need to put time and energy into learning and becoming better at.

Listening is not just about hearing what people say. It’s also about what they don’t say, how they say things, what they avoid saying, how long it takes to answer… Information that they thought others wouldn’t pick up on. All these things can give you vital clues as to what they really mean.

So why is it important to listen?

1. If you don’t, you can miss important information

This can have terrible consequences for you if you are at work. You might not have the most up-to-date information, and this may mean that you make mistakes/do unnecessary work/just don’t know what’s going on.

Also, if you’re not paying attention, others can pick up on the fact that you weren’t listening. This might be embarrassing if you suddenly say something that someone else has already mentioned earlier in the meeting. It draws attention to you in a negative way, and that’s the contribution that people will remember from the meeting.

2. It helps to show that you are interested

I sometimes use the example of the student who was really surprised that I remembered what he’d said in our previous lesson when I asked how he was. Someone was ill in the family, so I asked about them next time I saw him. He was surprised I remembered. I was surprised that he was surprised!

But the point is, if you show an interest in people and the things that they tell you, it makes them feel heard and strengthens your relationship. It’s also just part of being a decent human, which should really be the main motivation. If you’re doing it as part of a formula to build stronger relationships, people will see through it sooner or later!

3. It will help you to ask the right follow up questions

If you’re having a conversation with someone, you can’t plan everything out in advance. Conversations are spontaneous. You don’t know what the other person will say, and therefore, even if you have some ideas of what you want to find out, really listening to the other person’s answers will help you to understand and ask better follow-up questions. This shows that you are engaging with them and what they have to say.

4. It prevents small problems from becoming bigger

Sort out the issue before it grows and becomes harder to resolve. Find out as soon as possible if people aren’t happy, if something’s wrong, or if there’s a problem with something you’re working on. If you know about it, you can try to fix it – or at least try to be part of the solution.

5. It shows you don’t think everything is about your agenda

I imagine most people don’t actually think this, but when they only focus on their ideas or contributions, it can feel a bit like that for others in the conversation, and that’s not a good image to promote.

How to be a better listener

1. Focus on the person and their words

This means really listening to them.

I’ve worked in an office where I could have a conversation and keep typing about something unrelated, but if it’s a serious conversation, give someone your full attention. This means not checking your phone, looking out of the window, taking calls, answering emails etc. Even if you are able to listen and do those things, they can give the impression that you are pre-occupied with something else.

2. Listen to learn, not to plan what you want to say next

This can be hard if you’re operating in another language because you also need time to think about what you want to say. But if you use the time while the other person is talking to think about your own next sentence, you will miss things, and you’ll make it harder for the conversation to flow.

3. Misplaced “empathy” is a problem

Sometimes people can be really quick to try and show empathy, but this can come across as clumsy and counterproductive if what they’re really doing is recounting a similar (or maybe not similar) experience of their own. Shared experience is good, but sometimes people need space to talk, and not to hear how you “know how they feel”, when chances are, you probably don’t if you haven’t even let them finished telling you what happened or how they felt about it.

4. Make sure advice is relevant

This is similar to the empathy point, but you can’t give good advice if you don’t understand the problem. Give people time to finish explaining it first before you plough ahead giving your advice or solutions.

5. Be ok with some silence

A lot of people are uncomfortable with silence, but some silence is good. It gives people time to reflect on what the other person has said, or on what they want to say next. If you fill all the time with words, you take away someone else’s chance to think and speak.

Long, uncomfortable silences are something else. But taking a few seconds to reflect or let a point sink in can really help the other person – and you – to move on with the conversation in a meaningful way.

6. make time for people

If you don’t have time for an important conversation, don’t start it until you do. If something needs your attention, try and make time for it. Trying to talk with someone who looks like they’d rather be somewhere else can be really off-putting and some people will just shut down or say it wasn’t important because the other person looks like they’re about to leave at any second.

7. ask relevant questions that show you are listening

Most of the time, the things that people say will give you clues about what to say or ask next. But you won’t know this unless you listen and think about the information that the other person has just given you, or the information gaps that they need to fill in for you.

8. people want to be heard

This is particularly relevant now that more of us are spending time in online meetings, but from my time in companies that had more face-to-face meetings, it’s always been an issue. Don’t talk over people. Don’t shut them down because you think you know what they are trying to say. Don’t patronise them by giving the impression that you know better.

9. don’t interrupt

Following on from the point about letting people be heard, don’t interrupt them either. People do this for a number of reasons – because they want to say something that they think is urgent, because they want to disagree, or even because they want to agree sometimes. But apart from being rude, it’s stealing the other person’s opportunity to finish what they were saying.

10. Summarise what you’ve heard

Is it the same as what the other person wanted to communicate? If not, now’s the time to fix that misunderstanding before you leave and go away with a completely different understanding than the other person. Fix it now before you act on or pass that incomplete/inaccurate information on to someone else!

Find out more

This is where you can get in touch with me or sign up for my monthly newsletter.





    Craig Smith

    Interview with Craig Smith on proofreading, editing, and tips for correcting your own writing

    Craig Smith from CRS Editorial came on my podcast to talk about his new business, the difference between a podcaster and an editor, and some tips for when you’re checking your own work. You can listen to our conversation on my English with Kirsty site, or you can read a text version of Craig’s answers below.

    Can you tell us something about yourself?

    Hi. I’m Craig Smith from CRS Editorial. I am an editor, proofreader, copywriter and journalist with over 20 years’ experience of working across many formats with different-sized organisations and for a wide range of target audiences.

    With near enough my whole career spent in the publishing sector, I have edited and proofread work for a wide range of clients. In addition to editing and proofreading, I am also a proficient writer having written for, and being the editor of, a membership health and fitness publication and the UK’s leading sports coaching magazine. I am also a blog writer having completed such work for several organisations.

    I am the proud proofreader of the 2020 edition of Safe Practice in Physical Education, School Sport and Physical Activity – a recommended resource for all schools delivering these activities on the national curriculum. My most recent work involved proofreading a fantasy fiction novel.

    Key work has been completed on behalf of the NHS, multiple national governing bodies, and for local and national media. Throughout my 20+ years in the industry I have written, edited and proofread hundreds of items, ranging from one-page marketing flyers, journals, annual reviews, all the way through to 400-page resources, with an ability to tailor my skills for both print and digital format.

    What’s one thing that you have learned as someone who set up their own business?

    I would say I learnt a lot of things going from full-time employment to setting up my own business, but the main point would have to be trusting my instinct. I knew I had the foundations in place as a qualified editor, proofreader and copywriter, so once I had researched what was required to go solo, I thought the time was right and so I took the plunge in October 2020. I should add too, how supportive people were and continue to be.

    Can you explain the key differences between proofreading and editing?

    Firstly, I would say the edit can take on a few forms. Initially, there is the ‘copy edit’ or the ‘content edit’.

    Copy editing involves editing fresh from the source (so, the author). The purpose here is to check typos, basic grammar, inconsistencies, style (is there a house or a preferred style?), structure and to raise editorial queries relating to sense, references, abbreviations and heading levels. Minor suggestions are also highlighted at this stage.

    Content editing includes elements of crossover with a copy edit, though this stage delves deeper into the editorial process. It can include restructuring, and conducting research into queries concerning references and abbreviations. A content edit can also initiate suggestions to the author for potential rewriting, if required.

    Both copy editing and content editing do not necessarily require a subject area background. Although this may be of benefit, the ultimate job of the editor is to see things from the reader’s perspective, breaking things down and ensuring clarity of message.

    A proofreader will act as a second pair of eyes and will read through the content, which has most likely by this stage been designed if it is for publication. The proofreader will check for consistency and layout. If requested to do so, a proofreader can also perform a ‘proof check’ against the editor’s file to ensure everything the editor submitted to the designer has been included.

    I think it is important to stress that the proofreader and the editor are separate people, as fresh eyes to the project can highlight new things. Take a published book, for example (it doesn’t matter whether it is printed or digital). The editor will edit the content before it goes to a designer. The proofreader will view the document after it has been designed.

    The reason for this? We are all human and mistakes can creep in at the design stage, or it may be the editor missed something at the outset.

    When you’re looking at other people’s writing, what are a couple of the biggest mistakes or problems that you come across?

    I would say the overriding one is inconsistency. It may be of tense used, character names in novels, layout of a resource, page numbers being incorrect, or typos here and there.

    I think the biggest tip I can give is to get someone else to look over your work. You may think you have everything correct, but the chances are you are too close to your work and therefore a fresh pair of eyes could highlight things you had not even considered. Everything written is produced for a target audience in mind. It is crucial that your work reaches this audience and resonates with them, otherwise, they will switch off. That is where an editor or a proofreader can add so much.

    Where can we find you online?

    You can visit visit my website, find me on Twitter, or connect with me on LinkedIn.

    Thanks Craig for sharing your story and your ideas with us.

    Find out more

    I also link episodes of the podcast that are focussed on aspects of communication in my monthly EwK Services newsletter. You can sign up for it using the form below.





      Managing expectations – the power of “no”!

      I just got a call from someone who wanted to talk to me about something that I really wasn’t interested in!

      First I said I was busy. This was true enough, but really it was just an excuse. I knew deep down I wasn’t going to find time for this thing because I didn’t want to do it.

      So of course, saying I was busy gave the idea that this was the problem. Most people aren’t busy all the time, so the obvious next question was “can I call you back later?”

      If I’d said yes, I’d only be delaying the inevitable phone call that I didn’t want, or stringing someone along because I knew that ultimately I wasn’t going to agree to the request.

      So I said it would be better if they didn’t because I didn’t want to do the thing that they were asking of me. This saved both of our time because they wouldn’t be calling me again!

      Harsh? Maybe! But it’s also fair because I managed her expectations. I showed that I respected my time and hers.

      Sometimes a polite “no” is better than a “maybe later” so that everybody knows where they stand. We’re all busy. We can all find a bit more time for the things that are important to us. How does the saying go? If you want something to be done, ask a busy person!

      So the next time you use the excuse that you’re too busy, maybe ask yourself if you’re really too busy, or you just don’t want to do the thing! If it’s the latter, it might be better to find a way to get that across respectfully so the other person knows where they stand instead of giving them false hope that you might not be busy later. It will save you time too because the other person won’t keep trying to see if you are a bit less busy!

      It’s good to be open to new opportunities, but sometimes this pressure to always say “yes” can end up putting us under more pressure, and being less honest with ourselves and others.

      The lockdown has brought that home. I’ve heard people saying “I didn’t really want to agree to meet up online after work, but what else have I got to do? We can’t go anywhere, so they know we’re in”.

      But we all have choices. We all have responsibilities, whether that’s to others, to our businesses or to ourselves. It’s ok to be a bit less busy. It’s ok to say “no thank you” if you just don’t fancy something or if the answer is never going to be a heartfelt “yes”!

      If you’d like to receive my monthly newsletter with communication tips, use the sign-up form at the bottom of this page.





        Small talk for those who don’t enjoy it

        I work mainly with people who need to use English at work. Most people come to me because they want to improve their speaking skills, but generally it’s not the technical presentations or the detailed descriptions of their products that cause the problems.
        No! It’s the small talk. I know it’s not only my language learner students who struggle with this. Many people don’t enjoy it in their first language either.

        You never know exactly what the other person is going to say, or whether they will keep the conversation going. Nobody wants to stand there, feeling awkward, and wishing that they had a brilliant reply or an idea that would keep everyone talking.

        I talk a lot at work and I can get most people into a conversation about something or other, but I do struggle to gather up the energy to do it sometimes. Small talk can drain me in a way that a passionate conversation about something that I care about never will.

        I believe I’m not alone. There are more people like me who either can’t be bothered to fight to make themselves heard, or who don’t see the point of talking about something which is completely irrelevant to them, just to have something to say.

        When I asked one of my friends why he doesn’t like small talk, he said that he didn’t want to be false and pretend to be interested in topics that bored him. I can understand this, and I feel like this sometimes, but I find it easier to focus on small talk as a tool for getting to know someone, rather than the topic, which could indeed be at best superficial and at worst a bit dull at first.

        I’m not here to say it’s ok not to get involved in small talk, though I do understand it will never be a favourite pastime for some of us! We may always need to work a bit harder than those to whom it comes naturally. But I would like to offer you some tips on how to engage in the activity, even if you don’t particularly enjoy it.

        Why is small talk important?

        When I was younger, I had a guide dog who helped me to get around because of my visual impairment. She was a big, happy golden retriever and many people loved her.

        The problem was, it was always the same. I’d settle down on the train after a long day at work, on my long commute out of London ready to read my book. Then people would decide they wanted to talk to me.

        “What’s your dog’s name?”
        “How old is she?”
        “Isn’t she a good dog?”
        “Do you know your dog’s beautiful?”

        Yes, I did know my dog was beautiful, and her name and age were the same answers I gave when someone else asked me a couple of hours before!

        There is nothing wrong with the questions, but when you go through the same ones again and again, it can feel a bit pointless. A bit like talking about the weather, a popular thing to discuss when nobody knows what else to say.

        The thing is that the questions weren’t always pointless. Sometimes they were just a way to start a conversation.

        Sometimes it never went past the “what a pretty face” stage, but sometimes it ended up with me finding out from one lady about a charity that helps lost dogs, another man recognising me from a previous conversation and giving me train information that hadn’t been announced, and a third lady became a good friend with whom I went on a couple of weekend breaks and who introduced me to some of her friends. A group of us even ended up spending Christmas together!

        Without those seemingly pointless beginnings, or the general questions that I’d answered a million times before, the rest of the relationship would not have developed.

        So what can you do if you don’t enjoy small talk?

        Here are some tips.

        #1. See it as a means to an end

        Don’t think “this is pointless/boring/a waste of time”, but see it as a way of getting to know the other person and for them to get to know you. It’s the wrapping paper on the Christmas present! You can’t get to the present inside unless you first take off the wrapping paper! Don’t feel pressured into believing it’s something you’ll grow to love. Maybe you won’t, but it’s often part of the job, so if you don’t love it, settle for developing strategies that will help you to make the most of it.

        2. Find common interests

        If you’re worried that you’ll run out of things to say, think of some ways you can keep conversations going and avoid awkward silences. These include things like finding common interests, asking questions based on what the other person has just said, and bringing other people into the conversation.

        #3. Set a time limit

        If it’s a social event and you’re really not looking forward to it, set yourself a time limit. Of course it’s better if you try to enjoy yourself, but if you really struggle, it’s easier if you know you’re leaving at 10 o’clock, rather than waiting for the last person to leave. This is easier in larger groups than on a one-to-one or small group basis, but it can give you something to work towards.

        Many of the online meetings that we attend now do have set time limits, and it’s easier to make your excuses and leave if things are going on a bit!

        #4. Move around

        This is harder in the online space, but if you’re at a physical event, try to move around. This won’t work at a sit-down meal with allocated seats, but maybe the people in a different group are talking about something to which you can contribute more. You won’t know unless you go and find out!

        5. 1 to one conversations are often easier than large groups

        Sometimes it’s easier to take the initiative with just one person than to find a way to fit into a conversation that is already going on, perhaps not in a direction where you have anything to say.

        Can you start up a conversation with someone who’s on their own? They may well thank you for it!

        6. Ask questions and actively listen

        You don’t have to do all the talking. Sometimes it’s enough to ask good questions. You’d be amazed how much some people enjoy talking about themselves! Of course you don’t want it to be too one-sided, but getting other people talking is a good way to remain part of the conversation and not have to talk as much, if this is something that you feel less comfortable doing.

        We call it small talk, but conversation is a give-and-take process that involves talking and listening. To be good at conversations, you have to be good at listening as well, and people definitely value it if they feel someone is really listening to them. Also, you can learn so much about other people if you actively listen, which makes it easier to develop a better relationship with them.

        7. Start small

        Bear in mind that you might find small talk uncomfortable, but approaching people that you’ve just met for the first time with deep and meaningful conversations has the potential to make them feel uncomfortable too! It’s all about balance! Maybe your conversation partner will get away from trivial things that you find boring, but it’s usually safer to start with safer topics!

        The key word there is “start”. We never improve skills that we never use!

        So, whether you love it or hate it, small talk is a part of our daily lives, and it does help to make connections with people in a way that other forms of communication can’t.

        See whether you can try to make it something that works for you, rather than something to be avoided at all costs!

        Find out more

        If you would be interested in more articles about language, communication, and getting your message across well, you can sign up for my monthly newsletter using the form below:





          Difficult colleagues – or when communication styles clash

          I don’t think anyone goes out of their way to be difficult, but it’s a fact that some people are naturally easier to get along with than others. We don’t all feel drawn to the same people though, so some of it can also be to do with how we relate to people as well and what our preferences are.

          Sometimes a person may have a reputation for being difficult. Other times their style of communicating may just not work so well with certain people in the workplace.

          Either way – sometimes conflict can arise at work and I’d like to look at some communication strategies for dealing with or diffusing these situations.

          If someone has annoyed you – and let’s face it, from time to time people do – it’s always better to respond rather than react. Think about what your response will communicate to the other person. Take time if you need to – but don’t just fire off an angry or sarcastic email, or copy in more people to prove your point in front of an audience and make the other person think twice about annoying you in the future. Doing this kind of thing can reflect on you too, and not in a good way!

          Obviously specific problems need specific solutions – these are just a few tips that focus on communication

          What’s the best way to communicate?

          Nowadays so much more of our communication is taking place online. Some of us love this. It’s been my preferred way of communicating for years, and I often keep in touch with some of my best friends in text chat or online meetings. That was the case even before the pandemic. I have a global network, and a lot of my friends spend a lot of their business and private lives online.

          But some people have had to make a transition to more online working, and some people are finding this transition easier than others. Some people find it more uncomfortable, and this can affect their working relationships – because they really miss the face-to-face interactions or chats around the coffee machine.

          What is really the problem?

          Is it the person or the action?

          Not everyone will like everyone, and you will naturally find some people easier to work with than others – because of how they interact, how they work, how much they communicate, how much they like small talk etc. Often there isn’t a right or a wrong way to do these things, but they can make it harder when people clash.

          I remember a colleague that a number of other colleagues found difficult to work with. We got on just fine. The colleague was pretty direct and to the point. If they thought something was a bad idea, they would tell you – straight away. I liked that, and we developed a good working relationship.

          So your “difficult colleague” might be someone else’s favourite person! Sometimes we’re just different and it helps to look at your own communication with the other person, to see whether there is anything that they respond better to, and whether you can communicate with them in a way that will get a better reaction.

          If you know that someone is likely to annoy you, try not to dismiss their ideas automatically. I will always remember my boss telling me that one day one of my other colleagues might have a really good idea, but I’d miss it, because I immediately became dismissive whenever I saw her name. He was right.

          Or is it what they are doing

          It’s easier to pin down if the thing that you find difficult is what the person is doing. Are they leaving everything to the last minute, which impacts on your ability to do your job? Do they keep changing their mind, which makes it hard for people to know what they are supposed to be doing? Do they fail to pass on information, which means people don’t know what’s going on? Do they sing at their desk and distract everyone (yes I’ve had to deal with this!)? Do they spread gossip or rumours or try to cause arguments in the team by spreading false information?

          These are specific behaviours that are easier to pinpoint and challenge because of their impact on others.

          Is it the method of communication?

          We all have preferences. How much small talk do you like before the meeting really gets going? Do you want to get to know someone or just get down to business?

          Does highlighting problems mean that someone is negative, or that they just want to find solutions before the problems arise?

          How much does it bother you if you don’t achieve all you set out to in a meeting, but you did get other things done?

          Would you rather someone sends you an email or gives you a call? I much prefer email because I find it much more time-efficient, but some people hate this.

          Some people don’t come across well in writing. Some misunderstandings can be avoided if you have a conversation.

          Some people need time to process what you’re asking or telling them, so expecting an immediate response to a lot of new information will make it harder for them.

          Choosing the way you communicate can really play a role in how well the communication will go. It’s sometimes good to think about this, rather than to keep doing what you’ve always done in the past.

          What is their intention?

          Is there a problem because you have conflicting priorities? Is this thing important to them? Do they have other time pressures or other concerns that you aren’t aware of, or that don’t affect you?

          Maybe they don’t have an intention or realise how their behaviour is affecting other people around them.

          Be careful with sentences like “s/he’s always trying to” – because you might be describing the result as you see it, and not what the other person is actually trying to do.

          Is there a problem with the processes?

          I’m not saying that you should use the company’s processes to criticise people all the time, but deciding how to do something, what steps are important, what order they should be in, and who should do them is a good way to manage expectations and help people to see what they need to be doing. Sometimes structure and a list of steps prevents misunderstandings and miscommunication.

          Does the behaviour need to be challenged?

          Sometimes there is no easy solution or different way of communicating that would make things better. Some behaviour is just not ok and it needs to be challenged by the person’s manager or however the management structure works in your organisation. I’m thinking here of things like bullying, harassment, manipulation, or any other form of treating people badly. This is usually not the other people’s problem to solve and this article is not really about things like this.

          Tips for communication

          Avoid words like always and never

          Try not to say things like:
          You never listen
          You are always complaining

          Instead, focus on actual real-life situations that have happened. Things that you can be specific about. Things that the other person can hopefully remember.

          Last week …
          At the team meeting on Friday …
          When you replied to my email yesterday …

          The problem with “you always” or “you never” sentences is that people can feel that nothing they do is ever good enough because you have already decided that they always get things wrong.

          Focus on the problem, not the person

          It’s easy to get carried away with how annoying or disrespectful or generally incompetent someone is in your opinion, but if you’re trying to address the situation, it’s better to focus on the problem.

          If this information isn’t submitted on time, we can’t …/the customer will///
          If these problems aren’t fixed, that will impact …
          If we don’t meet our promise/service level agreement to …

          What result will there be for the business or the customer? What result will there be that directly effects the person? Or what result will there be for you that the other person may not have considered?

          It makes it difficult for me to
          I am unable to

          Focus on the behaviour, not what you think the person is

          Some ways that people behave in the office are not ok.

          Shouting at people is not ok

          Not allowing people to speak in meetings is not ok

          Talking over people is not ok

          But don’t get into name-calling or telling the other person exactly what you think of them or what kind of person you think they are because it moves away from the facts.

          Additional tips

          Plan what you’re going to say when you can be calm.

          Walk away if there is too much emotion. That doesn’t mean you’ve backed down and you won’t come back to the issue, but we all need time to collect our thoughts sometimes.

          Maybe you’re also doing things that cause other people problems. If you’re going to confront others, you also need to be willing to see how your behaviour is affecting others – even if this is a difficult thing to do.

          Don’t mirror the communication style – choose your own. Don’t match aggression with aggression

          Change can be hard

          Change can be hard, even if you see it as positive change.

          Maybe you struggled with someone before the lockdown and move to more online working. Some things will be easier because you don’t have to share your space with them. Less contact may feel like a good thing, but it may also mean you have less contact with those whose presence helped or supported you.

          Some companies have completely changed the way they work. However we feel about it, all change takes time to get used to.

          Remote working doesn’t mean you have to deal with challenges with colleagues on your own. As well as looking at communication strategies, it’s also good to look for support and not be reluctant to ask for help if you feel that you need it.

          Find out more

          You can listen to me talking about this topic on episode 183 of my podcast.

          You can also sign up for my monthly newsletter with tips and advice on various areas of communication using the form below.





            The English with Kirsty podcast

            The English with Kirsty podcast

            I’ve been podcasting for around five and a half years now. Originally the podcast was very specifically for English learners, but I found that my listeners wanted more than that, and I was getting bored of producing this fairly narrowly-focussed type of content in an already saturated podcasting space.

            What I wanted was to help people to really communicate well. To learn to be themselves in another language or their main language. To get across their thoughts and ideas in a way that makes sense and facilitates real connections between people. That’s about more than just where does the verb go in your sentence and which adjective comes first. These things are important of course, and getting them right will help your texts and speech to flow better, but they aren’t the only things that you need in order to get your message across.

            So as the podcast grew, it changed. I started to draw more on my previous work in communications, and not only my experience as a language teacher.

            I have a large percentage of listeners who are learning English, and I want to continue to help them to do that. But I also have other listeners who are interested in language in general, presentation skills tips, communicating effectively at work, and working across multiple languages or cultures.

            What can you expect on the podcast?

            To give you an idea of some of the topics I cover, I’ve embedded two episodes here. Both of these are interviews, although I do post solo episodes too.

            Episode 182 – bicultural communication

            You can listen to episode 182 here:

            Today I’m bringing you an interview with Janina Neumann, a bilingual business owner and graphic designer whom I met recently through business networking.

            Janina is a bilingual graphic designer, intercultural management trainer, and business owner of Janina Neumann Design. JND is a bilingual design company, helping clients create a social impact in the UK and abroad. Working with social enterprises, charities and councils, Janina helps clients communicate their message equally effectively across different languages and cultures. Janina speaks English and German fluently and has a keen interest in learning new languages, including French and Farsi.

            Here are some of the points that we explore in our conversation:

            • Janina’s experience of differences in communication across cultures.
            • The balance between showing an interest and getting things done.
            • Tips for anyone planning to move from Germany to the UK.
            • How learning other languages can help you to understand more about those that you already speak.
            • Staying in touch with customers and colleagues as our working environments change.

            You can find out more about Janina here:

            • Janina’s Facebook page
            • Twitter
            • Instagram
            • Janina’s YouTube channel
            • Episode 181 – communicating well to create a good first impression with customers

              You can listen to episode 181 here:

              Today I’m bringing you an interview with my friend and business mentor, Lor Bradley.

              Lor Bradley is one of the UK’s leading business strategists. Think of Lor as the epitome of understated brilliance. No fanfare. Just results. She has owned, started, scaled and sold global businesses for herself and her clients for almost 30 years. Lor is an introvert entrepreneur, prefers an easy life and is a cheerleader for building social equity. Lor is an online business mentor + trained consultant, not a business coach, so unlike most coaches, Lauryn has the practical experience and geek-ery to show you how to grow your business to 7 figures and beyond.

              Here are some of the points that we explore in our conversation:

              • Good communication as a way to build relationships
              • Communicating well to make a good first impression
              • Responding to and learning from negative feedback
              • Making sure that auto-responders and those who work for you are following your brand’s communication style
              • Lor’s resources to support women business owners.

              This is my affiliate link to Lor’s membership programme for “women and non-binary business owners who aspire to run a thriving business, build a consistent income and hang out with others who ‘get it’!”

              Also, you can find out more about Lor here:

              • Lor’s Facebook page
              • Lor’s YouTube Channel
              • Lor’s website.
              • If you liked the podcast

                If you’d like to listen to further episodes of the podcast, the easiest way is to subscribe to it wherever you usually get your podcasts.Alternatively, all previous episodes are on the podcast page of my English with Kirsty website. Alternatively, I upload the audio to my YouTube channel.

                Find out more

                I also link relevant episodes of the podcast in my monthly EwK Services newsletter. You can sign up for it using the form below.





              11 tips for preparing a presentation as part of a job interview

              More and more companies are asking for candidates to demonstrate their presentation skills, particularly for higher-level posts, or posts that will involve giving presentations on a regular basis. If you find yourself in a similar position, here are some tips that may help you.

              Most of these tips can be applied to any type of presentation, but today we’re focussing specifically on presentations that are part of a job interview.

              In some cases, candidates are given the material to present, though you might also be asked to use your own.

              Here are my tips – do you have any to add? If so, let me know in the comments.

              1. If you’re using your own material, make sure you have checked it, or ask someone else to check it. Spelling mistakes or incorrect information on slides can be distracting, and you don’t want people to stop listening to you because they’re focussing on something that’s wrong with your slide.
              2. Don’t put all of your information on the slide. If the audience can read everything they need to know themselves, you’re not adding value by being there. Keep it to simple bullet points and key information – your job is to tell them what they need to know.
              3. If it isn’t your material, make sure you understand it. Do some research if you don’t understand something. Don’t be caught out because you didn’t do your research properly.
              4. Make notes, but don’t rely on them. It’s not a test of how well you can read from your notes. If you’re looking down all the time, you won’t be able to look at the interview panel, and also your voice won’t carry well.
              5. Know your audience, or at least the roles that your audience will be playing. Is it a presentation to introduce the company to people who have never heard of it? Are you being asked to demonstrate your specific knowledge of a project or issue to people who understand it well? Are you being asked to simplify a complex idea? Knowing this will shape the level of detail you give, how much you need to explain, and the level at which you pitch the presentation.
              6. Know how long the presentation should be, and try to stick to it. You’re likely to talk faster when you’re there, because most of us feel a bit nervous and want to get the presentation over with. Time yourself at home, so you know whether you have enough or too much material.
              7. Think about the type of questions you might be asked during or after the presentation, and how you would answer them. You can’t anticipate everything, but it’s good to be prepared.
              8. Try to be memorable – in a good way. If there are multiple people giving similar presentations, how will you make yours stand out? Is there a story, a memorable statistic, or a unique way of thinking about the issue that others won’t have come up with?
              9. Keep people engaged – how you do it is up to you, but think about things such as being interactive, being clear about what you want people to do at the end, and why the presentation is relevant to them.
              10. Your voice is important too –your great content will have no impact if you sound bored/your voice is too quiet/you are speaking too quickly.
              11. Try to smile. I don’t mean you should deliver the whole presentation with a grin like a Cheshire cat, but as well as looking more friendly and approachable, a smile can often be heard in your voice too. It’s easy to have a serious face for serious subjects, but as well as making you look more friendly, a smile can actually help you too. Smiling releases endorphins and serotonin, which in turn can make you feel happier or reduce stress levels

              So, do you have any more tips to add to this list?

              Find out more

              If you’d like more information about preparing for a job interview, you can visit my presentation training page.

              If you’d like to receive my monthly newsletter with tips about good communication, either in spoken presentations or in writing, use the sign-up form at the bottom of this page.





                Preparing to give presentations–answering questions

                People can spend a lot of time preparing their presentations, but often they don’t plan for what might happen in a question and answer session at the end.

                It’s true that not all presentations are followed by a question and answer session, but if yours will be, it’s worth spending a bit of time thinking about the kind of questions that might come up, and how you would answer them.

                First let’s look at the reasons why people ask questions after presentations.it could be because they:

                1. Want to find out further information about a particular point.
                2. Didn’t understand something.
                3. Didn’t agree with something and want to challenge you.
                4. Want to clarify what you said – to be sure that they understood it correctly.

                You can never know exactly what questions will be asked, and you might do a load of preparation, only to find there are no questions at the end, but it’s good if you think about these things beforehand so that you are prepared:

                1. Related issues

                You may be able to talk about your topic all day long, but think about any related points that are likely to come up, and make sure you feel comfortable talking about them too. This might mean doing a bit of research. Has anything related to your topic been in the news lately? What additional information have people wanted to know when you’ve talked about this subject before?

                I usually do this exercise when I’m teaching adult learners of English, but it’s not just about the language we use. Do you generally feel confident talking about not only your subject, but related topics and questions that may come up?

                Don’t spend too long on this, but it’s worth thinking about any facts you might like to take in with you in your notes, just in case you need them.

                2. Will the exercise be accessible to people who find it hard to speak in public?

                Depending on the size of the group, people may be reluctant to speak in front of everyone else – could you provide a way for them to submit questions in writing/tweet questions/type them in a chat box if you are using video conferencing software?

                3. Only answer the question

                Today I was sent to a website that had over 2000 links on it an took an eternity to load. I gave up. It’s fine to add detail, but try to give succinct answers to questions. Talking more doesn’t always prove you know your stuff –sometimes adding too much detail can be counterproductive because people lose interest.

                Also, whether the question was not very clear or you just didn’t hear the speaker because of the acoustics in a large room, you may need to clarify the question if you didn’t understand it, and you shouldn’t feel bad about that. It’s better to check the question than to answer the wrong question!

                4. Are there any contentious issues?

                Are there people in your audience who are likely to disagree with any of your points, or request further information before they believe you? If so, think about how you would deal with this.

                5. Could people want extra facts and figures?

                If they do, there’s nothing wrong with saying that you’ll provide them later, particularly if it’s information that you don’t have to hand, but if you can anticipate any questions about data that people may ask, you can be well-prepared and have the information with you, even if you don’t choose to include that level of detail in your presentation.

                6. You don’t have to answer every question

                If someone keeps asking questions, and nobody else can get a word in, you don’t have to let them monopolise the talking time. Similarly, if someone wants to take you down a rabbit hole, with a discussion that is too specific and of little interest to everyone else, it’s fine to say that you will come back to the other person after the presentation. Rather than being rude, this shows that you value everyone’s time and don’t want to take it up with something that is not useful to them. If someone asks something that is too personal or completely irrelevant, you are not obliged to answer that either!

                7. What is the audience most likely to be interested in?

                It may be a generic presentation, but how much do you know about your audience? Are there particular parts of the presentation that are likely to be more relevant to them and generate questions? What will you do if there are too many questions for the time available? Is there some other way that participants can contact you?

                8. What to do if you don’t know the answer

                I think it’s often the case that people worry about not knowing the answer. If you don’t know the answer, it’s better to be honest and offer to respond later, delegate to someone else who may know, or say that you don’t have that information than to try and wing it, or give information that could later be proved to be incorrect. Nobody can be expected to know everything.

                However, this isn’t an excuse for bad preparation – if you don’t know your subject area, it will reflect badly on you!

                9. Spending too long on a particular topic

                If the whole room wants to go deeper on a specific point, it might be a good idea. However, if it’s only one or two people, you need to be mindful of the time available and check whether there were any other questions or comments.

                10. Written information

                People process information in different ways. Consider whether you want to give a hand-out or a copy of the slides after the presentation. Then participants don’t need to take notes or check facts and figures, and if you’ve already covered something, you can explain that the details are in the hand-out.

                11. What if there are no questions?

                This isn’t always a bad thing. It could just mean that the attendees have understood everything. You may want to give them a way of asking questions if they think of one later (email/Twitter etc), but having no questions to answer isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It might just mean that your presentation ends a bit earlier, or you could prepare a bit of extra information, or a deeper explanation about something on your slides that you could give to fill the time.

                Sometimes being spontaneous is more difficult than preparing for the presentation itself, but hopefully these tips will give you something to think about and help you prepare.

                Get in touch

                If you’d like to contact me or sign up for the monthly EwK Services newsletter, which will also contain links to new blog posts, please use this contact form:





                  Presenting to an audience that you can’t see – webinars, podcasts and live broadcasts

                  In the past, giving presentations was all about standing at the front of a room and delivering your content to people who were in the same room as you.

                  Now, technology has made it possible for us to deliver different kinds of presentations. Sometimes the audience is not in the same place as you. Sometimes they are watching or listening to your talk long after you delivered it.

                  Whether you’re preparing content to be consumed later, such as a podcast or a Youtube video, or you’re broadcasting live as part of a webinar or Facebook live broadcast, it’s a different experience to being in the same place as your audience.

                  For some people, this takes away some of the stress associated with presenting – you don’t see the sea of faces looking at you and you are often sitting in familiar, less formal surroundings, which in turn can make you feel confident. I love chatting to my audience from the comfort of my office because these familiar surroundings give me confidence.

                  However, there are a few things to consider.

                  1. Are you speaking to an individual or a group?

                  This is the first advice that I was given when I created my first podcast episode. I used phrases like “hi everyone” and “if any of you want to know more”. This doesn’t actually bother me when I’m listening to podcasts, but unless you are trying to build a community, the chances are that the listener is on their own and they may never come in to contact with the other listeners. I don’t want to say that there is a right or wrong way to do this, but just think about whether you want to address a group, such as a group of colleagues, or to make things more personal and speak as though you are talking directly to your listener.

                  2. Talking to yourself in an empty room

                  I actually like talking to myself in an empty room. It doesn’t bother me! I don’t mind public speaking in front of a large group either, but I don’t feel strange about talking aloud with nobody there. Maybe that’s what happens when you spend years talking to pets and knowing that they probably aren’t going to give you an answer.

                  Some people find the empty room distracting because there is nobody there listening to you and you can’t get the usual feedback such as an encouraging smile or a nod.

                  Sometimes the problem is that people are not used to hearing their own voice. If you find this to be true, try delivering your presentation aloud to your dog or cat, or imagine that a good friend or supportive colleague is there with you and you are talking just to them.

                  If it’s live, it can be even more off-putting if you can see that nobody is watching your channel, or not many people have signed in to the webinar. But remember, your content can be reused – Facebook live videos can stay on your Facebook page for people to watch at a later date, webinar recordings can be made available as a replay or on your site, so don’t waste the first 10 minutes saying “I wonder if everyone can see and hear me?” I’ve stopped watching replays or videos because of this – it was boring! Log onto the broadcast with another device if you want to know how well you can be seen, but try to focus on the content, rather than how many people are there at the beginning of the presentation. If you are going to repurpose the content, consider chopping the beginning if it won’t be relevant later.

                  People have a tendency to pop in and out of live broadcasts and webinars in a way that they don’t in real life, so try not to focus on that.

                  3. Make sure you get audience feedback

                  You can’t see if you’re audience is nodding along in agreement, looking confused or staring into space. Therefore, make sure that you have a way for them to interact with you and ask any questions. This needs to be managed in a different way than in a face-to-face setting. Even if you don’t want questions during the presentation, you can ask people to put them in the chat and come to them at the end. If it’s likely to be a busy chat, it’s sometimes helpful to ask someone to help you manage it and pull out the relevant questions. They can also help to manage anyone who is being disruptive in the chat so that you can focus on giving your presentation.

                  As well as showing a willingness to answer comments, this is also a good way to make sure that people are following along with what you are saying because you can’t gauge the mood in the room without some kind of feedback from the participants.

                  If it’s not live, make sure that you have some way for people to contact you with any questions or comments. This could either be an email address, or you can direct them to your social media, or a comment form on the show notes page of your podcast.

                  4. Think about your speed and delivery

                  I was used to giving plenty of face-to-face presentations, but I remember when I did my first online one. I practised a couple of times beforehand. Each time it took me 45 minutes. On the day, the same live presentation took 35 minutes. I didn’t realise I was rushing, but I must have been.

                  We don’t do it on purpose, but speaking too quickly is not fair to our audience because it often makes it harder for them to understand what is being said. If people don’t understand, they will lose interest, which is a wasted opportunity. Even though you might be offering a lot of value, if people can’t understand you because you’re speaking too quickly, they won’t get the benefit.

                  5. Additional materials

                  It’s a good idea to consider whether you want to offer anything else in terms of visual presentation or reference materials for afterwards. If it’s a webinar, you can put your slides on the screen or share your screen to give a demonstration. If it’s audio, you can offer a download of a factsheet on your show notes page. If it’s a Facebook live or some other kind of live broadcast, you can direct people to some further information on your website.

                  6. Make sure your surroundings aren’t distracting

                  If you’re not in the same room as your audience, you don’t need to worry about making them comfortable, but you do need to think about where you will be recording. When you’re live, sometimes things happen that are out of your control, but try to minimise this by being in a quiet place, making those around you aware that you are broadcasting, making sure the lighting is ok for visual broadcasts, and making sure there is nothing in your room that will be a noisy distraction to your listeners – even if you have got used to a ticking clock or a noisy fan, these things can become annoying for your listeners. Don’t play music in the background unless you own the copyright to it. Even if you do – consider whether your listeners may find it distracting.

                  If it’s not live, think about whether, or how much you want to edit.

                  7. Be smart about repurposing content

                  If you’ve created some fantastic content, there’s no reason why you can’t repurpose it for other channels. The content from your webinar can become a stand-alone ebook. The information from your podcast can be used for a blog post – often your podcast and blog audiences are not the same people. Key points from your talk can become tweets.

                  However, this has to be done with care because the different ways of giving information and the different social networks have their own requirements and audience expectations. People soon lose interest if they get the feeling that you have just dumped something from another platform. Does anyone actually like those reposts from Instagram on Twitter where the text gets chopped off halfway through?

                  I’ve seen someone post a live interview as a podcast, and it worked really well. It was a smart way to get a group of people together to share their thoughts on a topic. I’ve also seen someone post a live video as a podcast and it was terrible because they were stopping every 5 seconds to say “hi” to people who had just joined the broadcast. Podcast listeners who weren’t there don’t care about that.

                  I’ve seen people posting automated electronic transcripts of podcasts as blog posts and I found it really hard to read because none of the filler words or half-finished sentences had been taken out. I really wanted to tidy it up to make the reader experience better. I offer a service to turn audio and video content into text for blog posts, ebooks or newsletters if this is something that would interest you.

                  What about you?

                  So, sharing information when you can’t see a room full of people in front of you definitely has its advantages, and there are ways to give your content a much longer lifespan. Still, it’s important to be aware of your audience and their needs, particularly if you can only see them as names in a list of participants, or if people will be watching and listening long after you’ve finished giving your talk.

                  Which way of presenting do you enjoy most? Would you rather be with your audience, or on your own? Do you like the chance to start again with pre-recorded content, or do you enjoy the spontaneity of going live?

                  Get in touch

                  If you’d like to contact me or sign up for the monthly EwK Services newsletter, which will also contain links to new blog posts, please use this contact form:





                    Communication – what people really mean – when understanding the words isn’t enough

                    A couple of years ago I did some research into some of the linguistic challenges that German customers faced when moving to the UK. It wasn’t about the English language itself, and the kind of problems that non-native speakers have, but about the gap they sometimes faced between what the words meant and what the person saying them actually wanted to say.

                    I also wanted to use the examples here, to show that even though something may be clear to the person making the statement, there is room for interpretation on the part of the listener. That’s why it’s always so important to communicate clearly and to reduce the chance that someone may go away with a completely incorrect interpretation of what we thought or wanted.

                    So, in these examples I was talking to non-native speakers, but these misunderstandings can easily happen between native speakers too. Some people naturally interpret things more literally than others, which is why it’s always better to say what you mean and mean what you say.

                    Criticism can be less harsh, but you need to be able to spot it

                    Understating things

                    The typical English person doesn’t jump around with excitement or fling their arms round their friends in a warm embrace. Sometimes it’s not good to take their words literally.

                    “That’s not bad”, can actually be interpreted as “that’s quite good”. “I’m not doing too bad”, probably just means “I’m doing ok!”

                    According to Marco, people in Germany are more direct than they are in the UK. As a result, it’s important to listen out for the hidden or understated messages because people might not spell them out for you. “I am a bit disappointed that” probably means that the person is very disappointed. We sometimes use words like “a bit” or “quite” to soften the blow, but the key words in the sentence are “I’m disappointed”.

                    I know that I have been guilty of this as a teacher in the past. “I have A few minor corrections” does often mean exactly that, but sometimes it means “I’ve read your work and now I’m going to tell you about your mistakes. There were actually more than a few minor ones but I don’t want you to feel bad”.

                    Sometimes people don’t mean what they say

                    There are no definite rules. Sometimes, “I’ll bear it in mind” does mean exactly that. The person will take your comment on board and think about it going forward. However it can also mean “That’s a completely useless contribution, but I have to acknowledge it so as not to be impolite”.

                    In the same way, “that’s interesting” can mean any number of things from it’s indeed really interesting to it’s strange or it’s completely irrelevant, let’s move on. The key here is to think about what else the person is saying, how quickly they want to move on, whether they look bored or eager to learn more.

                    Let’s get to the point

                    This is what Angelika had to say: “British people seem to beat around the bush a lot before they get down to business instead of getting straight to the point. It frustrates me sometimes as I just want to get on with it.”

                    Sometimes English people are masters of conversation when it comes to superficial subjects such as the weather. It’s a way to break the ice. Everyone can have an opinion and it’s hard to get into a controversy unless you get into a heated debate about global warming. This may go on longer than you are used to, but plunging straight into the business details may leave people feeling that you’re not interested in them, but only the task at hand.

                    Some people will feel happy spending a whole evening with you without telling you much about themselves. They may choose to open up once they know you better, or they may not. And whatever you do, don’t expect people to be open about their age. Most won’t!

                    Being polite vs being honest

                    Anja shared quite openly about the difficulties she faced in this area. “I found there is a different culture in how people communicate and at the start I really struggled with people being polite but actually not meaning what they said in the same way I was used to from German friends. People are a lot more polite on the surface and less straightforward, which I think can be a struggle to start with; Not just in business.”

                    “It’s fine” or “it doesn’t matter” shouldn’t be taken literally if someone has a face like thunder or a scowl, or if the other person keeps going on about the thing that apparently doesn’t matter!

                    People who don’t do what you expect them to aren’t necessarily being rude

                    Particularly among colleagues, the salutation in emails is often dropped. So there’s no “kind regards”, “best wishes” or “have a good weekend”. Sometimes there’s just the person’s name at the bottom. Sometimes they just write your name at the top, with no “dear”, “hi” etc. Whilst I may be tempted to do that if someone is annoying me, many people do it out of habit and there is no hidden message at all. In this way, English people can offend colleagues from other parts of the world without even realising it.

                    Christina said “I noticed that it is not uncommon here that people don’t greet each other while in Germany we shake hands with every colleague in the morning.”

                    I would think it rude if I said “good morning” to a colleague and they didn’t answer, but I think that, generally, particularly in the big cities, we are less likely to greet people than in other parts of the world. I remember going to get a coffee in a hotel in Sweden and some people whom I didn’t know said good morning to me on the way past. I returned the greeting, but it took me by surprise because it’s not what I’m used to.

                    In terms of people that you know, greeting them is normal, but many English people only shake hands the first time that they meet someone. They wouldn’t do it every day.

                    Less formality

                    It’s not all bad! According to Christine, the atmosphere seems much more relaxed in the UK, people joke and are not very formal.

                    Christine is the second person to mention joking, and it’s true – we can be a less formal, relaxed bunch of people.

                    Anne-Marie pointed out that in the UK people usually start off on a first name basis, whereas in Germany, people happily work alongside each other for years before offering the “Du”. This is true. When I worked in a previous role, even the Directors were spoken to using their first names and this was completely normal. It’s just a different kind of working culture. It doesn’t mean that we respect them any less or that we are closer to our colleagues – it’s just a different way of doing things.

                    So, what does this mean for you?

                    For me, as an English person, I find direct communication refreshing. You don’t waste time promising to do things that you have no intention of doing. Yes means yes and no means no. I didn’t think that we, as English people, were particularly polite, but what my German contacts tell me suggests otherwise. Maybe I’m just not typically British!

                    It’s true that this article focussed on intercultural differences in communication, but I think there’s also a lesson to be learned about how we communicate with people in general. Is it really clear and obvious what we mean? Do we try to dress things up so that they sound friendly, but in doing so hide some of the core meaning? Could what we write or say be confusing to someone that doesn’t know us? If so, how can we fix it?

                    If you have any thoughts on this, let me know in the comments.

                    Get in touch

                    If you’d like to contact me or sign up for the monthly EwK Services newsletter, which will also contain links to new blog posts, please use this contact form: