The art and science of effective communication skills.

Meet Esther Doorly, Elocutionist, Founder of the Elocution Room in Dublin.

Esther opened the Elocution Room several years ago, working with thousands of people to improve their communication skills.

Two years ago, I reached out to Esther myself, looking for help to improve my pronunciation and presentation skills. Developing successful communication skills is an essential part when it comes to building a successful career. Esther worked with me not only on my communication style but most importantly; she helped me to find my voice!

I asked Esther a few questions on her journey of becoming an elocutionist and what she understands behind strong communication skills.

Tell us a little bit about your background and where your passion for communication is coming from.

When I was eighteen, I decided to do a drama A- level alongside other more traditional A-Levels. I didn’t have a particular interest in drama, but I simply chose to do it for the fun of it. However, the teacher, who had just recently graduated from Oxford University, where she had read English and Drama, was excellent. She was able to instil the love of speech and drama in all of her students and brought such life to the course that all of the students in her class became passionate about it.

After completing my A-Levels, I was lucky to get into the prestigious Royal Birmingham Conservatoire to study Drama. That was when my passion for the voice began. Watching the older students play certain characters, particularly Shakespeare and classical characters, and observing what they did to create depth and richness to their voice was amazing.

We used to have 2 hours of voice classes every morning, where I found the connection between your breath and voice. I learned how you could manipulate your voice to sound a certain way, sound a lot richer, and be a lot more in control of the message you wanted to send or how you wanted to come across. After three years of drama school, I returned to Ireland, I wanted to teach as this was my real passion, but I got lots of acting work which I enjoyed. Unfortunately, acting and having a family doesn’t necessarily work well together. I went back to what I love, which was teaching, and I have been lucky to teach ever since. I find that I’m always researching the voice and devising more effective ways to communicate with people. And with that research and learning, I can impart that to other people.

What do you understand as effective communication?

Effective communications are both listening and speaking. Listening is probably the more important of the two. So that you are really listening and hearing what the other person is saying, if you’re waiting to have your turn to speak, you will never listen and communicate effectively fully. Listening, synthesizing what that person is saying, pulling parts from what they said, and repeating parts back to them fully understand what they have said and, more importantly, what they meant. Effective communication doesn’t mean that you only speak. It means that you listen and try to really understand what the other person is saying.

Another important aspect of effective communication is thinking about the person you are talking to rather than thinking about how you come across.

What is the science behind effective communication?

The science behind effective communication is preparing your body, aligning it. You need to make sure that you are holding no tension in your body, and your body is relaxed. I would say, in essence, that is using the Alexander Technique. It is a way of ensuring that your body is aligned to release tension or stress from any part of your body.

The second essential thing is using the correct breathing technique for public speaking. When you speak in front of a group of people or presenting something, the most important breathing to use is  Intercostal Diaphragmatic Breathing.

The third thing is turning that breath into sound. And you want to be able to do that clearly,  by using your organs of articulations.  It would help if you get your organs of articulation warmed up. Like every muscle in your body, if you don’t use them, they start to get tense.

Opening up vowels and consonants, making sure that there is a strong balance between them. That’s where the colour comes from. You don’t want to be over-emotional, and you also don’t want to be over robotic, so it’s critical to hit the right balance.  

In essence, that is the science behind good communication skills.

There is also an art to effective communication. It is applying active listening skills to your communication, clearing your head. Once you clear your head, you’re very much here, in the moment, speaking to your client, boss, student, whoever becomes a lot easier. The next part is to analyse the situation to ask yourself who you are talking to? When you are thinking about your audience, you need to think about the problem or issue you are discussing and ensure that your voice is sympathetic and/ or sincere.

Why is effective communication, such a complicated thing?

All communication and speech can be tied to our past, childhood, our school days etc. Simple hurtful comments made to us in the past about our voice or our speech could trigger a response every time we speak in front of other people and make us feel very nervous or embarrassed.

People can get very afraid when they have to talk in front of a group of people. It puts them under intense pressure; they feel they might be judged for their accent or quality of their work when they do a presentation. All comes back to trust. You need to create an atmosphere of trust.

When do your clients ask you how to communicate effectively? What do you say to them?

No two clients are ever the same; there is no one for all solutions. I  listen, and I ask them to tell me as much as they can about who they are and what they hope to achieve. With that, I put together an individual program for each client. I build trust between my client and myself, listen to whatever issue they may have, also observing body language and breath control. I focus on relaxation. 

Trying to unpack and find exactly what is blocking someone so that we can move forward. I will bring everything to the table, but the client needs to engage with the process fully.

I think it is actually the most important skills anyone can have to be able to speak confidently. 

What do you find most rewarding about your job?

I have met so many wonderful people through the years, and I’ve built up some wonderful friendships—the experience of joy when the clients achieve the goals they have set. 

Seeing how much happier they are. The nerves are gone; they follow their dream careers and build meaningful relationships. They are moving in directions they want too. I feel so privileged to be a part of it.

I recently completed an MEd in Education, and I look forward to incorporating my dissertation research into my teaching practice.