Oral Communication

Contributing to Seminars

The main way in which seminars differ from lectures is that their success relies on a lot of effective two-way communication. Unlike a lecture you will not spend the majority of the time listening to one person speaking. In the best seminars, all members of the group are equally committed to listening actively and putting forward their ideas clearly. The combination of speaking and listening will help you to develop a more critical approach towards your subject.

Being a good listener

It is essential that you develop and demonstrate good listening skills not only for seminars, but for any aspect of life that involves working with others.

How do you know whether you are a good listener?

You could start by asking yourself, or someone who knows you well, the following questions:

  • Do you really take in what other people say?
  • Do you let other people finish before you start?
  • Do you lose concentration when you get bored by what is being said?

If you know that you are not a good listener or would like to improve on your listening skills start by considering your responses to the following points:

  • How would you feel if you could see that others were not listening to you?
  • What encourages you to speak and how can you use this experience to encourage contributions from others?
  • Does your body language sometimes reveal your lack of interest or disagreement?
  • Do you keep an open mind while listening or have you already judged the situation?

Being a good listener is a basic requirement in engaging in effective discussion. Active listening means making a determined effort to be a good listener, really thinking about what people are saying and trying to produce a response to it, for
instance, by making a constructive comment or asking a question.

Tips for being a good listener:

  • Show your interest - make eye contact, smile, nod, paraphrase key points of what the person has said (helps you to understand and shows it has registered with you).
  • Try to avoid interrupting a person - if you're interested you'll wait until they finish.
  • If you don't understand something, then ask. For example: "do you mean...?" or "I don't quite understand why...." to help clarify things.
  • If a person is finding speaking difficult, and pausing doesn't help, then try gently probing - "So what were the options?" or "That's really interesting. What happened next?"

Speaking during a seminar

Try not to be too worried about the quality of your contribution. It does not need to be perfect - they rarely are! Other students and the lecturer will be pleased that you have contributed. Remember that the way you express your ideas and opinions orally will improve with practice.

Lots of people get anxious at the thought of speaking out in a group, especially when you do not know the others that well or do not feel fully confident about the topic. The best way to overcome this anxiety is to JUST DO IT. Build your confidence by participating as much as possible. Very few people are born with the 'gift of the gab' and those that are do not always make much sense. Most confident speakers have worked to develop their style. By learning a few simple techniques you'll be able to use seminars to develop strong oral communication skills that will stand you in good stead in any situation where you need them.

You may find the following downloads useful:

The Step by Step Guide to Speaking in Seminars

Evaluating your Seminar Contributions


Brunel University (West London)