Knowing how to communicate effectively is the key to any relationship. Whether you’re giving a presentation at work, working out a disagreement with your significant other, or just having a chat with a friend, knowing how to articulate your ideas—and listen to those of others—is crucial. But though we spend much of our time each day talking to each other, that doesn’t mean we’re all great communicators. Communicating effectively can be surprisingly challenging. So whether you struggle to get your points across or just want to brush up on a few pointers, here are 11 ways to be a better communicator.
1. LEARN TO LISTEN.
Active listening is the basis of all good communication: If you aren’t paying attention to what others are saying, there’s no way you’ll be able to respond effectively. Focus on what your conversation partner is saying, and if necessary, repeat it mentally to make sure you understand the points they’re making.
2. PAY ATTENTION TO BODY LANGUAGE.
Pay attention to your conversation partner’s body language: Are they fidgeting or standing still? Yawning or smiling? Pay attention to your own body language as well—if your words exude confidence, but your body language expresses nervousness, your conversation partner will pick up on that. It’s important both to read others’ body language, and to pay attention to your own stance.
3. OBSERVE HOW OTHERS COMMUNICATE IN DIFFERENT CONTEXTS.
It’s important to understand your audience. If you’re giving a presentation at work, study how others do it (or watch videos of famous lectures by academics, businesspeople, or professionals in your field). If you’re nervous about how to act at a networking event or party, take cues from the people around you.
4. DON’T BE AFRAID OF A BIT OF SILENCE.
Occasional lapses in conversation are natural, so don’t sweat it if conversation lags. Plus, letting pauses occur naturally is a good way to make sure you’re not interrupting anyone’s train of thought.
5. USE ACTION VERBS AND CONFIDENT LANGUAGE.
Even if you’re not feeling confident, you can still sound confident. One good trick is avoiding filler words like “um” and “uh” by slowing down your speech a bit. Another is using strong action verbs—use your resume for fodder and stick to descriptive verbs like “evaluate,” “manage,” and “advise.”
6. ASK QUESTIONS.
Ask clarifying questions: It’ll ensure you understand what your conversation partner is saying, and show that you’re paying attention.
7. FIND COMMON GROUND, EVEN IN AN ARGUMENT.
Finding a shared interest or opinion with your conversation partner is always a great strategy—it’ll make the conversation more enjoyable for both of you as well as show your conversation partner that you’ve got something in common. But finding common ground in an argument can be just as important. If you disagree with someone, try to find a related point that you do agree with—it’ll show you’re trying to understand their point of view.
8. BE PREPARED AND KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT.
Knowing your subject matter will put you at ease and make it easier to communicate your ideas to others. If you’re preparing for a job interview, make sure you are familiar with the position and the company; if you’re giving a presentation, know your stuff!
9. IF YOU WANT TO SUBTLY CHANGE THE SUBJECT, FIND A VERBAL BRIDGE.
We all occasionally end up in a conversation that’s not going in a direction we like. Finding a polite way to change the subject can be tough, but one good trick is finding a “bridge.” This can mean finding a topic somewhere in between the current one and the one you’re interested in or involve using a more general phrase that will help you shift the topic. For instance, phrases like “Yes, but,” “What I can tell you is,” or “The important thing to remember is,” all let you subtly shift the focus.
10. FIND THE BEST WAY TO FRAME YOUR STORY.
Whether you’re giving a lecture or telling your friend a funny story, it’s important to figure out how to frame it to make it interesting and engaging. Identify your hook (What makes your story interesting? Why would others care about it?) and pick a framing device: Are you taking your listener on a journey? Explaining a theory? Or making an argument for something? It’s important to clearly define early on where your story is going.
Though it’s important to be self-aware during an important or stressful conversation, ultimately one of the most effective communication strategies is just relaxing, and acting like you would normally—while, of course, remaining professional.
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Unearthing a time capsule should be an exciting affair, a chance to see mysterious items hand-picked long ago as apposite examples of a bygone era. Unfortunately, these buried tubes of old garbage rarely live up to the hype.
"Ninety-nine percent of time capsules will remain boring as hell to the people that open them," says Matt Novak, who runs Gizmodo's Paleofuture site. Novak is a self-professed time capsule nerd who has seen enough capsule disappointments to keep his hopes in check. "Time capsules are both optimistic and selfish," he tells Mental Floss. "Optimistic in the sense that they represent a belief that not only will anyone find them sometime in the future, but also that anyone will care about what's inside."
Time capsules as we know them are a relatively new invention that became famous in 1939 with the burial of the Westinghouse Time Capsule at the World's Fair. This highly publicized capsule, which is not scheduled to be opened until the year 6939, contains both quotidian items and extensive writings on human history printed on microfilm (along with instructions on how to build a microfilm viewer). It was an ambitious project, with engineers specially designing the capsule to resist the ravages of time. Most time capsules, however, aren't equipped to be buried underground.
"Burying something is literally the worst way to preserve it for future generations," Novak says, "but we continue to do it." Contents are routinely destroyed by groundwater, so most time capsules reveal little more than trash chowder.
Still, Novak holds out hope for "rare one percenters—those time capsules that not only have something interesting inside, but also survived their journey into the future without turning into mush." The following 10 time capsules, however, fall firmly in the remaining 99 percent.
1. Derry, New Hampshire comes up empty
Just this week, residents of Derry, New Hampshire gathered at the local library to witness what they hoped might be an important moment in the town's history: the opening of a 1969 time capsule, which they believed might include some memorabilia from famed astronaut Alan Shepard, who was a Derry native. Instead, they found ... nothing. Absolutely nothing.
"We were a little horrified to find there was nothing in it," library director Cara Potter told the media. While there's no written record of exactly what was inside the safe, we do know that the time capsule had been moved a couple of times over the past several decades. And that the combination was written right on the back. "I really can’t understand why anyone would want to take the capsule and do anything with it,” Reed Clark, a 90-year-old local, told the New Hampshire Union Leader. But local historian Paul Lindemann says that, "There very well may have been valuable items in there" (including something of Shepard's).
2. The past comes alive in Tucson
In 1961, Tucson, Arizona's Campbell Plaza shopping center—the first air-conditioned strip mall in the country—celebrated its grand opening. To make the event truly memorable, developers buried a time capsule beneath the mall, forbidding anyone from opening it for the achingly long time period of 25 years.
When 1986 finally rolled around, another celebration was held for the capsule's unearthing. Three television crews captured the moment when workers, accompanied by a former Tucson mayor, excavated the capsule and cracked it open. Archaeologist William L. Rathje was on hand, and he later reported its contents as "a faded local newspaper (in worse condition than many I’ve witnessed being excavated from the bowels of landfills) and some business cards."
3. Bay City makes peace with its waterlogged history
In 1965, workers at Dafoe Shipbuilding Co. in Bay City, Michigan buried the “John F. Kennedy Peace Capsule.” It was to remain buried for 100 years—until city council members got antsy in 2015 and ordered for it to be unearthed five decades sooner than originally intended.
When crews unsealed the giant capsule, they found it was totally drenched: The shipbuilders responsible for sealing the capsule couldn't prevent it from taking on water. Many of the items were paper ephemera that didn't survive their 50-year submersion.
Non-paper items that could be identified included, according to MLive.com, “an old pair of lace-up women's boots, large ice tongs for carrying blocks of ice, a slide rule with a pencil sharpener, a pestle and wooden bowl, a centennial ribbon, a coffee grinder, a filament light bulb, an old non-electric iron and lots of Bay City Centennial plates, a 1965 Alden's Summer Catalogue, papers from Kawkawlin Community Church, and booklets from the labor council.”
4. Westport Elementary's too-successful capsule
In 1947, the superintendent of Westport Elementary School in Missouri buried a time capsule that wasn't to be opened for another 50 years. He left a note detailing this fact, but he forgot to include any information about the capsule's location. When it came time to retrieve it, no one knew where to start digging. ''We're calling it a history mystery,'' said a teacher who was tasked with finding it. She had little to go on, as the school's original blueprints—like the capsule itself—were lost.
5. The smell of history on Long Island
For its 350th anniversary in 2015, the residents of Smithtown in Long Island, New York opened a time capsule that had been buried in front of town hall in 1965. An unveiling celebration was held, and a crowd of more than 175 gathered to watch town officials dressed in colonial costumes dramatically reveal its contents.
These included, according to Newsday, "a proclamation of beard-growing group Brothers of the Brush, papers, and paraphernalia from the town's 300th anniversary events, a phone book, an edition of The Smithtown News, pennies from the 1950s and '60s, a man's black hat, and a white bonnet.”
Town residents and officials alike came away unimpressed. "I would have thought those folks would have used a little more imagination and put some artifacts from that time in the time capsule," Smithtown's then-supervisor Patrick Vecchio said.
Kiernan Lannon, the executive director of the town's Historical Society, told Newsday, "The most interesting thing that came out of the time capsule was the smell. It was horrible. I have smelled history before; history does not smell like that. It was the most powerfully musty smell that I've ever smelled in my life."
6. A time capsule worse than going to class
In 2014, New York Mills Union Free School District students filed into an assembly hall to watch the opening of a 57-year-old time capsule. The capsule, buried under the school’s cornerstone, was revealed to contain "a 1957 penny, class lists, teacher handbook, budget pamphlet, and letterhead." In a video of the unearthing, you could hear stray boos from disappointed students who expected much more than letterhead.
7. Norway's anachronistic treasure trove
The residents of Otta, Norway had been eagerly awaiting the day when they'd get to open a package that had been sealed in 1912 and given to the town's first mayor in 1920, along with a note: "May be opened in 2012." Townspeople hoped it contained oil futures, while historians optimistically predicted relics from a 400-year-old battle.
The parcel was opened at the end of a lavish ceremony that featured musical performances and speeches. The crowd, which included Princess Astrid of Norway, had to wait 90 suspenseful minutes (in addition to the 100 years since 1912) before they got down to business.
The Gudbrandsdal museum's Kjell Voldheim had the honor of opening the package. Inside he found ... another package. Inside that package were miscellaneous papers, and Voldheim narrated for the crowd as he pored through the items. “Oye yoy yoy," he said ("almost in exasperation," according to Smithsonian), as he tried to make sense of what he was seeing. Included among the lackluster documents were newspapers dated from 1914 and 1919, a few years after the package had presumably been sealed. While deemed authentic, the find was nonetheless confusing.
8. New Zealand's rare find
In 1995, a 100-year-old capsule thought to contain historical documents was opened by hopeful scholars in New Zealand. According to The New York Times, "all they found was muddy water and a button.”
9. Michigan's capitol mess
The Michigan State Capitol celebrated its 100th birthday in 1979, and officials marked the occasion by opening a capsule that had been buried beneath the building's cornerstone. While the itemized list of the capsule's contents was intriguing—"1873 newspapers, a state history, a history of Free Masonry, a copy of the Declaration of Independence, a silver plate inscribed with Lansing officials’ names, and other papers on specialized topics"—it wasn't included in the actual box. The actual items that were buried wound up being destroyed.
“They’re in very bad shape,” Robert Warner, the late director of the University of Michigan's Bentley Historical Library, said. Water damage had ruined the fragile paper documents, and Capitol anniversary revelers had to gamely celebrate a box full of sludge.
10. Keith Urban's time capsule confusion
Australia's Pioneer Village Country Music Hall had been left in disrepair, which is what made the discovery of a plaque on its grounds in 2014 so exciting. Perhaps there was promise buried beneath the abandoned venue. Hidden behind overgrown vegetation, it read:
Pioneer Village Country Music Club 10 yr Time Capsule Placed by Mayor Yvonne Chapman This Day 4th July 1994 To be Re-opened 4th July 2004
As recounted by Paleofuture, the capsule's opening was a decade overdue, though fans who used to frequent the music hall said they already knew what was inside: a photo of a young Keith Urban. The musician got his start at Pioneer Village, and the photo was buried to celebrate the local star.
Oddly, a different capsule from 1994 was discovered on the music hall's abandoned grounds in 2013. Keith Urban fans eagerly opened it, thinking they had found the photo, but were left disappointed when it proved to be empty. So, by process of elimination, a photo of Keith Urban had to be in the more recently discovered capsule. Unless there's a third capsule, in which case they should probably just give up and buy a Keith Urban photo on eBay.
The college decision process is always a tough one, but review site Niche's annual rankings of the best colleges in America make it easier for prospective students (and their parents) to narrow down the choices to find the best fit. The 2020 list takes a variety of factors into account, including student life, admissions, finances, and student reviews. But the most important factor in their methodology, comprising 40 percent of a school's overall rating, is academics, which, according to the Niche website, looks at "acceptance rate, quality of professors, as well as student and alumni surveys regarding academics at the school."
Taking the number one spot on Niche's list for the second year in a row is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, followed by Stanford University in the number two spot (again, for the second year in a row). Six of America's eight Ivy League schools made it into the top 10.
Here are the 25 Best Colleges in America for 2020, according to Niche's rankings.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology // Cambridge, MA
Stanford University // Stanford, CA
Yale University // New Haven, CT
Harvard University // Cambridge, MA
Princeton University // Princeton, NJ
Duke University // Durham, NC
Brown University // Providence, RI
Columbia University // New York, NY
University of Pennsylvania // Philadelphia, PA
Rice University // Houston, TX
Northwestern University // Evanston, IL
Vanderbilt University // Nashville, TN
Pomona College // Claremont, CA
Washington University in St. Louis // St. Louis, MO
Dartmouth College // Hanover, NH
California Institute of Technology // Pasadena, CA
University of Notre Dame // Notre Dame, IN
University of Chicago // Chicago, IL
University of Southern California // Los Angeles, CA