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Applying Oral Communication Skills in Your Career and Everyday Life

Deanna Dannels, associate dean of academic affairs in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and a professor in the Department of Communications, discusses the importance of oral communication skills for NC State students and graduates.

Deanna Dannels, associate dean of academic affairs for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and a professor in the Department of Communication
Deanna Dannels, associate dean of academic affairs for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and a professor in the Department of Communication

By Samantha Rich, director of DASA Assessment 

This article is part of a series on NC State’s Pack Proficiencies: the five competency areas in which all NC State undergraduates should develop before they graduate: written communication, oral communication, quantitative literacy, critical thinking, and creative thinking. 

Oral communication is ubiquitous in our everyday lives: we communicate with classmates and colleagues on Zoom calls, we demonstrate our content knowledge and expertise in oral presentations, and we communicate our career goals to potential employers in job interviews. Outside of the classroom and workplace, we’re chatting with our Lyft driver, calling in our take-out orders, and enjoying casual conversations with friends and family. NC State recognizes that oral communication is a skill that should be practiced and developed throughout your undergraduate career, and that’s why oral communication is one of our Pack Proficiencies

NC State faculty and staff provide students opportunities to develop oral communication skills in courses, within student organizations, through undergraduate research, and through myriad events and activities across campus. In the interview below, Deanna Dannels, associate dean of academic affairs in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and professor in the Department of Communication, describes how students engage with oral communication in their everyday lives and why it is important that students develop proficiency in this area. Interview excerpts are edited for brevity and clarity.

Question: What does it mean to be proficient in oral communication?

Deanna Dannels: Oral communication really involves a number of things: it involves clearly expressing your ideas, building and evidencing a sound argument using the evidence necessary to justify a position, and adapting your argument to a variety of different audiences. 

Question: Why is it important for students to develop their oral communication skills?

Deanna Dannels: Students communicate every day — from the moment they wake up to the moment they go to sleep. Students communicate with their roommates; they communicate with their faculty; they communicate with their friends. But just because you do it every day doesn’t mean that you do it well. One of the benefits of developing oral communication skills is that students can develop competency in something that is very pervasive in their lives — to reflect on it, to practice it, to get feedback on it so that they can become better at accomplishing their goals.

You need to know how to communicate to be a person who can engage in multiple contexts. Our world is rapidly becoming more interdisciplinary, more multi-modal and more multi-contextual. In order to navigate those contexts, students need to be able to show a proficiency in oral communication. Very few of our students will graduate and sit in an office on their own without interacting with other people; it’s just not the way the workplace is and it’s not the way our community is. A well-rounded person really needs to be able to have those communication competencies in order to be a good citizen, be a good professional, and be a good person in general.

Question: How can students develop their oral communication skills at NC State?

Deanna Dannels: The obvious answer is to take a communication class. Avail yourself of your opportunity to use your fee electives to take a communication class. That said, within your discipline there is an opportunity to either formally or informally practice oral communication skills. You may have a presentation assignment or group work – these are opportunities to hone and refine your skills to not only learn the content but to practice oral communication.

Even if you’re not in courses that provide formal oral presentation assignments, go participate in a rally, go participate in a community event, go watch speakers we bring to campus, and start thinking about what makes them effective as a communicator. What do you like? What could you see yourself doing? Engage in that critical analysis of oral communication skills

Question: How will students engage in oral communication after graduation?

Deanna Dannels: After graduation, in whatever pathway a student chooses, they’re going to have to put a resume out, they’re going to have to inquire about opportunities, and all of those things require oral communication. It may not be face-to-face, it may be technologically mediated or driven, but still you’re using oral communication competencies to find your pathway. Then being successful depends on your ability to communicate well. It also depends on your ability to determine where things need to change and how you can use your voice to make those changes.

I think not only is communication after graduation part of the recipe for success; it’s part of the recipe for innovation, for change and for action in organizations and in our communities. Students with oral communication competencies can be activists in this way and can create workplaces that are more ethical and communities that are more inclusive. Oral communication provides you opportunity and the skills necessary to do that.

To learn more about the Pack Proficiencies and how they are assessed, visit