Annual Report of the Information Commissioner 2016

Verbal Communication

Following are some key design considerations to enhance communication with members of the public and those with hearing impairments. While this guidance is focused on face-to-face, telephone and video communication, it equally applies to speeches, conversations and presentations. Parts of this guidance should also be considered in the design of audio outputs from systems such as machine voice recordings and public announcements.

Use Plain English

Always use the simplest and clearest language possible. Avoid using technical words that may not be used by a member of the public. If you must use technical language, clearly explain what it means.

Think about what you are saying

  • Are you answering the persons’ questions?
  • Are members of the public familiar with the technical terms your organisation uses?

Speak clearly

Speak in a clear voice, clearly pronouncing your words.

Speak slowly

Take your time and speak slowly to the person. Tailor what you are saying to meet the person’s needs.

Keep your message simple

State one piece of information at a time. Provide the information in a logical order.

State the purpose of your conversation

At the start of your conversation, state the purpose of it.

Listen and respond to the person

Be aware of the language the person uses and their literacy level. In Ireland 25% of adults have literacy and numeracy difficulties.

Don’t finish a person’s’s sentences

Do not interrupt people while they are speaking. Patiently wait for them to finish.

Open-ended and closed questions

Use open-ended questions to gain more information. Open-ended questions typically provide more informative answers. For example, “What questions do you have?”

Closed questions generally only provide yes or no answers. For example, “Is that your answer?”

If you’re not sure what was said, politely ask the person to repeat the information

Alternatively, summarise the information back to the person to check you have correctly understood the request.

Provide dedicated employees to help

Where possible, and if appropriate, have specifically trained employees to deal with members of the public who require extra time.

Questions and answers can provide a good way of finding out if a person has understood the information.

Finish the conversation by saying thank you and good-bye


To improve the person’s experience, look at how you can improve the communication provided by your organisation. This could include:

Providing training on communication techniques such as interviews, presentations, message taking, telephone dialogues and conversational skills.

Providing training for employees on the accessibility needs of people with difficulties. The National Disability Authority produced a free, short, interactive eLearning training course that will equip public sector staff with the necessary skills to provide an effective customer service to everyone and especially customers with disabilities’.

Providing training on computer-supported video communication techniques.

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