It happened a few weeks ago.

My first son, Jason C. Ossai, left us to begin a new phase of his life at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, USA.

He left the shores of Nigeria, the country he’d known for almost 19 years, for the land of his birth.

On that Sunday, our entire family, including my mother, accompanied him to the airport in Lagos. We helped to check him in (after the usual chaos of transferring items into a third suitcase to adhere to weight limits). We saw him through the process, gave him a big group hug, and watched him head to the boarding gate. He was clad in his winter garb—we heard about the weather—had his backpack and his laptop bag secure, and within seconds, he disappeared. He didn’t even look back once.

And something in me shifted.

My eyes stung, and the silent tears came. I swallowed hard and surreptitiously wiped them away. My family knows that I’m not usually outwardly emotional.

My mum looked at me with compassion.

‘It’s OK, Lucille’, she assured me gently.

And for a moment, I understood how she must have felt some 26 years ago when I (and later, subsequent siblings) left Nigeria for the UK to begin university studies.

However, the only difference was that Jason, being a US citizen, was unlikely to return to Nigeria soon after his studies.

The United States is the ultimate land of dreams, and my son has big dreams. As cliché as it sounds, the world is his oyster. He’s going to do great things in tech. I know it. He would want to explore opportunities in the West, as he should.

So those heartfelt airport goodbyes felt…final.

My husband put a consoling arm around my shoulder. I dared not look at him for fear that the torrent of tears would burst forth to overwhelm me. I was barely keeping my composure. I repeatedly told myself Jason would be fine.

My two other children, a 15-year-old teenager (whom I realised would go through a similar scenario in a few years), and a six-year-old, sensed my internal battle. They gave me long, tight hugs.

‘It’s OK, Mummy’, they cooed.

I was excited for my son, yet sad.

I was thrilled because Jason was looking forward to his undergraduate studies in computer science at the university. Being rather skilled in soccer, he was also hoping to join the school’s soccer team, the renowned River Hawks. 

But I was sad because he had left the nest and there would be a void in my family that logic couldn’t fill.

Before my son left for university, I had given his communication tips, which he took little note of. But I get it: A lot was going on in the weeks before he left with massive information being shared.

However, two weeks into his university life, he began to see the usefulness of some of the communication advice given. Speaking clearly, asking questions, requesting feedback, and writing essays are now tasks he’s required to do. And he now understands why I harp on effective communication.

So if you’re off to university/college, below are four communication principles you should cultivate to get ahead.

1) Listen attentively first, then ask questions

Be slow to speak — at the beginning.

Listen actively so you understand processes clearly, know what is required of you, and how you should proceed. More importantly, you’d avoid making assumptions that could lead to mistakes.

Right from the beginning of his international trip, Jason realised how important it was to be attentive. For example, the boarding gate information changed while he was waiting. If he hadn’t been listening and been alert (instead of browsing the internet or listening to music), he might not have heard the announcement. But he did, then asked questions, so he easily followed the right group and boarded the plane successfully. It was his first time travelling alone on a 12-hour long-distance flight. If he missed that flight to Washington DC, he wouldn’t have boarded the connecting flight to Boston the next day. Consequently, he would have missed the orientation activities two days later. (The next direct flight from Lagos to Washington DC was the week after). Not listening or asking the right questions would have led to losing out on important university functions.

As an incoming student, active listening is invaluable to your personal development. Not only is it useful when handling the rigour of your academic work, but it sharpens your understanding and builds critical reasoning skills.

The more you listen, the quicker you understand, question arguments, and form collaborations.

Cultivate this skill of active listening from your time at university, and years later, you’d reap the benefits in your career or business.

2) Speak clearly

My son grew up speaking English in Nigeria, so he’s a native English speaker who has a non-US ‘accent’. I told him that it didn’t matter that he won’t sound like other Americans. What is important is that he speaks clearly and audibly and that he enunciates his words. I also stressed one point: He should speak louder and slower than he usually does so that people understand him quickly.

Whether you’re an international student or a native of the country where you’d be studying in, increasing your volume when speaking is a useful communication technique. It reduces filler words (e.g. ‘er’, ‘so’, ‘you know’), forces you to slow down, and helps you articulate your thoughts better.

As a female student, an increased volume helps you to sound more confident. As a male student whose voice has broken, speaking at a higher volume means that your words don’t get swallowed up at the end of your sentences.

Speaking clearly and audibly (and this is true at the workplace) increases your confidence and makes you appear smart. It also coaxes people to take you seriously.

3) Watch your nonverbal behaviours

Your body language matters.

Whether it’s sitting up straight, maintaining eye contact, offering a handshake, or walking purposefully, what your body communicates can open doors for you or lose you opportunities.

Body language experts such as Mark Bowden and Amy Cuddy explain how to use your nonverbal cues to trigger trust, increase self-confidence, and get results.

But below are simple nonverbal cues and behaviours that can work wonders:

  • listening attentively (and displaying the body language that indicates so, such as leaning forward)
  • gesturing in the region Mark Bowden calls the ‘truthplane‘ — at navel length, to trigger trust
  • displaying ‘open’ palms/hands, and ensuring your body is not obstructed by objects/items
  • using volume, pitch, and tone for different effects
  • walking energetically into a room with your head held high
  • pausing at critical moments when speaking for greater impact

Body language is an important field of communication that is sometimes underrated. Yet, in high-stakes scenarios such as job interviews, media interviews, pitches, and giving speeches/presentations, how you behave can strengthen your case or sabotage your chances.

Furthermore, when there’s little differentiation in qualifications and experience, displaying ‘open’, warm nonverbal cues make you likeable, hence trustworthy, which gives you the advantage.

You can find more practical tips on boosting your credibility with nonverbal communication in this article.

Learn how to use your body language to trigger positive perceptions and make you memorable.

4) Cultivate the habit of writing regularly and sharpen your skills

One way to instantly set yourself apart from the pack is through persuasive writing.

In my work, I’ve met many seasoned professionals who struggle with writing convincingly. Therefore, if you can learn the art of writing effectively, you will get opportunities your peers won’t.

While the type of writing you need in the business world (business writing) might differ from the academic style of writing you’d be exposed to at university, start to take your writing skills very seriously.

Learn more about persuasive business writing and how you should proceed.

Now, supposing you’re motivated to write and you know you can string words together into decent pieces.  What can you do to improve your writing after brushing up on your grammar?

It’s simple. You develop two habits:

  • Read well-written materials in different fields and formats (to expose you to good grammar, interesting expressions, styles, and structures). Also, read something every day.
  • Write regularly (to build your competence through discipline and practice).

To ensure you stay the course, use every opportunity to write, even when writing is optional. So include a cover letter in your applications for internships, volunteer work, or jobs. Write an email to appeal a decision. Write a letter to your local government representative to propose a law. Write a letter to Elon Musk or your celebrity business leader to make a bold request. Since people generally avoid writing, writing an article, letter, email, etc. gets you noticed and opens doors for you.

Trust me on this.

And yes, I advised my son to write at every opportunity he gets at university, especially when writing was optional.

Superb writing levels the playing field. You can count on this skill if you don’t have any other clout (influence, powerful connections, etc.) to leverage on.

Recognise that words have power.

But know that powerful, written words—strung together with the strategic intent to trigger specific emotions—are magical. Therefore, learn to create and harness that magic from your university days. Then continue to hone your writing capabilities, and sharpen them (again through discipline and practice). And you’d become unstoppable.


So, as you leave your family during that emotional send-off, akin to the airport scenario I described at the beginning, know that the world is your oyster.

You, just like my son, have big dreams and big hopes.

Whatever you decide to pursue in university, practise the four communication principles listed in this post. They will guide you and prepare you to make an impact in corporateville after you graduate.

After all, you owe it to yourself to become the best version you could be.

Do you need help with your communication skills?

I love working with ambitious professionals, executives, entrepreneurs, and business leaders.

You already know my approach, my credibility, and my experience. So kindly get in touch, and let’s explore how my transformational communication coaching and training services will catapult you to success in your career or business.

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N.B: First image is courtesy of PublicDomainPictures via Pixabay. Second image and fourth images are courtesy of Gerd Altmann via Pixabay. Third image is courtesy of Engin Akyurt via Pixabay.

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