3.2 Communication Tools

This book will provide step by step more communication tools which could be used in a university setting.

Communication Exercises

You find here some methods for developing communication

Communication Exercises

Training Perception

Exercise 1: Selective Perception - Gorilla Experiment


  1. Show the video "The Monkey Business Illusion" by Daniel Simons: https://youtu.be/IGQmdoK_ZfY
  2. Have the students count how many times the white-clothed players pass the ball.


The students will experience how our perception is filtered subjectively. And we do not even notice that.


Exercise 2: Perception, judgement and interpretation

"Right" and "Wrong" are not the categories that help us in our personal development. The same is true of good and bad judgements. However, if you observe yourself in everyday situations, you may notice that such evaluations are often found.

Take the simple question “How do you feel?” for example. Common answers are “Good” or “Not so good”. A truly descriptive answer to the questions (e.g. happy, a bit weary, stressed, relaxed) is rather uncommon.

On the one hand, perception is subjective and on the other hand, it is always influenced by situational factors.

Take a lecture for example, which you found awesome yesterday because it was presented slowly and thus well understandable for me. On another day, when I have a headache and want to get out of the warm room as quickly as possible, it could possibly be too slow and too tiring for me. Or maybe a student speaks far too quietly for me, but at just the right volume for the person sitting next to me.

Discovering communication is not about doing things right or wrong but about getting to know more about us, the way others see us and how we perceive the world. A useful exercise is therefore to practise describing - without evaluating and without interpreting.


To do this, you can either prepare slips of paper with statements or have students write down their own sentences and put them in order.image-1624372447688.png




It’s five past three.







They overreacted.

You work too much.

I think she liked it.



The students are aware of the difference between perception, judgement and interpretation and can assign statements to the three categories.

Next step

Students pay attention to evaluations and interpretations in everyday life. Everyone reports on an experienced situation that has stuck in their memory in the next session.

Communication Exercises

Working on the Blind Spot - Giving and Receiving Feedback

The comparison of self-image and external image is a necessary requirement for the development of communicative skills. Feedback is the only way for us to learn about our "blind spot" (the unconscious part of our communicative behaviour, see Johari Window Model) and thus reduce it.

Giving feedback is not easy. Giving methodical feedback usually takes more than two lessons, and it requires patience and focus on the part of the teacher. Often we are so stuck in our everyday patterns, such as

that we have to reflect on our thinking in order to be able to engage with giving feedback. Therefore, be sure to start with yourself and try out feedback in your everyday life (See here for more details regarding feedback).

What is feedback?

And what is it not?

Attention: Many students confuse feedback with criticism and want to hear “what they can do better”. But one of the most important goals of feedback is to recognise one's own strengths, not just to improve what is supposedly bad.

How to give feedback?

To introduce feedback and a real feedback culture in the course, it is useful to visualise the most important points and have them visible on the whiteboard or wall. 



When giving feedback, it is the task for the feedback givers to

  1. Describe only
  1. State the affect on their selves:

Many curricula include student presentations. These are good for introducing methodical feedback in the group.

What methods of giving feedback can be used?

1. Unstructured Feedback


The students know the methodical steps for giving feedback. They can give feedback in a non-judgemental and constructive way with preparation.


  1. The students give their presentation.
  2. The facilitator or teacher asks the students questions about how they have been and how they feel. This step is crucial. It gives space for the presenters' need to share. If you skip this, it is more likely that they will feel the need to comment, explain or justify during the feedback.
  3. The seminar group gives feedback to the presenters. Here, the students can take over moderation. Make sure that the presenters who receive feedback do not justify or apologise.
  4. The facilitator or teacher gives feedback. Facilitator feedback often pursues a didactic goal. Therefore, it can contain hints and suggestions, such as "Next time see if you can reduce your keyword concept: Formulated sentences can tempt you to look at the page a lot."

      2. Structured Feedback

      To enable even more detailed feedback from the group, there is the method of structured feedback. An additional advantage of this method is that the feedback givers additionally train their perception by focusing on specific areas.


      The students know the methodical procedure for giving feedback as well as four feedback anchors or feedback categories. They are able to give feedback in a non-judgemental and constructive way.


      The so-called feedback anchors (categories written on cards) are distributed either to individuals or to groups, each focusing only on the corresponding category. The presenters can also distribute the anchors him or herself. The feedback anchors are redistributed before each presentation. The task for the feedback givers is to focus on their anchor while observing and giving feedback.

      For example, these feedback anchors can be used for giving structured feedback for a presentation of students:



      1. Body (nonverbal means)

      2. Speaking (paraverbal means)

      3. Content

      4. Language (verbal means)



      Communication Exercises

      Training Presentation Skills

      Presentation skills training can be particularly well integrated into university teaching. In many subjects, student presentations are already part of the semester routine. Properly guided, they can promote not only academic knowledge but also communication skills. A good presentation begins with preparation. Therefore, you should already support the students methodically during the preparation. The following steps to prepare a presentation can serve as a structural aid for students, e.g. in the form of a handout.

      Preparation of a presentation

      1. Analysing the situation (speaker-listener-occasion). 
      1. Finding a concrete topic
      1. Gathering material
      1. Selecting the material
      1. Arranging the material
      1. Make corrections
      1. Integrate formulations
      1. Develop a keyword concept/manuscript
      1. Rehearsals (with the help of the keyword concept)





















      Communication Exercises

      Conclusion of the Session


      At the end of the session, it is useful to give the students the opportunity to express themselves one more time and to take personal notes of what they have experienced.


      The students finally reflect on their feelings and impressions. They verbalise new insights.

      One possibility is to let the students write down on a whiteboard or flipchart answering the following questions:


      It is recommended to collect all the contributions on a whiteboard or a large piece of paper. In this way, everyone can also reflect on the insights and thoughts of the others.

      Course feedback

      A practical method for course evaluation is the five-finger feedback.


      It can be used both in writing/drawing (and thus rather anonymously) and orally (in smaller groups) by showing the appropriate fingers.


      Field of application

      Intercultural training

      Resume / Brief description


      This short role play illustrates cultural differences in #communication behavior (tone of voice, eye contact, degree of self-revelation). At the beginning of the activity, each participant receives a card with instructions.

      Target group



      • 4- 400
      • Ideal: 12-24  


      Experience of own and #external communication patterns and modification if necessary



      Time: 10min for the introduction, 20min for the debriefing



      • Stopwatch
      • Handout: Role cards (for print off)
      • Signal (whistle, sound signal, etc.)

      Space requirements

      • Sufficient space so that participants can move freely and regroup

      Online implementation:

      • possibility to contact participants privately (e.g. private chat on Zoom) for the "role cards"
      • possibility to share a sound
      • Breakout rooms (or similar) where participants can join freely (no attribution by trainer)

      Implementation - Guidelines






      • Distribution the role cards: Reading the card without showing it to anyone
      • 1. Round
        • All participants move freely through the room
        • On signal, the participants should behave as on the role cards and communicate in small groups/ in pairs
        • Neither one´s own roles nor those of others are addressed – differences should be addressed through perception
        • Signal after 3min and regrouping
      • 2. Round
        • Also like the first round



      • Inquire with whom:
        • Strange
        • Coarse
        • Irritating
        • Offensive patterns have appeared
      • After a while, emphasize, that each other of these behaviors is accepted/ desired in certain cultures
      • Participants are asked to guess the instructions of the others
      • To clarify the difference between objective perception and subjective judgement and to generate tolerance for other codes of conduct

      Additional format/references

      Thiagarajan, S. (2016) p. 182-190

      4-EARS MODEL

      Field of application

      #Intercultural training #Communication

      Resume / Brief description


      Based on the 4-ear model by Schulz von Thuns

      Target group



      • Min. 1
      • Max. no limitation
      • Ideal: 12-30


      Differentiation between the four levels of communication: Subject level, self-revelation, relationship level and appeal level




      • 10-15 min for the activity
      • 5min for the debriefing 



      • Stopwatch
      • Signal (whistle, sound signal, etc.)

      Online implementation:


      Implementation - Guidelines






      Reading the explanation of the model and analysis of different messages



      • Instruction: Present the 4-ear model
      • Make a first example statement
      • Analysis of the self-discovery level: information about the spokesperson of the message
      • Analysis of the relationship level: information about the sender and receiver of the message
      • Analysis of the appeal level
      • Make a second example statement
      • Re-analysis of all levels



      • What does the other person hear from me through all four ears?
      • Do I hear everything the other person communicates?
      • Can I draw other conclusions from the other person's message that are more empathetic, accepting and inclusive?

      Additional format/references

      Thiagarajan, S. (2016) p. 178-181


      Thiagarajan, Sivasailam: More Jolts! 50 Activites to Wake Up And Engage Your Participants, San Francisco, 2012. S. 105 ff., completed by Samuel van den Bergh



      Handout for individual work: Handout_Offline Reflection and Discussion.pdf

      The World Cafe

      Field of application

      Guided larger group conversations and reflections


      Resume / Brief description


      Making the informal formal and collecting joint knowledge of the participants is the objective of a World Café. Its logic is to encourage a reflection along 3 question rounds. The first round starts with a rather generic question and then is followed by more concrete ones that are oriented to find concrete common results.


      The methodology is used for group reflections that want to integrate all participants. It is a very interactive format in which participants exchange on the questions based on their knowledge. It assures that everybody gets a voice and that communication is assured in an egalitarian way. It takes out of the conversation hierarchies (e.g. between students and teachers, between R&D organisations and the community, between teachers) and focuses on the connection of ideas and suggestions.


      The World Café can be used  


      • in a smaller group (minimum 12 persons) as well as in large groups of participants (300 persons and even more)
      • internally with students or between teachers of e.g. a university
      • with members of the university and the outside community (e.g. with University departments and businesses, between the R&D activities and the locality or region e.g. for a more applied research orientation)

      Target group


      1. Students and graduates inside the different courses
      2. Researchers and teachers to align cooperation opportunities and organisational development improvements
      3. With businesses and start-ups relevant for the research fields of the university
      4. With the local community where the university is based to identify contributions of R&D, research projects or capacity building demands from local organisations and businesses
      Group size


      Minimum 12 - up to 300 people and more


      The World Café aims to

      • create the hospitable atmosphere of a sidewalk café where people can feel at ease and engage in informal conversation
      • develop an interest in others, discover their knowledge and points of views
      • ensure that through the interactive exchange every participants gets a deeper knowledge on the topic that is chosen
      • collect opinions and exchange of concrete ideas (brainstorming)
      • connect the ideas towards a joint synthesis or the concretisation of concrete next steps  and further networking opportunities




      • Small round or square tables with chairs, seating 4-5 people
      • Vases with flowers on each table
      • 3 different colours of markers (e.g. green, blue, red) according to the number of participants (ideally everybody should have access to each marker from the same colour. Alternatively, 2-3 markers from each colour for each table, where the participants at the table share the markers)
      • White sheet of large papers that covers each table as table cloth on which ideas can be written down
      • Menus for tables describing rules and roles of the World Cafe

      In case of online realisation, the requirements need to be adapted. Working e. g. with Zoom break-out sessions and mural board documentation provide a good alternative.




      20 minutes for each question round, minimum 1 hour plus the introduction and explanation of the purpose of the World Café, its  methodology, rules and roles, and feedback of findings (altogether minimum 1.5 hours)

      Implementation -Overview

      The methodology is realised in three main organisational steps. 




      Implementation - Guidelines





      The preparation has to be adjusted to the target group and the context in which it is applied. When working as university staff with external actors, official invitations and procedures should be applied. For internal reflection e.g. with university and department staff, the format can be applied in a joint meeting. In a student class it also can be applied as a didactical instrument. In all 3 application formats there is a sequence of preparation to be considered:


       1. Preparation


      1.1.  Clarification of the purpose


      The World Café can be used for e.g.  


      • Brainstorming with students to collect their experiences and knowledge
      • Reflection to reach a certain concrete objective (e.g. better coordination between the departments of the university or to identify concrete entry points for research projects with businesses)
      • Promotion of communication on a certain relevant topic to align understanding (e.g. “What is the opinion of different professors and university staff to increase innovation orientation in their delivery of teaching?”)

      1.2. Phrasing of the questions


      Phrasing suitable questions is key to reach the purpose of the World Café. The logic of phrasing follows a funnel logic. It starts with a rather generic question to get the communication going, then a more concrete question related to the purpose of the meeting, then a final question that provides the opportunity to get a concrete outcome.




      1.3.  Preparation of the event


      This includes invitation but also setting up the space:

      • Documentation of 3 questions on a pin board or a PowerPoint in three colours (first question in green, 2nd question in red, 3rd question in blue)
      • Round table and table cloth organisation with vases or a flower drawing on the table cloth
      • Placing markers (green ones for 1st question, red ones for 2nd question, blue ones for 3rd question) on the tables
      • Preparing the menu card with the rules and roles of the exercise or preparing on a flipchart (or PowerPoint) the rules and roles 
      • Preparation of a mind map on a pin board to document final summary of findings


      2. Realisation of the World Café


      2.1.  Welcome speech and introduction to the purpose and sequence 


      One of the key questions that can be asked to the audience is: “Where do you have most informal exchange on an official event” The answer in general is: “During the coffee breaks.” The World Café has the logic to encourage informal communication and exchange in a formal structure. It is relevant to give a short overview of the structure of the World Café (3 questions, groups are mixing, and tables are changed after each question, each reflection on a question is e.g. 20 minutes). The explanation of rules and roles are relevant finally (in the first-round group at each table chooses one host who stays at each table through all question rounds, everybody takes the markers and doodles and draws on the table cloth, every comment is documented or visualized on the table cloth etc.). Then the group is asked to find themselves up at different tables before the first round of question starts.


      2.2.  First round of questions


      The first round of questions is beginning, and answers are getting documented in one colour (e.g. green). Answers to the questions get exchanged and documented on the table cloth (using symbols and graphics, not only words is encouraged). At the end of the 1st question round each participant is asked to look for a new table with a new group of participants (e.g. students). Only the selected host stays at the same table to brief the newcomers.


      2.3.  Second round of questions


      Before the second question is presented, the host presents the main answers from the first round of reflection (only 2 minutes to wrap up). Meanwhile, moderators take the green markers from the table and exchange it with a new colour (e.g. red). Then the second question is presented to the participants. The reflections on answers related to the second question get then documented by the participants in a different colour (e.g. red). At the end of the second question round each participant is asked to look for a new table with a new group of participants. Only the selected host stays at the same table to brief again the newcomers.


      2.4.  Third round of questions


      Before the third question is presented, the host presents the main answers from the second round of reflection (only 2 minutes to wrap up). Meanwhile, moderators take the red markers from the table and exchange it with a new colour (e.g. blue). Then the third and last question is presented to the participants. The reflections on answers related to the third question get then documented by the participants in a different colour (e.g. blue).


      3.     Reflection of findings


      3.1.  Summarising main findings


      The hosts at each table are asked to give a synthesis of the main answers on each question at their table. The results are documented in a mind map (on a pin board or flipchart).


      3.2.  Reflection on main steps forward


      It is important to reflect on how to make use of the information collected or how to move forward as a next step. The momentum that is created provides the opportunity to become well documented and to make use of (e.g. through the realisation of the ideas or further planning steps).


      Example of application

      Local Economic Development Forum in a city (and in a Student) for a reflection on Local Economic Development


      The following examples come from a Summer Academy on Economic Development in Germany for experts and practitioners and from  a student course at the SEPT Master Course in Germany. In both events the main topic to reflect on is local economic development (LED). The logic of the World Café was oriented to

      1)      Identify common knowledge on what LED is all about

      2)      Reflect about key challenges in LED in a respective city/place

      3)      Identify key success criteria for LED


      Designing a pin board with main objectives of the World Café and application of examples (if existing)


      Students and local practitioners were provided examples of the use of the World Café in different projects and local events in the world. Along this board also the objectives of the world café logic were explained. Stressing out the logic of making the informal talk formal is a key aspect of the World Café as well as making use of common knowledge and getting to know each other through discussing and reflecting on concrete targeted questions.