“Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself” is Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Address. He goes on to say, “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
In preparing for a speech, as most likely each one will at some period of our lives, whether in a private gathering or a big conference, that fear bug bites you. While fear is good to a point where it stimulates you to action, numbing fear is the worst kind to hit us when you’re there on the podium and everyone is waiting.
Should this even happen? No, if you have taken the effort to prepare beforehand and evaluated where the fault line lies and how to avoid such a disaster. Self-evaluation is the best preparation for any speaker, and if you start right now, your improvement will be underway.
#1 Are you a Good Listener?
Have you heard it said: “If you make listening and observation your occupation, you will gain much more than you can by talk.” Speaking is a skill that grows from what you hear, not only what you already thought you knew. You’ll be surprised what you can learn if you just stop and listen to what another person has to say. This requires patience and focus, two traits which are also essential for a seasoned speaker.
Antagonism is the worst stance that a speaker should take, and so, it is expedient that you think before you say anything, and it would be best to hear first the other side before thinking. Overthinking usually gets you in the wrong place and puts you at a disadvantage.
Two simple solutions are proposed for this problem:
First, practice listening EVERY DAY. All you need is 10-15 minutes per day to develop your listening skills. You can get free English lessons on websites like EnglishForward.com and listen to them while driving, commuting, exercising, or doing housework.
Next, know some expressions for clarification of a point made:
- Beg your pardon?
- Kindly repeat that, please?
- Could you say that again, please?
- Correct me if I’m wrong, but did you say that…?
#2 How extensive is your vocabulary?
When you were starting out as a student/learner of a new language, you were told to improve your vocabulary. Nothing will make you a better reader and communicator than having the ability to understand new words and using the same words every day until it becomes part of your vocabulary. If you have lagged behind, go through that routine again of learning new words and using them.
Noting what the root of a word is can give you a hint of what it could mean. Understanding and memorizing vocabulary roots, prefixes and suffixes is a surefire way of building your vocabulary fast. Another way is to learn words is to attach them to a place and have a picture of the object in your mind, like in a picture book.
For example, you are with English-speaking friends in a forum like English Forward and they are talking about what they had for lunch. As they describe their meal in words, try to imagine and ask questions about that particular dish and what it contains, as much detail as you need to have that picture in your mind.
#3 Can you pronounce correctly?
“If speaking is silver, then listening is gold.” – Turkish Proverb
While there’s a benefit in knowing the word, the greater benefit would be to listen how it is pronounced and to imitate the correct pronunciation and keep repeating until you’ve perfected. Certain words can have a different meaning when pronounced differently. A wrong pronunciation can lead to a misunderstanding and worse, a gap or a fight.
One way to improve your pronunciation is to keep practicing your listening. The more you listen to English, the more your pronunciation will naturally get closer and closer to native pronunciation. There are courses offered for helping with this, but practicing pronunciation by recording and playback on your mobile phone would be a great habit for improving your English diction.
#4 How confident are you?
“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.”
So, you’re back to square one, even after all the equipping skills you’ve developed. Is that right? What’s wrong with this picture?
As stated earlier, FEAR is the enemy of any endeavor. Whether you have to give a speech, have a job that requires you speak publicly, or simply want to improve your overall speaking patterns, there are several methods available to conquer that fear but you do not expect the results overnight.
First, be DILIGENT at communicating. Knowing that’s your goal, you don’t need to be so focused on the grammar, but more on the flow of thought. If the speech is anything you are given time to prepare, remember to cover the 5 W and 1 H – Who, Where, When, What, Why and How. Having that data as accurately as you can is already half the battle won.
Second, be STRAIGHTFORWARD. No beating around the bush, but be open and transparent so you gain credibility. The more words you weave around the issue, the more you lose sight of your goal and the support of your audience. It would help to have an outline ready so you don’t drift off-topic and lose the targeted sentiment.
Third, PRACTICE SPEAKING English as much as possible even when there is no need for it yet. Be in top speaking form by daily practice. Speak in front of a mirror, or with trusted friends and family. Take your time to start speaking.
Estimate the time you need for each major point. It’s extremely important to practice in low-pressure situations as much as possible to build your confidence so that you will be comfortable speaking English in a more “high-pressure” situation (like a teleconference, presentation, or job interview).