When you read the title of this post, listening to your inner voice might come to mind. “Perhaps,” you thought, “Kerwyn is talking about remaining true to ourselves.” That’s a great topic, one into which some people a lot smarter than me already delved (see some of the articles shared by Kathy Caprino as a good start).
That’s not what I cover in this post. There is no deep, philosophical meaning to the title. My goal is not to evoke a metaphoric or allegorical image. The title means exactly what it says in the most literal way. Let me tell you what inspired it.
I recently had a meeting with some incredible ladies from Accion. With more than 20 years experience in the industry, Accion has serious expertise in micro-finance. Therefore, I sat down to learn what small to medium-sized businesses need in order to qualify for Accion’s assistance. Since I didn’t want to miss anything, I recorded the conversation.
I played it back the same evening, and again the following morning. I was floored. It wasn’t the information that struck me so hard, even though I gained some incredible insights into the micro-finance world. It wasn’t the demeanor of the representatives that sat down with me, even though calling them top-notch does them a disservice because they were more than a cut above that. What floored me was the way I sounded. I was terrible!
I need to put this in perspective. I’m not a stranger to public speaking or impromptu, extemporaneous presentations. I’ve presented before small groups and crowds of thousands. So I considered myself a “good speaker.” However, what I heard on that recording made me rethink that assessment. I had more “word-whiskers,” regressions, and general presentation faux pas than any three people should amass, much less one person having a conversation for approximately 40 minutes!
How do I pull my fat out of the fire and fix this problem? By getting some expert help.
Going to the Source
I’m a big fan of going to the source. It makes sense to start with the originator of something if you want the best advice on using that thing. When it comes to speaking ability, I go back to the Creator of speech itself. Some will disagree on whether there is one, but I’m sure you’ll find the practical advice found in His guidebook for life, the Bible, extremely useful.
- Prepare your mind and heart. The first thing you appreciate is that good speech isn’t a presentation thing. It’s an everyday life thing. It starts with the things we think about and hold in our hearts (Luke 6:45). If we fill our minds with good, wholesome things, we can draw on them when needed. Many times we find ourselves struggling to find the right words to express what we feel. Getting in the habit of reading useful information puts not just words but ideas into the file cabinet that is our mind, just waiting for use (Philippians 4:8). Granted, that’s not advice that directly helps eliminate poor speech patterns, but it lays a foundation upon which to build.
- Focus on speaking clearly. If our speech is unclear, the benefit of what we say is lost on the hearers (1 Corinthians 14:8. 9). What are our words sometimes unclear? It could be a physical problem due to structural defects of the organs producing speech. However, more often than not it’s related to things like not opening our mouths fully. That sometimes happens when our jaw muscles are too tight and our lips barely move. Additionally, some of us may speak very fast (I’m guilty of this), which can make words difficult to grasp. We may also find ourselves slurring words by running them together, skipping syllables or significant letters, or dropping word endings. Therefore it’s important to focus on both pronunciation and enunciation. A good way to do this is to practice reading aloud slowly, focusing on the individual syllables of words and making sure to state each one properly. It will sound weird at first, but eventually you’ll hit your stride and properly pronouncing and enunciating words becomes second nature.
- Prepare your material. A lot of what I mentioned above results from nervousness. A great way to overcome a case of the jitters is to prepare well. If we make a habit of preparing our material and practicing our presentation, our delivery notably improves (1 Timothy 4:15, 16). Another benefit of good preparation is the material becomes “yours,” and you can use it in other settings and for different applications because you are so familiar with the subject. This lends itself to unplanned presentations, where you must call on your storehouse of knowledge and speak extemporaneously.
- Pause. One of the simplest ways to improve speech is to pause. If you’re not sure what to say next – pause. If you know what you want to say but can’t find the right word – pause. That does two things: It gives your listeners time to take in what you’ve just stated and builds anticipation for what comes next. It also gives you time to think (Proverbs 15:28). If you’re worried that a pause sounds awkward, I can tell you that it sounds a lot better than “uh,” “um,” “ah,” or “ahm.” This, along with speaking too fast, is the bane of my existence when it comes to speaking publicly. Therefore you can bet I’ll listen to the way I speak over the next few months and work hard to eliminate the use of any such “word whiskers” in both my public speaking and my everyday speech!
We can say much more on this topic. WikiHow has a great article on improving public speaking. Additionally, eHow published an 11-point list of actionable steps to help improve your speaking skills. They provide a more in-depth look at the topic. Additionally, a resource I always use in improving speech is Benefit From Theocratic Ministry School Education. This scholarly work designed to help Christian ministers contains many gems in chapters like “Apply Yourself to Reading,” “Preparing Discourses for the Public,” “Correct Pronunciation,” “How to Improve Conversation Skills,” and “Fluent Delivery.” Interestingly, all of the above sources mention recording yourself as a way to help improve your speaking.
We can all do better when it comes to our speaking and conversation skills. In my case, I’ve been out of practice, and it shows. I need to step up my game. The wake-up call was the recording mentioned at the outset. Therefore, if you want to give your speaking ability a vitamin-shot in the proverbial arm, get a recorder and listen to yourself.
Have you had a shock to your system when it comes to public speaking or conversation skills? If so, how did you handle it? What are some of your favorite methods of improving your speaking ability?