Developing Speaking Skills

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PRACTICE. That one word sums up how you will become proficient in public speaking.

Speaking up in class is always a rather daunting prospect. Quite apart from the idea that we have that we might not know the correct answer, or our fear that people will laugh at us if we do not know the exact answer, is the fear that we won’t pronounce words correctly or we might stutter. Even worse, someone may interrupt us as we are speaking and we could lose our train of thought and look foolish and become embarrassed. Have I just typed out your literal nightmare? Believe it or not, this is a common stressor among the student body.

It takes a lot out of us in terms of energy and courage to speak up in class. In fact, it takes a lot out of us to speak up in any situation. Unless we are one of the small percentage of super confident individuals, we all struggle to some degree. Fear, shyness, possible embarrassment, not fitting in with the accent and/or correct word choice are all fears that most people face. This is especially so for those of us who are not learning in our first language.

So how does one go about developing speaking skills in the classroom? This takes me back to my first word in this blog. PRACTICE. In the current climate in education, most classes are online. It is easy to record and re-listen to the material being taught. If you don’t feel confident asking a question as the lecture is happening, take a moment to note down the point at which you need to re-watch the lecture and you can frame your question in a no-stress environment later. This will give you a chance to think about what you need to ask and the way in which you need to ask it. Listen to the way in which your teacher has spoken. Listen to the way in which your classmates have answered or asked questions. Model your own speech patterns on that. In this way, you will start on a small scale and build up your skills as time passes.

Once you know what you want to say, say it! It might sound silly, but the mirror is your best friend here. If you have family members who are willing to be an audience for you, then go ahead, use them. If, however, you prefer to start on your own, use your mirror. Practice asking what you need to ask a few times. Each time you will see that your speech pattern will become clearer. This in no way means that you will suddenly be confident in the classroom. I’m afraid that is a subject so huge it would be the content of an entire blog post.

Once you have asked those first few questions, you will naturally feel safer asking questions as the semester progresses. Start to become involved in class discussions. Make one or two points to start. See how your classmates and your teacher respond to your points. If your teacher is a good one, they will guide you in a supportive a safe manner through the process. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarifications. A good teacher never moans about going over material for a second or third time. This could all build up to your needing to design and deliver a presentation to the class.

For the presentation, ensure that you understand the topic thoroughly. You don’t need to be distracted by the content material if you are struggling with speaking skills. Once you have the topic, plan your presentation effectively. Know what you want to say and know when you want to say it. If you feel it necessary, have cue cards on hand to help you remember. The trick with cue cards though is that you do not want your entire speech written on them. This will just distract you further if you get stuck at any point in your speech as you will have to look up the point at which you got stuck. There is also the temptation of reading the entire speech instead of presenting it. Instead, have a few key words that will jump-start your memory and enable you to carry on with the presentation. Once all of that is out of the way, it is time to get to work on those speaking skills.

If you are still not confident in your speaking skills, even after all the work you have put in throughout the semester, it will be time for a new tactic. IMITATE. Watch videos online where people are presenting speeches on your topic. Remember your teacher and what and how they spoke about the topic. Lean on your classmates for support in issues of pronunciation and enunciation. Have one-on-one discussions with your teacher. I’m positive they would be glad to guide you where they are able. Join a club at school or Sharjah college that deals with speaking skills. These clubs are normally set in quite nurturing environments which means that you do not have to worry about being teased or laughed at. Skyline University College has a Toastmasters Club that meets every two weeks. If you would like to know more about the club or join it, feel free to contact the admissions department and they will guide you.

Here is a short ‘checklist’ you could use before you deliver any presentation:

  • Do I have all the information?
  • Have I practiced my presentation a few times?
  • Have I timed my presentation to make sure that it fits with the instruction?
  • How many ‘um’, ‘ah’, ‘so’, ‘and’ etc. do I have in my speech? How can I eliminate these?
  • Are my cue cards ready and appropriate?

The truth of the matter is, that even with all of the tips given to you above, it all comes down to you. You can employ each of the tips and still feel your legs shaking with that first public speech. It is only with constant practice and exposure that you will feel like you are improving. So, PRACTICE.

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