Public Speaking Secrets for ESL (2015)
Chapter 7: Miscellaneous Tips
Four, three, two . . .
Milosh was on the final countdown of his formal presentation. He had everything aligned as best he could. His friend found him in his office muttering. When Raj realized Milosh was spending one or two last times reading over his presentation, Raj apologized. He explained he merely wanted to give Milosh this small pamphlet. It was called “Miscellaneous Tips all Speakers Must Know.”
“It’s never too late to take a look at a few more tips,” he said cheerily. “And good luck, I’ll be rooting for you.”
- Breathe, Baby, Breathe!
Your first and natural response to this advice is probably, “Of course, I’m breathing! Thank goodness it’s one thing I don’t have to worry about.” Your body may always be breathing, but sometimes in times of distress you breathe a bit shallower than usual.
Many individuals find themselves standing in front of an audience about to present their speech in their second language, is a time of distress. It’s at this time you find yourself telling yourself exactly that, “breathe, baby, breathe.”
In fact, it’s exactly at this moment, you’ll need to remind yourself to breathe. So how do you do that?
Before you step in front of your audience, practice this short but effective relaxation technique.
First, stand still. Close your eyes. Envision yourself being suspended from the ceiling with nothing but a thin string holding you.
It’s now that you want to actually listen to your breathing. Once you’re concentrating on your breathing, then simply count to six while you’re inhaling. Count another six breaths while you’re exhaling.
If you find this relaxation exercise a bit much to envision – and many do – then instead see yourself on a relaxing beach in the sun. For just a moment, visualize how it would feel to be there. Now count your breaths as you breathe deeply. Six in and six out.
This should help you be more comfortable and in turn more confident in front of your audience.
- Facing the Dreaded Question and Answer Period
Even speakers whose first language is English very often dread the final question and answer period of a talk. Part of it is the natural fear of the unknown. You, as the speaker, have no idea what kind of questions that may be thrown your way.
It’s bad enough when you’re concerned if you’re going to be able to answer questions intelligently about the material itself. If English is your second language, there’s a voice in the back of your mind asking yourself, “Will I be able to use the proper language in answering? Or worse yet, “Will I be able understand the terms my questioners present me?”
One way to circumvent this, at least for a few moments is to answer the question “provisionally.” By this, I mean you can answer the question off the top of your head, but explain to your audience you may revisit that answer again – especially if you discover a better way to phrase it.
If you’ve understand all the terms and are grappling with a way to answer the question in English you can stall at least momentarily simply by prefacing your answers.
Before giving an answer, use phrases like, “Off the top of my head . . . “ or “The first thing that comes to mind is . . .” In this way your audience knows clearly that your answer is really just a first impression. It gives you a chance to think about it as you go along and change your mind without appearing like you don’t know what you’re talking about.
If you feel uncomfortable with these prefaces, try saying something a bit more nebulous such as “I’ll check to see if this is really true, but . . .” You may even say, “I have the exact figures for that at my office or in my computer . . .” You may also offer to check it out and get back to them.
In this way you’ve not only provided a provisional answer but you’ve gone the extra step of checking out to ensure you’ve given the proper answer. Believe it or not, that goes a long way to establishing your credibility and your authority.
- Discover the source of your fears.
As much as I’ve been saying, you still may not believe it. I’m going to say it one more time, though. It’s natural to be nervous and even fearful before giving a presentation or talking in front of a group of people.
The ultimate source of most people’s fears are not related so much to the actual presentation as they are to the natural human fear of the unknown. Think about it, you’re not fearful of not knowing your topic. My goodness, you’re probably one of the most knowledgeable in your area of expertise. It’s more that nebulous fear you have that as you stand before that audience you may not be ready for every problem or situation that may occur.
Let’s face it, the truth of the matter is that when you do step up to the podium you have, in effect, relinquished control of your future – at least for the next hour or so. Anything, literally anything, could happen.
Before you present, ponder for a moment what exactly you’re afraid of. Are you afraid someone judging you when they hear your accent, or commenting rudely on your use of vocabulary?
You don’t want to step up to the microphone and allowing that fear grip you. Remember the adage, what you fear most comes to you. In order to perform at your best, you need, then, eliminate your fears. Change the way you think, the way you view your experience and you’ll be, in effect, changing the experience itself.
Believe it or not, your fear is something you can easily eliminate and in the process, therefore, virtually assure that you’ll succeed.
Here’s an extra heads up about what audience is thinking. Overall, those people you’re about to talk to really do want you to succeed. Trust me they didn’t come to hear you talk with the thought, “Let’s see how badly this person is going to do.”
Here’s another hint. If you are true to yourself and you can talk clearly about your subject matter, you’ve conquered at least three-quarters of you battle with fear. The rest is smooth sailing.
- Use the wall push to help banish tension
There are many physical exercises you could use to ease your tension, especially right before you begin your talk. This is the same exercise that Yul Brynner used to ease his stage fright when he starred in “The King and I” on Broadway. If he could face down those theater critics with this technique, then it should work very well for you. Here is all you need to do:
Standing approximately eighteen inches from a wall, place your palms flat on it. Push against the wall. While you do this, your abdominal muscles will contract. When you inhale, be sure you hiss and contract the muscles located just below your rib cage. The overall effect should feel as if you were rowing a boat against the current. You only need to do this a few times and it’ll actually banish your stage fright. Really!
- Experiment – and Have Fun while you’re Doing it.
“Impossible,” Milosh protested. “How can I even imagine have fun? I’m practically scared to death.”
And having fun is just the ticket to help to sweep that fear out of your mind. Instead of being so very serious, make up your mind that you’re going to have fun with the audience.
You can do this by finding new, innovative ways to connect with your audience. You may want to trying taking a new approach to the material – one that will inject humor in the subject.
You may want to try walking into the audience and just wandering around to various places. Each time you do something different be present enough to gauge the audience’s reaction. You’ll know what they and you enjoy most.
Once you begin to enjoy yourself, you’ll feel much less self-conscious about it. You’ll find yourself being “in the moment” as they say and before you know it, both you and your listeners will be having a great time – and you’ll be getting your message across.
- Meditate before your presentation.
No, let’s set the record straight right now. You do not have to be a monk or even the least bit spiritual to meditate. More business executives than ever before are meditating right now because they’ve discovered that the time they spend stilling their minds actually is invested greater productivity and more concentration on their tasks at hand.
If they spend twenty minutes in meditation, they may gain at least twenty minutes, thirty or even sixty minutes or more throughout the day. Many executives now go on ten-day meditation retreat programs. You may think that after spending ten days out of the office (ideally total out of reach) that they would return to a mess.
It’s true that there is work waiting for them, but they are so refreshed that they can take care of the work in record time.
In your case, even a few minutes – as little as five – sometime the night before or an hour before you present could mean the difference between quivering in your wingtips and sailing through a stress-free talk that everyone enjoys, especially you.
- Answer questions as they arise.
That’s right. Perhaps you’ve asked the audience to wait until you’ve finished the presentation to ask questions. But believe it or not, there are always a few people (like myself) who can’t seem to wait until the end. Perhaps some of us are intuitive about what’s coming up next so we ask questions in the middle of your talk.
Some speakers will politely push the question aside by saying “we’ll get to that in a few moments.” The best speakers however, will answer that question, even if they have to adjust the talk accordingly.
Why? For one thing, they realize they have the attention of at least one person. And your talk has interested the person enough that he wants to engage with you. That’s awesome! It also deserves encouragement.
But there’s also another universal reason to do this. The best presentations should feel like a conversation, just a friendly chat between friends. When you stop the train of thought you’re on and answer the person’s questions you have the opportunity to create an atmosphere that approximates
If you happen to have a slide or other graphic that illustrates this then skip to that while you’re answering the question.
Most of the individuals are worried that especially since English is their second language they may get hopelessly lost if they divert from their intended outline, even a bit.
Don’t worry. If you’ve prepared you’ll have absolutely no fears of getting lost. I’m betting that this short detour will only gain the attention of the audience and help to increase your enthusiasm and your overall performance.
Never, ever ignore that chance to encourage interaction between you and your audience. That’s really the ultimate goal of your presentation.
Yes, speaking in public strikes fear in the hearts of most of us. In fact, if right now, you’re feeling pangs of stage fright at the thought of your upcoming presentation, don’t worry. It’s normal.
How normal? Statistics show that almost three-quarters of the adult population in North America are afraid facing an audience. It’s probably save to say – even though I have no hard statistics to back me up – that the majority of those individuals are native English speakers. So, if they are fearful, you too can expect to be a bit intimidated by what you’re about to do.
Ironically, though that fear keeps few people from giving talks. It’s amazing how many speeches are given each year by both professional, non-professional and indeed members of corporate America.
Just look around you. There’s no dearth of presentations, talks and motivational speakers. That means that if all of these individuals have overcome their stage fright, you can too.
And one of the quickest way to help build your confidence as an individual who is presenting a talk in English is to ensure your English is as good as it can be. If you’re confident in the way you speak, if you’re confident that your accent is not blocking people from understanding your message and if you’re confident that you know your material, then you’ll be a huge success.
You may be thinking right about now, that’s an overload of ducks to get in a row before the date of your present. Once you review what’s being asked of you and your own potential, then you’re already on the road to recovery from stage fright.
I can’t help you learn about your topic. That part is up to you. I have to presume that you’re already an expert in your field and you have something important and eye-opening information to provide others.
What I can help you with is to aid in preparing your English language skills, from building a vocabulary to helping you reduce your accent. I’m hoping that this small book will help you in learning the nuances of the English language, how to pronounce words properly, provide the right inflection essential for entertaining and engaging speech making.
All you need to do is to choose the topics, tips and techniques you believe will do you the most good and begin practicing them. This implies that you can’t wait till the night before to begin preparing for your big day. Give yourself as much time as you can.
Yes, I know that sometimes events like this are foisted upon you and you don’t have the time you’d like to prepare. Whatever time you’ve been assigned for this event, take it. Embrace it. And use it to your advantage. If you have just learned today that you have a speech to deliver, then start today. Give this book a thorough reading. Put as much time into preparing today as you can. Continue daily to dedicating some effort to it.
In this way, your speech will remain upper most in your mind. Your efforts in refining your English will turn, much more quickly than you can ever imagine, will bear fruit.
But beyond the tips in this book, you must remember one thing: you have everything within you right this moment to succeed in your assignment. If you keep affirming that, then all your practice and effort will be even more effective than predicted.
As you practice your speech, refine your English and polish your presentation skills, there are other small, but very important things, you can do. What do they include?
Never doubt for a minute that you will succeed. Your own confidence will reflect in your performance. Guaranteed.
That’s what this book is all about. Whether you have two weeks, two days or two hours, take as much of this time as you can to prepare. Prepare your presentation. Prepare your English. Prepare your mindset.
After you’ve prepared, then preview what you’re presenting. Pour your energy and positive thoughts into it.
That’s right. After you’ve done everything you possibly can think of – relax. It’s not healthy to brood over a possible outcome in the future. Trust that it’s all going to be well.
If you’ve got to be at the podium giving a presentation, you might as well enjoy it. Remember at this moment, you’re at the height of success in your career. Be proud of yourself. You’ve worked hard to get there. So take your time and enjoy the ride.
As you’re enjoying yourself, let your audience know that. Smile at them. They’ll smile back. But even before you stand before that podium, smile while you’re piecing your presentation together. Smile while you work. It may sound silly, but you’ll see how much easier preparing can become.
Don’t forget to reward yourself. Reward yourself when you first discover you’ve been chosen to present your speech. Reward yourself as you reach your self-imposed milestones. Reward yourself when you’ve completed your preparation and practice and you’re ready to stand in front of that podium to present.
As you complete each of your self-imposed milestones, try to find a creative way to give yourself a pat on the back. If you can afford to go and buy yourself something, then do it. If the budget says no to that, than take some time to yourself somehow. You and you alone know the best way to make yourself feel good. You’re accomplishing something good here. Be sure you remind yourself of that.
That’s right! Be grateful that you’ve been given such an awesome opportunity as this. Be appreciative for the chance to hone your speaking skills in this amazing fashion. Be thankful that starting with this moment, every time you speak, you’ll be stronger in your presentation skills, and most importantly, in your ability to speak English will be all that much stronger.