The Gift of Speech

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There are a number of differences that characterise human beings from the rest of the animal kingdom… one of those differences is our ability to speak – to articulate ideas, thoughts and feelings through the medium of words.  Our ability to vocalise and speak words is nothing short of miraculous when we consider all that is involved – the process of speech production is a highly precise and practised motor skill.

To simplify the whole process, in an everyday conversation, we firstly have to hear clearly; then we process what we have heard; we then consider our response and vocalise it. Mental processing of information is a science all of its own.

Being able to speak is something that most of us absolutely take for granted until we are faced with the onslaught of a stroke, motor neurone disease or an accident that takes away, even in part, our ability to exercise what is a vitally important function in life.

Give thanks everyday for your ability to open your mouth and speak – and work to make it the best possible experience for everyone listening!

 

 

The Competitive Edge

 

People with good social skills earn more money!

 Recent research documented by the Harvard Business Review has shown that “People who have higher social skills, as measured by the survey, earn more money … than those with poor social skills. There seems to be a positive return to social skills in the labour market, according to the data, and the return is relatively greater when people are in jobs that require more interaction with others.”

The soft skills of good inter-personal communication and effective teamwork; getting on with your colleagues and connecting well with clients are extremely important. Much time, effort and training are put into hard skills but what good is a lawyer if he can’t effectively communicate with his clients … what good is a manager if she can’t speak with some emotional intelligence to her employees … what good is a leader who is unable to envision his team.

How we effectively communicate and connect with others could be the sole reason for success or failure in a project, place of employment or promotion opportunity.

 

Loving my Job!

So, for those who read my blogs, you will know by now that I feel pretty passionate about what I do! I am absolutely committed to helping people to Find their Voices ie. overcoming the fear of public speaking in all its various forms – whether to a small group, a large conference or improving everyday interpersonal skills.  Confidence is simply having an assurance that we can do something well.

As I have explained to many of my clients, I may be confident and experienced at speaking publicly because I have had a lot of practise at it over the years, however, put me in a laser (as some friends of ours did a few months ago) and I capsize the thing! Quite simply, all I needed was some training, some practise and encouragement. By the end of my first lesson with my very patient and kind teacher (thanks Niel) I was jibing brilliantly and sailed into shore relatively confidently. Now I am not intending to sail single-handedly around the world … yet … I need to build up my skill level, practise and so increase in confidence.

However, there is a great difference between sailing and speaking, and that is that whilst sailing is a great hobby to have, it is a choice and my decision as to whether I want to pursue it. Public speaking though, for all of us, is a very necessary part of life in our workplaces, schools and universities.  Be smart and get some help – you will even begin to enjoy it … or your money back!

The Queen’s Speech

Queen Elizabeth II

People the world over are working on their verbal communication skills knowing that, without excellence in these areas, success and fulfilment in life may be limited. Much of life is certainly about how we interact and build rapport with others; and oftentimes this must be with people of different cultural and linguistic backgrounds to us. So, what ought we to be working on as “global communicators”?

I worked with a Russian lady in London some years ago who was totally confused as to how the English language should sound and be spoken. Having been educated in America and having lived in Switzerland, London, Yorkshire and various other places in the world she did not know what was correct pronunciation. Indeed, every geographical area has its own distinct accent, colloquialisms and individual nuances.

A prerequisite to being a “global communicator” is certainly to be a good listener – so gaining some understanding of the culture, influences and interests of a particular friend, colleague or neighbour. However, what we absolutely cannot do without is clarity of speech. This is not necessarily about RP (received pronunciation) or Queen’s English, it is about whether my speech is intelligible? Can I be easily understood? Is my speaking clear? How often am I asked to repeat myself?

A quick win in achieving greater clarity of speech is considering the pace at which we talk. For most of us our difficulty is speaking too quickly (especially when nervous) making clear diction impossible and making it hard work for our listeners.

Our next consideration is how precise and definite we are in articulating the sounds that make up the words that we speak. Try saying “Peggy Babcock” ten times faultlessly!  For this, we may need some help with the correct placement of our organs of articulation and some serious tongue twister exercises.

So next time you are doing a presentation, a speech or just talking with a group of friends … don’t ignore the puzzled expressions or the drifting off to sleep… take a breath, slow down, take time to say your consonants and find your communication skills improve one-hundred-fold!

 

 

 

Overcoming the Fear of Public Speaking

“Training with Sarah has demystified the art of public speaking. I always thought it was something some people were just naturally good at – and I wasn’t one of them! With Sarah’s help I realised there are some very real skills I could learn to turn me into one of those ‘naturally good speakers’. Thank you Sarah, I feel so much more confident and now I do well with my presentations and speeches.”
JW, Sydney

It is so easy to look at the strengths of others and feel intimidated or lesser and as not hitting the mark ourselves in a particular arena of life. However, as with any area of training and personal development, a little bit of knowledge goes a long way. Get wisdom, get understanding!

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

If we look at an accomplished public speaker when even the very thought of getting up and speaking in front of people makes us feel sick it can make the whole process seem even more overwhelming. However, if we begin to break it down into bite-size pieces and identify what that person is doing well and why they appear so relaxed and confident we are well on our way to conquering the fear and limitations around our own lives.

Some adrenalin and nerves are a positive as we stand up to speak and whether entirely fear-less public speaking is a possibility for every person isn’t really the issue … it is more about facing the fear, overcoming it and growing in skill – we enjoy the things that we feel we do well at! I have testimony after testimony from clients who are actually now enjoying the whole experience of presenting and doing talks in front of colleagues, bosses and peers. There is nothing more rewarding for me than to hear that what was so terrifying for clients is now something they are improving in and even enjoying.

“I never thought I could do so well” … “I did soooo well!” … “I felt so confident and in control!”

Accent Softening – Clarity brings Confidence

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I love the English language! However, as a native English speaker I have the utmost respect for those endeavouring to get to grips with the language’s abundance of inconsistencies and idiosyncrasies. There is a wonderful, if rather long, poem called “The Chaos” (Anon) which charts the majority of the rebellious sounds and would challenge the most confident of English speakers!

My wonderful father-in-law spoke nine languages fluently but I couldn’t begin to get my mouth around the unfamiliar guttural sounds, diphthongs and triphthongs that he rattled off effortlessly in Dutch, Indonesian, French, Japanese, Norwegian, Italian, Spanish and German.

It is only with a great deal of practice and focus that ESL students can master the unfamiliar sounds that are ‘th’, ‘v’, ‘s’, ‘sh’, ‘ch’ etc. However, there is no doubt that the investment of time, money and focus does reap great rewards as “Clarity undoubtedly leads to increased Confidence”. It makes the world of difference to my students to know that they can easily be understood and that there is no lid to their potential for promotion, job satisfaction and social interaction.

In extreme situations, our ability to be understood could be a matter of life and death; in more common situations it can save awkwardness, misunderstandings and even the loss of a job. As English continues to be one of the most widely spoken languages and the official language of the majority of nations we need to persevere with ‘The Chaos’ – Get rid of the lid!

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year from Confident Communicating!

I love the start of a new year. It speaks of freshness, newness; new hopes, new dreams, new opportunities … a natural break to celebrate the good things of the previous year and let go of the things that didn’t go so well. A time to get up and keep doing what is working and a time to adjust what needs changing. A time to stir fresh vision.

One thing that is a definite for all of us and that is that we must keep developing and learning. If we think we know it all then we will, at best, stagnate and at worst shrink back. What might our Personal Development goals be for this year ? …

I recently read a letter from the admissions department for Oxford and Cambridge University in which were addressed the concerns of a headteacher asking as to why her academically capable student had not been accepted into either university. The reply was that although the student had a great Personal Statement and had clearly spent his/her time pursuing many worthwhile things there was a big gap in their education … this was firstly an inability to engage in verbal conversation with tutors with confidence and intelligence and secondly, a lack of ability to read English accurately and fluently.

Continuing to develop excellent communication skills and an ability to connect and engage with others must be high on our list of goals for 2015!

The Power of a Smile

 

As I walked down an extremely busy street in London sometime ago with a friend, a young man stopped me and said in a rather puzzled manner, “Do I know you?” I replied that I did not think so.

Later, as I considered this brief exchange of words, bearing in mind that I certainly had never seen him before; that I am not world-famous nor was he trying a smooth chat-up line, I concluded that the only reason he could possibly have had for stopping me was the fact that I had smiled at him, as I tend to do to many people. This little scenario got me thinking how important it is to maintain an openness and connection with other people even if we do not know them. Mother Teresa said “We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.”

Children, apparently, smile about 400 times a day; adults, however, smile 40-50 times a day when happy and only 20 times a day when not! Interestingly though it actually takes far less effort, from a physiological point of view, to smile than it does to frown and I often find myself encouraging clients to remember the power of a smile in connecting with others and simply to feel better.

The benefits of smiling are well documented and proven …

• Smiling helps you to feel happy and relaxed. If you are in a bad mood, simply by choosing to smile you can lift your spirits. Consequently, smiling can change your mood, your feelings, even your resulting actions by helping to generate more positive emotions.

The scientist Andrew Newberg has said that in experiments, the smile was “the symbol that was rated with the highest positive emotional content.”

• Smiling stimulates your brain’s reward mechanisms in a way that nothing can match.

• Smiling boosts your immune system.

• Smiling reduces stress as it leads to a decrease in stress induced hormones, this positively affects physical and mental health.

• Smiling is contagious. A recent study in Sweden showed that it was extremely difficult for others to frown when they looked at others who were smiling!

There is a reason that the most read book in the world says “laughter does good like a medicine”.

Finding Your Voice

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The phrase ‘Finding your voice’ resonates with so many of us because it is about freedom of expression to be all that we have been created to be. From the moment a new little person is born into the world we listen for the first sign of life – a cry. The newborn baby comes out of the safety of his/her mother’s womb, takes in air, opens the mouth and emits a sound that lets us know that they have arrived safely in this world.   The child continue to express themselves through crying and noises until learning to form sounds and words and sentences, so developing the ability to express themselves in a more mature and effective way.

I remember, as a child, wanting, no, needing to release my voice with full force and vigour as I had done as a baby with no restraints of what was polite or socially acceptable so … would stand under the railway bridge close to our home, and, as the train went over, would let out a long, well-supported (by then I knew how to effectively use my voice) shooooooooout! This vocal release eased tension, frustration and somehow helped me again to connect with my innermost being. Singing can be a wonderfully health promoting pastime also.

Dr Peter Calafiura, an American psychiatrist, agrees that yelling can have a positive mental influence. “[Yelling] might trigger some endorphins, a natural high,” he says. “They might feel calm and it might even be a little addictive. It’s really similar to a runner’s high. They’re getting the same effect in a different way.”

Sometimes, we need to shout, shout and let it all out …! My only word of advice would be to do it somewhere where you are not going to distress or alarm someone else and I am certainly not advocating giving way to venting and yelling at another human being! There is plenty of evidence that yelling in anger is seriously detrimental to one’s health.

A Persuasive Presentation

Emma Watson

I was moved last week in watching Emma Watson, of Harry Potter fame, give what has been called by the press and media as a “game changing” and “powerful” speech.

Emma Watson was addressing the UN at their HQ in New York as an introduction to the HeForShe campaign.  She has recently taken up the role as UN Women Goodwill Ambassador and was inviting the male members of her audience to make a stand, along with the women, for gender equality.

Emma indeed made an effective and impassioned plea for change that was undoubtedly heartfelt and deeply considered.  So what qualities was she evidencing in her speaking that evoked such a glowing response from the ordinarily critical media machine?

I believe that she was courageous in making a stand for what is still, in our ‘progressive’ 21st century culture, a significant issue for many women the world over.  Emma also highlighted how the issue adversely affects men on a number of levels.

She was relatable, using well-chosen examples from her own life and allowing some vulnerability and transparency.  Although, at times, her voice trembled, this in no way detracted from her message or ability to connect with her audience.

Emma was well-prepared and practised  – she knew her speech inside out and did not falter.  Her chosen facts entirely supported her cause.

Finally, I want to highlight the point that she had a cause.  There is nothing else so empowering and provoking to challenge us to step out of our comfort zones, as having something to speak up for!

 She spoke from her heart.