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!

 

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”.

Take one, not very tall, man; some lights; a huge platform and 20,000 people… all laughing for one and a half hours!

It really is an experience to be in an arena of so many people all laughing together. Laughter is infectious and so good for us – it certainly does good like a medicine.

Such was our very enjoyable evening a few nights ago at the Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney where the hilarious Michael McIntyre was entertaining an enormous crowd with no props, no special effects and no visual aids at all.

It was a great feat of memorisation, engagement with the audience and energy to entertain so many with simply a voice and a body! Michael McIntyre’s ability to make the mundane and familiar so amusing; to laugh at culture and language and be so observant of the people to whose towns and cities he visits, is a gift.  He is a very humorous and skillful communicator.

Some key skills that he exhibited were having great energy and enthusiasm, content that connected with his audience and clearly hours and hours of practise. He was totally professional and flexible when a couple of ladies interrupted one of his stories, and handled the situation with grace and absolutely no sign of panic!!

A few keys for all us public speakers there!

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.

Occupied (with upper case O), occupied (with lower case o) or not occupied… How much passion can be aroused over the absence, removal or addition of one small word.  Julie Bishop’s stance to no longer call the Gaza strip “occupied” resulted in much heated debate around the world.

Politicians, lawyers, barristers and writers are, by necessity, very skilled in the art of well and carefully chosen words because, as we have seen so recently, one word can carry so much weight and significance.

Similarly, as excellent communicators – ones who are skilled at conveying information, ideas and policy to others – we must have a broad, rich and well chosen vocabulary.  Some strategies for developing a dictionary in our brains that means we do have the necessary words available are to read, read, read; listen to excellent communicators; learn a new word a week on a dictionary app; do crosswords; play Scrabble etc …

My father had a very broad vocabulary, the result of being an avid reader, and I can still hear him now, in my mind, saying words that I would guess at their meanings and have fun trying to use them myself.

My word for this week is ‘Omniscient’ meaning “all-knowing”!

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!