This post is inspired by a comment left on one of my previous posts, asking me for any specific advice on sharpening one’s social skills. While I’m no expert, here are a few things that I’ve discovered in my own progress toward better public speaking.
If you can formulate a coherent sentence, then it means the language centers in your brain are all in working order. That might not immediately translate into adequate speech, but it’s a good place to start.
The reason why a lot of us trip up or say “um” and “uh” mid-conversation is because our brain needs time to slow down, meanwhile our mouth needs to fill in the conversation with something other than silence. Our cognitive language calculation isn’t fast enough, causing us to stumble.
Writing mimics this process without needing to engage your vocal speech centers. You can slow down and collect your thoughts in an organized way. You can write something, examine it, and write it again. You can sharpen that dull edge of language to a point. You can adjust your vocabulary, learn to use different words, and get rid of your usual vocal crutches.
I’ve personally found that my speaking ability has increased a great deal from all the writing that I’ve done over the years. To get started, all you’ll need is a journal or something to categorize your thoughts. If you really want to stretch your language faculties then try writing short stories. Even better: try writing a dialogue between two people. They could be arguing philosophy or simply deciding what to have for dinner.
2: Read Out Loud
I have always read my stories out loud as form of editing. However, I’ve also done my share of reading blog posts, news articles, etc. I’ve noticed that doing so is where you transition the gains made in your internal language development to external speech. While writing the words on the page may come easily, you still might have issues with articulation, cadence, or volume. This transition should help with that.
Many people make mistakes reading out loud because their brain is moving too slow for their eyes, and their mouth to slow for their brain. Once you’ve read a sentence, your eyes are already on the next while your brain is in the middle of processing the current sentence, and funneling words in a particular order to your mouth as the end function. If these parts don’t work in concert then you’re going to stumble, not just in reading these words but also in speaking newly generated sentences in a typical conversation.
Learning to read out loud forces you to slow your brain and eyes to match the words that you speak. When I took a voice acting course, the one thing they drilled into us is that most people read too fast as a default, and simply slowing down each word by a quarter of a second allows your brain to read it effectively without any notice in slowing your speech. Doing this as a routine forces your mind, eyes, and mouth to come into sync.
Try it out. Try reading this article over again out loud (assuming you’re not on the bus or something).
Once you get the basics, you can try with more emotional variety. Learn how to change your tone, your rhythm, your emphasis. Doing so allows you to do the same when talking to others. Most of the time, the emotional content of words gives greater meaning than the words themselves.
3: Recite Passages of Difficult Texts
Once you’ve learned to effectively read by script, toss the crutch aside and instead learn to read by memory. The skills that you’ve learned in writing and reading will, by this time, be burned into your mental board, so the transition away from reading to speaking should carry over all you’ve done thus far.
While increasing the ranks of my fraternity, it was necessary for us to recite from memory, word for word, the passages of our obligations and rituals. This took the burden off my eyes and instead required more of my memory. This more than anything before has helped me be a better speaker.
So grab a play or passage of your favorite text, sit down, and learn it word for word. Speak it until you’ve remembered everything perfectly, then speak it in a tone like they were your own words. Become that character or philosopher.
4: Go Out With Friends
Speaking in solitude will only do so much. You’re going to have to get used to the back and forth of actual conversations.
Your friends, assuming they’re good ones, are going to be your first choice because they’ll likely forgive social gaffes, and your friends should be well within your comfort zone.
So go out more. Go to a brewery, or have a game night, or just do something social with those around you.
5: Talk to Strangers
Friends are training wheels. Strangers are the real deal. The next time you check out at the grocery store or give the server your order, how about you talk to them, or ask the how they’re doing. Not the canned way that most people do, but ask them questions. Try to start a conversation.
In my experience, a good 80% of verbal mistakes happen during the first sentence or two of a conversation, and that’s largely due to either fear or unfamiliarity.
Note: This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive post. It’s merely my own personal strategy that has given me positive results. Yours will vary, but it is worth a try.