I am currently reading a book by Scott Berkun called “Confessions of a Public Speaker”. Scott and I have things in common, he was at Microsoft, and worked as Program Manager for Internet Explorer 1.0 to 5.0 and quit to become a writer, I have a background in Computer Science as a Helpdesk Technician and a teacher (for about a year), hence my taking his book seriously, I haven’t regretted so far.
From this book I have made an interesting discovery, everyone makes an average of 1 verbal blunder in every 10 words, if people say an average of 15,000 words everyday that’s 1,500 blunders daily (this is according to Michael Erard, author of Um).
When I was in Junior Secondary School, my Business Studies teacher was one good Sheller, she threw so many grammatical bombs, and even before global terrorism became a serious issue, she terrorized us innocent children with her poor sentence construction, poor tenses and improperly pronounced words. I was so moved (entertained that is) by this woman, I began to take note of these errors at the back of my notebook and read them at prep laughing all by myself at each ‘bomb’.
But does this mean she was a terrible public speaker? No! She knew the subject well, had taught it for years and wasn’t bored. Each class was a fresh experience for her and she did well. She did not have a domineering size but she was in control of her class even without a cane in her hand, and we did have a laugh or two every now and then, these are some attributes of a good public speaker.
Language, sentence construction, properly pronounced words and good tenses are very important, but they are no guarantee that any speaker would bond with the audience or properly communicate his or her point. This is one mistake many of us make; we focus on language and right use of it so much that we often do not spend enough time developing our idea and a skill of bonding with any audience.
Even debates at school, if I remember correctly, were judged more on fluency of language and less on fluency of thought communication.
In reality, audiences will pardon your verbal blunders (‘bombs’) to a reasonable extent if they are learning a lot from your speech, they are entertained (a good laugh, a moving story and illustrations they can relate would do) and you are doing well in delivery (you are speaking passionately, you sound interested and like an expert not a novice even when you don’t know that much about the subject).
Therefore before you make a speech, PREPARE! PREPARE!! PREPARE!!! Develop your ideas by doing a good job finding out as much as you can from books, The Internet and experts on your subject (even when you are an expert).
Next bring your subject to life by building a bridge between the audience and your subject, for example in a talk about malaria: “every 30 seconds, malaria kills a child. One of the two children that just died this past minute could have been yours.”
This is not to say that if you make verbal blunders, you should not do anything about it, PLEASE DO! Good speakers are those who are good in communicating their thoughts and ideas with very good use of the English language (or whatever language, the speech is delivered in).
Here are some tips to help you get out of shelling (verbal blunders):
- Learn the basics of the language: every language has a grammatical structure, sentence structure and tenses (present, past and future), learn them. Buy a book that teaches it.
- Have someone (that you trust) who is better at the language, point out a blunder when you make it and correct you. Heed their correction!
- The Media can be of help. Oh there are broadcasters these days who make blunders, so I recommend International Media especially the 24-hr News Channels (CNN, Al- Jazeera English, CNBC and BBC, etc.) The BBC has tons of resources on English Language.
- Go online; there are many websites that teach various languages. For English, The BBC has a dedicated website to teaching English and podcasts to accompany these resources. Use them!