When we speak, we use a lot of our brainpower1. Our minds race to find information, feelings, and memories that are related to our ideas, then they rush to choose the right words, and really break a sweat as they put the words in an order that’s logical, sensitive, and compelling to our audience. All of this happens in a flash and continues until the end of our speech, presentation, debate, phone conversation, or prayer. Whether our audience is our family, friends, teachers (gulp!), or boss (double-gulp!), we hope our speech makes sense and is acceptable for whoever is listening. In fact, we are so busy sweating, thinking, hoping, and speaking that sometimes we even forget to breathe. One thing’s for certain: we forget to listen. Or more accurately, we can’t listen because we’re busy doing everything else.
So, we’re doomed, and all we can do is hope everyone’s coffee is warm, right? Wrong.
Practice makes perfect…
And thanks to modern technology, we can use our phone, tablet, or computer to record our speaking practice. Recording your speech and listening to it might sound horrific and/or boring, but it’s one of the best ways to truly concentrate on how well you are speaking. When you listen to your recording, you finally get to be your own audience, so you can notice and focus on your fluency, delivery, and content.
You must flow like water, grasshopper.
Fluency is basically how smoothly2 and easily you use a language. The more you study and the more you practice, the more fluent you will become. Are you pausing to remember certain vocabulary words? Are you frowning or visibly sweating as you rush through the middle of your presentation? Does it sound like you’re really struggling to speak? Watching or listening to yourself speaking will show you what parts you need to practice more.
It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.
Even if you’re a professional speech writer, you still need to work on your delivery. Listen to your pronunciation, tone, inflection, and compare it with examples from other speeches or video clips. Are you emphasizing the right words? Does your tone sound too serious, supercilious, or just super silly? If you’re practicing a presentation, you can even try a video recording to check if you are using good eye-contact and appropriate gestures. Sometimes we don’t realize we are pacing back and forth or rubbing our nose until we seeourselves doing it.
Wait a minute, I think I left my conclusion at home!
Don’t forget that what you’re saying is often the most memorable part of your speech3. People might not remember that you started sweating at the 3-minute mark, but they’ll likely remember if your speech about future learning goals became a monologue about which emoji each Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle would most frequently use (as they should). Getting distracted can happen to anyone, and it can hurt your presentation and even cause you to forget an important part of our speech. Listening to your speech is a great way to catch missing pieces or awkward sentences that need correction.
Remember, everyone needs to practice in order to improve, whether you’re an actor, a surgeon, or a student. Watching and listening to yourself practice is the best way to catch mistakes, notice your delivery, and focus on areas for improvement. It will also help you feel less nervous so that you’re less worried about making mistakes when the day comes to give that TED Talk.
1: exceptions may include politicians, sports commentators, & celebrities.
2: this is also technically fluidity, but it’s a component of fluency (see speaking rubric!)