How to Get Confidence in Your English from Your Audience in 6 Brave Steps
There’s a programme I listen to every week on BBC Radio 4. It’s called the Life Scientific. Every week the host, a scientist himself, interviews a fellow scientist.
It always starts with a brief description of the guest scientist’s key achievements in their field – chemistry, nuclear physics, medical research, biochemistry and so on.
Then it goes back to the beginning. Where they came from, their upbringing, their education what made them get into their field, what were their ambitions, struggles and breakthroughs.
Above all, we get a glimpse of what change they’re seeking or sought to make in the world.
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am the least scientific person in the world.
I deliberately avoid the science section of a magazine. I change channels as soon as a science programme comes on TV. I always avoided ‘doing’ science experiments with my nephews. And visits to the Science Museum in London were excruciating.
I hated science at school. Give me literature, history and languages anytime.
So, why am I so hooked on this programme? I even have the podcast downloaded on my smartphone and will happily listen to the episodes whilst gardening.
I decided to dig deep and here’s what I found.
During those 30 minutes, I am taken on a journey. A story-telling journey.
Where the narrator takes me through their journey starting from their humble beginnings and ending with their notable achievements. Along the way, we stop at the obstacles, the small wins, the big wins, the accolades.
What makes their story so captivating is that I feel they’re talking to me.
They’re talking my language. They’re making their complex world easy for me to understand. Not because I am dumb, but because they want to inspire me. They want to welcome me into their inner circle.
They want to make me feel like I belong. They want to share their work with me, the outsider. The unscientific one.
How do they do this? They:
> Use plain language. Unscientific words.
> Give examples.
> Slow down
> Make the complex simple.
They understand that if they want me to join their inner circle, they have to make their world accessible. To make it common.
Etymonline has a wonderful definition of ‘communicate’== to make common.
In other words, to make accessible.
That’s why I love the programme. The scientists aren’t interested in themselves. They’re interested in me. They’re interested in communicating with me, not speaking at me.
By them doing this, I feel involved. I feel inspired. I feel connected.
And in return, I cheer them on.
Who doesn’t want someone to cheer them on?
To encourage you to keep going. To wait enthusiastically for your next piece of work, to what you’ll say in that next meeting, presentation, conference call.
It’s why we do our work. Why we forge relationships.
We hope to have an impact on someone else’s life. And when we do, it makes us feel good. It boosts our confidence.
And yet, that’s not where you think you’ll get your confidence to communicate effectively in English at work.
If you’re like my clients and readers, here’s where you think your confidence will come from:
> Learning more ‘sophisticated’ vocabulary
> Speaking grammar-perfect English
> Speaking fast and without pauses.
I don’t blame you. Many teachers and online courses tell you the only way to boost your confidence is to improve your fluency and speak like a ‘native speaker’. So you buy into this message. More fluency, perfect grammar = more confidence.
So you focus all your efforts on yourself.
You forget your audience. You forget to communicate with them. All you do is speak at them.
Like the car salesman who talks at you about how wonderful the features of the car are without once asking you how you feel about it. They speak gobbledygook and you walk away feeling excluded from this group of car nerds.
The audience hears you, but they’re not paying attention. They’re not connecting with you. They’re not responding. They’re not cheering you on because they feel excluded.
And the less cheering they do, the less confident you become. The more isolated you feel.
Hands up who’s ever had blank stares after a presentation? How did that make you feel?
The doubts start creeping in about your English when in actual fact, there’s nothing wrong with your English.
What you need is for your audience to boost your confidence. And the only way you’re going to do this is if you communicate with them. You welcome them into your inner circle. You include them. You connect with them.
It sounds impossible but not if you take these 6 brave steps.
The 6 brave steps to boost your confidence in your English through your audience.
Step #1: Consider your true motive
What’s the purpose of your meeting, presentation, conference? Is it for your audience to take action, to understand your message, to respond to your message? Or is it to showcase your talents?
Step #2: Put yourself in your audience’s shoes.
Like the scientists in the radio programme, think about who your audience is.
Are they from your ‘world’? Do they speak your language? Would using buzzwords, jargon be appropriate? If they’re ‘unscientific’, what would they need to understand your message? Would storytelling help them?
Step #3: Take yourself out of the picture
Remember, this is not about you. It’s not about how many words you know, how quickly you speak, how quickly you answer their questions, how perfect your grammar is. This is not some ego trip.
Step #4: Pause + Observe + Ask
Don’t assume everyone is following you. Observe the body language, their facial expressions. Do they look confused? Are they distracted?
The best way to observe is to pause first. Then ask people questions. Check for understanding. Invite their opinions.
Step #5: Listen, listen, listen.
Listen to their response. Give them your undivided attention. Listen to understand, not to reply. Consider their question first before answering. Use plain language when answering. Give examples. Paraphrase.
Step #6: Include them
Seek their opinion, listen to it, consider it. Speak their language. Talk their story. Connect with them. Make them feel they count.
Don’t underestimate how invaluable your audience is to your confidence and self-esteem.
But before they give them to you, you need to open the door and welcome them into your inner circle. Like the scientists in the radio programme.
As soon as you open those doors, they’ll cheer you on. And that’s the best confidence booster you could ever ask for.