4 Fundamental Steps that Will Restore Your Confidence in Your English
I think if I speak fast, people won’t notice my accent.
“Is it ‘of’ or ‘in’”? – I constantly worry about prepositions.
“What T means is…” – Why do my colleagues feel the need to rephrase what I say? It only serves to undermine me.
And because I feel people won’t understand me or the words I’ve used, I rephrase everything I say which means I end up speaking more and confusing people even more.
I feel so frustrated when I can’t find the right word at that crucial moment. I know it but it won’t reveal itself.
I know I need to slow my speaking speed and pause more. I need to allow my colleagues the time to digest what I’ve just said. But I don’t know how.
Plus, my boss has told me that I need to improve my English communication skills. But I have been doing this job for years.
As my potential client is sharing her concerns and anxieties with me, she keeps asking me if I understand what she’s saying and if the preposition she’s used is right.
What I am hearing, instead, is deep self-criticism, self-doubt and shame.
➜ Shame that she’s not a better communicator.
➜ Shame that she’s letting her colleagues down.
➜ Shame that she’s letting herself down.
➜ Shame that her experience and expertise are being suppressed by her ‘bad’ English.
➜ Shame that after all these years her communication skills are being questioned.
The trouble with feeling shame is that you retreat inwards. You become obsessed with yourself and your imperfections. You get yourself into a web of self-doubt and can’t find a way to untangle yourself. You’re in a maze and can’t find your way out.
There is a LOT of psychological baggage that needs to be unpacked.
Where do you start?
First, you forget about those English prepositions and your words. It’s hard, but do it.
Second, you turn outwards and focus on your audience. You focus on what they need from you and how you can help them with your expertise. On how much they need that expertise.
Then, with the English you have, you go through 4 fundamental steps.
4 fundamental steps to overcome shame and restore your confidence.
Select a business meeting you had recently where you struggled to communicate effectively and confidently. Where your fear of making a grammar or vocabulary mistake left you frozen.
What was the message you wanted to share? What did you want your audience to do with the message? What was the outcome you were seeking?
Write them down.
Now, go back to square one. Pretend you’ve gone back in time to before the meeting and follow the steps below.
Step #1: Outline
Create an outline of what your message is. Split it into 2 parts – message + audience.
What is it you want to share?
Why do you need to share this message?
What is the outcome you’re seeking.
What do you want your audience to do with your message?
What do they need to hear? In what order?
What words do you want them to hear?
Step #2: Structure
Now you have your what and why you need to develop your how.
How are you going to deliver your message in the way you want your audience to understand it?
For this, you need a clear structure that flows logically.
The structure could be an introduction (context) + main points + conclusion (key takeaways you want your audience to focus on) + preparing to take questions by anticipating them.
For each section, free-flow write. (For more on free-flow writing check this post.)
Don’t worry about your grammar or trying to find the right vocabulary at this stage. All you want is to allow your thoughts to wander freely.
Step #3: Review & Edit for Conciseness
This stage gives you the time to:
➜ review what you’ve written,
➜ make the necessary changes to your flow,
➜ check your vocabulary,
➜ highlight the words you want your audience to hear.
This stage is also where you work on being concise. Removing repetition, redundant words, unhelpful points and so on.
Conciseness is crucial because it will stop you from rephrasing what you want to say while you’re talking. The more concise you are, the easier it is to communicate your ideas or points clearly and with less stress.
Step #4: Recorded practice
Once you’re satisfied with your structure, record yourself. Practise saying out loud what you’ve written.
Try not to read word for word. You want to sound natural, not scripted.
Play back and listen to yourself. Ignore grammar mistakes.
➜ How did you sound?
➜ Were you clear?
➜ Did you make all your points?
➜ Did you pause? Were there enough pauses?
➜ If you were your colleague, would you have to ask clarifying questions?
Once you’ve analysed this, make the changes and re-record yourself.
The changes could be highlighting words, marking where you want to pause, practise pronouncing difficult sounds or maybe finding easier- to -pronounce synonyms.
Recorded practice allows you to practise hearing yourself and auto-correct. It helps you become more aware of how quickly you speak, how often you pause and so on. With self-awareness comes confidence.
You may say that this isn’t the real world. You’re expected to respond quickly, articulately and eloquently. You don’t have the luxury of time to go through these 4 steps.
I understand but consider this.
The reason you speak fast and sometimes, incoherently, is because you do all your thinking while speaking.
You structure and edit in your head and throughout this time, your audience is listening to your mind ‘ramble’. They’re trying to make sense of what you’re saying. No wonder they’re left confused and you’re left frustrated blaming your ‘bad’ English.
To make matters worse, the more confused they are, the more they focus on your English adding to your stress levels.
The irony is that your English isn’t what will give you confidence. How you communicate will.
The key to effective communication is having structure, clarity and conciseness.
That doesn’t happen automatically. It needs practice. It needs to become a habit of reflection + writing + recorded practice.
If you make time to develop and nurture this habit, you will reap significant rewards over time.
➜ Stop distrusting yourself
➜ Stop fearing pauses
➜ Stop obsessing over your grammar
➜ Stop making this about you
➜ Be focused
➜ Have razor-sharp clarity
➜ Walk into that meeting brimming with confidence
And like with all habits, once you’ve adopted it, it becomes second nature.
When you focus on using your expertise to help your colleagues and clients, you free yourself of the shackles of shame, of not being good enough. You free yourself of the shackles of needing more words and better grammar.
When you focus on the value you offer, your confidence and self-esteem are restored. With the English you have.