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serenade's avatar

How can I become more articulate when speaking extemporaneously?

Asked by serenade (3779 points ) February 5th, 2012

I have no trouble expressing myself in writing (in fact I’m a darn good writer), but lately when I’ve had to provide feedback, opinion, or instruction in the moment, the words just aren’t there. I need to be better at that. Any ideas?

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8 Answers

HungryGuy's avatar

Join Toastmasters where you work.

marinelife's avatar

Practice. Speak in front of a mirror.

Joining Toastmaster’s is a good idea.

jca's avatar

@marinelife: I think speaking in front of a mirror is a great idea, but it does not mimic standing up and having a room full of people staring at you.

Pandora's avatar

Unless the problem is fear than you may have a problem with easier everyday words. My son was the same way. I told him when giving feed back pretend the person doesn’t have a clear understanding of what you have to say and make it easier for them to digest. You have to adjust what your saying for a group. Kind of what tv does. Writers on tv don’t assume that large words can easily be understood by everyone plus the larger the word the more clinical it can sound and then it just becomes a bore.
I could’ve changed bore for instant to tediously dull, or repititious. When writing tediously dull gives the reader the feel of a character. In real life its not necessary to be that descriptive or you sound like a narrator.
If it is fear of public speaking than toastmaster will help.

CaptainHarley's avatar

As others have pointed out, practice makes perfect.

wundayatta's avatar

How many people are you speaking in front of?

I used to rehearse my words in my head before I said them. I usually had time to think about it because there were other people in the room. Eventually when I felt I knew the points I wanted to make, I’d raise my hand. I’d usually forget one or two things I wanted to say, but it was good to get out the things I did say. Sometimes people would nod their heads as if I’d said something wise or important. That was always nice and encouraging.

If this is one on one conversations, then the key is to focus on your thoughts, rather than to try to read the other person’s body language as you speak. While it is important to understand what the other person is thinking as you go long, it is not important to do that if it gets in the way of you making your point.

So focus on what you are saying. Maybe even imagine there is a teleprompter there between you and you are reading the words off the teleprompter, which makes it look like you are looking the person in the eyes when in fact you are reading, only there isn’t anything there to read—it’s actually in your head. Believe it or not, it works. Anything to keep yourself from being distracted from your own thoughts in such a way that you can’t say what you think.

Jeruba's avatar

I have no trouble addressing a group, even a large group (meaning 300 or more), at eye level as a peer; but when I have to stand up in front of an audience, I get panicky and tongue-tied, and I babble nonsense.

Or I used to.

I’m not very good at it now, or so it seems to me, but people say I do it well. They don’t notice the stammers and the pauses and the wrong words. They say I sound fluent, articulate, and confident.

Lesson 1: You probably sound better than you think you do.

At work I took advantage of free training and signed up for a class called “presentation skills.” The instructor videotaped us at the beginning and at the end. Boy, that’ll teach you what not to wear, what unconscious mannerisms you have that will irritate an audience (I push my glasses up all the time), and whether you speak coherently on your feet. (Hey, I did sound better than I thought I did.)

I learned tricks about making eye contact and fielding questions. I learned to speak loudly and slow down. I learned a basic organizational structure for a talk and how to introduce it. And I learned that most people are terrified to speak in public and that some of them do it worse than I do.

Lesson 2: Training helps. So do observation and constructive self-criticism.

After I joined a writing club, I started attending open mikes where people read their work aloud before other writers for ten minutes per turn. The first time, I rehearsed my selection a full seven times, three in front of others and four alone in my room. I was still shaking and hyperventilating when I got up in front of ten people, all novices like me and half of them people I knew from the club.

After a year of regular participation, I could do a fluent, expressive reading without prior rehearsal while remaining calm, glancing up and making eye contact with the audience. Experience made the difference.

Lesson 3: Practice helps a lot.

When I had to give presentations at work, I did repeated run-throughs beforehand until I had the whole thing nailed: clear main points, orderly sequence, smooth transitions, rehearsed key phrases, backup material for elaboration and Q&A. I would put in hours of preparation for a 15-minute presentation. People would say I did great.

So why did my boss tell me that audiences were more receptive to Katy’s halting, stammering presentations, fumbling with her PowerPoint, slides out of order, forgotten details? “They’re more sympathetic to Katy. She has to work harder at it. It comes easier to you.”

I exploded. “Easy??! It comes HARD to me! I hate to give presentations. I work like everything to get it that smooth. Katy just stands up and talks like it’s natural for her! I have to practice and practice.”

“I know that,” said my boss. “But they don’t know that. So they’re more sympathetic to Katy.”

Lesson 4: Relax a little. Focus on the message and not on yourself. Unless you’re a pro being paid for a performance, it’s okay to be a little bit amateurish. It gets the audience on your side.

tranquilsea's avatar

You and I have opposite problems. I can wax loquacious when I am face to face with some one. But sit me down to write and I sum up in as few words as possible. I blame the constant interruptions I get. grr

I second or third the suggestion to join Toastmasters.

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