Fear is a powerful motivator. It can be the fuel that causes us to change something, as well as make us react to perceived dangers or obstacles. It floods our body with a fight or flight chemical cocktail that works like speed, alcohol and cocaine combined. It is hard to think, we are in react mode and more often than not our head brain cannot be reached. We have a choice, which means fear can paralyze us. It can keep us from moving or speaking unable to decide or think; in a state of hyperawareness where our nerve endings are vibrating and our brain has been detoured to the construction lane.
Have you ever been out in public in a situation where if you speak you will be overheard by more than one person? Do one of these thoughts go through your head? Everyone is listening/looking at me. They will know I don’t speak English well? I can’t think of anything to say in English? I have no words? I will make a mistake? When we are on this small stage it’s easy to get stage fright. Why? Mostly because we doubt our ability to speak English well. We think people will judge us or misunderstand what we want to say. We see the worst-case scenario. We will get stuck and can’t find words to express ourselves and then what? Let me share with you 5 things you need to know about speaking English in a group:
1. It’s not Nascar, really, it’s more of a bumper car race. Your listeners, who are your friends, co-workers, clients, etc. are also sharing your lane. Some people, as well as some cultures are reckless bumper car drivers. They will speak over you, cut you off, or change lanes (i.e. subjects) in a willy nilly fashion. It’s hard to keep up with them. They are the bumper car drivers that end up causing you to hit the wall in the conversation. But have no fear you can jump back in the conversation at any time and at any position because this is not a life or death race. I repeat this is not a life or death race!
2. “You tell me that, but Bee, these are my clients, my bosses, my customers and they are listening to me and hear my mistakes and I will be humiliated.” First of all, you have information that they need, so they are listening intently not to your mistakes, but to your information. If you have information that they need they will not think less of you because you do not speak English fluently. You are an expert in your field, and in your native tongue. This is not your native language, so both you and they have to work twice as hard to understand one another but you’re both doing the work to make the communication happen.
3. Don’t doubt the generosity of your listeners. They want you to succeed even if it’s for selfish reasons. They need the information or the customers or clients that you have. People will try to help you find the words. Let them. Don’t feel you have to know everything. If you have a smart phone look up what you want to say. There are now very clever translating apps that can help you. Don’t be afraid to depend on your listeners as well as technology to help you get over the rough spots where you can’t find the words. Accept that you need help and keep talking until what you want to say becomes clear.
4. Don’t underestimate body language, hands and feet speak as well sometimes as words. Or draw a picture. Don’t limit yourself in your communication to your words. If you are on a conference call use your tone of voice as much as your words to convey your meaning. We all know how to sound apologetic on the phone or simply say sorry. Smile, they can’t see it but you can hear in someone’s voice if they are smiling or frowning. Be overly apologetic, but get your message out there. I mean, say "I’m sorry", but I don’t mean continuously say “My English is so bad." ignore that and keep trying to communicate. They will appreciate that you are trying especially if they don’t speak your language. They need you and your information! Be as prepared as you can for the conversation, but don’t beat yourself up for not speaking the language perfectly. Communication is a partnership and all of you are participating in the transfer of knowledge.
5. Understand failure is not the end of the world. It can give you a sense of freedom if you realize no one is perfect and that you are speaking a foreign language to help the communication take place. If we all only spoke our own languages communication would be impossible which means progress wouldn’t be possible. Whatever fear you have of speaking in a group imagine what is the worst thing that could happen. Visualize how you would handle it. Tell yourself you are prepared and that it will go well. Self-talk can help you prepare yourself for conference calls as well as deal lunches and other group activities where you have to speak English.
“That’s all, really??” That’s it! Speaking English in public is about just letting the person or people you are with know what you are thinking. Being able to speak in a group of three or more can be stressful, but it can also be a chance for you to take the highway of English and step on the gas. It might feel like a Nascar race; a race of life and death at 200 miles an hour but it isn’t. It is more like bumper cars. A bit chaotic, but if you relax it can be exciting as well as fun.