'Words don't come easy to me ...'

2016 Words


A not so well-known singer made a single (1) which sold 8 million copies in a flash. The lyrics of this song open up with: ‘Words don’t come easy to me!’

I’m very partial to this song! Especially every time I present speech-training workshops. Or sit with a client who needs to prepare for a ‘difficult conversation’.

How often do I hear the candidates sigh: ‘I just can’t find the words!’

Finding the right words for a particularly challenging occasion can indeed be very difficult. This goes way beyond mastering a reasonably good vocabulary – though inevitably mastering the language and having a rich repertoire of words certainly helps.

Many people lose out on good contacts, good introductions, good referrals, good marketing, good self- presentation, successful interviews or promotions because they don’t come forward with well-chosen words.

Yet nothing seems so daunting than registering for public speaking! No matter how I can guarantee that my workshops are really helpful and effective, registrations are as rare as hens’ teeth.

A major exception is the yearly intake of the group of candidates for the Mr P E competition! Because the director of this competition has a strict programme, including training for speaking in front of the public as a compulsory component, I have at least one captive group of participants a year!

It is very satisfactory to work with this ‘raw material’!

They all know that they will be in the limelight and there is no shying away from getting onto the stage and presenting one’s best.

Even better, they have among them a good camaraderie and this allows us to pull out all the stops of video-recording, viewing and critting, having our wow moments of encouragement but also some belly laughs at miserable failures. It’s a bonus for this team training that they can laugh at themselves and at each other without being offensive – they learn fast that way. Nothing speeds up learning like confronting combined mistakes – regardless of who made them!

This being said, having a good sense of humour is a first-class ally in fighting the fear of public speaking for everyone!

Building confidence to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ is something that can be done by learning how to prepare – tackling all the hot issues from:

Who is my audience, what is the occasion?

How can I engage this audience?

What is my message?

How can I package it for best impact?

At the recent Gala Night for Mr PE 2016, one of the members of the jury approached me to ask: ‘Are you their elocution teacher?’ The way he put that question startled me. Elocution? Me, with my Flemish- accented English?

So I said: ‘Elocution? Not exactly. But I coached them to tackle the challenge of speaking on stage with confidence here tonight.’

Oh yes, the right words, articulation and pronunciation is very important. But the secret of unlocking the power of speech lies deeper than that.

Late that night, I was browsing through my complementary newspaper copy of Die Burger (2) – with its front page all about the evening’s Mr PE aspirants and a description of what goes into pulling the competition together every year. Die Burger is the major sponsor, so they can have a say!

Here’s what the front page came up with – after describing the action-packed programme that leads up to the competition, with entrepreneurship, fundraising for charities, and lots and lots of physical fitness discipline, the journalist very artfully worded in Afrikaans:

‘Dit was egter nie net aksie en adrenalien nie. Die finaliste is geskool in die fynere kunsies van openbare optrede deur motiveringsghoeroe Dr Janin Vansteenkiste.’

Thank you – I take my hat off to the journalist! Public speaking is indeed a fine art and most of us – including me – at some stage badly need that motivational push, upstage.

(1) Song: ‘Moments of Love’, by F.R. David

(2) Die Burger, Oos-Kaap Woensdag 15 Junie 2016