Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Speech Training: How Important is Learning Phonetics?

People can be surprised that in a course on pronunciation and speech training I rarely, if ever, refer to the phonetic alphabet. This is because I believe the phonetic alphabet has little relevance in improving pronunciation today.

The main reason for learning the phonetic alphabet is so that you can look up words in the dictionary and know their pronunciation by reading the phonetic script. But today, pronouncing dictionaries come with CDs with every pronunciation recorded and dictionaries online also have pronunciations you can listen to, usually with both American and British pronunciations.

If you are having trouble listening to the pronunciation of a word and are really concerned about it, you can always go back to the phonetic alphabet key at the beginning of the dictionary and figure it out. There's no reason to hog space in your head with the phonetic alphabet chart!

It is much more important (and much more fun) to learn pronunciation through fine tuning your listening and production skills. Although it isn't important for you to learn the phonetic alphabet, your trainer should know it like the back of his/her hand so she can make those sounds come to life and let you hear and understand the different nuances of sound. Make sure he/she has a background in either speech and language training or linguistics.

If you live in Singapore and are serious about changing your pronunciation and speaking more clearly, be sure to check out my newest program, the Speak Clearly 8-week Intensive. You can get more information and register here.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Communication Etiquette: Invite Yourself to Meetings

Everyone knows that business networking is one of the most important ways to build one's business, stand out from the crowd and maintain beneficial professional relationships.

When you are looking to branch out and meet new people, you might consider joining new groups or, at least, attending a meeting or two. But what if the meetings are for members only or are "by invitation."

Don't let this deter you! Groups are almost always looking for new members. If you don't know someone in the group who can "invite" you, invite yourself! Now that doesn't mean showing up on the day unannounced. Rather, it means that you should do your homework, find the contact information for the President or Membership Chair of the group and send them an email.

No group wants a networking leech - one of those people who suck everything they can from a group (mostly names, phone numbers and email addresses) in order to advance their own businesses. If you have something to offer and aren't just trying to blatantly serve your own interests, most groups will welcome you with open arms.

If you really want to be invited to a meeting, include these things in your email to the group's leadership:
1. Your name and profession
2. How you heard about the group
3. Your intentions when visiting the group
4. A polite request to attend the group's next function
5. An example of how the group could benefit from meeting you

Here's an example of how this email could be put together:

Dear John
(1) My name is Heather Hansen and I am a dog trainer and animal lover. (2) I came across the "Dog's are Great" website today and can see that you're President of the local chapter. (3) I am really interested in meeting other like-minded dog lovers, and the events your group organizes look really exciting. (4) I would love to attend one of your meetings. Could I possibly join you next week at your November get-together? (5) I would love to meet all of you and would also be happy to share my dog training experience with your members if they have any questions.
I'm looking forward to hearing from you.
All the best

Now who could say 'no' to such a considerate request? Not only have you been up-front about who you are and why you are interested in attending their group, you have also offered to help serve them - and you're not even a member yet!

Don't be afraid to invite yourself to meetings in this way. The worst thing that could happen is that they say 'no.' And maybe that's not the type of group you'd like to socialize with anyway!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Public Speaking: Using Notes Effectively - Top 7 Tips

Having seen quite a number of speeches, I've seen people use all different kinds of methods for organizing their notes. Some people write the whole speech out on paper and read it, some have key points on pages that they flip through. Some people have note cards, some print out their PowerPoint slides.

No matter the method, there is one thing all these people have in common: they usually don't need their notes. When it comes down to it, notes usually serve as nothing more than a distraction for both the audience and the speaker.

So before I begin talking about how to use notes effectively, I want to make it clear that not having any notes is always the best option. I can however understand if having notes in front of you makes you feel more confident. So how can you use your notes in a way that makes them less of a distraction? Here are seven easy tips:

1. Never talk about your notes
If you say things like: "Let me see here...," "I know I wrote the next part down somewhere," or "Good thing I brought my notes along!" everyone in the audience is suddenly focused on your notes instead of you and your message.

2. Never apologize for referencing your notes
If you forget what comes next, calmly pause, check your notes and continue. There's no need for an apology. Like point #1, you just end up taking attention away from you. Having pauses in your speech is a good thing. It gives us time to think about what you just said. Pretend the pause is planned and use that time to regain your footing.

3. Don't read from your notes
There is nothing worse than the speaker who writes the entire speech and then stands up and reads it. That is not a speech, and there is no faster way to lose credibility with your audience.

4. Put your notes on the fewest number of pages possible
Since people generally don't reference their notes, what normally happens if they do suddenly need them is that they end up paging through everything searching for their place. This takes time and is very distracting to the audience. It also rattles the speaker as he panics searching for the next topic.

5. Write largely
Please don't write your notes your small that you need to pick them up and put them in front of your face to read them. You should write your notes large enough that you can read them easily from a distance - at least if they are sitting on the table next to you.

6. Organize your points clearly
Write short memory joggers that you can read at a glance, not long convoluted sentences. Highlight your main points so it's easy to find your place. Create a system that is logical to you and that you can remember in the heat of the moment.

7. Keep your cool
No matter what, don't panic. If you suddenly blank, take a moment to think about what comes next while your audience soaks up the last thing you said. If you stay calm you will most likely think of the next point without needing your notes. If you panic, you'll draw a blank and make the situation harder on yourself.

How do you make your notes work for you? Leave your tips here for others to learn from!

Monday, October 20, 2008

English Language: Take, Bring, Send, Follow & Fetch

Pop Quiz, Singapore:

Fill in the blank:

I'm ___________ my friend to the airport this afternoon.

a) taking
b) bringing
c) sending
d) following
e) all of the above

How many of you answered 'e?' Be honest! Here in Singapore all of these words are used almost interchangeably. In Standard English the only correct answer is "a) taking."

Here's the difference between these words:
Taking = movement away from you. Therefore, you can say, "I'm taking my friend to the airport, the store, home (to his/her house, not yours)"

Bringing = movement towards you. You can bring your friend home (to your home) from the airport. You can ask your friends to bring (you) a bottle of wine for dinner too.

Sending = movement away from you and you do not go with the thing you're sending. Just like when you send a letter, you don't jump in the mailbox with it, the same is true if you send your friends to the airport - you don't go with them. You send your friends somewhere when you for example, call a taxi for them and the taxi comes and picks them up and you stay home.

Following = doing the same thing as someone else, just after them. So in our airport example, your friend is driving to the airport in his car and you are following him in your car. When he changes lanes, you change lanes, when he turns, you turn - all the way to the airport.

Another word I like to throw into this mix is "fetch." I often hear people say they are going to "fetch" their friend at the airport. Although this may be correct in the sense that it follows the definition "to begin in one place, travel to another, get something and travel back to the starting place," in practice we usually only use the word "fetch" when referring to a game dogs play. We usually don't "fetch" our kids at school, "fetch" our partners at work, or "fetch" our friends. A better phrase to use instead is "pick up."

So, when our 5 guests arrived in Singapore last week, I took my husband with me to the airport to pick them up. Since there were too many people to fit in one car, some of us got in a taxi and followed my husband home. One of their bags was lost so the airport staff had it sent to us the next day. It was a good thing it arrived because it was filled with all the presents they brought for our daughter.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Speech Training: The Terrible 'TH'

Many of us grew up with parents that told us it's rude to stick our tongues out at people. I'm here to tell you that these words of wisdom did not apply to when you need make to make the sound /th/.

So many people seem to be scared to open their mouths when they speak or let anything other than a sliver of teeth show when they mumble through their words. Watch yourself in the mirror. When you make the sound /th/ you should be able to see the tip of your tongue pointing out between your teeth. If you can't, you are most likely making a /d/ or /t/ sound which is incorrect according to the most common pronunciation guides.

Here are a few sentences you can work on to practice the /th/ sound:

I'm thinking of 3,333 things
Tim the thin twin tinsmith
Lesser leather never weathered, wetter weather better
Thank the other three brothers on their father's mother's brother's side

Monday, October 13, 2008

Communication Etiquette: Why's it important?

When I tell people that one of the main topics I write about on my blog is communication etiquette, I'm often asked, "Why's that important?" And really, that's a valid question. In a world where we spend less and less time conversing with each other face-to-face and more and more time in front of our computers instant messaging and writing status updates, it's easy to forget the importance of communication etiquette. People tend to forget that even when we IM there is a certain protocol in place as to how it's done and what is said.

So why is protocol and etiquette important? This is how we cement our relationships. People who know the ins and outs of how to communicate appropriately and successfully generally have better relationships, and when you have a multitude of solid relationships, it's a lot easier to get things done.

When you surround yourself with people you like and like to do business with, things just run more smoothly. You go out of your way to help others because you want to help your friends and not because your doing a colleague a favor. You can make things happen faster because you know exactly who to call when you need help and know that they are also ready and willing to help you when you need it.

What if you don't know someone who can print your sales folders overnight for a good price? Chances are you have a friend in your network who knows someone. By leveraging your relationship, you might just be able to make a successful deal.

This is what networking and building relationships is all about. But if you blow it from the start by making an awful first impression, not following up with the person or saying something inappropriate, you could lose the relationship before you've even started building it.

Relationships are our lifeblood not only socially, but also professionally. Make sure that you are up to speed on the rules of etiquette that govern how you interact with others - especially how you communicate!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Speech Training: Does Your Accent Matter?

I am a strong supporter of the idea that your accent doesn't matter; it's the clarity of your speech and your message that's important. But looking at the news lately, it seems that I am in the minority.

Every headline has something to do with vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin's accent. Is it real? Is it fake? Does it sound educated or uneducated? Where does it come from? What will it mean for the election?

All I have to say is that if an accent is enough to tip the election scales (either way), America is in even more trouble than we thought.

It does bring up the important issue though that an accent, if too heavy or different from the norm, can be a distraction - so much so that no one listens to the message. This in itself is motivation to work on one's diction and pronunciation.

Many people have cut Palin down for lax pronunciation. For example, she drops her 'g' in words like 'going' so they sound more like 'goin.' Plenty of Americans speak this way on a daily basis. The problem here is that Americans don't expect to hear this informal speaking style in a formal debate or televised interview.

It's not so much that the accent is 'wrong' but that, according to a large number of people, it is inappropriate for the situation. This then turns our discussion into more of a social debate than a linguistic one.

Everything comes down to knowing your audience. Presidential and vice presidential candidates have scores of advisers who not only tell them what to say, but also how to say it. Palin was chosen because the Republican camp felt that she would appeal most to the American audience. After the backlash against her, they may begin to feel otherwise.

Here are a selection of articles that have hit the press recently:

Everything You Heard Is Wrong - New York Times
Pinker on Palin's "nucular" - Language Log
Palin's accent takes center stage - Politico
What Kind of Accent Does Sarah Palin Have? - Slate
Sarah Palin's accent explained - The Swamp
MoJo Audio: Linguist Robin Lakoff Analyzes Sarah Palin's Accent - Mother Jones (podcast)

What are your views? Let me know by leaving your comments here!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Communication Etiquette: Eye Contact

I met someone for the first time the other day and when I shook her hand she didn't look me in the eyes. It's amazing what a difference such a seemingly minor non-verbal signal makes.

If you don't look someone in the eyes when you meet them, there are a number of assumptions the person could make:

1. You're hiding something
2. You're very insecure
3. You feel intimidated
4. You're not really paying attention
5. You're just rude

None of these assumptions are positive, and hopefully none of them are true. In my situation, I could tell by the rest of the person's body language that she was just a bit insecure. But I could easily see how other people could read her signals as being rude.

The worst part is that I don't even think she realized the message she was sending. It's very possible that she has had a hard time connecting with others and not known why. Think of how many relationships have started off on the wrong foot because of this small mistake!

When you meet someone for the first time, eye contact is just as important, if not more important than a firm handshake. Make sure you make the best possible first impression and look your new acquaintance directly in the eyes.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Public Speaking: The Secret

I am going to let you in on a little secret. Actually, it's a really big secret. It's the secret that every single person who ever has to do a presentation wants to know:

How can I deliver a powerful, persuasive and entertaining presentation that makes people stop and listen?

The answer?



That's it.


I'm not lying.

I believe, along with every other public speaker on the planet, that the best speakers are the ones who can be themselves on stage. They don't put on a show. They don't use big words to impress their audiences. They don't do what they think they should do. They just do what comes to them - naturally.

This authenticity is what draws us to a speaker and makes us sit up and listen. So what's so hard about being yourself? There could be a number of issues holding you back, and until you take care of each of these, you'll never reach your true potential as a speaker.

1. You don't know who you are
This point is actually a lot more complicated than how it looks on paper. It's one of life's big questions and one which all of us are always working to answer: Who am I? The closer you are to answering this question for this point in your life, the better a speaker you will be. If you aren't exactly sure who you are or what you stand for, it will be hard to open yourself up to an audience and even harder for your audience to trust you and your message.

2. You are trying to be a "speaker"
You've taken so many courses and studied so many "master speakers" that you think that's the one and only way you should speak. All I can say is a big, huge, fat, "WRONG!" Didn't you ever listen to your mother when she asked that rhetorical question about whether you'd jump off a bridge... ? Just because everyone else is doing it doesn't mean it's right. The top speakers have found a style that works for them, now you need to find a style that works for you. This is incredibly easy if you just BE YOURSELF.

3. Being yourself makes you feel too vulnerable
It's scary standing in front of a group of people and sharing what's on your mind. If you put up a front and pretend to be someone you aren't it's a lot easier to accept failure. If people didn't like the talk you don't have to take it personally because really, you weren't personally involved. You can blame it on your "style" instead of accepting that maybe someone in the audience didn't like you. I'll let you in on another secret: not everyone is going to like you. That's just a fact. The sooner you accept this and let it go, the better.

So how can you become more authentic? You should be able to speak on stage the same way you speak to your closest friends and colleagues. There is nothing wrong with being conversational, asking for your audience's opinion or showing that you have a sense of humor. You need to let go of what you think should be said or done and do what feels right for you. Don't compare yourself to others. You've been asked to speak because someone felt that you had something important to say. They asked you to speak because they like YOU, not you in a speaker's costume.

Take a deep breath, relax, put on a smile and share your passion with the world. That's what makes public speaking fun. Enjoy it!

Friday, October 3, 2008

English Language: English is a Crazy Language

Here's one of my all-time favorites. I hope you enjoy it, and have a great weekend!

Let’s face it: English is a crazy language.

There’s no egg in eggplant or ham in hamburger, neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins were not invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies, while sweetbreads, which aren’t sweet, are meat.

We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square, and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig. And why is it that writers write, but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce, and hammers don’t ham? Is cheese the plural of choose?

Doesn’t it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend, that you comb through the annals of history but not a single annal? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it? If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught? If you wrote a letter, perhaps you bote your tongue? If a vegetarian eats vegetables what does a humanitarian eat?

In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell? Park on driveways and drive on parkways?

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? How can the weather be hot as hell one day and cold as hell another? How can overlook and oversee be opposites, while quite a lot and quite a few are alike? When a house burns up, it burns down. You fill in a form by filling it out and an alarm clock goes off by going on.

When the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible. And why, when I wind up my watch, I start it, but when I wind up this essay, I end it?

Have you noticed that we talk about certain things only when they are absent? Have you ever seen a horseful carriage or a strapful gown? Met a sung hero or experienced requited love? Have you ever run into someone who was discombobulated, gruntled, ruly or peccable? And where are all those people who are spring chickens or who would actually hurt a fly?

Now I know why I flunked my English.
It’s not my fault; the silly language doesn’t quite know whether it’s coming or going.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Public Speaking: The Dos and Don'ts of Q & A

As we gear up for more and more US presidential debates, we'll have the opportunity to see how the candidates handle themselves under the pressure of challenging questions. Handling "Question & Answer" sessions takes grace and tact, as well as a lot of quick thinking.

To make the most of your Q & A session and survive unscathed DO:

1. Listen carefully
It's very tempting to start formulating your answer to a question while the questioner is still in the middle of asking you something. Be careful not to get so caught up in your own thinking that you don't listen to full question. Don't jump ahead and make assumptions about the question. Give your full attention to the questioner.

2. Thank the person for the question
It's common courtesy to thank your questioner for their question. This can be done directly by saying, "Thank you for your question..." or indirectly: "I'm so glad you asked this question..."

3. Paraphrase the question
Paraphrasing the question accomplishes three things: it gives you the chance to be sure that you've understood the question correctly, if some people didn't hear the question when it was asked, it includes them in the discussion, and finally, it gives you time to think about your answer while you paraphrase the question.

4. Be short and sweet
This is especially true if you're sitting on a Q & A panel. It's always annoying when one speaker dominates all the time and the audience can't hear the views of the other panel members. Keep your answers simple and to the point.

5. Offer to continue the discussion later
If you know that a question deserves a much more elaborate answer than you have the time, energy or patience to answer on stage, don't hesitate to offer to speak to the person one-one after the session. This is also a useful tactic if you need more time to formulate an appropriate answer.

6. Be respectful
No matter how stupid the question, never show that you think that! Be careful of your non-verbal cues as well such as smiling or rolling your eyes.

7. Be prepared
Always be prepared for Q & A. Play devil's advocate with yourself and find as many holes in your arguments as you can. Think about what the worst questions would be that someone could ask and figure out how you'll handle them. It will really pay off to be prepared; you'll maintain your composure and look and sound confident.

If you don't want to lose the respect of your audience and hurt your reputation, DON'T:

1. Make up an answer or bluff your way through it
2. Insult the questioner
3. Blatantly avoid the question
4. Show incompetence by just saying, "I don't know," and moving on
5. Get into an argument or become hostile with the questioner

By following these Dos and Don'ts you should be well on your way to making a positive impression in a Q & A session.

Have you ever been stuck, confused, embarrassed or truly entertained by a question? Share it here on the comments board!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Public Speaking: 8 Tips to Make Your Audience Love You!

The key to a powerful presentation is to connect with members of your audience individually. This ‘human element’ is what makes the difference between an average presentation with some good information, and an excellent presentation that really impacts audience members on a personal level.

The bigger the audience, the harder this gets. You have to remember that an audience is made up of many different individuals, all with their own unique interests and expectations. It is hard to satisfy every person every time, but you can take some steps to ensure that your audience members feel a connection with you as a speaker and as a person.

1. Create a friendly environment
From the moment the first audience member arrives, you should exude positive energy. Remember that people will immediately make first impressions about you before you even begin your presentation. It is important that you appear positive, friendly, confident and approachable.

2. Face your audience
There is nothing worse than watching the back of a presenter’s head as he reads his Power Point slides. Make sure that you are always facing your audience. Visual aids are just that: aids. The audience should be focused on you, not your slides.

3. Make eye contact
Do your best to make eye contact with every member of your audience. Don’t get distracted by things you see out the window, or by the clock on the back wall. Your listeners’ eyes will follow your eyes, so if they see you looking out the window, they’ll wonder what you’re looking at and they’ll look too! Keep their focus on you by remaining focused on them.
Be careful that you don’t focus too much on one or two people, as it could make them feel uncomfortable. An exception to this rule could be if you are focusing on the most important people in the group: the decision-makers (your boss, the top client, etc.). They might expect extra attention from you, which leads me to the third point…

4. Know your audience
Do your homework. Know who will be attending your presentation and why. If you are pitching a new idea, make sure you keep the full attention and interest of the key players in the room—the decision makers.
Be sure to prepare your presentation with your audience members in mind. Have you taken into consideration their needs and expectations? Are you giving them the information that they want (or maybe need) to hear in a format that will appeal to them?

5. Tell stories
Throughout history, some of the greatest thinkers have reverted to storytelling to make their lessons more clear. Philosophers and religious leaders especially, have used stories to illustrate complex concepts and moral values.
Use real-life stories that your listeners can relate to in order to drive a point home and have it be remembered. People are also more interested in listening to a good story than a boring lecture.

6. Use humor
Humor, when used effectively, can lighten the mood, make people feel more relaxed and help them to remember the things you say. Using humor does not mean you should suddenly become a stand-up comedian rattling off jokes right and left. It shouldn’t be forced either.
Use common sense and your best judgment when interjecting humor. And remember that not everyone has the same sense of humor—what you think is funny could be dumb, immature or disrespectful to someone else. If in doubt, refrain.

7. Be respectful
This point really goes without saying, but just to be clear: racist, sexist and elitist comments are unacceptable in every public presentation. Have respect for every member of your audience at all times!

8. Read your audience
You need to pay attention to your audience just as much as you would like them to pay attention to you. An attentive speaker will notice when energy levels are low, listeners are losing interest, or individuals are not paying attention. It’s your job to change the situation in your favor. This is a good time to tell a story, inject humor, or maybe just take a break.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

English Language: UK vs. US English Spelling Rules

One of the largest differences between UK and US English is simply a cosmetic one: spelling. Here are 9 of the most common spelling variations between UK and US English.

1) UK -our = US -or
Examples: colour/color, humour/humor, flavour/flavor, favourite/favorite

2) UK -re = US -er
Examples: centre/center, metre/meter, litre/liter

3) UK -ise = US -ize
Examples: realise/realize, organise/organize, recognise/recognize

4) UK -que = US -ck
Examples: cheque/check, chequered/checkered

5) UK -ll before -ing = US -l before -ing
Examples: travelling/traveling, signalling/signaling

6) UK -l = US -ll
Examples: appal/appall, enrol/enroll

7) UK -ce = US -se
Examples: licence/license (noun form), defence/defense
An exeption to the rule: UK practise (verb) and practice (noun) = US practice (both verb and noun).

8) UK -ogue = US -og
Examples: catalogue/catalog, dialogue/dialog, epilogue/epilog

9) UK -t =US -ed (in a select group of past tense verbs)
Examples: spelt/spelled, dreamt/dreamed, burnt/burned, spoilt/spoiled

Have you gotten into trouble with other spelling variations not included here? Let me know by leaving your comments!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Public Speaking: Top 5 Questions to Ask about Your Venue

When you are asked to speak, it is incredibly important that you have an idea of where and how you will be speaking. It's really great if you can visit the venue beforehand, but sometimes you may not have that opportunity.

Here are some questions to ask before your talk and why they are important.

1. How will the audience be seated?
Your audience could be in rows like in a theater, they could be sitting at round tables in a ballroom, or maybe they'll just be sitting around a boardroom table. It is important to know not just the size of your audience but also how they are seated. You need to think about how you will or will not be able to move around the stage and what kind of contact you will be able to make with the audience.

2. Will I be sitting or standing for my presentation?
Usually you will stand for your presentation, but you might find a situation where you speak on a panel and could be seated. You will need to think about your delivery style a bit differently if you are sitting down to speak. It's harder to use gestures and body language to emphasize your points.

3. What kind of microphones will be available?
The first question should probably be whether there will be a microphone available at all, then what kind exactly. Will you be forced behind a speaker stand with an attached mic? Will you need to hold a microphone or will they have a clip-on mic available?

4. What kind of AV equipment will be on hand?
If you are planning on using a PowerPoint presentation, you need to be sure that the venue has the appropriate audio-visual equipment or you will need to make your own arrangements. You'll need a computer, projector, screen, remote clicker (to change slides) and a laser pointer (if you like to use one - I personally don't). If for example, the venue or organizers aren't supplying a clicker, you'll need to bring your own, or you'll need to prepare the appropriate notes or signals with another person to change your slides. Make sure that you check and double check that all your equipment is in order before your presentation.

5. Who can I contact if I have any problems?
This is probably the most important question to ask, but the one everyone forgets. If you know beforehand who is in charge of the lighting, the air conditioning and the speakers for example, you will save a lot of time when you're on site and need a helping hand.

You might think that being a good public speaker has to do with preparing a good presentation, but there is a lot more involved than just that. The best public speakers remember to ask the right questions and are are always prepared for every situation. Never be caught off-guard.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Fun Friday: Pronunciation Rhyme

Here's a short rhyme I received in an email. I'm not sure who wrote it, but it's a great example of crazy English pronunciation rules. Enjoy!

I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough?
Others may stumble, but not you
On hiccough, thorough, slough, and through?

Well done!
And now you wish, perhaps,
To learn of less familiar traps?

Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard and sounds like bird,
And dead: it's said like bed, not bead--
For goodness' sake, don't call it deed!

Watch out for meat and great and threat,
(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt.)
A moth is not a moth in mother
Nor both in bother, broth in brother,

And here is not a match for there,
And dear and fear for bear and pear,
And then there's dose and rose and lose--
Just look them up--and goose and choose,

And cork and work and card and ward,
And font and front and word and sword,
And do and go, and thwart and cart--
Come, come I've hardly made a start!

A dreadful language? Why man alive!
I'd learned to talk it when I was five,
And yet to write it, the more I tried,
I hadn't learned at fifty-five!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Public Speaking: 5 Mistakes Public Speakers Make

Have you ever been disappointed by the quality of some speakers at a conference? I think all of us have been in that situation. Here are the top 7 mistakes public speakers make and how you can avoid them.

1. They don't look professional
It really doesn't matter if you just started your public speaking career or if you're the biggest name on the block, the rule still applies: always look your best.

2. They read their speeches
There's nothing worse than watching a speaker read his/her speech. You shouldn't memorize your speech word for word, and there's nothing wrong with referring to notes, but please, don't read from start to finish!

3. They don't speak clearly
Remember to use large facial movements when you speak. Your mouth needs to open to speak clearly. Be careful that you don't speak too quickly and be sure to pause between points so we can digest what you've said and follow what you're saying.

4. They have illegible visual aides
Your PowerPoint slides, flip charts, white board or whatever you might be using should also be nice and clear. Don't clutter your visual aides with lots of writing that is too small for your audience to read.

5. They give examples that don't make sense to the audience
When it comes to connecting with your audience, do your homework. You need to know something about the people you are speaking to in order to use examples and stories that make sense to them. This is especially true when you're speaking to international audiences made up of cultures different than your own.

Do you see yourself in any of these points? Do you best to change your ways. Your audience will thank you.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Communication Etiquette: Post-meeting Follow-up

When you meet a new client for the first time, do you do any follow up with them after the meeting? It is common courtesy to send off a quick email (at the least) to say that it was nice to meet the person. Try to add a special detail from your conversation that shows you aren't just sending a form letter.

Here's an example of a short and sweet follow-up letter you could send:

Dear John

After so many emails back and forth, it was great to finally meet you today. I enjoyed hearing about your company and what you do, and look forward to working with you in the near future.

I hope your children feel better soon. It must be awful when both are sick at the same time!

All the best

The key is to simply be yourself. Don't think that you need to use impressive language or show off a huge vocabulary. Be as sincere as you (hopefully) were at the meeting.

Try to send your "great to meet you" mail as soon as possible. I try to send it as soon as I get back to the office (or home) from the meeting. Then when they get back and check their mail, my note will be there waiting for them. It makes a fabulous impression, shows that you care about the person and that you hope to build a relationship with him or her.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

English Language: Raising a Bilingual or Multilingual Child

For those of you who don't know, my husband is Danish, so of course we speak both English and Danish to our 3 month old daughter and have plans to raise her as a full bilingual. It surprises me how often I get questions and comments about our choice to do so.

Just last weekend after a Danish friend heard me speaking English to my daughter she shockingly said, "You speak English to her?! Isn't she going to be confused?" Another Chinese friend once told me that my daughter won't be able to speak "for years" because it "takes longer" when children learn more than one language at once. Even my husband has fears that our daughter will end up speaking Danish with an accent since she doesn't hear it as much as English.

Even though there are these (and other) fears, the truth remains that our children are growing up in an increasingly global world. More and more parents are trying to teach their children multiple languages from a young age hoping that it will benefit them in the long term.

So what do the linguists say?

First of all it's important to understand how children learn language. When we are born we have an innate capability for speech. Barring a specific speech impediment or physical disability we have the capability to produce every sound in every language perfectly. Over time a process called "perceptual narrowing" occurs where we begin to figure out which sounds we need for our own language(s) and we focus on those sounds and ignore any other sounds.

This is why language input is important from a young age. My husband's fear of our daughter developing an American English accent on her Danish is unwarranted because first of all, I don't speak Danish to her (more on that later) and secondly, my husband spends every moment he can speaking, reading and singing Danish to her. I also try to supplement that with Danish music CDs and videos in the background so she hears the sounds.

When I was learning about first language acquisition during my time at university, the one-parent, one-language system was still widely recommended. What this means is that each parent should only speak one language to the child (ie: I speak English, my husband speaks Danish) so that the child doesn't get confused. More recent studies suggest that children actually don't get confused and when they switch between two languages or use two languages simultaneously (this is called code switching) it is a sign of mastery of the languages.

Personally, I still feel that the one-parent, one-language system is the best way to go. This is purely based on my own experience with language. I personally find it confusing and feel that my language skills are diminished when my husband and I switch back and forth between languages. I feel that it's harder to master a language if you allow yourself to "fill in the blanks" with another language. Code switching is actually a much more involved process than "filling in the blanks" and has many nuances, but we won't discuss this here.

I also choose to only speak English to my daughter because it feels more natural speaking my native language to my child. No matter how fluent you become in a foreign language, I truly believe that you will never be able to express yourself in exactly the same way as your native tongue permits.

Many parents are scared to introduce multiple languages because they fear it will "take longer" for a bilingual child to start speaking or that there could be "language delays" in the child's speech. There are no linguistic studies that support this argument, and that's that!

So what can you do if you want your child to grow up bilingual or multilingual? Here are a few ideas:

1. Make sure that your child has live interaction with language speakers. Videos and music can be supplemented but will not be as effective as a real person.

2. Read to your child

3. Talk about many different subjects in many situations in order to build a larger vocabulary.

4. However you choose to introduce two languages (one-parent, one-language or speaking the minority language at home) be consistent.

5. Gently guide your children in the two languages. Don't be harsh or demeaning when they make mistakes (and they will). You want them to develop a love of languages, not be scared to speak them.

6. Remember that learning languages is hard. We always say that children learn languages easily, but remember, they usually can't carry on meaningful conversations with strangers until they are around 5 years old! Adults can actually master languages much more quickly! Give your children the time they need to be comfortable with language.

Once you make the decision to raise your children bilingually, stick to it! A language is the greatest gift you can give another person. You can open new doors and opportunities for your children that might not have been there could they not speak additional language. I'm sure that, one day, my daughter will thank me - in Danish and English.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Public Speaking: Master the 3 Vs for Speaking Success!

When you are preparing your speech, don't just think about the words you use. Believe it or not, they're the least important part of your message!

When we communicate face-to-face, only 7% of our message is conveyed by the words that we use. This is called the Verbal element of our message. Our tone of voice, volume and pronunciation make up the Vocal element which conveys 38% of our message. The largest piece of the message pie goes to the third V, the Visual element. This comprises our gestures, facial expressions and body language and conveys a whopping 55% of our overall message.

The key to successful, influential communication is knowing how to make these three Vs work for you.

When you first meet a person, your three Vs should be perfectly aligned. When you say, "It's nice to meet you," it shouldn't just be a phrase. Your tone and body language should also mirror this sentiment. If they don't, the person you met will know from your first words that something is "off."

When you are speaking in public, you also need your 3 Vs to mesh. If your body language says one thing, but your words and voice another, your audience won't trust you or your message. You can't preach about confidence, but look and sound insecure. You'll come across as being superficial - the kiss of death for any public speaker.

Of course there are times when you might purposely mismatch your 3 Vs. Sarcasm is a good example. When your words and your tone don't match, tone wins and your message is understood as being sarcastic. For example, you could honestly say, "I just love pizza!" Or if you've had pizza five nights in a row and someone asks if you want pizza for dinner you might sarcastically say, "You know me. I just looooovvvveeee pizza..." Even though your words say that you love pizza, your tone and the delivery of your message sends quite a different message.

I've mastered another use for the 3 Vs in my relationship with my husband. He asks me if he can go golfing on Saturday and I say, "Sure, honey, if you want to." My words are positive, but the tone is just slightly off. Not off enough to be sarcastic, but just off enough that his little feelers go out and he knows something bad is happening, but he's not quite sure what. When he puts the message together with my blasé body language he figures out that maybe Saturday isn't the best day to go golfing. I don't think I'm the only woman that's mastered this tactic! I'm probably just the only one who's honest enough to admit that I know what I'm doing!

Try observing the 3 Vs in action when you speak with different people in different situations. As you begin to tune in to how people convey their messages you'll find that it's easier to adjust your own.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Fun Friday: Embarrassing Differences between UK and US English

Yes, the UK and the US are two countries divided by a common language. Although most of the differences are cosmetic - like spelling color as colour or center as centre, there are also vocabulary differences that can get you in a bit of trouble.

I was watching Ellen Degeneres the other day and she was interviewing Victoria Beckham. Victoria told the story of her son's first day of school in LA. His teacher asked him, "Do you like to collect anything?" and when he replied, "Yes, rubbers!" she almost fell off her chair. Of course, "rubbers" are "erasers" in the UK, not condoms.

For anyone planning trips over the Atlantic any time soon, these translations might be useful. A quick warning: This list is rated PG-13 for sexual content, so if you're easily offended, you may want to skip this post. These aren't translations you'll learn in English class, and I feel I have an obligation to tell you their meanings across cultures in order to save you future embarrassment.

UK fag = US derogatory term for a homosexual
UK no naked lights = US no showing your nipples (use "no open flame" instead)
UK keep your pecker up = US keep your male organ in an upright position (use "keep your chin up" or "keep smiling")
UK mate = US marriage partner, someone you have or plan to have children with (use "friend" instead)
UK pot plant = US marijuana plant (use "potted plant" or "house plant")
UK sleeping partner = US someone you're having sexual relations with (use "silent partner")
UK tramp = US "loose" woman (use "homeless person" instead)

This list could go on and on and on...

Have you ever been in an embarrassing situation because you said the wrong thing? Share your story!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

English Language: Choose Your Words Wisely

I met with a client today and he had several questions about writing email. He asked if it was correct to write "as follows" or "see below" before introducing a list of ideas his department came up with. I said that sure, you could use either of those phrases, but why would you want to? Why not just write: "Our department came up with these ideas:" and then write the list?

For some reason corporate language is getting more and more convoluted. We've lost track of what words actually mean and instead copy what we see everyone else writing.

Why do we write, "Please find attached?" I don't know about you, but my attachment isn't hiding. How about, "Please revert back..." Back to what? I like myself just the way I am, thank you very much.

According to the Plain English Campaign in the UK, a survey revealed that "many staff who work for big corporate organisations find themselves using management speak as a way of disguising the fact that they haven't done their job properly. Some people think that it is easy to bluff their way through by using long, impressive-sounding words and phrases, even if they don't know what they mean." Great idea! If you don't know what you're talking about, you can find some great big words to use here.

Shirley Taylor, Business Writing Guru, explains that people tend to use simple cliches in their writing that are old-fashioned and overworked. See her list: "A-Z of Bloopers and Blunders, Common Errors and Clichés" for great examples of management speak in action. I'm willing to bet that you use most of these phrases in business email every day.

It's time to speak and write clearly. Yes, I can agree with another one of my clients who says that "sometimes it's necessary to use more words to soften the message." But at the same time we need to be sure that all of those words make sense.

We need to start somewhere. The most common excuse I hear for writing overly-inflated flowery prose in business situations is "That's just how we write here." Says who exactly? I've never once heard the reasoning, "Because I feel that my style is the most effective way to communicate." If we keep doing what we've always done we're going to keep having to waste time clarifying emails with vague words and phrases like "deliverables," "core competencies" and "performance management."

Not to mention all the antiquated phrases like "as per your request" and "enclosed herewith." If you wouldn't say it, why would you write it?

I make it my goal to write as clearly and simply as possible so my message can reach as many minds as possible without a bunch of question marks blocking the way. I hope you'll join me in this effort.

What are the worst words and phrases you come across at work? I'd love to hear your comments!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Speech Training: Linking words

I scream. You scream. We all scream for ice cream!

The fun in this old rhyme is due to what's called linking in English. One of the greatest challenges to understanding any language is to know where one word ends and the next begins. And linking makes things even more difficult because it's the process of joining our words together.

There are two ways we link words in English.

1. Vowel to vowel
When one word ends in a vowel sound and the next word starts with a vowel sound, we insert a /w/ or /y/ sound to link the words together.

For example:
Why are you always doing that? = Why-y-are you-w-always doing that?
How about three of them? = How-w-about three-y-of them?
Did you throw away all the garbage? = Did you throw-w-away-y-all the garbage?

2. Consonant to vowel
When a word ends in a consonant and the next word starts with a vowel, the consonant sound will link to the vowel in the next word.

For example:
I'd like a glass of red wine. = I'd lie-ka gla-sof red wine.
I jumped in the pool on a hot and sunny day. = I jump-tin the pool-lon-na hot and sunny day.

And you thought English was difficult enough! Actually, if you begin paying attention to how words link together, it will be easier to understand the language and your own English will sound more like a native speaker's. Give it a try!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Public Speaking: How to Boost Your Business

Have you ever considered speaking in public as a way of getting free publicity for your business? Even better, how about people pay you to do it?

Organizations everywhere are looking for people who can speak at their meetings and share their unique knowledge with their members. By taking advantage of these opportunities you not only get to share your passion, but also get great publicity for your business.

But what if you don't have any experience speaking publicly?

1. Speak from the heart
Speak about what you know and love and the content will come naturally. Don't think about selling your business, closing deals, or what will "sound best." Just focus on your passion and people will naturally be drawn to you. Make sure that you are sharing your subject knowledge, and not just making a sales pitch. Your goal should be to educate, enlighten and share, not close a deal. When people see how knowledgeable you are, the business will follow.

2. Organize your content logically
Create clearly organized points. They are easier for both you and your audience to remember. This can be the hardest part, because when you're an expert at what you do, everything seems important. Don't overcomplicate things. Give people the need-to-know information in simple language they can understand.

3. Use clear and simple visual aids
Visual aids are just that - aids. They shouldn't dominate the presentation, you should! Use a large sans-serif font (minimum 28-32 font), simple colours and strong images.

4. Pay attention to your body language
Did you know that your audience gleans 55% of your message from your body language? Make eye contact with members of your audience, stand up nice and straight and be sure that your clothing is professional. You should have a strong, polished image.

5. Know your audience
There are so many different professional organizations and community groups for a reason: each group has a different focus and different goals. It's imperative you understand where the members' interests lie. Customise your talk to appeal to that specific audience and their needs. How can they apply your knowledge to their lives?

6. Speak clearly and correctly
It goes without saying that you should always use proper grammar and pronunciation. Speak slowly and clearly. Every word you say is important, so make sure your audience catches each one.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Speech Training: The Powerful Pause

“It’s not so much knowing when to speak, but when to pause.”
~ Jack Benny

Many people overlook the power of a good pause. Whether you are telling your best friend a story or delivering a speech to a room of 1,000, silence can be your best friend.

So why do so many people forget to pause? Generally people feel uncomfortable with silence, hence the phrase "awkward silence." But this discomfort is also culturally defined. Americans, like myself for example, do not like silence. If a room goes quiet everyone panics to think of something to say. If we're on a first date, the goal is to keep up constant conversation. If we don't, it means we don't "click." Not all cultures are like this though.

My husband is from Denmark. The first time I met his family I was amazed by how quiet they were. In my family it's hard to get a word in, whereas his family can sit through long stretches of silence without even thinking about it. The first time I met them, I kept trying to fill the silence, worried that it meant they didn't like me. Their comment to my husband later on was, "She's a really nice girl, but she sure does talk a lot!" Granted, I talk more than most anyway, but in this case it was really bad!

Since then I've learned to enjoy silence, not fear it.

So how can you use pauses to your advantage? There are a number of instances where you should practice the power of pause:

1. Pause according to punctuation. You should always pause for periods and commas.

2. When you change topics or finish an important idea, pause so that your audience can digest what was just said.

3. Pause and check for understanding more often with individuals who don't have English as a native language.

4. Use a good pause as a cliff hanger in a story. It will get people's minds racing!

5. Pauses can grab attention. If you notice people aren't paying attention, go silent and see how long it takes them to react. It will be quick!

6. Pause after you tell a joke. If you're lucky enough to get laughter, just bask in it! If no one is laughing it might just take them a second to "get" what you said.

7. Give your audience time to answer the questions you ask. I can't stand it when speakers answer their own questions! It's intimidating for people to speak out in a big crowd. Give them time to not only formulate an answer, but also build up the courage to respond.

Did you realize you had so many opportunities to pause?

Friday, September 12, 2008

English Language: Fun Friday - Singapore English Vocabulary

I had my air conditioning units serviced today, and sometimes I felt like I was speaking another language. The service man told me the drain pipe was "choked." I asked him to repeat the word 4 times before I was sure that yes, he was saying "choked." Then I asked him to repeat it another 3 times so I could try to figure out what it meant! Of course, it was clogged.

The vocabulary in Singapore English can be very different than Standard English and I always think it's a lot of fun to learn new words. If you're planning a trip to Singapore any time soon, some of the words on this list might be helpful. And for you Singaporeans, remember, we foreigners might not know what the heck you're talking about if you use these words with us! Please be patient!

Here are some of my favorites (SGE = Singapore English, SE = Standard English)

SGE: Your drain pipe is choked.
SE: clogged

SGE: I'll take/bring/send/follow you to the airport.
SE: take

SGE: I'll chope seats.
SE: reserve

SGE: Did they chop your passport?
SE: stamp

SGE: Just call my handphone.
SE: mobile/cell/cellular phone

SGE: I'll zap that page for you.
SE: photocopy

SGE: What alphabet does your name start with?
SE: letter

SGE: He showed up wearing slippers.
SE: flip flops/thongs. (No, not thong underwear.I know what you're thinking...)

SGE: I bought it at that huge departmental store.
SE: department store

There are many others, but I'll save them for future posts. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Public Speaking: Body Language

Did you know that 55% of your message is actually conveyed by your body language? That means that the way you present yourself during your talk is actually more important than what you actually say.

Think about it. Do you feel motivated by a speaker that has little energy, doesn't make eye contact or looks nervous or confused? Of course not! It doesn't matter how good the message is. If the body language is sending a conflicting signal, that signal will always win.

So, what should you watch out for? A lot of people define body language as the gestures you use. In reality it is much more. In addition to gestures, your body language consists of your posture and movement and facial expressions.

When you are on a stage in front of a lot of people, you need to exaggerate your body language so it can be seen. Keep your gestures above your waist and don't be afraid to stretch your arms out more than you normally do. All the stage is your world, so to speak. Take advantage of it.

Your facial expressions should also match the message you are sending. Make sure to make eye contact with individuals in your audience as well. Don't just skim over the sea of heads.

Take note of your posture. You should ooze confidence, even if you don't completely feel that way. For a longer discussion on posture, see this earlier post. Don't be afraid to move around the stage either. It's OK to walk around - movement between points can be especially helpful to signal a change in your talk. Just be careful you don't start pacing back and forth on stage. That can be very distracting and can make you look nervous.

Your body language constantly sends signals that you might not even be aware of. Video tape yourself speaking so that you can see what messages you are sending. You might be surprised!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Communication Etiquette: Top 10 Tips for Communicating on Social Networking Sites

Whether it's Friendster, MySpace, Orkut, Facebook, LinkedIn or one of the many other social networking sites, courteous communication is still a must. The way we interact on these sites is definitely different than a phone call or email. Here are my top 10 tips to follow when catching up with your friends, colleagues and complete strangers on these sites.

1. Learn the software
Although most social networking sites are very similar, there are some differences. Make sure that if you choose to join a site you also have the time to learn the basics like how to write comments and send messages.

2. Follow the site's terms of use
Don't post obscene pictures and messages to your or others' pages unless you want to get banned from the site. Your friends probably won't appreciate you lewd taste in videos either.

3. Add a message to your friend request
I never accept friend requests from people who don't include a short message unless they are a very good friend that I'm sure I know. I'm happy to add people to my friends list, but let me know how you found me or how we know each other, especially if you haven't posted a picture.

4. Choose your friends wisely
Know why you are on social networking sites. Some people join to keep in touch with close friends and post private information and pictures that they don't want the world to see. Other people are marketing their businesses or are interested in meeting new people and add just about anyone. There is nothing wrong with either approach. Just think about the information on your profile and your audience.

5. Think about what you forward
A lot of these sites let you forward different applications, videos, articles, etc. to people on your friends list. Don't just blindly forward these things to everyone. Think about who might appreciate your forward and send it to those individuals. Don't bombard everyone with all your "funny" forwards all the time.

6. Reply to comments
It's always polite to write back to people who leave you comments or comment on your pictures, notes or other postings.

7. Keep private messages private
There are some things that shouldn't be discussed openly in front of everyone on the web. Instead of writing a page long comment on someone's "wall" or in their "scrapbook" send a private message that only you and the other person can read.

8. Use proper grammar, spelling and punctuation
This is on every single one of my top 10 lists, and there's a good reason for it. Your writing reflects on you as a person. If you want to maintain a professional and educated image, keep your writing clean and clear.

9. Check your account regularly
The whole point of social networking sites is to keep you connected with people everywhere in cyberspace. If you never check your account, there is no point having a profile on that site. When people write to you, they expect a response, and the turn around time on these sites is very short.

10. Don't get addicted
Although you should be active on your site, that doesn't mean that you have to surf all of Facebook all day every day. It's easy to get wrapped up in catching up with old friends and looking though everyone's photo albums. Remember to set clear priorities! It's also helpful to change your settings so that you aren't notified by email for every single little thing that happens on your site. Friend requests and new messages are good to know about, but you don't necessarily need to know every time you get "super poked."

I'd love to catch up with you on some of these sites. Just remember to write me a message in your friend request saying you found my link on my blog! :-)

My profile
My company page with photos, videos and tips

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Linked In:
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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Speech Training: Basic Intonation

After I had been living in Denmark and speaking Danish on a daily basis for quite some time, I went back home to California only to have one of my best friends tell me that I "talk funny." I asked her what she meant and we figured out that I was speaking English (obviously), but using Danish intonation without realizing it! This made me sound "funny," or in other words, different than someone would normally sound who came from my home town.

Intonation refers to the ups and downs in the tone of our voices when we speak. Every language uses tone a little bit differently. Intonation is often times what holds us back from sounding like a native speaker in another language. If you can master a language's tone variations, you are well on your way to a more native-sounding mastery of that foreign tongue.

There are many ways to use intonation in English, but today I want to look at the two most basic: questioning intonation and statement intonation.

When you ask questions in English your tone usually rises over the course of the question. This signals to the listener that you are asking them something.

The tone of a statement is very different - it ends in a down tone. The tone signals that you are finished with that thought and moving on to something else.

As listeners, it has been found that we put more weight on a speaker's tone of voice than the actual words that are used. If you make a statement but end in an up tone, it will sound like you are unsure of what you are saying; you're using a questioning tone. This could be a real problem if you are presenting important information that you have researched or are trying to convince people to follow your lead. If you sound unsure, your listeners also won't trust what you're saying to be true.

Focus on the sound of your voice and how you use it when you speak. If you find that people don't take you seriously, your tone could be part of the problem.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Communication Etiquette: Magical Introductions

Sorry for the short hiatus. I had to cut my vacation short because I got sick and had to get home to my doctor. That must have been payback for rubbing it in that I was on vacation. Bad karma! Everything is fine now. I'm back, and ready to tackle our next topic: Introductions.

I think we've all been in a situation where someone has introduced us to another person and then suddenly disappeared. We just stand there looking at the other person and have no idea what to say. Where to start? I'll save that for a different post because first of all, the person that introduced us didn't do a very good job.

Introducing two people is an art. Usually you introduce people because you think that they have something in common, could help each other or would just be a good match for whatever reason. You usually want them to like each other. Part of your job as a gracious networker or host is to point out the fantastic similarities these two individuals share so that it's easy for them to start a conversation and "click."

For example, you know that your friend, Judy is an avid sky-diver and your other friend, Mike is preparing for his first tandem jump. They would probably have a lot to talk about! By introducing them and pointing out their similarities, you've ensured that they will have something to talk about. With time, they might have figured out on their own that they share a hobby, but you just saved them the awkwardness of the first encounter.

Here's how the conversation might go:
You: Hi, Mike! I'd like to introduce you to* my friend, Judy. She's the one I told you about that loves sky diving.
Mike: Oh, of course. Nice to meet you.
You (to Judy): Mike is getting ready for his first tandem jump.
Judy: Oh, really? That's great! Nice to meet you too, Mike. So when's your first jump?
Mike: Next week. I'm really looking forward to it...

See how easy that was? Now Mike and Judy can start talking like old friends and you've saved them the awkward silence that comes when two people try to start a conversation.

You know that you've failed to introduce two people correctly if your friend says to you long after they met another one of your friends, "Why didn't you tell me that so-and-so... " You should have known that your friend would have been interested to hear about a shared hobby or interest.

*I am aware that in Standard English the correct form would be "introduce to you." Unfortunately, very few people realize this and it has become widely accepted to use the reverse "introduce you to." In this specific, informal situation I personally feel that "introduce you to" is more acceptable. I'll have to expand on this topic in a future post.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Public Speaking: Getting your feet wet

Here's another story from my vacation in beautiful Bintan, Indonesia (I'm on vacation this week, remember?). I promise after this week I'll get back to business.

My husband and I took our 2 1/2 month old daughter swimming for the first time yesterday, and I think it's the first time I've seen real fear in her eyes. We took things slowly, splashing the water up on her legs before taking her into the pool. The minute her little toes touched that cold water her eyes got huge and lip started to quiver before she let out her huge "I hate this!" scream. But once she got used to the water and figured out what it was we were doing she just loved it. We took her into the pool again today and got nothing but big gummy smiles.

So how does this relate to public speaking? Of course you're scared to jump right in and put yourself in the vulnerable position of speaking in public, but sometimes the best way to get over your fear is by taking it slow and getting your feet wet. Once you do it a few times you'll find that you start to enjoy it, well, maybe not enjoy it, but it will start feeling more comfortable anyway.

What if we had ripped our daughter out of the pool the minute we saw she was scared? What if we never put her in the water again? Think of all the fantastic experiences she would miss out on! And think of all the experiences and opportunities you are passing up by giving into your fear and avoiding the discomfort of speaking in public!

For more motivation, see my earlier post, "Public Speaking: Just do it!"

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Speech Training: My fuzzy daughter - Voiced vs. Unvoiced Sounds

My inspiration for this entry comes from my husband (a non-native English speaker) who continues to tell me every time our 2 1/2 month old daughter starts to cry that, "she's a litte fuzzy today."

"Fuzzy?" I picture our daughter with a beard and hairy legs before I switch to 'English trainer' mode and try to decipher what he meant to say. "Fuzzy or fussy?" The answer is clear.

This mistake is a very common one among native and non-native English speakers alike. The words are almost identical. The only difference is whether you use your voice on the s/z sound or not. 'S' is an unvoiced sound, whereas 'z' is a voiced sound.

These two types of sounds are very similar and can easily be confused. Generally speaking, the position of the lips and tongue are the same in order to produce the sounds. The only difference is whether you use your voice.

Here are some other consonant pairs that can lead to the same confusion (the voiced sound is listed first in each pair):

b-p, d-t, g-k, th(this)-th(thank), v-f

One way you can practice voiced and unvoiced sounds is by creating minimal pairs. Minimal pairs are pairs of words that are identical except for the one sound you are trying to practice. ‘Pat’ and ‘bat’ are an example of a minimal pair that helps to practice the ‘p/b’ distinction. You can create minimal pairs for any sounds you would like to practice. For more information on minimal pairs, see my earlier post.

Two other ways you can tell the difference between voiced and unvoiced sounds are:
1. Put two fingers over your voice box and make different sounds. You will feel your vocal chords vibrate during voiced sounds.
2. Put the palm of your hand in front of your mouth. You will feel an explosion of air when you make unvoiced sounds.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Speech Training: Top 6 Tips for Announcers

Today my husband, daughter and I sailed from Singapore to Bintan Island, Indonesia for a week-long vacation. So here I am by the pool writing today's entry. Is that dedication or what?

The reason I'm telling you this isn't just because I want to rub it in that I'm on vacation right now, but also because the trip over here got me thinking about how clearly people need to speak when they make announcements.

We have heard tons of announcements today in the ferry terminal, on the ferry and even on the shuttle bus to our resort. I didn't understand one of them.

Announcers everywhere, take note! I don't care if you make announcements in a bus, train, plane or ferry, do the morning announcements at your high school, work at Disneyland, make announcements about lost children in huge department stores, or announce the blue light specials at WalMart, you must remember to alter your delivery slightly over the public announcement system.

Here are a few points to remember:

1. Slow down
You can't speak at the same rate over an announcement system as you do to your best friend over coffee. Slow down so we can better understand you.

2. Use pauses
Your announcement is not a race. Take the time you need to make your message clear. Pause between your sentences so the announcement doesn't sound like one long rambling instruction.

3. Speak clearly
Pay special attention to your articulation. Pronounce consonant sounds, especially at the ends of your words.

4. Love your job - if only for a moment
If you are the one chosen to make an announcement, you are representing your company, industry and/or colleagues. Put on a happy face and have a good attitude. It is so easy to hear a person's mood in their tone of voice. For the few seconds your announcement lasts, go to your happy place. When it's over, you can go back to being grumpy.

5. Don't put your mouth too close to the microphone
We've all heard mumbled, scratchy announcements where it sounds like the announcer actually has the microphone in his/her mouth. Make sure you aren't too close to the microphone. That will make your announcement fuzzy.

6. Get feedback
You should always have someone listening to your announcement so they can give you feedback not just on how you sounded, but also if they could hear you at all. Sometimes there are problems with your equipment that are out of your control. If you don't specifically have someone listening along with your audience, you might not realize that there's a problem.

Friday, August 29, 2008

English Language: Acronyms Part 2

If you don't live in Singapore, yesterday's post was probably pretty hard to understand. It was also pretty hard for me to write since I generally don't use acronyms or write in short form when I send a text message. When I arrived here a little bit over two years ago, I felt like people were speaking another language! But Singapore isn't the only place where acronyms and abbreviations are common.

As we become more and more busy, acronyms seem to become more and more popular. It's almost like we don't have the time to speak properly anymore! There are many arguments as to why we should avoid acronyms, but the most important one, in my opinion, is simply because they make our messages unclear.

Acronyms are region-specific. I still think it's weird that I have to apply for a work permit with the MOM. Who's mom is that exactly? I guess that since Singapore follows British English and they call their moms "mums" they didn't think it was weird to name their labor department (Ministry of Manpower) after my mom.

We should try to avoid jargon at all costs in our communication, and acronyms are another form of jargon. Every industry has it's own set of acronyms. When my husband tells me about his day at work it sounds like alphabet soup: PO, SIC, QA, PQ, ITP, OQ, RA, MS, etc. Don't ask me what any of these mean - I just hope he can't see my eyes glazing over. But when he's talking to a colleague on the phone, they both seem to understand this secret code perfectly.

The problems occur when you try to speak to a client, or someone outside of the industry about what you do. If you find it hard to explain what you do in simple terms without using acronyms you have a problem. When you use acronyms in conversation you lock people out by making them feel stupid. You assume that they know something. And you know what happens when you assume...

Have you had any funny or embarrassing mishaps with acronyms? I'd love to hear about them!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

English Language: Acronyms Part 1

Arriving home in SG

I stepped off my SIA flight 10 minutes after my ETA and headed for immigration. I was glad I just got my new EP and IC with my FIN from MOM so I could go through the fast lane for PRs and other residents. After picking up my bags, I stopped by the UOB ATM. I thought about taking the MRT, but hopped in a taxi instead. I told the driver to take the ECP, but he said it was jammed so he took the PIE to the CTE.

As we drove past rows of HDBs, I thought about my baby girl that I recently delivered at TMC (my OB/GYN's clinic, TLC is there). I also thought about how lucky I was to have a new FDW to help take care of her while I was away. I wondered if the GIRO application was approved so I didn't need to worry about the BFWL.

As we entered the CBD, I was surprised by how many new ERPs there were. Suddenly I got an SMS: "Hi h! r u back?" It was from my BFF, Sonia. I SMSed her back: "Ya, gr8 trip. how r u?" We decided to meet at OUB Centre since her PAs BF said there was a nice cafe there. Plus her PC was down and the IT guy was busy fixing it; she couldn't get her POs done anyway.

We met for coffee and had a nice time talking. After a long day, everything was A-OK.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Speech Training: Practice Word Pairs to Improve Pronunciation

Minimal pairs are words that are identical except for the one problem sound you are focused on practicing. For example, if you have trouble with the sounds /r/ and /l/ you might practice reading a list of words like read/lead, road/load, fry/fly, fright/flight, crutch/clutch and so on. Slowly say these words out loud and really focus on the sounds and the way you use your voice. Here are some helpful hints to practicing minimal pairs:

- Say the words in a mirror. Exaggerate your facial expressions. Watch your tongue, lips and jaw, and note the differences when you make the sounds. Don’t worry if you look a little strange at first! As your mouth learns how to make the sounds correctly, you won’t have to make such weird faces to produce them correctly.

- Record yourself saying the pairs. Listen to the recording and see if you can hear a difference between how you pronounce the words.

- Choose one word from each pair and say them out loud to a friend. Have your friend write down the words he/she hears. See if your friend heard the words you were trying to say. (You can also do this on your own by noting the words you choose as you record yourself saying them. Listen to the recording a few days later and write down the words you hear. Compare your list to the list of words you recorded.)

Here's a four and a half minute video explaining this exercise. It was casually recorded after a live event so if you hear me refering to a workbook, that's why!

If you are having trouble coming up with lists of your own, or are unsure whether the words you’ve chosen are correct, check out linguist John Higgins’ website. He has listed hundreds of minimal pairs in this database:

Taking time to practice your pronunciation is vital if you are to reach your goal of improving the clarity of your speech. Be patient with yourself! This process takes time, but the pay-offs will definitely be worth it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

English Language: How to Proof-read for the 5 Most Common Pitfalls

I know that I've mentioned the importance of proof-reading your writing in earlier posts, but I really can't stress it enough. We talk about proof-reading all the time, but few really know how to do it successfully. It's like when you write something in Word and suddenly it's underlined in green. The sentence looks good to you. Why's it underlined? If you can't figure out what's wrong with your sentence, it's really hard to fix, isn't it?

Here are the top 5 most common problems I see when I'm asked to proof-read someone's work (including my own) and how to fix them.

1. Typos
It can be extremely hard to find typos, but trust me, they're usually there. Sometimes I'll read something 15 times and it's not until I send the copy to the printer (or post to my blog) that I realize there's a major typo. Read through your writing slowly and focus on each word individually. Sometimes it helps to read each word out loud.

2. Confusing contractions
A very common mistake that I see is contraction confusion. For example, writing it's instead of its or they're instead of their. If I'm using contractions in my writing I always read them as two full words when I proof-read so that I'm sure I've used the correct form. Let's look at a sentence from #1: Sometimes I'll read something 15 times and it's not until I send... When I proofread that sentence I read: Sometimes I will read something 15 times and it is not until I send... By reading the sentence in its full form I can be sure that I'm using my contractions correctly. Conversely, every time I see its or their I stop to ask myself if I really mean to be using the possessive.

3. Punctuation
I'm not sure why punctuation has to be so confusing. The period (full stop in UK English), question mark and exclamation point are easy enough, but what about things like colons and semicolons? These are commonly misused.
Colons (:) are used to introduce lists or a summation. They come directly after a complete sentence.
I told him I like many flavors of ice cream: vanilla, orange sherbet, cookie dough and cookies & cream.
Semicolons (;) are used to separate two complete sentences. You could actually use a period instead of the semicolon, but for some reason you want to stress a connection between these two thoughts.
I really like ice cream; my favorite flavor is vanilla.

4. Subject-verb agreement
I am, you are, he/she/it is, we are, they are
I have, you have, he/she/it has, we have, they have
I work, you work, he/she/it works, we work, they work

If you're confused about this point, see my earlier post on the topic.

5. Confusing constructions
Make sure that you write what you mean. It's easy to get wrapped up in fancy verbiage and crazy punctuation and completely lose sight of your point. Keep your sentences clear and simple. Use the active voice instead of the passive voice to make your sentences direct and interesting. For example, instead of writing "He was robbed by muggers" try writing "The muggers robbed him."

There are many other hang-ups in written English, but these are the very first things I look for when I proof-read a piece of writing. If you start looking for these pitfalls every time you read, and also think about them as you write, it will become second nature to automatically correct them.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Public Speaking: Should I memorize my speech?

Someone sent me an email today asking whether word-for-word memorization was the best method for preparing for a big speech.

Generally speaking, I never encourage anyone to memorize a speech. When you memorize something word-for-word the delivery becomes artificial. Also, if you suddenly 'blank out' it's very hard to pick up the pieces.

That said, sometimes memorizing small parts of your speech like your introduction and conclusion can help. Your introduction is one of the most important parts of your talk. If you fumble on your introduction you can lose some of the audience at the very start. Even worse, your confidence can falter and that can have a negative effect on the rest of your speech.

Another good reason for memorizing your introduction is because it can help with a fear of speaking. Have you ever noticed that you're most nervous at the beginning of your talk? After a few minutes when you see that everything is going well and your confidence builds, your nervousness starts slipping away. A great introduction isn't only great for your audience - it's also great for you!

Your conclusion is equally important. You want to leave the audience feeling good about your subject and, more importantly, you. You don't necessarily need to memorize your ending, but have a really good idea about how you want to end. You want to make a great impact! If you feel more comfortable memorizing, that's fine, but make sure that your delivery is spontaneous and authentic.

Other than these two parts, I suggest that you memorize your main points in outline form. You should definitely know what you want to say and where you're going, but trust yourself to find the right words in the moment. You will come across as being more honest and authentic. Let yourself speak from your heart and your audience will definitely respond to your message.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Speech Training: Don't Drink & Speak - Top 7 things to avoid to preserve your voice

Since it's Friday and we're all getting ready to go out and celebrate the weekend, let's take a look at the Top 7 things you should avoid if you want to preserve your voice and sound like a star speaker.

1. Alcohol
Yep, there goes your weekend! Sorry, but alcohol dries out your vocal cords (along with dehydrating the rest of your body). Plus there are tons of other reasons why you shouldn't drink and speak!

2. Cigarettes
Not so many people are smoking anymore, but if you're one of the few who are, I'm not going to lecture you. Your voice is the last thing you should be worried about.

3. Dairy products
Dairy products are a huge cause of increased phlegm. Try cutting down on dairy if you feel like your throat is coated and clogged.

4. Hot or cold drinks
Very hot drinks like coffee and tea or cold ones like your glass of ice water or 64-ounce coke are going to irritate your vocal cords as the extreme temperatures change the size of neighboring tissues in your throat.

5. Caffeine
Not only should you not drink alcohol, you also shouldn't drink coffee to get over its effects the morning after. Caffeine is dehydrating, and when you lose water from your system, all that phlegm in your throat becomes more concentrated making it harder to speak well.

6. Citrus fruits
Citrus is like dairy in that it produces a lot of phlegm. And you always thought that having lemon in your tea was a good thing! It might be for some reasons, but your voice isn't one of them.

7. Talking excessively
This is usually the hardest one for speakers. Why? Because we like to talk! But it's pretty simple: the less you use your voice, the better it will sound for your speech. Screaming and yelling and singing along to every song at the Black Eyed Peas concert (yes, guilty!) is not going to help either.

It would be crazy to avoid all of these things all the time, but think about them before you have a big, important speech to deliver. It helps to have a nice, strong voice!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Public Speaking: What's your dirty habit?

You may not want to admit it publicly, but we all have dirty little habits. Unfortunately, when you're speaking in public, you might be the only one who doesn't know what your dirty little habit is! Body language speaks for itself and the nervous ticks that people develop are known to all except the person with the problem.

Whenever I point out these little fidgets to people that I coach, they always say, "Really??? Do I really do that?" When they see themselves on video, they can't believe it!

Here are some of the most common dirty habits I see:
  • shifting weight back and forth (rocking)
  • wringing hands
  • pulling/loosening tie knot
  • straightening jacket
  • playing with hair
  • tapping foot
  • playing with a pen, clicker, notes, etc.
  • picking nails

I'm sure there are many more that I'm forgetting.

So how can we prevent ourselves from fidgeting? Video tape yourself. I promise that once you see how silly you look doing these things you will never want to do them again. When you find out what your dirty habit is, stay focused on it so you don't relapse later down the road to recovery.

So, what's your dirty habit?