As a non-native speaker of English, do you worry about making a mistake when you speak in public? If you’re like the majority, I’m sure you do, it’s normal.
But what if I told you that making small mistakes in your English really doesn’t matter very much? And that connecting to your audience and creating rapport is much more important.
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Think about it; would you rather listen to a speaker who speaks English as a second language perfectly but simply regurgitates information without caring whether you, as a member of the audience, engage with the message or not? Or would you prefer to listen to someone who makes good eye contact with you, really seems to ‘see’ you, and highlights what you both have in common?
We relate to other human beings. We don’t relate to robots.
As long as you have a high enough level of English to communicate relatively fluently and are able to explain a word when you can’t find the exact one you’re looking for, you are able to speak well in public in English. Your level of English isn’t the problem, it’s your fear of being negatively judged that’s creating a problem and causing you anxiety. This is because of something called the spotlight effect.
The spotlight effect is the psychological phenomenon by which people tend to believe they are being noticed more than they really are. Our own spotlight shines brightly on ourselves because we are the centre of our own world.
But everyone suffers from the spotlight effect. The fact is, you are not the centre of your audience’s world, so they won’t notice as much about you as you think. This means they won’t actually notice all the language errors that you hear yourself making.
At the end of the day, an audience wants to hear and understand your message, so they can get some benefit from it. Remember, an audience is always thinking ‘What’s in it for me?’. If you are speaking at an appropriate speed, articulating well, smiling, making good eye contact, and caring about how your message will benefit the audience, you’ll come from a place of giving. This means you’ll more easily be in the moment, you’ll become less self-conscious, and you’ll be able to establish the rapport that’s essential for the audience to really hear you.
With rapport, the audience will connect with you and be open to being persuaded by you. They will also forgive any mistakes you make, if indeed they even notice them in the first place!