Your heart pounds. Your palms sweat. Your mind races.
Standing in front of other people and talking can be scary. It can make you feel more anxious if your presentation is not in your native language.
And what if you forget the words while you’re speaking?
Anna Uhl Chamot, a retired professor at George Washington University, developed a method of teaching language. The method is called CALLA: Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach.
Here strategy has three parts: planning, monitoring and self-evaluation.
No 1: Planning
Plan ahead and think about your main ideas. Make notes of the points you want to convey to your audience. Chamot says it is important to understand your subject. That way, you will be able to talk about your topic easily and with confidence.
“I know a lot of learners, and I mean not just learners of English but people in general, even native speakers, feel that they want to write out everything they’re going to say. This gives them some comfort,” Chamot says.
Once you are satisfied with the wording, go back and reduce the words to very short notes.
Also, prepare visuals on PowerPoint, Prezi or other computer program.
Chamot says each visual should have only a few points and words. That makes it easier for the audience to absorb the message of the visual.
Images or easy-to-see graphics without words are even better. If you give a presentation about a summer visit to Washington, D.C., your visual should show something exciting that takes place there.
That next step is practice. Practicing will remind you of the points you want to make.
Practice talking about each visual. The more you practice speaking about your topic, the easier it will be to talk in front of others.
Practice will also help you look up and away from your notes. It will help your voice be more lively and less monotone, or boring.
When you practice, do so in front of other people. An international organization called Toastmaster’s offers support for people wanting to improve their public speaking. They offer a video library of advice and suggestions.
Chamot suggests recording yourself, too.
“Use a friend or a family member as your audience or/and practice in front of a mirror, looking at yourself, and turn on your smart phone and record yourself,” Chamot says. “Then you can listen to what you really sound like.”
And, as you practice, imagine yourself in front of a real audience.
“Imagine in your head the audience, see all those faces and expressions and imagine that they’re there right in front of you.”
Chamot also recommends this tactic to open your presentation: Ask your audience a question.
For example, if your topic is summer activities in Washington, D.C., you might ask, “How many of you have ever gone to an outdoor concert in Washington, D.C.?”
Asking a question also makes a presentation more like a conversation and less like a lecture.
When you spend time preparing and practicing, you gain confidence and comfort and will feel less worry on presentation day.
Learning Strategy #2: Monitoring
The next strategy is monitoring: Monitoring is watching or listening to something to note its progress.
You should monitor yourself during your practice sessions and during the actual presentation.
To monitor during practice, Chamot says make a list of questions to ask yourself.
Some questions to ask yourself are: Did I state the topic and intent clearly at the beginning? Did I provide some examples and details? Did I restate the topic and conclusions at the end?
You will be more comfortable in front of your audience, she says, the more you practice.
During the Presentation:
When you’re in front of the real audience, monitoring can help you quickly identify issues and find solutions. For example, if you are nervous before the presentation starts, tell yourself silently that you are going to do well.
“Like, ‘I really worked hard on this. I know my PowerPoint looks good. I’m going to take a deep breath. And I have practiced so much. I know I can do this,’” she suggests.
And, if you forget English words during your presentation, you can substitute them with easier or different ones.
Other behaviors to take note of during your presentation are: Am I speaking too fast or too slow? Am I looking at my audience? Am I smiling from time to time?
Learning Strategy #3: Self-Evaluation
That brings us to Self-Evaluation, our third learning strategy.
In Self-Evaluation, you examine how well you did. It takes place after each practice session and after your actual presentation.
Chamot suggests these questions to ask yourself: Did I look at the audience enough? How much more do I need to practice? How well did I do?
Also ask yourself: What did I do well? What do I need to improve?
The strategies that worked well will help you do well next time.
If you understand your subject and use these helpful tools, it will become easier and easier to speak in public!