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How to Improve Your Spelling Skills

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How to Improve Your Spelling Skills

Fair or not, your spelling skills are used throughout your life to evaluate you as a person. Several months ago, the results of a study of Fortune 500 human resource employees were published, saying that of the people they had interviewed, some 85% threw away a resume or cover letter that had as little as one or two spelling errors. The logic was, if you didn’t care enough about your application to make sure everything was spelled correctly, then you couldn’t be trusted to care enough about your job – where a tiny spelling error might undo an important business deal or cost the company money.

But what if you’re a reasonably intelligent person with a fairly good sense of written style who, for one reason or another, just doesn’t spell very well? How do you improve your spelling, short of going back to elementary school and sitting through four or five grades of English class again? There are books and lists of commonly misspelled words available, but they’re too overwhelming to be very useful. Looking things up in the dictionary isn’t all that helpful if you don’t know already that you don’t know how to spell something — or if you can’t spell it well enough to find it!

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Those of us who spell well have a hard time explaining it, too – it just seems like a natural gift (and of course people who don’t spell well often blame their lack of that “gift”). We can tell people how to spell particular words, but explaining how to spell better overall is trickier. It doesn’t help that we often look down on people who spell badly, seeing them as people of little education or little intelligence – or both.

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Wanting to help my kids learn to spell better, I went looking for some techniques and practices that teachers use to teach what is, after all, just a skill, like riding a bike or learning long division. Here are some of the things I found out:

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  • There is no substitute for reading a lot. Just as we learn spoken language by hearing lots of people speaking, we learn written language, including spelling, by reading what a lot of people write. Spelling is not about how a word sounds, it’s about how it looks on the page, which means you have to look at a lot of words on the page to learn how they are spelled. End of story, really – the first step to improving your spelling has to be to read a lot (and it should go without saying, read a lot of stuff that’s spelled correctly; txtng ur frnds may b fun bt isn’t going 2 hlp ur spllng).
  • Make a list of your commonly misspelled words. When you catch yourself spelling the same word wrong over and over, write it down somewhere (back of a Moleskine is a good place). When you get a chance, look it up and put the correct spelling next to it. (Make sure you mark which is correct!) Unlike the massive lists of “commonly misspelled words” in the back of dictionaries and the like, this is a custom list that reflects the words and spelling rules you have trouble with – so instead of a huge list of Other People’s Problems you have a custom-made guide to your own.
  • Use mnemonics. There’s an MnM in mnemonic! Mnemonics are memory tricks or devices, like “i before e except after c”. Since spelling rules are often abstract and, in English, even contradictory (what sound does “gh” make?), they are hard to memorize by themselves. Mnemonics “sneak in” through a different part of your mind, by rhyming, presenting an image, or forming a pattern that makes better sense than “that’s just how it’s spelled”.Here are some examples of spelling mnemonics:
    • It’s necessary to have 1 Collar and 2 Socks.
    • A piece of pie
    • You hear with your ear.
    • Pull apart to separate.
    • Definite has 2 i’s in it
    • There is a place just like here.
    • Because: Big Elephants Can Always Understand Small Elephants
    • Cemetery has three e’s – eee! – like a scream.
    • IN NO CENTury is murder an innocent crime.
    • Slaughter is LAUGHTER with an S at the beginning.

    These are all taken from The North Coast Institute Learning Institute and Audiblox; check out these sites for more.

  • Study spelling with Carolyn. The National Spelling Bee offers a 36-week spelling course, a lesson a week, by Carolyn Andrews, an ex-teacher and spelling coach to her championship-winning son. Each week’s lesson focuses on an aspect of spelling; taken a week at a time, it’s a good way to cover the basics. Unfortunately, the site doesn’t offer an RSS feed or email subscription; since the main page offers the most current lesson, you can monitor it for changes using a service like ChangeDetection.
  • Put a mark next to every word you look up in the dictionary. If you look it up more than once, add it to you personal list.
  • Write write write! The only way to really learn a word is to use it, and that counts for spelling as much as for learning its meaning. When you look up how to spell a word, write it down several times in a row, and do it again a day or two later – you’re trying to build up the motor memory of writing it correctly spelled. Write a blog, a journal, emails, a novel, anything that will keep you using words – and pay special attention as you write to the words that come up wrong (spell-check is good for this, at least!). Let others read your writing, and ask them to circle misspelled words (or post it to a blog – blog readers make especially harsh taskmasters where spelling errors are involved!)

Better minds than yours and mine have ranted about English spelling rules (or the lack thereof). There has been a near-constant drive for spelling reform for centuries, with advocates including Samuel Johnson, Theodore Roosevelt, H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, and Andrew Carnegie. These efforts have generally been failures, attempts to impose artificial “corrections” on the organic flow of language and writing.

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English, it seems, won’t be rationalized, leaving it to each of us to make peace with its foibles and somehow work out how to get things spelt. Hopefully these tips help you begin the process of patching up your own spelling. If you have any other tips, please let us know in the comments.

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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