The ability to write without errors is crucial, whether you are writing for the whole world to see, or just your department. Even a few typos can make a writer look beyond unprofessional — errors imply laziness and poor presentation in much the same way that a stained shirt shows a lack of effort at a business meeting.
But, important as good spelling and grammar are, errors can slip through even a reasonable level of editing. Reasonable, by the way, does not mean simply running Spell Check. At the very least, it means reading a document carefully after you’ve finished writing it. It also means that if you can get another person to read over your writing, you should. We always know what we mean when we write, but that doesn’t guarantee that our readers will get the nuances.
Beyond general editing, there are steps you can take to improve your spelling and grammar, as well as your overall ability to create an excellent piece of communication. These three approaches can help you create a professional document and minimizes errors that can detract from the message of your writing.
Every time I try to write the word “maintenance” I use a different combination of letters. I’m generally a good speller, but that combination of letters manages to stump me every time. But I’ve made a note of the fact that I can’t spell that word. Knowing my weakness has allowed me to make allowances and quickly rectify the misspelling.
When I’m writing a document that includes a word I regularly struggle with, I slow down for that word and make sure that I spell it correctly before I continue writing. While I risk breaking my concentration on what I’m writing, I’ve noticed that I’ve been able to get better at spelling certain problem words. Other techniques can include the following:
Vary your word choice. Avoid words that tend to trip you up.
Practice spelling (and using) problem words.
Explore root words and learn why a given word is spelled a certain way.
Grammar can be a more complicated fix than spelling. As a general rule, most of us can tell if something sounds wrong just by reading it out loud — a number of SAT preparation courses actually recommend students do just that to pick out errors on the test. Recognizing an error isn’t necessarily enough, however. Fixing one can be much harder. If you feel that your grammar skills are weak, consider rewriting problem sentences in a simple format. I know that I run into comma splices and dangling participles when I try to make my writing fancier. Simple sentences, however, are easy to correct, and they are often easier for a reader to comprehend.
Proofread for others.
Part of the struggle with perfecting our own writing is the fact that many of us don’t practice our proofreading skills regularly. We aren’t adept at correcting errors because we are used to reading for comprehension, rather than for correction. To improve your proofreading skills, you must use them:
Offer to look over a co-worker’s memo or a friend’s short story.
Read the daily newspaper and circle typos. Because of the production cycle, most dailies wind up letting a few typos through.
Join an online critique group. Sites like WEbook invite editors as well as writers to help develop manuscripts.
You can also improve your ability to proofread your own work by writing regularly. No matter how often you write, if you do not expect your work to be public, you’ll let typos slip. I try to go out of my way to proofread most of what I write — even if I’m just adding tasks to my to-do list. Furthermore, the more I write, the better I get at both proofreading and writing. It can be hard to sit down each day to write, but it can be a worthwhile endeavor.
Set Goals For Documents
Most of us write with a purpose in mind: a document may be a memo expected to explain a new company procedure or it might be an email arranging for lunch. Either way, documents should generally have a goal: an idea or concept that they’ll be communicating. Allowing such a goal or a purpose to guide you while writing can help you to plan your document — but it can also make editing your work significantly easier. After all, missing out on the message can make an entire document seem garbled, as well as unprofessional.
You can keep it simple: just make a list of the points you want to make with your writing and check them off as you come across them during your review. If you get to the end of a document without have crossed off every item on your list, you know what changes you need to make. This method is one of the fastest ways to essentially proofread your content — it won’t help you make changes but it can warn you of problems in a document.
Checking that your writing has met the goals set for it does not necessarily prove that a reader can comprehend your content, though. To ensure clarity, you might consider asking another person to read your document and then check whether they understood each of the ideas or points your document was intended to communicate. You can even use the same checklist.
Ask For Help
It can be hard for one person to fully edit a document — especially if that person wrote it. Just having someone else look over a document, especially if you can ask him or her to keep the above tips in mind, can help you to prepare a clear and professional piece of writing.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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: