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Fear Factor April 6, 2007

Posted by Edwin in English, Speaking, Toastmasters.

For many people, fear is probably the greatest factor in hindering our speaking progress. When speaking our target language to another person, either a native or non-native speaker, we are often afraid of being judged. We just don’t feel comfortable. Imagine how this fear factor could increase in magnitude if you have to speak the language in front of a group of people?

My Mandarin progress stagnated once again in the month of March. The reason? I decided to participate in the Toastmasters International Speech Contest this year. Out of my already packed schedule, I could only afford to give up the 10-minute-or-so daily Mandarin drilling session to practice my speech.

The club-level contest was not difficult to get through since there were only 2 contestants in my club. The next level was the area-level contest. We had 7 contestants coming from several clubs. I ended up the third place and I was very happy with the result. The winner was a Chinese gentleman who had been with the Toastmasters for about 15 years. English was not his native language, and he spoke it with a thick Cantonese accent. But his delivery was outstanding.

The next came the division-level contest which was held last Thursday. The 7 winners from the area-level contests completed at this level. I decided to go and watch, and at the end I was not disappointed. All 8 speeches, including the target speech for the evaluation contest, were just remarkable! I learned a lot about public speaking just by listening to those speeches that evening.

Guess who won the division-level contest? The Chinese veteran!

There he was, delivering his speech in his non-native language, still with a heavy accent (4 out of the other 6 contestants spoke English as their first language). At his age of about 50, he probably could not improve his accent or his fluency much more. Nevertheless, he managed to overcome all the difficulties. He accepted his limitations and focused on what he could improve instead. He worked very hard on his delivery skills (vocal variety and gesture) together with his strengths (content and humour). At the end, he came out to become the best in the division, 50 clubs in total!

I asked the Chinese veteran if he had been in the next level (the district level) before. To my surprise, he told me that he had even been at the regional level in the past. I believe this is the level after the district level.



1. 米蘭 - April 7, 2007

The greatest factor limiting my progress is fear, fear of other people criticizing how I speak. Even when I go to McDonalds (quite frequently), I freeze and can’t open my mouth. The attendant thinks I’m completely stupid.

Just this morning a lady called the house and even while she was speaking to me, I was distracted by my own thoughts. I was imagining what she would be thinking when its time for me to speak a few seconds later. Turns out, I was thinking too much about what she would be thinking, I didn’t even hear what she said.

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