Hang a lantern on it
What’s holding you back from speaking? I’ve been coaching people for years on how to speak without fear, and one common fear I hear from English as a Second Language speakers is that they will be judged too harshly on minor pronunciation and grammar mistakes.
I’ve found the opposite to be true. Most native English speakers enjoy your accent and find it charming that you make an occasional mistake. What matters far more is that you have a message worth sharing and that you share it passionately. Connecting with the audience is way more important and will earn you forgiveness on minor language mistakes.
The key to relaxing is to “hang a lantern on it and move on.” I heard this phrase from a Hollywood scriptwriter. It means that you illuminate and call attention to an inconsistency in the story by having a character notice and mention it. It’s the writer’s way of telling the reader “I did this on purpose; it’s not a mistake.” It helps the audience suspend disbelief and enjoy themselves.
So how do you hang a lantern on your self-imposed speaking weakness? Experiment with humor and illuminate it in a light-hearted way. In other words, let the audience know that YOU know and it clears the air.
- “I’ve been working hard on my English but it’s not quite perfect yet. So please raise your hand if I accidentally insult you.”
- “My Spanish is 100% perfect… but you pressed 1 for English, so you get 80% perfect. I’ll give it my best shot.”
- “I have a problem with P’s and F’s so Flease Porgive me. By the way, there is a blue Honda with its lights on in the Farking lot.”
On a similar note, a lady in one of my workshops asked how she could overcome her self-consciousness about being deaf in one ear. She was afraid someone would ask a question that she could not hear, and she didn’t want them to think she was ignoring them.
I suggested she hang a lantern on it, and instruct the audience “Before we begin I want you all to know that I am completely deaf in my left ear. So, if you like to ask questions you might want to move to the right side of the room now.” Then you smile and let them know you are joking… but you have also cleared the air to let go of your self-consciousness.
Most audiences are more forgiving than we think. They usually ARE pulling for you, and making mistakes simply makes you more human in their eyes. It makes you one of them. If you don’t take yourself too seriously, they will pay more attention to what you have to say than exactly how you say it.