One of the most useful skills you can develop is the art of clear and interesting speaking. This can help you in all the social interactions in life, with positive effects on your business, friendships and even love life. Especially small-talk is a useful skill as it can help break ice and initiate conversations.
Yet, often we find ourselves at a loss for words! We would like to say something, yet we feel nothing comes to our mind. Lack of ideas for speaking creates stress and tension, and this in its turn, further blocks the arrival of new ideas. For all of these reasons, speaking exercises can be very useful.
There are many types of speaking exercises, and to be honest, I find most of them boring and not particularly useful outside their specific purposes. They do a great job for what they are meant to do, but they don’t help much for making you generally a better speaker. In this group belong the exercises of clear pronunciation, accent, loudness, etc. They are, in a way, technical and specialized. They help you with technical aspect of speaking, but not so much with content of your speech.
There is, however, another group of speaking exercises that I really like and find very useful: exercises focused on the content of your speech. These exercises could, in fact, be regarded as mainly thinking exercises, in which you say your thoughts aloud.
There are 2 main types of such exercises:
- Free speech exercise – wherein you set a timer to a certain time period, like 15 minutes, 30 minutes, or even 1 whole hour, and your task is to speak throughout this whole time, whatever you want, whatever comes to your mind… the only rule: no silence… you have to speak, whatever, just speak. Of course, you should try to make your speech interesting (you can imagine someone who might be listening to you and try not to bore them), and to use as little filler and meaningless phrases as possible. This exercise is perfect for developing small-talk skills: it forces you to come up with stuff you can talk about even when there isn’t a clear direction or goal, it helps you avoid excessive self censorship and develop a natural flow of speech. Perfect for informal situations.
- Spoken treatment of a theme, topic – that’s the same as writing assignment that you used to get in school – you get a prompt and your task is to cover the given topic, but instead of writing – you’re now speaking. The same as in the previous exercise, long silences are not allowed, and also you should not do any planning. No jotting down the outline of your speech or anything like that, since you are not preparing a public speech (that’s where such things would work), but you are practicing your natural speaking – and this means, no room for any planing, as you need to be able to speak about anything on the spot, without preparation. So you do the following: choose a topic, turn on the stopwatch, and start speaking right away and try to speak as long as you can, or until you feel that your topic is fully covered and you have nothing more to add. This is, again, a thinking exercise more than anything else.
In both exercises, you can record your speech with any sound recording software you find. I personally do it, for two reasons: recording makes it feel more official for me and out of respect for the recording, I am much less likely to make breaks in my speech, and also, I want to have an archive, so that, after, let’s say, one month of such practice, I can compare my early exercises with later exercises and estimate how much progress I have made. By the way, I am usually not listening to these recordings… I feel it would be a waste of time in most cases, but I still keep them in my computer, so that I can return to them after a long period and see if I am on a good track.
Both of these exercises help you think faster, they exercise your memory and help you to be able to recall things from memory more easily, they also help you connect distant ideas and facts in your mind, and they give your brain the chance to process information for some time – as we are now usually receiving way too much cognitive input from everywhere, but with these exercises you can process information and produce some output.
Currently, I am doing these exercises in my native language. However, I will soon start doing them in my second and third language as well. I am quite sure they are an excellent way to develop a spoken fluency in foreign languages.