Most of us think talking to ourselves is a practice that should be avoided – especially if others are around to observe it. But researchers say “self-talk” is more common than most people think. And it can make a big difference in mood, behavior and performance.
The Ammerman Experience has always encouraged clients to engage in self-talk as a way to improve some of their communication skills, so we’re pleased that new research supports our recommendation. Before we share our advice on self-talk, here’s what some researchers say about the subject:
- Self-talk is a form of thinking. It’s a conversation you’re having with yourself – usually to comment on something or to provide advice or reminders.
- Self-talk can be motivational (for encouragement) or instructional (for information).
- How you address yourself matters. Speaking to yourself as another person would – using your own name or the pronoun “you” – produces better results than referring to yourself as “I.”
- Self-talk should be short, precise and consistent.
- Use encouraging words. Don’t say, “I really screwed up that speech.” Instead say, “Bill, that was not your best effort. Before your next speech, you need to practice.”
So, how can self-talk help you improve your communication skills? Try these techniques:
- Before delivering a presentation or speech, most people have this mindset: “Oh no, this is not going to go well. I’m nervous and I’m probably going to fail. The audience will not like this.” This kind of thinking programs the speaker to fail. A better approach is to say something such as this: “You have valuable information to share. Your audience is going to benefit from what you say. You’re going to be a hit.”
- At certain public meetings, you could face an audience that’s angry or even verbally abusive. One way to deal with that unpleasant situation is to say (silently) a coping statement such as this: “This is uncomfortable, but you must remain calm. You may not be able to change this person, but you can deal with it.”
- After a successful presentation, news media interview or other important communication, congratulate yourself: “You nailed that presentation. You had the audience hanging on your every word.”
- After a less-than-successful speech, identify what went wrong and how you plan to improve: “That was not a well delivered speech. Your delivery was flat and lacked passion. You need to record your practice and listen to it critically.”
- Most of us know our strengths and weaknesses as communicators. Before you speak, remind yourself what you need to do to perform better: “You need to speak more loudly. And don’t talk to the screen when using PowerPoint.”
- A final reminder: We tell clients that effective practice means delivering your remarks three times, aloud, on your feet, into a recording device. Underscore aloud. You must vocalize rather than practice silently. And that includes vocalizing the answers to questions you might get.
Winston Churchill, who was known as a first-rate orator, is said to have practiced his speeches loudly – very loudly – over and over in his bath – causing his valet to wonder just what was going on. Don’t you be shy. Talk to yourself.