I’m not… That is… What I mean to say…
I have recently taken on some transcription work. This is where I listen to people’s audio recordings and then write down what they say.
Surely they have software to do that now? I hear you say. And indeed they have. But it’s still very much a work in progress. I have that very software myself, and use it to transcribe my own voice recordings, which is how I write certain parts of certain drafts of my books.
But it is often more trouble than it’s worth. Despite the ‘training’ I put it through, it stubbornly refuses to accept that when I say ‘travel’ I don’t mean ‘trouble.’ And every time you breath or an ambient sound is heard, the software translates it into words. This makes reading back over what you ‘wrote’ somewhat tricky.
If you tried to make it understand multiple voices, particularly every day voices of people who are not accustomed to speaking in public, well, it would be completely out of its depth.
And there is a heck of a lot that needs writing down out there. Interviews for market research, legal proceedings, medical notes, verbal warnings and much more.
Hence, there’s still plenty of work out there for human transcribers like me.
It’s not the way I want to spend my time, but until I drag myself into the less-than-one-percent of writers who actually make enough to write full time, I need to do something to get the coins into my piggy bank.
And it’s actually quite a lot of fun. I find myself responding to these people, commenting out loud occasionally at a particularly pithy point. You learn a lot of incidental but useful information on a huge variety of topics, which is great fodder for a writer (naturally I would never break confidentiality in any way. That’s not what I mean at all, as any writer worth their salt would understand immediately. It’s not facts, but impressions, situations, a phrase or a tone or an implication that gets your imagination firing and leads you into the unknown).
Unfortunately I find that the majority of my own verbal input as my fingers fly across the keys is in the form of frustrated expletives. ‘What??? Speak up, for goodness sake!’ ‘What are you saying??’ ‘Just get to the point!’
Hence the subject (finally) of this post.
We speak so badly! My word, if we heard ourselves, I have no doubt many of us would get a nasty shock.
I am a member of Toastmasters International, an international community organization which supports its members to develop and improve their public speaking and leadership skills, as well as building confidence.
I joined Toastmasters a couple of years ago, after being out of the speaking industry for a few years. I wanted to brush up on my skills in the event I should be asked to deliver speeches, seminars and talks in the course of my business as a writer and parenting consultant. And lo, it came to be that I have had occasion to dust off my presentation skills and take control of the mike. Toastmasters has been very valuable to help me improve.
To be honest, I didn’t think I needed to improve. I really just needed a bit of practice. Boy, was I mistaken. It’s amazing the little habits you get into without realizing it, and how comfortable you can get with ‘good enough.’ Confidence on stage just isn’t enough. You might be happy as a couch potato in fluffy bunny slippers, but that doesn’t mean you’re giving your audience a great experience.
Since the members at Toastmasters aren’t a very good sample of the population (after all, they already have an interest in improving their public speaking skills), I have found that transcription has given me a window into the general public’s terrible, terrible ability to speak well in public situations.
Surely you exaggerate, I hear you say.
And the thing is, almost 100% of them don’t even know it. After all, when you’re speaking to a friend or a colleague or a group you know well, different rules apply. You can make every speaking error in the book and you will be forgiven, nay, not only forgiven but actively encouraged to remain at your current abysmal level.
Among our friends, we actively encourage communication and this doesn’t necessarily mean encouraging improvement in the medium of that communication. We don’t care if our friend can’t finish a sentence, says ‘um’ more than she or he blinks, or speaks in a monotone. We help him or her out. We finish the sentences ourselves, either out loud or in our heads. We filter out the ums. We focus on the content rather than the tone (if we really love them!).
Well, I am here to tell you that stuff just don’t work out in the big wide world.
You would have thought that we as a public, TV, sound byte generation would have gotten a bit more savvy about how we’re perceived out there, but sadly this doesn’t seem to be the case.
So I am going to write a new series of blog posts, which I am naming: Killing it Through Communication: Public Speaking 101. Happy reading!