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Watching What You Say

This is the first post from one of our newest writers, Hema Karunakaram. Let her know what you think in the comments!

As much as college may be about learning and discovering new things and finding yourself, it’s just as much about meeting new people, building relationships, and networking. College has the potential to totally alter your life—and not just because of what you learn. Suddenly, you’re meeting tons of new people every day, and you’re in such close proximity to so many of your peers all the time. Now, more than ever before, the words that come out of your mouth could have enormous effects on you and those around you.

In the digital age, so much of our communication is facilitated through our phones, Facebook, Twitter, and countless other technological resources. And there’s no denying the impact this has had on verbal, face-to-face communication. People, especially students, find tasks like public speaking, interviews, and even talking to professors to be increasingly difficult. Of course, with so little practice in face-to-face communication, speaking in any potentially formal situation is no easy task. Throw in the fact that any interaction in college just might open a door to your future, and what you say becomes even more important. But there’s no need to stress, if you try a couple strategies when it comes to speaking:

Consider Your Audience

Most people tend to subconsciously control what they say around different groups of people; for instance, they may not bring up certain topics or use some types of language around their family. But what about for people you don’t know, or haven’t met yet? In my experience, it’s always better to err on the side of more formal—kind of like dressing for an interview. It never hurts to appear more polished and put together, but the opposite can have negative consequences.

I personally could split my speech into four different categories based on my audience: how I speak with my parents, older people other than my parents, my friends, and peers other than my friends. I know how to speak around my parents and friends, but the other two groups can get a little tricky. It’s important to appear competent and reliable to people you don’t know as well, but also not to seem too serious or stubborn. Let’s say you’re asking a teaching assistant for an extension on an assignment. While this person is a grad student and not a professor, they still have some level of authority over you in an academic sense. You certainly shouldn’t speak too casually to this person, as you would to your friends, but you also don’t want to seem too argumentative or arrogant, as though you are taking advantage of this person’s position as a teaching assistant.

Plan out what you say carefully based on what you know about the person you’re talking to. Although some situations require you to think on your feet, others (like the extension example) allow for some planning. And how do you plan for speaking?

Talk to Yourself

Sure, it sounds a little silly. But talking to yourself allows you to harness the incredible power of your imagination. Think about how you’ll start speaking, and then consider how you’ll respond to various turns in the conversation. Of course you can’t predict exactly how a conversation will go, but you’d be surprised at how well your imagination can cook up situations for you to explore.

Let’s look at the extension example again. Perhaps you’ll choose to catch your teaching assistant on your way out of class, and start with “Excuse me, [insert name here]. I wanted to discuss our upcoming assignment with you.” After hearing your full request, he or she might immediately disagree, hesitantly agree but ask for an explanation, or expect some convincing right away. Go through all of these situations in your head—what would he or she say? Then what would you say? How might he or she respond? Just talk to yourself, until you’re prepared to say the right things when the time comes.

Stay Confident

But after all, we are only human. We can’t predict how situations will go, and it’s important to be prepared to say the right things at the right times. (Otherwise, you might end up like this guy.) Remember that more people out there than you’d expect tend to keep an open mind, and you probably won’t get your head bitten off for a small slip-up in your speech. You’re in college, and you still have plenty of time to talk your way through different situations. So keep your head up. Not getting the extension you wanted on your assignment could be attributed to any number of factors other than your speech. Just be confident enough to learn from your experiences and use them to help you in the future. If you appear to believe in the words you say, they become much more powerful.

However, you are in college, meaning the situations you are or aren’t able to talk through right now could be some of the most important in your life. Don’t appear cocky or aggressive to people who could provide opportunities to you, but keep your street smarts and a sense of humor always at hand. You never know who you might find yourself talking to—so choose your words wisely!