Teaching Public Speaking Skills

I have been teaching public speaking skills since 2014. However, this year has been special because I am celebrating my 20th anniversary teaching a wide array of skills. I started my journey teaching pre-ballet classes, adult ballet, flamenco, modern dance, creative dance, dance fitness, ESL and now public speaking skills.

My Teaching Philosophy

My philosophy as a teacher, product of a background in performing arts, TESL, Toastmasters and Conference Interpreting, has evolved thanks to every student I’ve met along the away and can be summarized as follows:

  • I love to teach fundamental skills. I believe that if students have a strong foundation they can go on to developing their own learning.
  • I believe in positive and honest feedback. This approach takes a great deal of humility, respect and the ability to observe, diagnose and offer strategies based on different learning styles.
  • Hands-on learning. Why? Ask Confucius: I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.
  • In order to keep teaching I have to keep learning. Based on the principle that I can only teach what I know, I study and stay open to comments from students and fellow trainers.

Teaching Highlights of 2017

I generally teach Public Speaking skills for non-native professionals, and this year, for the first time, I have a review in Spanish. If you would like to get an idea of what my classes look like, go ahead and have a look.

Fortunately for me, that has not been the only review this year. Conference interpreter Aida González del Álamo was kind enough to publish a review of one of the workshops I taught as part of the InterpretimeBank program to reward its supporters. These workshops are unique in their kind because they bring together conference interpreters and speakers, both as trainers and as students.

Bringing Conference Interpreters and Speakers Together

Brussels1Conference interpreters often complain about speakers’ poor performance, but there are very few opportunities to discuss this issue and see how communication could be improved.

During the public speaking workshops I taught in Madrid and Brussels, we all learned some valuable lessons that I would like to share with you.

  1. Speakers and interpreters are a team with a common goal: communicating a message perceived as important by the speaker. We often ignore what our «teammate» does and the pressure each side has to face.
  2. Oftentimes, speakers get to be in conferences as a result of their position in an organization, but this doesn’t mean that they have had proper (or any) training to improve public speaking skills. Therefore, they may not have the necessary strategies to cope with problems such as nerves and anxiety, voice projection, articulation, speed, rhythm, logic, structure and relevance of the content.
  3. Interpreters sometimes forget all the pressure that speakers face when delivering a speech or giving a presentation.

Quotes from Students in Brussels

Read and draw your own conclusions.

Speakers are not as used as interpreters to receive feedback from their peers, so it’s useful to practice public speaking in a group. We can learn from our own mistakes just as much as we learn from seeing how others cope with theirs.

It is easy to see what aspects a speaker should improve from the outside, but it’s not easy to put oneself in their shoes and stand the pressure that comes with speaking in public. Only by doing that can we provide constructive feedback and help the speaker improve.

Practicing in a relaxed environment helps us to improve so we can later face less friendly situations.

   Being aware of one’s own breathing at a time of tension is quite difficult. That is why it’s important to practice breathing exercises that improve voice projection separately.

This workshop has taught me that breathing correctly and having the right posture can help shape the speech and reduce anxiety.

 Pauses help with intonation, which in turn make it easier for the audience to understand what has been said.

 Much like an interpreter, a speaker can really improve by practicing and receiving feedback, but also by giving feedback to others.    


My conclusion

Both speakers and interpreters benefit from getting some public speaking training. Join a club, take some workshops, get a coach. Ultimately we both are «the voice» in charge of delivering the same message to a multilingual audience, therefore, the necessary skills should be up to par on both sides.

Credits:  Photos and art –Lia Giralt. Proofreading –Nuria Campoy Sánchez. Communication –Anna Svalova, Mónica Díaz.




Anuncio publicitario

The WISE Experience 

Last July I was finally able to attend a WISE workshop in the beautiful city of Valencia. Being a staunch believer in continuous practice in pedagogical environments, I had been looking forward to polishing up some skills in a relaxed environment that is well known for the high quality of the feedback provided.

Photo by Hannah Bernauer


When you sign up for a week-long workshop you probably have some things that you want to work on. I personally believe that before you go into a training session of any kind, you should have one or two goals in mind in order to make the most out of it. At the same time, you should stay humble and receptive to what your peers say.

In my case, I signed up with two very clear goals in mind:

  1. I wanted to brush up on my English retour.
  2. I wanted to get some pointers on my FR>ES combination.

Before you begin

Once your application has been accepted, you are requested to write 6 speeches in your A language, three for consecutive and three for simultaneous practice. The organizers send a document with excellent tips for writing a good speech, and with a good reminder of why writing speeches is good for you! In a nutshell, writing practice speeches helps your process and organize information, it increases your general knowledge, and helps you practice your public speaking skills when you get to deliver your speech for your peers.

Once you get there

The University is located in one of the most beautiful areas in Valencia, a sunny Mediterranean city with good food, reasonable prices and excellent public transportation.

The organizers, Jose Sentamans and Joe Burbidge will welcome you with thir dynamic personalities and give you sense of ease because every detail has been taken care of.

Let the practice begin!

You will start practicing and giving feedback from day one. The sessions are an hour and a half long and believe me, they are intense. Depending on the language combinations you signed up for, on a regular day you can have anywhere from one to three sessions, so it is a good idea to be well rested and fully available.

The balance between practicing, giving feedback and reading speeches is quite balanced throughout the week, although once again, depending on your combination, one of those activities might end up taking more time than the rest.

What makes WISE great

Joe and Jose have worked hard to make sure that the workshop runs like clockwork.

Practicing in a friendly environment where there are no real clients makes gives you a certain freedom to «go all out». Thanks to this atmosphere I was able to experiment with language in a way I normally wouldn’t risk in the booth, and because you have constant feedback you quickly realize what works and what doesn’t.

The evening dinners. Being a freelance conference interpreter can be a lonely journey. It was great to meet with colleagues from Spain, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Brussels and France and discuss issues such as quality, client education, or work-life balance while enjoying some excellent Spanish wine and food!

The quality of the feedback offered by your peers. When you get a group of highly trained and/or experienced interpreters you will definitely get good comments. I very much appreciated the general attitude of mutual help.

The price! Being on a budget and getting all of these benefits without ending up broke is definitely a plus.

Photo by Hannah Bernauer

Some final tips that went around

I talked to some of you about some of the strategies I‘ve used to either improve my B language  (that do not imply packing and moving to a new country!), so here’s a recap:


  • Read out loud – the amount of structures your brain will start to retain will amaze you, just be mindful when you do it and decide whether you are reading to practice your production, your vocabulary, or something else.
  • TedTalks: They are particularly useful if you are working on your retour into EN because you can listen and read at the same time. Some of them have transcripts and good subtitles. My recommendation is to memorize little bits of a talk/speaker you like and to add on to it. Copy everything they do: volume, intonation, pauses. Not only will you be improving your use of English, but also your vocal variety and pronunciation. Your memory will also get its vitamins!
  • I mentioned InterpretimeBank to some of you given the importance of deliberate practicing year round. For the time being, Interpretimebank is a G+ Community that you can join  to find people to continue practicing. It does not replace live practice, but it certainly sorts out the problem of time and space. Through this platform you can be listened by another professional interpreter, and it also gives you the opportunity to meet people all over the world, year round.

To read more about WISE, you can visit:

Workshop on Interpreting Skills Exchange: WISE

WISE Bruselas 2015 or WITNB


Toastmasters Speech 3

Before going away for the summer I wanted to go for my third project in the Competent Communicator Manual.  I basically knew that I wanted to talk about a post about dance I wrote for another blog  and I wanted to improve on previous feedback I had gotten from club members.

The three main things I wanted to improve were:

  • Voice projection
  • Vocal variety
  • Having a stronger opening and closing

My main challenges with this project were:

  • Chosing a specific objective
  • Sticking to it

Some quick tips I have learned from previous projects that saved time and were effective:

  • In order to speak for up to 7 minutes my speech has to stay under the 1000 word limit.
  • Writing a quick outline with main points and sub-points
  • Having decided the topic way in advance.

My mentor, Julian D. Martelli, helped me enormously with his accurate feedback and suggested a post by Andrew Dlugan about Speech 3 that was so useful that I have added it to my recommended links.
I was having a very hard time staying focused on the point but then I read this and it helped enormously for the next round of editing (that’ what my Toastmasters mentor and my husband said)

The Harder Part: Stay Focused On the Point

The much harder part — and the part that many speakers struggle badly with — is staying focused on the point.

No speaker intends to stray from their purpose; rather, it happens quite accidentally. Somewhere between getting to the point and writing the first draft, a collection of off topic elements are inserted into the speech.

  • It might be an off-topic opening anecdote which is “too good not to share”.
  • It might be some jaw-dropping statistics that are only remotely related to the topic.

I also read through some of the examples offered here and that helped me realize what I was doing right and what still need work (like my closing).

Anther challenge in preparing this speech was the limited amount of time I had to memorize it. I learned my speech on the 20 minutes it takes me to walk from work to home and then I barely had time to practice it twice and get feedback from my loyal critic. Delivering the speech required a good measure of improvisation and a lot of concentration. Unlike previous speeches, some of the audience members noticed I was speaking faster, pausing less and I looked at the ceiling a couple of times.

Here is the speech.

Learning from Dance

«All the ills of mankind, all the tragic misfortunes that fill the history books, all the political blunders, all the failures of he great leaders have arisen from a lack of skill at dancing.» –Molière.

M. Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters and guests, Dance is one of my great passions in life. And while almost everyone agrees that it is great fun I’ve often had to defend that it can be much more than a hobby where you go learn a bunch of dance steps. Dance can actually teach you values and skills that could enhance your professional life in very meaningful ways.
How many of you here have ever taken a dance class? Has anyone tried latin dances, Bollywood, or ballet? I am going to share with you an experience that reminded me of the impact that this art form has had in my professional life.

A few weeks ago I took an aptitude test to select future students for the masters in conference interpreting at the University of La Laguna. The application form said that besides evaluating the candidate’s general knowledge,  memorization skills and language proficiency,they would also be judging their ability to tolerate stress, be a team player and take criticism.

Only 16 candidates were chosen for this master’s and when they called me to tell me I was one of them I immediately started doing my “happy dance” feeling that I indeed owed this result to my dance training.

Why? you might ask.

There are certain core values and skills that dance instills in you from the very beginning and it turns out that they are highly appreciated in the professional world. I took a sample of the skills and abilities mentioned on the websites of 18 different organizations ranging from NASA to Mercadona as the most desirable for potential employees. This is what I found:

Among the most common elements, I found phrases like these:

«You must be a highly motivated individual and a team player.»

«You must have strong communication skills and be able to give constructive criticism.»

«You must be inclusive and respect diversity.»

«Stress management and the ability to accept criticism are highly valued.»

Before I tell you how I learned those skills and behaviours through my dance training, let me come back to Molière’s quote one more time. “All the failures of the great leaders have arisen from a lack of skill at dancing.” So, what are three things we could learn from dance that in Molière’s opinion could make us better leaders or maybe just better people?

Responsibility, Teamwork, and Stress Management.

1. Responsibility

In my first years as a dance student I learned that in order to make a group choreography work I had to be responsible for learning my part because in dance, the principle of “the chain is only as strong as the weakest link” definitely applies. Forgetting a step, or doing it too soon or too late could be catastrophic. Just imagine that you have to cross the stage towards the left while three dancers are running to the right. If you missed your cue and crossed just a little bit late, you could cause a collision. Remember I mentioned NASA earlier?

2. Be a better team player

The main objective in dance unlike sports is not to compete for a price. The main point is to work through the process of creating a work of art. From dancing with other people I learned that moving together creates a very special link. It makes you aware of others, it creates synchronicity. From creating dance pieces I learned that you had to be inclusive and respect diversity.  If you have dancers, musicians and technicians contributing ideas, you must get good at giving feedback and at receiving criticism and you have to be willing to negotiate and compromise. If you are a jerk when you are asking for something, you might lose your dancers. If you take criticism personally, you might find yourself replaced by someone who can take it better. I think the same principles could apply for example to a research team or to a sales force.

3. Stress management

How do you get over your stage fright? When you perform in a theatre you are under a lot of pressure. Our worst nightmare as dancers is failure translated as blanking out or falling on your butt. But Dance has a secret for dealing with stress: divide and you shall conquer, like  Napoleon said. First you work on your skill, that gives you self-reliance. Then you work on your memory and practice synchronizing with other dancers. Then you learn how to take care of peripheral elements such as costumes or lighting. While all these elements improve you remember how to breathe and relax. When the moment arrives and you have to perform in front of an audience, you think about how much you love doing this and remember all the preparation you’ve done. This is exactly the process I went through when I sat that test for the University and it worked.

Dance has been present in all the cultures of the world and through all the eras of human history because it is a primordial form of interaction and because it is great fun. Now that you know how it can help you enhance your sense of responsibility, teamwork or stress management abilities perhaps it is time to reconsider the role that the performing arts such as dance should have in our education.