Freespeaking – say what you know


Writing is not an activity that comes naturally to anyone.  Unlike speaking, we need to be taught to write – and then need tools in order to be able to carry out the activity.

Although both processes use words, they are quite different.  Speech is normally spontaneous, is much simpler (and often incomplete, with many ‘ands’ and ‘buts’).  Both make use of the same area of the brain to process language.  But if you were asked to write what you know about a topic, it is almost certain that you would find it more difficult than to say what you know.  Speech is also much quicker than writing – taking advantage of the way our brains have evolved to work.

Imagine a scenario where you are with your supervisor and he asks you to take pen and paper, or to sit at a computer, and write 1000 words on one of your research topics.  You have 30 minutes.  Impossible?  Can you write 1000 words in 30 minutes?

How about he just asks you to tell him about your research topic – first taking a few minutes to organize your thoughts.  At the average ‘presentation’ speed of speech, 1000 words would take less than 10 minutes.  Most people would get through that with no problem and probably surprise themselves with how lucid they could be.  After all, we know our subjects, don’t we?

So use this technique, which I call freespeaking, to unblock your writing.  When you need inspiration and are finding it difficult to write:

  • Arm yourself with a digital recorder – they don’t cost much
  • Relax and record yourself discoursing on your chosen topic
  • Have a break
  • Now, listen to your ‘presentation’ and take notes
  • Use the notes to outline what you are going to write
  • Build on the outline
  • Et voilà!

You can take this a step further and use dictation software, which I have been using for nearly 20 years (believe me it is much better than it was!) – the best known is Dragon Naturally Speaking.  Plug the digital recorder into a USB port and let the computer do the work.  You can then read what you said and start reworking.

Although there are facilities built-in to Windows 7 and 8, and there are many commercial and opensource offerings – such as Dragon – it is not a good idea to dictate directly to a computer if you want to use this technique.  You will start thinking too much and will watch the text – changing the dynamic to the point where you lose the advantage of freespeaking.

And using this technique, there is no audience to worry about.  According to a report in The Times [1], speaking in public ranks worse than (a) death for most.  The beauty of this technique is you don’t speak in public!


[1] Kaya Burgess, “Speaking aloud: Speaking in public ranks worse than death for most.”  The Times. Oct 13, 2013 , 5

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