This is the second idea I want to make sure you understand right up front if you want to become a better speaker. If you keep these three thoughts in mind, you will not only improve your public speaking. You will improve almost every aspect of your life. For the first idea, see my previous post here.
No. 2) The only person you should compare yourself to is the person you were yesterday. It doesn’t matter what anybody else is doing.
If you are better today than yesterday you are on the right track.
Think about this: If you practice a public-speaking tip and you improve by 1% each day, you will be twice as good in 100 days*. One hundred days is a little more than three months. In one year you could be almost four times as good as when you started. That is the power of steady practice.
To do that, though, you need to pay attention to your progress and understand that you are getting better, whether you see the results or not.
Here is what I think you should do after every time you give a presentation or speak in public:
1) First, autopsy what you did well. That’s right — the first thing you should do when you are done is go over what was good. It’s best if you take notes so you remember them later. Was your voice loud enough? Did you reduce the number of times you said “uh” or “um” or other words that don’t carry any weight? Did you look people in the eye?
I suggest you write down as many good things as you can remember, even if they seem trivial.
2) Next, write down how you did regarding any specific technique you have been practicing. Was it better this time? If not, why not? Did you forget to implement it, or it just doesn’t feel natural for you? If it doesn’t feel right for you, you may want to ditch it. But I suggest you resist abandoning any public speaking tip until you have tried it a number of times.
I am almost six-and-a-half feet tall. And for a long time I had a habit of leaning forward when I was speaking, especially if it was a subject I was passionate about. The problem is that with my height some people found it a bit intimidating! Needless to say, it hurt my effectiveness as a public speaker. I resolved I would cut down on leaning forward when I spoke. In my next few presentations, I focused so much on standing straight that I felt like I had a broomstick tied to my back to keep me from bending over. But soon enough it became second nature and I rarely make that mistake. And when I do lean forward in a talk, my subconscious tells me almost immediately to stand up straight.
3) Next, write down what you think you can improve the next time. It’s important to do this while your presentation is fresh in your mind. Don’t write down more than one or two things. Too many and you will become discouraged.
It is very important that you do steps 1-3 in the order I list them above.
Do not start with the negative, or you won’t be able to see the positive things you did clearly. Better to focus on the positive, which will give you the confidence to continue to improve.
I did a two-workshop a few years back and one of the participants had a terrible self-image issue. She insisted she was a terrible public speaker. In these workshops, each participant spoke in front of the gathering at least six times. After she spoke for the first time, I asked her how she thought she did. She ripped herself apart, so much so that the other students jumped in with positive things to say.
After the second time she spoke, I chose a different question: What do you think you did well? When she started to criticize herself again, I cut her off and insisted she tell me something good about her presentation. The best she could offer that time was, “Well, I didn’t suck.”
After that, each time she spoke I told her I only wanted her to say what she did well. I had to interrupt when she veered into negativity but by the end of the second day she was able to evaluate for herself what she did well and what could be improved.
Focus on the positive and you’ll find you’ll improve much faster.
In the next post I will go over why you should avoid comparing yourself to other speakers.
*More or less. The math is not exact, I know.