Public Speaking

Practice Makes Experts

Practice Makes Experts

“Nothing can help the person who does not practice.” I read that in a Forbes article about public speaking tips. It made me stop and think about how easy it is to look at someone you admire and think they are a natural at something. The truth is that they worked very hard to be so awe-inspiring.

While there is debate over how much our innate abilities play a role in our successes, it’s clear that training is necessary to become an expert. And with any kind of training, practice is key to honing one’s craft.

My first full-time job after college was as a high school teacher. I had some practice during my schooling, but not enough to make me a true expert on the subject matter, and not enough to confidently manage classrooms of 28 different personalities 5 times a day. And then, there I was on day one, alone, responsible for over 100 students a day, and running the show. 

I’ll never forget how quickly I noticed that my first period public speaking class really got the short end of the stick. Each day they were my test subjects for the day’s lesson, which always went better the other times I would perform it later that day. So, I started to rehearse my new lessons the night before. That practice helped. 

When I got my first graphic design job many years ago, I didn’t know the software like I really should have for the position I landed. I had to create my own projects and practice every night to quickly get myself up to the level the position required. 

I used to be a very good pianist. I could sight read almost any song, and enjoyed playing at parties where people wanted to sing. After two decades of little to no practice, I got frustrated every time I sat down at the piano. I couldn’t play anywhere near like I used to — and that fact was maddening. Last year, I vowed to change that. By practicing a little every week and learning new things about music that I never had discovered before, I am slowly becoming a musician again. All it’s taking is a little practice.  

And even though I’ve taught public speaking to high school and college students, coached executives through high stakes presentations, and presented more workshops and pitches than I can count, I still practice my presentations over and over — until I know that I’m ready. 

And knowing when I’m ready has taken practice, too.

This post was originally published on January 20, 2020 and updated on February 26, 2021.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
Know Your Audience

Know Your Audience

I teach and coach people about a variety of communication and leadership topics. No matter which topic we’re discussing, we almost always come back to discussing their audience. In fact, I always tell people that the first rule of good communication is to know your audience — really understand who they are. Whether you’re leading a team or building your own business, if you haven’t spent the time to consider the true needs of your stakeholders, you’re in trouble.

And by audience I mean real humans. Not just some demographics on a piece of paper. People want to do business with people and brands that they like, and who understand them. People want to follow leaders who have a purpose and a vision they can support. 

To achieve any goal, whether it be to inspire a team, sell a product or service, or convince a panel of experts to support you, you need to speak (verbally and nonverbally) in a way that connects with them. You can’t do that if you’ve only been thinking about your own needs and goals.

Always think first about your audience and consider what they need to hear from you. 

Photo by Jonas Jacobsson on Unsplash
Using Zoom for Rehearsing Presentations

Go Zoom Yourself

We all know that the more you prepare and rehearse, the more confident you’ll feel when giving a presentation or speech. Even if you’ve prepared and rehearsed a lot in your head, you still need to do it out loud. Trust me, you don’t want the first time you’re hearing your own words to be the same time your audience is hearing them!

Have a Dress Rehearsal

When you can, recruit a few people to give your presentation to. You can do this remotely over Zoom, or better yet in person once we are able to safely gather again. Your audience doesn’t have to be 100 percent representative of your final audience, although the more they think like them the better feedback you can get on the content of your talk.

Either way, ask them to evaluate you on:

  • Volume (too soft, too loud, just right)
  • Speed (too fast, too slow, perfect throughout)
  • Tone (appropriate for the topic, audience, and occasion)
  • Filler words (too many ums or uhs)
  • Gestures (appropriate amount, distracting amount, not enough)
  • Facial expressions (appropriate for the topic, audience, and occasion)
  • Slides or other visual aids (clear and easy to see and understand, supportive of you as a speaker and not distracting)

I could go on all day about things to watch out for, but the above list is a good start. 

No Audience? No Problem.

With every new presentation or talk, I use Zoom to record myself so I can experience my presentation with a critical eye. I can plan it all I want, but until I see how I am actually presenting it to others, I never fully understand where I need to make improvements or changes. For example, I’ll see when there’s something on a slide that is confusing or that doesn’t sync up with what I’m saying. I’ll also see when I’m not giving my audience enough eye contact. Most of all, I catch sections where I don’t have my thoughts together well enough and that I need to refine. It’s amazing the clarity I get from watching it back.

So, plan your presentation well, rehearse it a few times in your head and then at least once out loud. And then, fire up Zoom or any program that allows you to record yourself and your slides and visual aids, and hit the record button. Then watch it back.

I’m certain you’ll find it helpful.

Four Zoom Don’ts

When putting together my latest workshop, I had fun creating visual examples of the mistakes people make when they are on video. Here are the four top offenders I see quite often.

1. The Submarine Periscope

Zoom Mistake 1

If we can see more ceiling than we do you, readjust! Make sure your face is in the top two-thirds of the screen.

2. The Backlit Extravaganza

Zoom Don't 2

Make sure the room is well lit to avoid grainy video, but don’t put bright light, such as a window, directly behind you. Light yourself from the front.

3. The Double Doozy

Zoom Don't 3

Virtual backgrounds seem like a fun idea until they become distracting. If you use a virtual background, get a green screen or design a background that works well when you test it. And remember, keep it professional when your credibility is on the line. This is called The Double Doozy because the background isn’t the only problem. The lighting on my face is too dark as well. Ugh.

4. The Nose Hair Investigation

Zoom Don't 4

This is a flattering one, right? No, it’s not. Put your laptop on a stack of books or get a stand.

Test and Test, Then Look Your Best

Your video doesn’t have to be studio-quality, but with a little testing of viewing angles and lighting you can ensure you look your best on your next Zoom call.

For more tips, ask me about my new workshop on Remote Leadership Presence.

Good Zoom Positioning

Remote Leadership Presence

New Workshop Available: Remote Leadership Presence

Remote meetings are here to stay. My new workshop, Remote Leadership Presence: Bringing Your Best When Leading & Meeting Virtually is designed to help professionals be more effective when participating in, or leading, a remote or virtual meeting.

You’ll learn:

  • How to look and sound your remote best.
  • Virtual room video and audio dos and don’ts. 
  • Best practices for facilitating and leading remote meetings.
  • Tips for using technology like Zoom and Teams to make virtual meetings more engaging

Whether you are regularly conducing team meetings remotely or participating in online meetings or interviews, this workshop will give you tips you can use right away to improve your leadership presence. 

Running Time: 60 or 90 minutes, depending on audience size.

Get in touch if you would like to discuss a one-on-one session or a workshop for your team.

Fear of Public Speaking

Public Speaking When You Hate Public Speaking

There are two types of speakers. Those who get nervous and those who are liars.

― Mark Twain

If you are nervous or anxious about speaking in public, you’re not alone. In fact, a fear of public speaking affects anywhere from 40 to 75 percent of the population, depending on what studies you look at. There’s even a medical term for it: glossophobia.

The truth is that you may never completely eliminate your fear. But I promise you that you can reduce it significantly. In fact, I am a case study for doing just that. When I was younger I did a lot of acting. I used to get so nervous before going on stage that I would actually tremble. You could see my hands shaking if you looked closely enough, and my nervousness was easy to hear in my voice.

As with anything else in life, it’s preparation and practice that will help you reduce the anxiety you have about public speaking.

Here are some tips that will help:

  1. Don’t try to be perfect. The fear of public speaking often stems from a fear of imperfection. The fact is that no one ever gets it 100 percent right every time, and neither will you. And that’s okay.
  2. Know your stuff. The more prepared you are when it comes to the topic of your presentation, the more confident you will feel. Don’t forget to also consider (and practice answering) the questions you’ll likely get from your audience. 
  3. Use your audience to your advantage. When you can get your audience involved in your presentation, it’s much easier for you to deliver and much more engaging for them. Win-win. 
  4. Practice until you’re sick of practicing. And do it out loud! Recruit family, friends, or colleagues to give you feedback on your presentation. You can also record yourself giving the presentation and watch it back. I do this with every speech or workshop I create. 

Want more tips for reducing nervousness and anxiety when speaking in public? Take my 20-minute quick class: Public Speaking When You Hate Public Speaking.

Photo by Marcos Luiz Photograph on Unsplash
Don't Say "Like I Said…" Ever!

Like I Said…

The two phrases that make me cringe most when I observe a presenter or meeting participant fielding questions are: “Like I said…” and “As I mentioned previously…”. 

Here’s why.

If someone asks you a question that you’ve previously answered, it means one of three things:

  1. They missed the answer the first time because they were not listening.
  2. You were unclear when you reviewed the answer previously.
  3. You made them work too hard to understand and remember it.

The fact is that they missed it, and it was probably your fault. Perhaps you buried it among other complex data they were trying to decipher. Maybe it was a key point you should have covered with emphasis, and you didn’t. 

Or maybe it wasn’t your fault and they were distracted by a text message at that precise time you covered that specific point.

The bottom line is that it happened; and how you handle it makes all the difference. When you use a phrase such as, “Like I said…” you are pointing a big finger right at the questioner that says, “I covered this before, dummy. Weren’t you listening?” That’s just like being called out by your 6th grade teacher in front of the class. Nobody likes how that feels. 

Instead, kindly answer the question. Maybe even give an example or elaborate on it a bit. You might find that the question came up because the questioner simply could not think of a better way to ask you to elaborate more on the specific point.

Banish these phrases from your repertoire. Don’t even use them in email communications. Saying, “Like I said…” or “As I mentioned previously…” may make you feel better by pointing out that you covered the information already. But it’s not about you. The fact is that these phrases do nothing but hurt your effectiveness as a presenter and influencer.

Overcoming Your Fear of Public Speaking

Public Speaking (When You Hate Public Speaking)

One of the questions I get asked most often is how to manage nervousness or anxiety in order to make public speaking a more positive experience. The truth is that there is no quick fix for a fear of public speaking. It takes work to overcome and with practice it gets easier to manage.

I created this workshop to help people get on the path to feeling less nervous or anxious about it. However, if you are already fairly comfortable speaking in public, then my other workshop Power Presentations: Tips and Tricks for Presenting More Effectively is likely a better fit for you. 

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