Sunday, May 24, 2009

9 not-to-miss reasons for video practice

Do you really need video practice to speak well? What if you're never going to be on TV? That seems to be the assumption I've encountered in a couple of recent workshops I've led on communications skills and speaking, where several young women have noted on their feedback forms that they didn't find the video practice useful "because I'll never be on camera in my work."

But I'd say to any would-be speaker: Take any opportunity you can to practice on video, even if it's on your own. You don't need to practice on video every time, but it's a great aid to the speaker, and easier than ever to do. Here are my reasons you should consider adding video practice to your speaker preparations:

  1. You'll see whether you actually look as nervous as you feel. One of the most striking experiences my trainees have in our sessions is learning that they don't, in fact, look as nervous as they their opinion and in the views of others. After all, fear is a feeling, not an expression--at least, not all the time. It's a real confidence-builder to find that out.
  2. You can see yourself. It's the one thing a speaker can't do while she's speaking. Here is what your audience sees.
  3. You can review over and over. The actual act of speaking is the work of a moment, but video lets you practice and go back to your hiccups and hesitations, as well as your fine successes, with the goal of eradicating bad habits and building better ones. Figure out what to keep and what to expel from your repertoire of skills.
  4. You can see your visual "ums": Visual ums work the same way as verbal ones, as a pause to give you time to think. But they involve an inadvertent visual--you look away from the audience, or up into the sky, or at the ground--while you are thinking. In most cases, speakers aren't aware they're using this tactic, unless they see it on video.
  5. You can hear and see your verbal ums. Video's great for capturing the minor speech disfluencies you may not notice while you're speaking, such as ums, uhs, or other repetitive phrases and breaks. The recording also will help you recall what you were thinking of in that moment, so you can break down the process and come up with better alternatives.
  6. You can find out how you gesture--or don't. If you haven't focused on your gestures, you may not realize that they're out of sight of the audience--below the level of the lectern, say, or out of camera range if you are on television. Likewise, you may be gesturing too much, which aids the fluency of your speech, but may make you look like a windmill. Or you may not be gesturing at all, or having trouble with where to put your hands. Only a video feedback session will tell.
  7. No one likes how they look, but you can learn from it. Even professionals who are on-camera every day don't like how they look and sound, so join the club. But learn from your video presence. Are you projecting well? Holding your body still and with good posture? Are your hair/outfit/face/jewelry distracting from or enhancing your words? Any time you are recorded on video, you'll learn something.
  8. Don't be surprised if you do wind up on video someday: With the explosion in online video viewing, you may well be called upon in your work to do an interview for posting on the web, or a media interview. Why not be ready for anything? Your video presence requires different skills than does an in-person speaking session, and practice will help you learn the difference.
  9. It's easy, and often free: Can't afford training? You can still practice on video on your own. Use one of the inexpensive Flip video cameras, use a web camera built into your laptop, or practice by calling your friends and family on a web-based phone service like Skype. Ask your friends to wield a Flip camera unobtrusively while you speak in public.

Related posts:

How to replace your visual ums

More information on Flip video cameras

More about using gestures

top women speakers? Stacy Allison

In my call for video examples of today's top women speakers, The Sweeney Agency, which represents speakers, suggested Stacy Allison, calling her "a powerful, inspiring speaker, always a delight." Allison is president of a residential building company in Portland, Oregon, and more famously, a mountain climber and the first American woman to climb Everest, as well as peaks in Pakistan and Russia. She's described her adventures in Beyond the Limits: A Woman's Triumph on Everest and in Many Mountains to Climb: Reflections on Competence, Courage, and Commitment.

You can see Allison in action in this promotional video for her speaking engagements, which highlight her dynamic style: speaking without notes or a lectern, she uses body movement and gestures to emphasize her points in a dynamic way, along with her voice, favoring an enthusiastic delivery suited to an inspirational speaker. It's fitting that she underscores her themes--risk-taking and facing challenges--by taking risks and tackling challenges as a speaker. As I've noted before, telling personal stories, stories you know backwards and forwards, helps you as a speaker. Because she recalls her stories and doesn't need notes, she's freed from the lectern and able to focus on enhancing her speech with gestures, movement and vocal variety.

About this series: One of my readers noted he was having trouble finding examples (especially on video) of top women speakers of today--plenty from the past, few from today. So I'm working to compile a list of the top 10 women speakers. Please send me your nominees! I'm looking for nominees from the present day, particularly those for which video examples can be found. You can mention your nominee and any video links in the comments below; send them to me on Twitter; or email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz. (Photo of Allison from the Sweeney Agency.)