Friday, November 27, 2009

Fix 3: Rehash & improve your speaking

Do you find yourself running into the same speaking problems again and again? Do you try quick fixes or on-the-fly solutions, without success? Then it's time to take the fix-3 approach to rehashing and improving your speaking.

It's a simple and systematic approach, and you should use it right after a speech or presentation, and before your next talk:  Take the time soon after speaking to list at least three things you did well, or three accomplishments for your presentation.  (You may well have more than three, but make sure there are at least three on the list.)  These are the factors you should make a point to employ again, whether it's a great outfit, a clever phrase, a strong storytelling element or an effective set of slides.

Then list the three things that didn't go so well--again, at least three, although you may have more.  If your list is a long one, choose three items that you want to improve the next time you make a presentation or speech.  For each one, list the things you need to do to better your performance in those areas.

If this sounds too simple, know that most speakers don't take the time for this type of self-analysis. Instead, they try different fixes on the spot, or resign themselves to doing poorly, or find ways to gloss over their issues. They may tell themselves they can't fix their problems, or that no one notices. The fix-3 approach is the same one we've been using in the Step Up Your Speaking online coaching for Stephanie Benoit, who chose three priorities for her 15 weeks of coaching. In fact, the fix-3 approach has lots of advantages for either the beginning or experienced speaker:
  1. It lets you take a big wish list and whittle it down into manageable steps, an important factor for the beginning speaker or for any speaker unsure of herself.  You can work on one big problem and break it down: If confidence is a major problem, for example, come up with a list of many steps you can take to improve it--then work on three at a time.  Or your list may have many different aspects.
  2. You can mix large and small objectives, to make the fixes even more manageable.  You don't have to tackle all the difficult goals at once.
  3. Your time in between speeches will be productive and focused.  Instead of showing up for your next talk thinking, "I always do this wrong," or "I'm still scared," you can try out the improvements you've practiced. That will build your confidence as well as your skill.
And one more, the best advantage of all: You'll improve as a speaker. 

In this much-discussed post from a speaker who had a bad experience, she shares a lot about herself as a speaker--things she now takes for granted about her speaking.  Based on her post, her list of factors to improve might include:
  • I have to read my speeches, which means I need a laptop to seem like I'm speaking extemporaneously--but I can't always have a laptop.  For this factor, the speaker may want to work on developing a message she can remember without notes.
  • The setup was different than I imagined it would be.  This hints that the speaker needs to come up with a thorough list of questions to ask the organizers to better anticipate what will and will not be available.
  • I think people don't know I'm reading because of the tricks I use.  If you think similar thoughts, check those assumptions--and figure out how to avoid reading if you can. Your audience will appreciate it.
  • I need to see the audience.  Two possible fixes: Get used to speaking with bright lights through practice, or get into the audience where you can see them.
  • The first two minutes of my talk are painful, and I fill them with fluff until I get comfortable.  Learning to relax before you speak, coming up with a strong beginning to draw the audience in, and not assuming the audience will enjoy a fluffy beginning are all factors to work on here.
  • I think terrible things about myself when a speech is going wrong.  Working on positive ways to reinforce yourself, or ways to shift to a different plan when one approach goes wrong would be options to consider for this issue.
When you get used to using the fix-3 approach regularly, you'll sit down soon after every talk and list your accomplishments and things that need adjusting right away--and be ready with new improvements by the time of your next speech.  Turning flaws or weak points into accomplishments each time can be the best kind of reinforcement.