Monday, January 4, 2010

An electronic nudge for speaker practice

Need a regular prompt to rehearse for that presentation? A gentle nudge to keep your practice sessions on track? Now you can try an electronic prompt in the form of HabitForge, a website that lets you enter a goal--say, practicing the opening of your speech for a half-hour daily--then sends you an email each day to inquire whether you were successful in reaching that goal. The site aims to get you to take that step every day for 21 days, in order to make it a habit; you can keep your goals private or publish them so others can "cheer you on." (Coming soon: The ability to get a prompt only on certain days of the week, rather than every day.) Hat tip to Lifehacker, where you can read more about HabitForge.

Get a better handle on your speaker self

You may tell yourself you're no good at speaking--or succeed one time and do poorly another, for reasons that escape you. But if you haven't taken the time to think through factors like your personality type, gender and how you handle anxiety, you won't really know.

Before you work on skills development or practice, consider these factors to build a better understanding of who you are as a speaker:

  1. Are you an extrovert or an introvert? If you're an extrovert, you'll find yourself energized by being in front of a crowd; introverts are more likely to be exhausted after giving a speech or presentation, and may want to spend time alone. Extroverts like to think while they talk, which can be a plus and a minus when speaking extemporaneously (they're fluid, but may need to edit themselves on the fly). Introverts prefer to plan their responses. You can be a great public speaker either way, but to prepare well, you need to know your personality preferences. To find out more specifics about your personality type, try a book like What Type Am I?: The Myers-Brigg Type Indication Made Easy or check with your organization's human resources department to see if they offer an assessment. Once you know what to expect of yourself based on your personality type, you can adjust your speaking choices accordingly.
  2. Are you a woman or a man? Men and women speak about the same number of words in a day--roughly 16,000--but men do more speaking in public, and women speak more in one-on-one encounters. So women may feel somewhat more uncomfortable, or just less practiced, when speaking in public settings, from meetings to speeches. Women also may have more trouble getting on the program to speak than men do, which contributes to lack of practice.
  3. How do you handle anxiety? Some speakers get anxious before, during and even after they speak. How do you react--and how do you handle it? Have you explored deep breathing, exercise and other relaxation techniques--as well as practice, the best antidote for nervous speakers? If you've done those things, a psychologist can help you learn whether your anxiety represents something more serious, such as a social anxiety disorder.
  4. How do you react to uncertainty and problems? Speakers face all sorts of variables that can and do go wrong, from broken audio-visual systems to less time than they prepared for. Are you the type of person who says, "Of course the wi-fi will work?" or do you plan for what you'll do when it fails? When you're faced with unexpected problems, do you find yourself disappointed again and again--or do you move into problem-solving mode quickly? Are you likely to assume the best-case or the worst-case scenario? Putting yourself in plan-B planning mode before you speak, rather than assuming the best-case scenario, is a trait that's saved many a speaker. And realizing what you can and can't control is key. You can't always control the circumstances, but you can control how you react to them.
Once you've figured out these aspects of your speaker-self, you can focus your training and practice accordingly. That's much better than trying to "fix" things that come with the speaker package that is uniquely you. or assuming you're not a good speaker because you're an introvert. I don't mean that you should use these factors as excuses, however. Introverts can be outstanding, dynamic speakers and you can use anxiety to advantage when you speak--but it's best to understand the place you're starting from, and the place to which you normally revert, when you're preparing yourself as a speaker. A final tip: Share these insights with a trainer to get the most out of your training.

Related posts: Can public speaking come naturally to you?

Who talks more: Men or women?

Women, anxiety and speaking considered

Social anxiety disorder and public speaking

Factor in your speaker personality type

What does it take to get women on the program?

Need training? Here's what to ask the trainer

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