Thursday, May 6, 2010

8 things to look for when your speech is recorded

A longtime friend and colleague just completed a major and special speaking event, giving a sermon at his church. He told his friends about it and even shared a link to the video the church posted on its website. But when I was telling him how well he'd done, he admitted he hadn't looked at it and didn't want to--so much so, he hadn't even listened to the audio.

Any professional newscaster, actor or performer will tell you that they hate how they look and sound when recorded, so it's no surprise we ordinary mortals do, too.  But if you're lucky enough to be recorded when you speak--whether you do the recording or someone else does--you've got a golden opportunity to learn things you might never otherwise know about how you speak.  You don't have to record your speech, but if it's made available, take the opportunity.  Or rig your own Flip ultralight camcorder and take charge of your own recording.

Rather than torture yourself with how bad you think you look, focus instead on these cues and clues that would be hard to discern without help from a camera.  This list is what I look for when coaching clients:
  1. Visual "ums:"  Instead of saying "um" when you're pausing to think, you may look to one side or up or down; make a repetitive gesture over and over; or move in a pattern, if you're on your feet and away from the lectern.  Watch for those patterns--freeze-frame if you need to catch them--and work on buying yourself time to think with new phrases, or work more on your message in advance and practice.  Hint:  It helps to watch the video sooner rather than later after your talk to catch this slip-up, since you'll be better able to remember what you were thinking at the time your visual "um" occurred--and that may help you avoid repeating it next time.
  2. Invisible gestures:  You may be gesturing like a windmill, but if it's below the height of the lectern or out of camera range, all the audience will see is your body moving slightly.  That's great if you're gesturing to keep your speech fluid, since gestures help you avoid "ums" and stumbles. But if you wanted your gestures to help get your point across and hold the audience's interest, make sure we can see them.  Typically, that will mean gesturing at shoulder or chest height.
  3. A body with a mind of its own:  Some speakers planted in one place will sway from side to side, and some who like to move around wind up drilling a path into the floor as they pace back and forth, back and forth, in an unrelieved line. Either one calls for a change:  You may need to focus on keeping your core body stable, or move in different directions if you like to roam the audience.  If you are going to move your body, it's just like gesturing: Make it purposeful.
  4. How you react to interruptions:  Listen for those unexpected noises--door slams, crying babies, sneezes--during your talk.  How do you react?  It's a great chance to catch your immediate reaction, and to think through how you might handle that next time.  While you're at it, pay attention to how you react when you're asked a question; your face may give a different answer than your mouth does.
  5. Expressions that match your words:  Your face is part of your connection with the audience, but it gets confusing, at best, if you look like you're grimacing when giving praise or sad when talking about something exciting.  Since it's not at all unusual for speakers to feel disconnected from their facial expressions, video helps you focus and fix that.  Hint:  Most people's mouths, when at rest, are either flat-lined or slightly downturned, making you look bored or sad.  Smiling, even a little, corrects that natural downward turn.  You get to decide how much to smile, but smile at least somewhat.
  6. Gestures that match your words:  If you're gesturing randomly, or in ways that don't underscore what you're saying, you're inadvertently making it tougher to grasp your meaning.  Likewise, if you gesture for every word, you're missing the chance to emphasize some of them to good effect.  Try counting your gestures and putting them in two groups: purposeful and filler. Then work on cutting out the filler gestures.
  7. Your posture and body language:  Are your shoulders up around your ears, or slumped?  Do you look at ease?  You may be surprised:  Most speakers find they feel nervous, but don't look it. If you're not sure, ask a friend to watch and tell you what she thinks.
  8. Can you hear your message clearly throughout?  To find out, you may need to just listen to the audio once, then watch the video.  Do you find it hard to follow your progression? Did you forget to include a key point? Did your gestures, movement, facial expressions and props help get that across? What can you notice that will help you next time in terms of clarity and focus?
Andrew Dlugan's great Six Minutes blog included this post in his roundup of the best public speaking articles in the blogosphere for the week of June 5, 2010.  Thanks, Andrew!

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