Thursday, July 1, 2010

Starting up again in public speaking: Advice from the experts

"I used to speak a lot, but I'm not feeling so sure of myself--I haven't done any speaking in a long time."  That's what I hear often when I'm out training groups or at meetings, talking about public speaking.  Is there really something different about speakers who've had a hiatus?  I think so--and so do they, which is more important.  In addition to feeling out of practice and lacking confidence, you may think you have more to lose than the beginner who doesn't know any better.  You may have changed your perspective, the image you want to convey, your reasons for wanting to speak or even your voice and appearance. You may not feel you know the audience as well as you once did.

But before you talk yourself out of trying to speak again, I've rounded up some expert advice from around the world--four perspectives from speaking coaches, each of whom has a different take, resources and inspiration for the would-be revived speaker.  As a bonus, I'll add my advice at the end. Enjoy this dense-packed consultation:

Feeling rusty? Wobbly? Speaking really is like riding a bicycle--you'll remember plenty about how to do it.  But you still may want to grab some training wheels if you've been off the bike for a while.  Maryland-based coach Kathy Reiffenstein offers 7 steps you can take to manage that balancing act and refresh your skills, with links to 10 books, blogs, recordings and other resources you can use to feel comfortable riding that bike again.

Manage your mindset and frame your perspective. You've got to remember it's not about you, but about your audience, counsels Cynthia Zhai, a speaker trainer in Singapore. She advises you to ask the right questions (and do your homework if you don't come up with answers), anticipate a positive outcome, and accept imperfection. She reminds us to remember that  “There are three types of speakers: those who have bombed; those who will bomb; and those who will bomb again.” 

Find your voice and get to know it again.  California vocal coach Kate Peters tells you how to regenerate your voice when you're rusty...and you're ON!  It's all about reestablishing your relationship with your voice, through warm-ups, vocal exercises, practicing out loud, and, perhaps most importantly, thinking about your intention and how and whether your voice is conveying that to your audience. (You may find that's changed since the last time you spoke.)  Kate offers lots of concrete exercises, ideas and inspiration to help you get reacquainted with the instrument that will help you most in speaking.  Her email signature includes this convincing quote from Maya Angelou: "Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning."

Get help with what seems like heavy lifting: Sydney, Australia-based speaking and presentation coach Claire Duffy likened starting up again to strength training, offering three steps to prepare yourself and two more "when you're ready for the real thing."   Check out her great brainstorming on how to get yourself a live audience in front of whom you can rehearse, culled from the workplace, your friends, or a group of teenagers. Yes, teenagers. (Duffy, in addition to coaching adults, trains student speakers and debaters and convenes Sydney’s Archdale Debating Competition for girls, so she knows their potential to help you get back on your feet.)

I say you should start small and build up to bigger speaking gigs as your confidence grows.  Try these four stepping stones to get speaking practice, all of which stop short of a full-blown speech.  In many of them--such as moderating or being a panelist--an experienced speaker is sought-after.  A speaker looking to break out of a hiatus also has the ideal framework for focused training.  You can tell the public speaking coach exactly what it is you want to change, relearn or update, and get feedback in a private or small-group setting before you set foot on a stage. And if you want a refresher on certain skills, you may have it.

If you have a story to tell or a tip to share on restarting your speaking, share it in the comments.  Thanks to all the coaches who contributed to this blog carnival--I appreciate your insights and contributions!

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