Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Polishing your public speaking: "I may be too casual about my approach"

This month, I'm asking readers "Who are you? What are you looking for here?"  Follow the link to share your reasons, questions and  speaking challenges. Dalene, an academic advisor for pre-med, dental and veterinary students, writes:
I speak multiple times throughout the year, mostly workshops for students (5-50 students), but also larger (100+ in the audience) special events like university Open Houses & Freshmen Orientations (students & their parents).  I've also given teachings at my church several times.

I have gotten so used to speaking in front of groups that I no longer get nervous. My problem is that I think the reverse has happened: I may be too casual about my approach. Perhaps it is because my audience is typically 17-22 year-olds, who sometimes show up in their pjs or torn-up jeans? I guess I am looking for ways in which I can be sure to stay professional - no matter my audience.
It's wonderful to be at that point where speaking doesn't make you nervous, and even better that you can put your finger on this more subtle issue, Dalene--many speakers fall into this mode and never come out of it. Whether you've had some subtle feedback from your audiences or just have a good gut sense that something's amiss with your speaker presence, it sounds like it's time to rethink your approach.  Here are some ideas for rethinking what you're doing and refreshing your presentation style to make sure you stay professional:
  • Take the time to assess the presence you want to have as a speaker:  Here are a half-dozen questions to ask yourself about how you want to be seen by your audiences.  Advisors do need to be approachable, for example, but do you also want to look authoritative, reliable, trustworthy?  Figure out the qualities you want to convey, then assess whether you're doing that now.
  • Don't underestimate your audience.  Sure, the students show up in pajamas. But these are our future doctors, dentists, veterinarians--and as one who trains scientists and medical professionals in presentation skills, I can tell you they can't start learning too early.  Give them a good example of what it means to be professional at presenting, and tell them that's what you're doing. When I get feedback from my workshops that says "I really enjoyed Denise’s confidence when she was walking around the tables and answering to some “tough” questions and comments. Hope at some point I’ll get that level of self-confidence!" or "Denise is a great role model for how to implement these techniques effectively," I'm reminded how important it is for presenters to take the time to model the best methods when speaking.
  • Get video of your current approach and analyze it.  Then use my list of 8 things to look for when your speech is recorded to figure out what needs a change, correction or complete overhaul.  In this case, let me also suggest that you consider whether you are surprised by anything you see. Does the visual match with what you think you were putting across?  Ask a friend to record you or set up a camera and tripod yourself; friends also can help you assess the video and share what they see that you may want to change.
  • Use feedback forms.  Students, usually the target of critique themselves, are not shy about sharing feedback.  Craft a simple feedback form for them to fill out--it tells them you're paying attention to their needs and may give you clues you hadn't considered about what can be improved.
  • Switch it up.  Experiment with small changes that may help to bring your presenting style into clearer focus--and make you less complacent or bored with what you're doing. Try a more dynamic beginning and make sure you're not losing your advantages right at the start.  Do something that requires audience participation. If you normally dress casually, make sure you wear a suit on days you're presenting. Use a prop as the focus for your talk.  Take the time to craft a three-point message and work on carrying it through the entire presentation. Switch one thing at a time and assess the results, then try more until you've hit on a new formula that works for you.
Has this happened to you as a speaker? How did you go about refreshing your approach?  It's an ideal time to seek out a focused one-on-one training to assess what you're doing now and offer you specific fixes.  If that's what you're seeking, email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz for more information.

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Related posts:  What's your speaker presence? Questions to determine how you want to be seen

8 things to look for when your speech is recorded

How to lose your starting advantage as a speaker