Thursday, May 19, 2016

The quantified speaker: 6 kinds of speaker data to know about yourself

A practical way to advance your speaker skills also is often overlooked: Quantifying your performances as a speaker over time. Put another way, if you keep track of certain measures after each talk, you can compare your data over time and make changes as needed. Most speakers don't do this, and never learn how to adjust. Here are 6 kinds of data that are easy to track and useful in advancing your skills:
  1. How fast or slow do you really speak? Most speakers have no real idea of their speaking speed, but all public speakers need to speaker slower than they do in conversation if the audience is to hear and understand them. Use a formula of 120 words per minute as your guide, and divide that into the total words in the transcript or script of your speech. Then look at the recording time to calculate how fast or slow you really speak. Comparing the ideal to the real is the key here. Then you can probe why you're speaking fast or slow. If you work with a speechwriter, ask what speed she's writing to, and get yourself and your script in alignment. But if you are speaking faster than the speed the writer's writing to, don't make her speed up. You should slow down, instead.
  2. Do you stay within the time allotted? End too soon? Go overtime too often? Again, a recording can help you figure out how long you spoke, compared to what was on the schedule. Tracking this data over time lets you see your pattern and whether it needs correcting. The 120 words per minute rule of thumb virtually guarantees that you will stay precisely on time. 
  3. How much time do you generally allow for questions, as a proportion of the total time? I advise the speakers I coach to aim for 50 percent time for speaking, and 50 percent for questions, a balance that's most satisfying to the audience (and likely to give you great reviews). Again, tracking this over time will let you see where you need to adjust.
  4. If you use slides, how do you use them, and how much time do you spend on them? I had a client who could never get off his title slide--two hours later, he'd still be talking with that in the background. Calculate how many slides you use per presentation first. Then calculate the high, low, and average time spent on each slide. Make note of whether you spend too much time on a particular slide; this often happens right at the start, on the title slide, or at the very end. Too much time on one slide might also mean that you have too much content on it. Consider the rule of "one thought per slide, but not one slide per thought" to adjust, and learn how to declutter your slides.
  5. Are your ums within average? Ums are not the big problem everyone makes them out to be, and a few ums here or there are nothing to worry about, despite what you've been told. In fact, they represent about 10 percent of everyone's speech, in every language in the world--that's how common they are, and why we often don't notice them. But if your ums are, say, 40 percent of your talk, we'll certainly notice. They also signal that you aren't remembering what you have to say, which likely means you felt rushed, didn't have or take enough time to prepare, or were thinking about something else. If you are having a service transcribe your talk video, be sure to direct them to include ums, uhs, and ers. Otherwise it's standard practice for transcribers to omit them, and you won't learn a thing. (Yes, that's right: A time-honored way to erase your ums is to have the transcriber leave them out.)
  6. Your most frequently used words: Every speaker has favorite phrases, used over and over for all sorts of reasons: You like the sound or the cleverness or the ease of them. Put the text (or better yet, the transcript) of each speech you give into a word cloud generator like this one, and the words you use the most will appear largest in the visual word cloud. Then all you need to do is decide whether you need to vary your vocabulary, or stick to your favorites. And for another kind of data, ask your team members to list your stock phrases. If they work on your presentations or listen to you enough, they'll be able to make a top 10 list easily.
(Creative Commons licensed photo by Gavin Tapp)

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