Monday, November 10, 2008

the speaker's wish list: practice tools

Calling someone a "practiced speaker" is a compliment that recognizes the work involved in becoming a smooth, eloquent presenter, interviewee or speaker. But even speakers who invest in training need to spend time practicing on their own. Among the skills or issues it's most useful to practice in advance are your timing or time limitations; your appearance, from wardrobe to facial expressions; how you handle written texts on the lectern, if you work from a prepared speech or notes; and whether you're visible and showing yourself to best advantage. With holidays approaching, here's a wish list for some tools and gadgets that can help you practice on your own to reach specific speaking goals:

  • I need to keep my remarks brief or fit them into a specific amount of time. Brevity's tough to pull off unless you practice, and for that, you need a timer to keep you honest--and sometimes, to remind you just how much you can fit into three minutes. (While lots of viewers of the recent electoral debates expressed surprise at the debate timing rules, there's plenty you can say in athree minutes if you plan it and practice it.) Consider a timer like the Chaney Acurite 00654 Count Down / Up Timer, which that counts in both directions. You may find that seeing the time remaining is more of a guide while you're speaking.
  • I'm concerned about my appearance when I speak. Your concerns here are well-placed, as audiences pay most attention to what they see--and issues with your appearance can detract from even the best-prepared content. Plan to record as much practice video as you can, or recruit colleagues or friends to do it for you from the audience. An unobtrusive and eminently portable camera like the Flip Video Mino Series Camcorder gives you lots of options. Flip cameras are lightweight, self-charging, and simple to use--all the software you need to edit, email or post to the web is contained in the camera, and playback on your laptop is made simple by the built-in USB connection. You can also get a small tripod if you want to set up the camera to record you without a helper; Amazon is offering two free accessories when you buy a Flip camera by December 31, 2008.Why record yourself? It's the easiest way to look for wardrobe issues, inadvertent facial expressions or "visual ums," whether you're making eye contact, and how you use (or don't use) gestures.
  • I'm juggling too much paper because I give a lot of speeches. Whether you're tired of shuffling papers at the lectern or weary from toting paper texts cross-country for a series of speaking engagements, the Kindle: Amazon's Wireless Reading Device can help. It's lightweight, can hold the equivalent of 200 books, and you can email your texts to your special Kindle email--plus annotate texts and bump up the type size for easier reading. Using the Kindle for speaking engagements takes practice, but if you're burdened by your scripts, it's a great alternative.
  • I want to make sure I look my best or be more visible when I speak. The color most flattering to all skin colors and tones can be found in this "French blue" dress shirt (for men, with the ladies' version here) -- so if someone always buys you a shirt as a holiday gift, this is the one to request. It's effective on television as well as in person. And remember to "practice" with your speaker's wardrobe once in a while (a great use for that camcorder), remembering that people with light-, white-, or no hair will need a dark suit jacket to keep them from fading from view.

Remember, gadgets or no gadgets, there's no substitute for practice.