Monday, August 10, 2009

What our entrants want to improve

While you're waiting to hear who wins our 15 Weeks to Step Up Your Speaking contest, I thought you might like to hear what our entrants have identified as their top priorities to improve their speaking skills. We've got a mix of experienced speakers looking to step up their game, and newer speakers aiming to step up to the plate. Here are the priorities and issues they've identified:
  • Improve pace and clarity: Entrant Robin Kendall notes: "I think a coach would help me speed up my pace so I can sound smart and sharp, but not like I am nervously chattering, or overdosed on caffeine. I don’t want to sound fake. Speaking more eloquently and at a smooth pace would keep the audience’s attention, too. Often a more aggressive speaker will interrupt me and hijack the conversation so that I don’t get to finish my point."

  • Work on how I control my voice: Emily Deck wants to work on her voice--on tone, inflection, pitch and projection--so she can "sound authoritative but not condescending." She also wants to learn how to control her voice in times of emotion. In her video, Kendall mentions vocal variety, changing her pitch and tone to sound more engaging.

  • Eyes on eye contact: Those audience members! Deck says she gets "tripped up if I look at someone too long or get nervous when they smile at me, or if I see a client or friend...I lose my train of thought and stumble." Mary Fletcher Jones notes that "eye contact makes me fluttery, especially when I make eye contact with someone in the audience and they don't smile back or worse yet they're playing with their BlackBerry." Stephanie Benoit agrees she needs to work on it, too: "I know that about myself, I just don't know what to do about it."

  • Having a focused message: "I want to get out there and just talk," says Deck. "I admire that in people." For Deck that means working without props, using movement and gestures to stay on track without slides or other aids. Jones wants to work on her over-reliance on slides: "I keep my eyes on them like they're going to walk out of the room--it's less nerve-wracking than looking at the audience." And Benoit puts it a different way, wanting to speak at a moment's notice without sounding unprepared.

  • Confidence and control: Benoit watches other, more confident speakers. "I wish I knew how to do be a speaker others want to listen to." Linda Hillman observes that "you can always tell what's going on by my face and by my body language," and wants help bringing those under control, using facial expressions and gestures, but in a focused way.

  • Stay focused and avoid tangents: Kendall wants to "keep on one point at a time...when I speak I often go off on tangents. I need to talk about one thing at a time and not jump from one topic to another, no matter how interesting I think the connection might be." Mary Jane Mahan also wants to narrow her focus when speaking.

  • Q&A, baby: "I want to improve the way I interview, including telephone interviews...and to address answering questions directly and positively," says Kendall. Handling audience questions also made it to Mahan's top three priorities; in a related area, Mahan also wants to know how to read an audience, for example, to "know how to bring them back in" when she's losing them. Connecting with the audience also is among Hillman's top goals.

  • Thinking while talking: Jones notes that she says "um almost every other word when I get nervous. I'm not aware when I'm doing it."

  • Appearance and image: Like many of our entrants, Hillman sees herself as her brand, and wants to know what to do to make sure her appearance underscores the messages she wants to send as a speaker.

We've got our work cut out for us with this list of priorities! Entries are now with the judges. What are your top priorities to step up your speaking?

Related posts: What to do when you're losing the audience

7 reasons I want you to talk less

5 eye contact tips for speakers

Focused messages come in threes

Graceful ways with Q&A