Tuesday, September 1, 2009

on the eve of coaching: letter to stephanie

Stephanie Benoit's going to send me her first video in her 15 weeks of coaching this week--and get some feedback from me on her top three priorities and what we can accomplish in our coaching time together. On the eve of her coaching, I've decided to urge her on a bit more...and urge you to leave her some encouragement in the comments!

Dear Stephanie--

I bet that, about now, you're wondering what you got yourself into. You were frank in admitting that you fear public speaking--and, as the judges and I deliberated, there was a question about whether that would hold you back from completing the 15 weeks of coaching, a very basic requirement for choosing you as the winner.

But we decided you could do it. And I know you can.

I'll just point out that you've done twice what many women couldn't do: You've submitted not one but two videos and put them out there for the world to see, with your own list of improvements you want to make in your public speaking. Speaking itself is complicated enough; speaking about your ability or inability to speak is even more difficult.

We asked for either beginner or experienced speakers to enter, and you're coming to this early on, with almost no real public speaking experience. There's a strong advantage there: You'll have fewer bad habits to unlearn. And no matter what your level of experience, a willingness to learn is most important. Any coach will tell you that's the primary factor in your ability to succeed.

So let me say: Get that first coaching video done without thinking too much about it. Tell me the three things you want to focus on and why, and we'll take it from there.

I'm excited to work with you and to share what we learn with our readers!



share your first speaking experience

On The Eloquent Woman's page on Facebook, we've started a discussion where you can recall your first non-school public speaking experience and how it impacted you. Two readers have shared theirs so far, including:

  • Fran Briggs, who wrote: "I was nervous, but looking at the tape afterwards, you couldn't tell. I remember two students whispering during most of my presentation. I thought that was pretty rude. Then, they got up. I was relieved because I thought they were going to leave. They didn't. Instead, they walked down the ailse to get better seats. After I finished, they both told me how much I inspired them..."
  • Anna Tracy recalled speaking at "Rainbow, it's an organization for teenage women to serve their community. At one of our events I had recited "Ragged Old Flag" written by Johnny Cash. There was one woman who came up to me afterwards and asked, how did I manage to know how to project my voice, make eye contact and engage everyone like I did. There was no answer that I could give her. It was then I realized what I could not do on paper, I could give in speech."

Share your first public speaking experience on Facebook, or here in the comments!

speakers: 7 reasons I want you to talk more

Just as saying too much can be a speaker problem, so can the opposite. While all coaches advise brevity, giving someone room to ask a question or add a point, and keeping your remarks limited and focused, it's entirely possible that you're a speaker who needs to offer more words, rather than fewer. Here are seven situations where I'd like to hear more from you, if I'm in your audience:
  1. Answering a question: A simple "yes" or "no" don't work for me. I want to hear more, even just a little bit. Help complete the thought for me and reinforce the point that's being made. So if I ask whether you enjoyed speaking in Italy at a major conference, don't just say "yes." Tell me why. Describe something. Use the opening to tell me more. (Media interview tip: Answering more than yes-or-no is essential in a news media interview, and will help get your answer into the story--just keep it brief.)
  2. Agreeing or disagreeing: Likewise, if you're going to agree or disagree--whether it's with an audience member, the speaker who preceded you or a fellow panelist--tell me why. Add some data, share perspective, and use the opportunity to enlighten me. Please don't assume that I know, or that your point is obvious.
  3. Telling me a personal story: Personal stories can rivet an audience--if you give them room to do so. Think through the pacing and the plot. What hints can you drop early on that let me get the moral of the story later? What makes it funny or touching? Don't skimp when telling an anecdote.
  4. Telling me a technical story: Sometimes, explaining the technical will talke longer, or more words. In that case, just be sure to give it to me in manageable bites, if I'm part of a non-technical audience. Start with three key points, then elaborate on them one at a time.
  5. Explaining why speaking here matters: It may be just a formal stop for you: cutting a ribbon, opening a new facility, marking the organization's anniversary, an historic event. Make it sing for me by telling me why your being here today is significant to you, or better yet, to all of us in the room. Are you at my chapter meeting on a special anniversary? Tell me what else was going on in history the year my chapter launched. Give me something to make the experience even more meaningful.
  6. When my question is circumspect: Maybe I'm a shy questioner, or just don't want to take up too much time, or I don't want to give away my position up front. If you're not sure where I was headed, talk to me before you answer, and use the time to ask me some questions about my question. I guarantee we'll both get more out of the experience.
  7. If I don't normally hear much from you: The quieter you are normally, the more I'll want to hear from you as a speaker--and the more power you'll have, because I probably will sense that you choose your words with care. Give me more now, and you can keep mum later.

Speaking as your coach, the list above is not your excuse to talk all you want. Check out the equal number of reasons I want you to talk less in the links below!

Related posts: Who talks more: Men or women?

Speakers: 7 reasons I want you to talk less

Factor in your personality type when speaking