Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Instead of wincing, 10 things to look for on that video of your speech

(Editor's note: This post is an update of one from 2010, and I promised to post it this week for the many speakers I worked with at TEDMED--they'll be seeing video of their talks in about a month, and wanted to know what to look for. This is the advice I share with trainees in all my public speaking workshops when we do video practice, and it's a great tool to help you spot problems and make improvements, based on your own video.)

A longtime friend and colleague just completed a major and special speaking event, giving a sermon at his church. But when I was telling him how well he'd done on the video, he admitted he hadn't looked at it and didn't want to--so much so, he hadn't even listened to the audio.

He has that in common with the best in the business: Any professional newscaster, actor or performer will tell you that they hate how they look and sound when recorded, so it's no surprise we ordinary mortals do, too.  But if you're lucky enough to be recorded when you speak--whether you do the recording or someone else does--you've got a golden opportunity to learn things you might never otherwise know about how you speak You don't have to record your speech, but if it's made available, take the opportunity. Or rig your own ultralight camcorder or a pal with a smartphone, and take charge of your own recording.

Rather than torture yourself with how bad you think you look, focus instead on these cues and clues that would be hard to discern without help from a camera.  This list is what I coach my clients to look for when viewing video of their speaking, whether it's in practice or the real deal:
  1. Visual "ums:"  Instead of saying "um" when you're pausing to think, you may look to one side or up or down; make a repetitive gesture over and over; or move in a pattern, if you're on your feet and away from the lectern. It might be putting a hand to your face, a wink, a grimace. Watch for those patterns--freeze-frame if you need to catch them--and work on buying yourself time to think with new phrases, or work more on your message in advance and practice.  Hint:  It helps to watch the video sooner rather than later after your talk to catch this slip-up, since you'll be better able to remember what you were thinking at the time your visual "um" occurred--and that may help you avoid repeating it next time. Often, the visual "um" happens when you haven't quite got your message down, or forgot something you wanted to include, just like a verbal "um."
  2. Invisible gestures:  You may be gesturing like a windmill, but if it's below the height of the lectern or out of camera range, all the audience will see is your body moving slightly. That's great if you're gesturing to keep your speech fluid, since gestures help you avoid "ums" and stumbles. But if you wanted your gestures to help get your point across and hold the audience's interest, make sure we can see them.  Typically, that will mean gesturing at shoulder or chest height. Practice will make that more comfortable for you.
  3. A body with a mind of its own:  Some speakers planted in one place will sway from side to side, and some who like to move around wind up drilling a path into the floor as they pace back and forth, back and forth, in an unrelieved line. Either one calls for a change:  You may need to focus on keeping your core body stable, or move in different directions if you like to roam the audience.  If you are going to move your body, it's just like gesturing: Make it purposeful. Try planning places where you pause verbally and stop physically, to break up repetitive moves.
  4. How you react to interruptions:  Listen for those unexpected noises--door slams, crying babies, sneezes--during your talk. How do you react?  It's a great chance to catch your immediate reaction, and to think through how you might handle that next time.  While you're at it, pay attention to how you react when you're asked a question; your face may give a different answer than your mouth does, showing apprehension, for example, when you don't need to do so.
  5. Expressions that match your words:  Your face is part of your connection with the audience, but it gets confusing, at best, if you look like you're grimacing when giving praise or sad when talking about something exciting.  Since it's not at all unusual for speakers to feel disconnected from their facial expressions, video helps you focus and fix that.  Hint:  Most people's mouths, when at rest, are either flat-lined or slightly downturned, making you look bored or sad.  Smiling, even a little, corrects that natural downward turn.  You get to decide how much to smile, but smile at least somewhat.
  6. Gestures that match your words:  If you gesture for every word, you're missing the chance to emphasize some of them to good effect.  Try counting your gestures and putting them in two groups: purposeful and repetitive filler--since one gesture done over and over and over again can feel like another kind of visual um. Then work on cutting out the filler gestures. Overall, however, it's better to gesture than to keep your hands immobilized.
  7. Your posture and body language:  Are your shoulders up around your ears, or slumped?  Are you leaning in one direction? Are your arms crossed in a defensive posture? Is your head down when you should be looking up at the audience? Turn off the sound for this review, and see what your body language says.
  8. Do you really look nervous? Do you look at ease? You may be surprised:  Most speakers find they feel nervous, but don't look as if they are. If you're not sure, ask a friend to watch and tell you what she thinks, but 99.9 percent of the time, the audience can't tell that you're nervous.
  9. Can you hear your message clearly throughout?  To find out, you may need to just listen to the audio once, then watch the video.  Do you find it hard to follow your progression? Did you forget to include a key point? Did your gestures, movement, facial expressions and props help get that across? What can you notice that will help you next time in terms of clarity and focus?
  10. What did you do that was wonderful? You may need some outside perspective on this, but try looking for your successes in the video. Did you nail a great laugh line, pause with effect, gesture with aplomb? What did the audience like and react to positively? Did you stay on time? Take the time to note what went well, so you can make a point of doing it again.
(Photo of American Red Cross President Gail McGovern speaking at TEMDED 2012, courtesy of TEDMED.)

Andrew Dlugan's great Six Minutes blog included the original version of this post in his roundup of the best public speaking articles in the blogosphere for the week of June 5, 2010.  Thanks, Andrew!

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