Thursday, April 4, 2013

Hit Me With Your Best Shot (Improving Your Speaking Skills - part 1)

Dynamic presenter. Effective communicator. Awesome speaker.

Are these how you'd like to be described after your next speaking gig?

Of course you would. That's the goal for all of us writers-turned-speakers. But sometimes it doesn't feel terribly achievable. After all, we didn't sign up for this. We only wanted to write ... to hang out in our bathrobes and curlers expressing ourselves on a nice safe sheet of paper without having to worry about our appearance.

Or fumble-tongue mistakes.

Or the judgment we perceive sleeting down upon our heads from unsympathetic gawking eyeballs.

We feel, like Sean Connery so eloquently expressed as the reclusive writer in the fine film, Finding Forrester, "Writers write so readers can read." I'll add another caveat to that: "...and so speakers can speak." Put another way, let someone else get up in front of people and leave poor timid writers alone to do their jobs in their dark, secluded writing caves.

But somehow it happened. The publisher considering the manuscript you've slaved over for-ev-er dropped the bomb: "We'll only seriously consider publishing your book if you'll seriously consider hitting the road as a speaker to promote it."

Gulp. And so it begins. Building your platform. One plank at a time.

I'd like to offer some nails to help hold those planks together and establish a firm foundation for your speaking platform. Some of my suggestions are adapted from the SCORRE Conference I attended last year, a fantastic training workshop for speakers put together by Dynamic Communications International president Ken Davis, and Michael Hyatt, platform-building guru, best-selling author, and former Thomas Nelson Publishers chairman. (I highly recommend you Google SCORRE Conferences and attend one if you're planning a reluctant speaking career). 

And some of my suggestions for improving your speaking skills are from my own experience gleaned from speaking to approximately 200 groups over the past four years.

1. Whatever you thought the point of your speech was, rethink it. The real point is to help each person in your audience in some way. Forget yourself; what can you do for them?

2. You need to know more about your subject than most of your audience does. That means preparation: research, knowing it, living it, and sufficient practice in sharing it effectively.

3. Practice in front of your own reflection; observe distracting mannerisms like swaying back and forth (many moms do this subconsciously), jerky head movements, unpleasant expressions, too few or too grand hand gestures, blinking or lip-licking that appears unnatural.

4. Tape yourself. Listen for gaps, awkward connective phrases like "uhs," "umms," and "okays." Beware of monotone delivery (vary your tone without sounding like a World Series radio announcer). Pace yourself (not too fast or too slow). Work on understandable diction.   

5. Clearly define your objective when preparing your presentation. What do you hope to accomplish?

For the sake of avoiding long-windedness, this list will be continued on my next post. Stay tuned ...