The other night I was having a conversation with a woman whose boss wants her whole department to get public speaking training. She doesn't believe she needs it because she never interacts with clients in person, only over the phone, and her communication is "fine."
My husband mentioned that his former boss asked him once if he had thought about taking golf lessons. My husband said, "No, I'm doing fine. I don't need any lessons."
His boss' reply: "You might be doing fine, but how do you know you're not just making the same mistakes over and over again?"
If you want to grow as a speaker, you have to keep practicing and you have to keep speaking to a variety of groups. There's no way around it. But you also have to evaluate yourself honestly and find ways to build on the skills you already have and keep improving, or else you will stagnate. You might be an "okay" or "fine" speaker, but you will never be a "great" speaker and possibly not even a "good" speaker.
Here are a couple of ways to find out how you're doing:
1. Get honest feedback
This is not as easy as it sounds. Especially if you're the boss! The people around you are most likely not going to want to criticize you, even constructively. Sometimes family members can be more honest than co-workers; after all, they have nothing to lose by telling you the truth!
A club like Toastmasters can be helpful for safe, encouraging feedback when you're just starting out, but keep in mind that clubs vary and that members can often be rigid about rules, and sometimes are not the best speaking role models themselves, especially the ones who never speak outside the club. (Here are two posts about Toastmasters that you should read before joining.)
2. Videotape yourself
Even if you can't get feedback from people you know, watching yourself on video will be an eye-opening experience. Watch the video at normal speed with sound, without sound, and fast-forwarded. You will discover all kinds of quirks and tics that you had no idea you were producing. Awareness is the first step to change.
3. Use anonymous evaluations
There are differing opinions on evaluations, and I've gone back and forth on the practice myself. (Here's a great compilation of responses on SpeakerNet News on how to handle negative evaluations.)
On the one hand, asking the audience what they got out of your presentation and what didn't work for them is a great way to learn if you're providing value to the audience and giving them what they need and want, especially if your questions are well thought out.
On the other hand, it's easy to dwell on the one or two negative comments instead of the 99 positive ones, and if you don't have enough confidence in your skills, strengths and personal style, you might begin to doubt yourself.
5. Take a public speaking class
Learning in an environment with other beginners or intermediate-level speakers is safe and supportive, and the only real pressure comes from your own desire to learn and improve. The instructor and other students are your evaluators, and because you're in a learning environment, everyone is motivated to improve and get out of their comfort zone.
5. Hire a coach
When you get to the point where you need a kick in the butt, when you need personalized and specialized help in expanding your skills or creating your presentation, coaching is the way to go.
My clients have worked with me to design conference seminars and trainings, to improve their effectiveness as communicators, to practice thinking on their feet, to prepare for job interviews, to create better PowerPoint presentations, to learn how to engage the audience, to find the essence of their message, to promote their businesses through speaking, and more.
They include pastors, real estate agents, graduate students, fitness trainers, consultants, doctors, executives, therapists, business coaches, and other self-employed professionals and entrepreneurs.
Here's a great post on who hires a coach.
Now, if you want to keep making the same mistakes over and over, and if you never want to challenge yourself to become better, don't do any of these things.
But if you think there's a chance that you might want to grow as a speaker and make the most of your gifts, pick one or a couple and start moving forward. Forget about "fine." Let's get you to "great!"
Are you an entrepreneur or professional who's looking for better results from your speaking? Are you hoping to build credibility and visibility for your business or cause? Tired of just "getting by" and ready to deliver truly engaging and powerful presentation? Click here to fill out my consultation questionnaire and we'll schedule a time to talk!