April 11, 2007

Why you need to get real world experience

I wrote the other day about my visit to Toastmasters, and I wanted to follow up, as it happens that many people ask me if I've ever been a Toastmaster and if I ever plan to join.

I've heard that Toastmasters is helpful for many people in providing education, encouragement and structure, especially when just starting out. I have a number of friends who've benefited from joining, and even moved up the ranks into positions of authority within the organization. And I could see, from attending the meeting the other day, that the Woodland Toastmasters club was fun and friendly, and the evaluators gave constructive and useful feedback to the speakers.

I also understand that some people in Toastmasters never do any public speaking outside of the group. Perhaps they're there for social reasons, which is fine - or perhaps they're in their comfort zone and don't want to leave it.

The only way to improve as a speaker is to get out in the world, embrace the discomfort, and do it. Period. I thought I would share today how I learned in the real world.

As I mentioned before, I had performance experience and a theater degree, and I also competed on the speech team in high school. Competing on a speech team does not teach you what you need to know for the real world.

First of all, you get to write a (short) speech on whatever you want, regardless of who your audience is. And second, you are not judged by the audience who would actually benefit from your speech, as in the real world, but by judges who have specific criteria to look for in the various categories, like "dramatic interpretation," or "informative speaking." I remember in those days thinking that ten minutes was an enormous amount of time for a speech!

My first professional speaking gig was to go into high school classrooms and talk about healthy and abusive teen relationships, for the domestic violence organization I worked for. Talk about trial by fire. . .

Each semester there were several new freshman health classes at each of the local high schools. I would spend all day at one school, speaking to each class for 50 minutes. The next day I'd go to another school and do the same thing. I had four public schools, two private schools and four continuation schools to cover. I did this for six years. I also added ten-week healthy relationship workshops for young women in each school, and spent every Monday morning at the probation school, and every Friday afternoon with the girls who were locked up in the juvenile justice facility.

After I left the domestic violence organization, I joined Girls Incorporated in a nearby community, who provided a two-week series on healthy sexuality in the middle school in that town. Sharing the responsibilities with a male educator who spoke to the boys, I did 4 to 5 classes a day for two weeks with the girls on reproductive anatomy, communication skills and assertiveness, decision-making, goal-setting, and similar topics. We also had an "anonymous question box" where students could submit any question they had about any of our topics. I'm sure you can imagine the kinds of things they wanted to know. :-)

Following on the heels of the middle school program, I would head over to the three elementary schools and give three days of puberty, reproduction and hygiene education. I was also lucky enough to get to introduce the curriculum to the parents before we started - you'd be surprised at how many of them got bent out of shape about their 10-year-olds learning about the reproductive system.

Speaking to middle and high school kids is the best training any speaker could ever get and I highly recommend it! They are not afraid to challenge a speaker with a million questions. They also let you know when they're bored, tired, angry, excited or interested. You will frequently get the "bored" response, because in some schools it's not considered cool to be interested in what's being taught.

During this time, I also founded my nonprofit, and my speaking topics came to include Title IX and gender equity, yet another controversial subject - this time delivered mostly to adults.

Through years of talking about controversial or "uncomfortable" issues for hours a day, for weeks at a time, I learned how to:

* listen to my audiences' needs and use the information to improve the presentation
* address hecklers
* make presentations interactive
* build trusting relationships with audiences
* answer uncomfortable questions - comfortably
* use humor to defuse difficult situations (teachers often "checked out" while I was presenting)
* show respect by asking for input and feedback
* project my voice over whispering teenagers and get their attention
* adjust to different venues and spaces
* give a great presentation when I wasn't feeling 100%, and
* be myself, because you can't fake out teenagers - they won't stand for it!

I also gathered feedback through evaluation forms, and I still do it to this day with every group I speak to. Even if I've been doing the same presentation for a long time, I never become complacent - I'm always fully present for each audience and constantly work to improve.

If you want to get practice as a speaker, by all means speak in comfortable, safe environments to begin with. It's important to mix encouragement with constructive criticism so speakers can learn what they're doing right as well as what needs work.

But at some point, you'll have to get out there in rooms that are not ideal, with audiences who don't trust you, and a clock that's ticking too fast, if you want to truly hone your skills.

So, what has been your public speaking "trial by fire?"

On The Everything Page you'll find everything you need to build visibility, credibility and influence through engaging presentations that move your participants into action: freebies, low-cost products and courses, and 1:1 coaching!

0 comments. Please add yours! :

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...