February 23, 2009

5 ways to stop repeating the same mistakes

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!"

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!

8 comments. Please add yours! :

Richard I. Garber said...

A great post! By the way, Lisa, I thoroughly enjoy over 90% of your blog posts.

1) Toastmasters clubs vary widely in personality. Choosing one is somewhat like choosing a church. I picked mine because they include an age span of about fifty years and a correspondingly wide variety of backgrounds. (That includes three people who will answer when you say “Doc” - two PhDs and a DVM). Also, Toastmaster clubs are not all just for beginning speakers. In larger metro areas you can find Advanced Clubs with experienced speakers who are seeking evaluation from their peers. They might be as different from most clubs as an Explorer Post is from a Cub Scout Pack.

2) Don’t forget you can audio record yourself rather easily. Many of the little MP3 players also can record and then upload to a computer. You may already be carrying a recorder around in your briefcase or backpack.


Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for expanding on the topic, Richard. We have a couple of advanced TM clubs here, which I should have mentioned. I have a little audio recorder I use when I don't feel like dragging out the camcorder. I also now have a Flip camcorder; that's probably what I'll bring to my next presentation!

Unknown said...

Why do we need coaching? Because we have no way of looking at ourselves once we leave the mirror in the morning. It's like American Idol when someone thinks they are an amazing singer but all of America now knows they aren't. Coaching helps us improve. Classes help us learn. Feedback keeps us from self delusion. Spot on as always!

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Great analogy, Tony! In fact, I wrote a blog post about this using an American Idol contestant last year... remember "rockin' Kyle Reinneck?

Anonymous said...

As a paid speaker I think this is flat-out the best post I've ever read (that can help anyone) on how to improve speaking skills and must admit in chagrin, that I've not taken all the advice, but now will.

Thanks for the gentle kick in the pants.

Plus, I agree, in part with one of the two commentaries on Toastmasters. A very persistent friend here in Sausalito kept pressing me to attend the chapter in San Quentin prison. Finally I did and watched the best side of Toastmasters come out.

All participants were prepared, present, very specific in feedback and, with one exception, much better speakers than me. Their passion for improvement, mutual support and appreciation of the outsiders who came to participate with them was a great way for me to see ways to improve.

Plus I saw the power of individuals designing their own way to plan for a world outside, and to support each other towards that end. Thanks for a pithy, practical post that brought back those memories

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Wow Kare, I think I'm blushing! Thanks so much for your comments.

I would love to see Toastmasters at work in a prison. I used to work with kids who were locked up in our local juvenile detention center, and many of them were more motivated than privileged kids I knew. Sometimes it's harder to motivate yourself when everything is handed to you.

Anna said...

Great article. My question is, how do you stop unconsciously repeating yourself in unscripted conversation or public speaking?

Scripted, sure, you can just memorize. But if it's unscripted?

Thanks for any suggestions.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for your question, Anna. My post refers to all kinds of presentations; in fact, I never give memorized presentations, so I'm always unscripted. You still have to be aware, listen to yourself, and in the case of a presentation, video or audio record.

In the case of a conversation, you can ask a friend or significant other to point out your repetitive speech or verbal tics. I guarantee they can tell you what they are! And again, it's a matter of awareness. Pay attention to how you speak and behave. Think before you speak. Be conscious and mindful. You'll start to notice your own verbal tics and habits and should be able to clear them up on your own.

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