As you struggle to improve your public speaking skills, you have probably been frustrated.
Frustrated… by nerves that never go away.
Frustrated… by audience questions that trip you up.
Frustrated… by the process of skills improvement which is more evolutionary than revolutionary.
In this article, we learn how to end the frustration by learning to love the process. We draw five speaking lessons from an extremely unlikely source: a motivational hooping video.
Lessons of the Hoop
A motivational hooping video.
The video below is just four minutes long, and chronicles the improvement process experienced by Sandra Sommerville (stage name: SaFire) as she develops her expertise as a hooper.
Watch the video first, and then read the rest of the article.
[If you don’t see it below, click here to jump to the original article.]
Pretty amazing improvement, isn’t it?
Here are the words which accompany Lessons of the Hoop:
Practice makes… improvement. Try, then try again, and again. Try it slowly, even if it barely counts. Watch for hesitation or you’ll miss your chance. Just keep going. Document, even if you never plan to share. Repeat it over, and over. Stretch your limits. Try different sizes, even if it’s ridiculous. Seize the moment. Celebrate success. Get tangled up. Stop and breathe. Stay creative. Challenge yourself. Remove distractions. Laugh. Accept the uncomfortable. We only learn if we … drop, drop, drop, drop, drop, drop, drop, drop. And most importantly, try not to judge yourself. Practice makes… improvement. Be strong. Find balance. Take risks. Play hard. Smile, and… love the process.
How Does This Apply to Public Speaking?
Many of the lessons learned by Sandra are the same ones that public speakers must learn.
Let’s consider how these five apply to speaking:
- Practice makes improvement.
- Document, even if you never plan to share.
- Accept the uncomfortable.
- Stretch your limits.
- Love the process.
Lesson 1: Practice makes improvement.
You won’t get better at speaking by only reading a book. (Or, this blog!)
You can only improve your speaking skills by practicing. Speak at work. Speak at your child’s school. Speak at a town hall meeting. Speak at your cousin’s wedding. Speak in your car. Speak for your cat. Speak in front of the mirror.
You won’t ever achieve perfection. But you will improve. Little by little, your practice will result in improvement. Most of the time, your improvements will be incremental. Other times, you’ll take a giant leap in an epiphany of speaking prowess.
Lesson 2: Document, even if you never plan to share.
You can keep a paper journal, but it’s probably easier these days to keep an electronic record of your speeches and PowerPoint presentations. Date them so you can look back on them someday and marvel at how far you’ve progressed.
Evaluate yourself, and keep track of the specific areas you are working on.
Keep a video record too. Not only will individual videos reveal areas for improvement, but comparing current videos to past ones will be eye-poppingly encouraging. When you are caught up in the process, it’s difficult to see your own progress. A video record won’t lie.
Lesson 3: Accept the Uncomfortable
Accept the butterflies in your stomach before a presentation.
Accept how your heart races when the pressure is on.
Accept that you will forget a word, a phrase, a story, or a punchline.
Accept that PowerPoint malfunctions will happen to you.
Accept that not everyone in your audience is impressed, or even listening.
Accept all of these things, but know that none of them will prevent you from communicating effectively unless you let them.
Lesson 4: Stretch Your Limits
There’s a quote that gets recycled in motivational speeches: If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.
If you are approaching every speech or presentation in the same way… if you are preparing the same way… if you are developing PowerPoint slides in the same way… if you use the same speech opening over and over again… if you always speak from behind the lectern… if you always use typewritten 12-point font speech notes…
If you never try new things, your skills will stagnate.
Look for opportunities to stretch your limits by:
- trying new vocal techniques,
- incorporating new stories,
- delivering new gestures,
- adopting a new style of visuals,
- discovering a new source of quotations,
- seeking out new audiences and new venues, and
- pursuing the 1-hour keynote when you’ve only ever delivered the 10-minute teaser speech.
Lesson 5: Love the Process
It’s understandable if you feel that the process is drudgery that you are required to endure before — someday — reaching the pinnacle of presentation mastery.
However, that mindset will only sabotage your efforts.
Love the process. Set small goals and celebrate your milestones. Laugh at your mistakes (because you’ll make lots of them).
The truth is that there is no pinnacle — only a lifetime of going through the process of improving your speaking skills.