You can read three books on riding a bicycle, but until you put your feet on the pedals you won’t start learning to ride.
You can gain knowledge about speaking from reading books and watching seminars, but you ultimately learn to present better by presenting more often.
Here are four exercises that help you improve your speaking:
1. Analyze Others
Become a student of all aspects of speaking. As you watch others present—professional or amateur—pay attention to what worked, what didn’t work and what they could have done better. Keep notes. You’ll be amazed at the terrific ideas you’ll get especially if you pick up on nuances. Your goal isn’t to imitate their techniques but to use their performance, good or bad, to understand what works best.
2. Get Shot
Have someone record you when you speak. The quality of the recording is secondary. You want to be able to review your own performance like you have learned to do with others.
Make a list of:
Things you did best.
Things you could do better
Things you should stop doing.
Few people analyze their speaking skills. While listening to or watching yourself might make you uncomfortable, it is one of the most powerful ways you can use to get better.
3. Request Feedback
Most of us have a love/hate relationship with feedback. We know it makes us better but it can be tough to hear. Before you ask anyone for feedback, make sure you’re not looking for validation. Validation—“You were wonderful”—will make you feel good but it won’t make you better on stage.
The best way to get feedback is to assure the giver of your true desire and to accept what they say without excuse or explanation. Once they’ve finished, you might want to offer an explanation to check your thinking about what you intended to do with a particular skill and how it was perceived by the feedback provider.
4. Create Material
Keep a notebook or journal of great ideas, quotes or illustrations you find. The more you record, the more you’ll have to draw from when you write your next presentation.
I have hundreds of pages in my digital files of the ideas I’ve recorded and the material I’ve created over my career. It serves me well.
But remember what the comedian Mitch Hedberg said, “Beware a comic who writes 30 minutes of new material and then says they have thirty new minutes for their act.” They don’t. However many notes you take, not all will be usable. But the more content you have to draw from, the better you will become.
Mark Sanborn is an award winning speaker and Leadership Expert in Residence at High Point University, the Premier Life Skills University. For more information about his work, visit www.marksanborn.com.