The Best Public Speaking Advice I've Ever Gotten...

How to take the guesswork out of public speaking.

Posted Apr 25, 2011

…comes from T.J. Walker, a media trainer and speaking coach.

He says that you should always practice your talk on videotape before you give your speech. It’s not enough to memorize it out loud, not enough to recite it in front of a mirror. You should do an honest-to-god dress rehearsal, to see if your speech works.

The reason is, this will make you feel confident. If you went to a job interview without fixing your tie or applying your lipstick in front of the mirror, you’d have a lot of needless anxiety. You would hope that there’s no scarlet lip gloss smeared across your teeth, but how could you know for sure?

This is what public speaking without rehearsing on camera is like: you have NO IDEA how you’re coming across, other than what you can glean from the expressions on the faces of your audience. And the sour look on the face of the guy in the third row to your left may have nothing to do with your joke that just fell flat. Maybe he just dented his new BMW, or the woman of his dreams just broke up with him. Via Twitter.

Better to take the guesswork out of it.

Have I taken Walker's advice myself? Um. Not yet. But recently I did a backwards version of it. I watched myself on tape after giving a talk, something I usually avoid doing. I taped a negotiation seminar that I gave at the Harvard Club a couple of weeks ago.

My videographer e-mailed me the footage and asked me to review it. My reaction was to dawdle. I had trouble downloading the file and, without trying very hard, decided it couldn’t be done. My videographer then sent me the tapes by snail mail. After being “too busy” to get to them for a day or two, I put them in my CD drive. The drive jammed. Instead of trying to fix it, I wrote a few blog-posts, made dinner for my kids, and went to bed.

Finally, when I could delay no longer, I tried the tapes on my husband’s new MacBook…and saw myself in action.

I learned three important things:

One, it wasn’t so bad. There were some parts I was downright proud of.

Two, like most people, I have plenty of room for improvement.

And three, I’m excited to use the videotape as a tool in my Year of Speaking Dangerously (the forthcoming year, in which I'll be training, as if preparing for a marathon, to be the best and bravest speaker I can be).

How about you? What's the best speaking advice you've ever gotten?

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