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How to become a great speaker : “Welcome to Hell”

becoming a better speaker communication

Recently someone commented to me “I heard you speak a few years ago and you are so much better!” I was really grateful for that compliment. I have been working hard on being a better speaker for the past several years. I frequently get asked, “how do you become a better speaker?” So I thought I would write a series on it.

One of the turning points in my speaking career was attending speakers training with Thomas Plummer and Greg RoseSpeakers’ school commences with “Welcome to Hell”, the opening line from Greg Rose. He goes on to say, “After a talk, when you ask your friends and colleagues how you did, they will tell you you that you did great…….we are not your friends.”

And with that warm introduction, speakers’ school begins. First, you are filmed and evaluated on how you walk into a room or on to stage. Key message here – head up, good posture and what you are currently doing is neither (even if you think you are).

Then, your wardrobe is critiqued… was I supposed to know that pleats and cuffs were for fat old men? After critiquing what you are currently wearing, they take a picture of you to see which color shirts look best on you with your complexion and hair color. As far as appearance goes, here are a few general guidelines (particularly for men):

      • Bright color, non-patterned shirt
      • Dark colored pants
      • Professionally cut hair
      • Large watch so you can see time
      • Clean, polished shoes
      • Fashionable belt (no, not the one you won at the rodeo)

These seem like small things, but they add up for a lot of unspoken credibility.

You then read a children’s book outloud and your voice, inflection, and speed are critiqued. This is something that you can do on your own. Play it back. Can you understand yourself and do you find yourself interesting — not your topic, but your voice? Could you imagine if people read books to their children in the same manner that they give a talk in front of people – but I guess that monotone, non-dramatic voice would be good for getting the kids to sleep!

Then comes the real test – a 5 minute talk that is filmed in high definition – no notes, no power point. It is then played back while you sit at the front of the class. You get to critique yourself first. Then, the class critiques you. Then, two guys in the back (Greg and Thom) who can only be described as the Simon Cowells of public speaking give you “feedback.” No holds barred!

As if that is not bad enough, you “get” to give your talk again implementing the feedback you received. Each time you make a mistake such as  the common “um” or “ya know”, you have to stop and start over. Evidently the phrase I said over and over again was “you guys”. If it takes multiple attempts for you to get rid of your filler phrase, the class gets to throw things at you every time you say it – most of the objects are Nerf, but let me tell you, a Nerf soccer ball hurled at your face from the side (only seen at the last second before it hits you) can be quite the jolting experience.

If you have survived all of this, and take the time to implement all of the feedback, you will be a better communicator. I promise. If you are not up for speakers’ school quite yet or can’t get to one, there are some simple steps you can take to improve your public speaking. Start by doing an audio recording of yourself reading a children’s book and then video yourself giving a 5 minute talk… will be better for it.

I will be doing an entire series on communication as it is so important, not just for public speaking, but for achieving buy in for what you want to accomplish — performing a home exercise program, implementing group injury prevention testing, or for your colleagues to join you on your quest for excellence.

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