Every Speech Gives You Opportunities to Improve

With each speech you give, you have the chance to make small improvements that can make a big difference in how well your presentation is received. Here are four steps to help you identify those opportunities for improvement.

The primary purpose of any presentation is to help your listeners. Because of your speech, audience members will use new sales strategies, start an exercise and diet program, begin each day with a more positive attitude, serve their customers more effectively, sharpen their long range financial plan, or accomplish another goal you champion.

Yet every speech you make gives you opportunities to improve, too—as a speaker. That’s the case whether you feel you did a fantastic job or whether you consider your speech a dismal failure. Either way, you will want to make maximum use of this “teachable moment,” so your next speech will surpass the one you just gave. Take one or more of these four steps without delay.

First: Write your candid detailed observations about your speech. You need not worry about word choice or sentence structure. Examples:

“Thomas Edison story didn’t click. Add details.”

“Handouts distracted. Distribute afterward instead.”

“Start question/answer segment sooner.”

“Tell more about family. Response was strong.”

“Request cell phone silencing.”

“Carry backup thumb drive of PowerPoint.”

“Improve signal for re-starting after break.”

“Raffle product to get biz cards”

It’s essential that you jot down your observations before the day ends. Otherwise, you could forget something important.

Second: Read evaluations from your audience. While every speaking situation doesn’t include written audience evaluations, some do. Take full advantage of the listener feedback. Look especially for trends. If one person says, “Speaker has a monotone voice,” you need not get overly concerned. However, if a third of your audience points to a flaw like that, you know you have a problem that needs correcting.

One word of caution: Recognize that audience evaluations sometimes say more about the participant than they do about the speaker. To illustrate: Suppose you have just conducted an all day training session for a corporation, a session announced weeks ago. One evaluator writes: “Why didn’t somebody tell me I needed to bring something to write with? I had to borrow a pencil from the instructor.” In a case like that, you didn’t fail to do anything. The attendee overlooked his or her responsibility to record key points from the seminar.”

Third: Ask a trusted colleague to share reactions and suggestions. Assure your colleague that you are committed to strengthening your impact with audiences. Tell your associate you want to hear what was commendable and what was distracting. Further, when you meet with your colleague to debrief your speech, give her a short list of items you want advice about, such as: rate of speech, enunciation, eye contact, gestures, clarity of theme, organizational structure, humorous comments, introduction, conclusion, audience interaction, and visual aids.

Fourth: Review audio/video replays. Audio is easily attainable. For a modest cost, you can put a small battery operated recorder in your pocket, and your audience will never know you have it. When you are aware that your host will video your speech, tell the meeting planner you will want a copy.

Not surprisingly, the audio recorder and the camera do not lie. They reveal what we did well, and they make us aware of mistakes that did not surface through audience evaluations or from our trusted colleague. Listen and watch several times, and take careful notes. A closing recommendation: As you write your detailed observations, read audience evaluations, rely on trusted colleagues, and review audio/video replays, remain primarily constructive in your assessment. Although you select areas that need correction, give yourself credit for the strong factors you and others identified in your content and delivery. Engage in plenty of positive self-talk, to become more confident and more capable for your next audience.

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