A Winning Formula?

Finding your own personal formula to good practice.

As the quizzical title suggests, can there be a single formula to good practice. You know something unifying, regardless of the time and day.

Energy + Focus x Structure / Time = Good Practice?

I like to think there is such a thing. It is as close to perfect as we can get in this imperfect World! The going rate is 10,000 hours. That is the average time it takes to become ‘top of the field’ so to speak. From Quarterbacks, Golfers, Archers, Musicians, Potters and Painters; If someone is to be considered a professional in their field they need to put the practice in and learn their craft. “So I have to talk to myself for 10,000 hours to be a professional speaker?” – you can do that, if you want. But you might be put in an asylum and classed insane.

You speak everyday and unless you have recently taken a vow of silence for religious reasons, I am betting you can hold a conversation. So you are already a professional speaker. You honed that skill as an infant and child. What you haven’t honed anywhere near as much is the confidence and ability to stand in front of various groups of people and illustrate your ideas, translate brain waves and impact people on an emotional level. That is what we want to practice. How? by taking something we have already and replicating it.

Read  – Perfect Speakers Don’t Exist

The idea is straight forward, think of what you are good at and that you enjoy. For me it is between Skiing and Drums. However, one of these is much more applicable (the drums). Now think of the mindset you are in when you are practicing or just dabbling in the chosen activity. Are you consumed by it, forgetting whats going on around you? Perhaps deaf to the people around you as your attention and focus remain channelled? If so, PERFECT! If not, revise your choice and/or work on attaining a level of deep practice through Public Speaking itself.

I practice the drums for only an hour a day. Mostly to keep my neighbours from lynching me. 6pm-7pm, Monday to Friday. It doesn’t shift unless I am away or there is a zombie apocalypse. That is my first key and it is the big one; Consistency. It helps my mind to focus and gives me structure so I can instantly go into a deep practice almost every time. I can be exhausted from work some days but I still strangely have the energy and enthusiasm to practice for 60 minutes. I you want it enough, your mind will move mountains in order to achieve it.

So for my speaking practice I need to re-create that same mindset and attitude about being consistent. Through doing so, it will yield me the energy and focus to stick at it.

I am terrible with keeping to things, so my life is pleasantly structured (OCD?). Even my practice is on a fixed program. I do five minutes of stretches and warm up myself (not a single touch on the instrument). Then 15 minutes of drills and technique on a practice pad. Now I move to the actual kit and begin with more drills, rudiments and stick work for 10 minutes. which leaves me with the final 30 minutes, in this time slot I can be more flexible and spend time trying new ideas, listening to the kit and making changes and then mostly I put my headphones on and just play along to my music. Notice that I don’t take the fun out of my practice. I reward myself with it after.

This is an example of structured practice and it leaves nothing to chance. I am always guaranteeing myself some level of progress. Aimlessly hitting things for an hour a day will not yield results as fast as a structured plan and consistent execution of it. I am not suggesting you practice speaking for an hour a day. But when you do decide to practice, it should be pre-planned and on a schedule that you know you can keep yourself to.

As you plan your new speaking practice around your pre-existing activity of choice, remember that you are aiming for your version of ‘deep practice’, I for one define my practices as ‘good’ by how focused I was and whether or not I have refined a certain thing or maybe had a rare ‘eureka’ moment. That for me is as near to perfect as I will ever get. And remember – Consistency and Structure are what will force multiply your progress.

A round of applause is the perfect proof you have been practicing properly…

Advertisements

Credibility – What is it? 

What is it and how do I get some?

It’s on amazon and you can get it delivered tomorrow if you are a prime customer.

If you believe that, then your quest for credibility will be a painful one. Credibility is a measurable thing. It has no physical weight or mass; but it is visible, it is felt and it is always hard to acquire but easy to lose. Amazon also doesn’t stock it…

Think of building credibility as a game of Snakes and Ladders, the only difference is that you don’t need dice to decide your fate. You can guide yourself around the pitfalls and traps, avoiding any losses.

So what is credibility? Credibility is a mixture of integrity, experience, judgement and knowledge. We have mentioned how integrity is key to speaking on numerous occasions, but how do we build the other traits up, in line with our already strong sense of integrity? Experience is simple… GO DO IT. Judgement is harder to acquire than experience, you need to be able to analyse your field, see trends, target opportunities and impart your predictions. You wont always make the right calls and that is fine, that’s just life. When making judgements, you can rely on your gut or the data. Experience will always aid judgement if you are someone who learns from the past. If you aren’t someone who learns lessons from past endeavours, you are doomed to fail. You will however, be extremely credible in what it takes to be a consistent failure!

The big key here is knowledge. Knowledge is your subject, yourself, even your experiences. It is the all-encompassing entity that permeates through the others to build credibility. Being knowledgeable in a field or subject takes time and effort, but it does afford you some credibility. After all, you know what you’re talking about, so people can tell you are genuine and not a crook. Knowledge without kindness is something tragic though. Knowledge is power and power without kindness is a dangerous tool. Sharing your knowledge and kindly delivering your insight to your field or subject’s enthusiasts is the ultimate goal of public speaking. A genuinely credible person is someone who is kind and connected to their field and their fellows.

The most credible people I know are well-respected, deeply knowledgeable, constantly learning and always giving back to their communities. They are consistent and have a genuine passion for what they do. One of those people is my father, he has demonstrated all those skill and traits throughout his life and now he is one of the industry leaders and specialists in his trade.

So there it is. A simple and not too hair splitting approach to build some credibility and raise your profile in your area of expertise.

 

To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; and to be credible we must be truthful. – Edward R. Murrow

I get by with a little help…

How to Help Yourself With Notes

What do you use to help you remember your lines when speaking? People use a whole raft of aids and techniques to help them get all the words out into the audience. While there are good and bad approaches to this. I only want to focus on the good ones. That way you won’t be tempted to pick up a bad technique.

Before we start, I advocate the use of notes and cues. I do not support your belief that you need the entire speech written out on A4 paper. Reading verbatim from a sheet during a speech is the most boring and painful experience an audience can endure. Write statistics down, key personalities and important nuggets of information. Do not write the rest of your speech out and then reel it off while hiding behind the papers.

Cue cards and crib cards are my favourite prompt. That is all they are after all, a small piece of paper you can hold in your palm that helps you stay on track and keeps your mind focused. Just write a simple line or word that tells you what part you are covering and it will guide you in what to say, ensuring you properly cover the subject. Additionally, you can write in pauses and breaks to ensure that you don’t race off through your prompts.

Do not write on your hand. Ever. Paper was invented several millennia ago, by the Egyptians. They didn’t see an advantage in using their body to log information. Neither should you.

If you do not wish to use crib/cue cards, perhaps logging the same information onto a piece of A4 paper and leaving it at the lectern is more your style? This way you can step out from behind the lectern, engage with your audience without that barrier and return to the lectern in order to take a moment and get the next prompt from your notes. I will always say that using A4 is the safest way to ensure you have enough room to write notes and prompts without squeezing them onto a small post-it note and then squinting to see your own writing. If you are very expressive with your hands I would suggest this system.

 

I have seen speakers stick their prompts onto the middle of the stage so they can simply look down and get their notes without having to look at anything. The audience will not be able to see your notes if you are on an elevated stage. But if you are delivering a presentation in your company conference room, this will make you look like a moron…

If you are a subject matter expert and have delivered the same or similar presentations before. You may not even want or need notes. Even without notes, if you bullet point or headline your speaking points on your presentation then you can elaborate on each point as you go and seamlessly speak while adding more value to your presentation with your stored knowledge and confident abilities. I prefer this method as you can really be flexible and tailor your brief to different situations. You NEED to know your topic though and have to have a depth of knowledge that others are respectful and somewhat envious of. This approach means you can field questions as they come, add or remove information if required and engage more with the audience. You can even test out new ideas or techniques and use the opportunity as a kind of live test range.

The less words you can use in order to prompt yourself, the better. The goal is to reach a standard whereby you can deliver a quality presentation regardless of content or subject. By using these supports you can alleviate mental burdens and focus on the audience. Having a short game plan in your vicinity will always give you that ability to reference your notes and keep your speaking on target.

 

 

 

Capturing and keeping the Audience

What do you do once you have the Golden Snitch?

Excuse the Harry Potter reference, but it is an apt way of encapsulating what ‘attention’ is. Your audience is more than likely in front of you because they wish to surrender their ‘attention’ to you for a period of time. Providing you take good care of their investment and ensure that you give them value, insight and knowledge in an engaging manner.

People are probably told hundreds of life changing pieces of advice during their time on this planet. So why should they listen to what you spout?

I hope you answered that in your head with a defiant and self confident “because I am trying to help them!” You can try and help ten people and maybe one will be changed by your work. So how do you up the number from one to ten I hear you ask?

By catching and keeping their attention. Attention is pretty fleeting; and it can be focused when a person decides to invest it. It is down to you to capture this spark and then work the ember so it becomes a fully fledged flame. You are not stupid and neither are your audience, you know that in order to catch someones attention you need to interest them. So start with something interesting. A story, a fact, an anecdote; just about anything else that will be juicy to your audience. so they can’t resist but want to hear the rest of your talk. If you can offer this with an emotional and related connection, then even better. The human mind stores anything that has a an emotional connection as a priority over un-connected information. Anchor information into a persons mind with emotion, they will remember who said it, when they said it and what they FELT when heard it.

Once you have made your initial grab at the audiences attention, you owe it to them to hold up your part of the deal. Keep this momentum and attention by delivering your talk with passion and genuinely engaging content. If someone is nodding while you speak, their mind is agreeing with you and respects you. They aren’t directly saying “I understand what your saying Will”. Their body is leaking non-verbal cues, re-enforcing my words.

Don’t use shock tactics, unless you are trying to lobby the senate or congress into voting to go to war. You are not a Charlatan, present yourself and cause in a legitimate and professional tone, it will only let someone discredit you and/or your work. If you have to use shocking stories and images to present, ensure they are introduced and you caveat the reason for showing them. Legal presentations and cases are a prime example; a murder case is a deeply shocking affair. The use of explicit images and language are kept to a minimum and used only when they have to be. Take the high road unless you have to venture low for professional reasons.

So what do you use? images, stories, repetition and a central theme are all tools you can use in order to keep the audience engaged. You can’t keep your presentation racing at 100mph the whole way through, you need to give your audience a rest and let them digest what you have just given them. Images are ideal for that, they break the flow of the presentation nicely and give everyone a healthy pause. Stories give your talk a central structure in which to fix everything on to. Who doesn’t love a good story? Repetition is a more subtle way to get your point across, you can finish each part of your presentation and lead back onto your original premise or opening line, this makes people think more deeply and gives you more than one opportunity to push your audience to act. This is also like a sustained ‘call to arms’. instead of lobbying your audience at the end into rising up and executing what you have told them. Use repetition to gently ease them into it, then the call to arms big finish doesn’t have to be preachy and awkward. Go for a natural trajectory and finish.

The best advice I can give, like always is… You guessed it, test and tinker. Try and tweak new stuff and see what works for your style and your work. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by what ingenious devices and tools you can incorporate.

The Audience and You

How Do You Close the Distance?

When you feel close to someone, you know them, trust them and can nearly always understand their point of view. Sadly, as a public speaker you don’t have the luxury of being able to develop such intimate links with all of your audience. So how do you maximise the time and opportunity in order to really leave a lasting impression on your audience?

Nowadays, it is becoming more and more common for business interactions and professional activities to be built on genuine and mutual grounds. This means that you need to know your opposite number like never before. Especially if you want to deal with them and hopefully begin a long term professional (and prosperous) relationship.

In speaking, you need to close this distance and build that rapport in a record amount of time. You don’t have to make an audience member your best friend by the end of your talk. But you want to have given enough, so that they feel compelled, interested and intrigued to reach out to you after you have left the stage.

You break these walls down, by using a combination of verbal and non verbal techniques. This list is by no means exhaustive, but you can see a theme and you can test out your own individual hallmarks.

  •  Your clothes should convey a smart, but approachable personality. Look credible and respectable without coming across like your a golden demi-god of your profession.
  • Introduce yourself straight away, state your reason for being on the stage but also don’t forget to say your first name, If you have a short version of your name use that.
  • Try and start your presentation with a story, granted not all situations are ideal. But a story give your an audience a journey they can take with you. Plus it makes things less boring!
  • Don’t stand behind props if you don’t have to. An open and close space between you and the audience builds trust and connection. Remember personal space though..
  • There are a plethora of language and writing devices you can use to spark the audience and make them think outside of the ordinary. Making your limited time much more memorable. (This will get it’s own Blog in the near future).
  • People understand contrast, so give them noticeable contrasts. show the before and after. don’t just tell someone the ‘after’ give them the barometer to see the difference and see the real results.
  • Welcome questions at the end. when acknowledging someone for their question, kindly ask their name. Then you can say ‘Thank you for your question Amanda, the greatest scientist in my opinion is Werner Von Braun.’ Incorporate the persons name and their question into the answer. It shows you are engaged and wanting a friendly exchange. It relaxes and encourages others, while really connecting with the audience. Play with this technique and find your fit.
  • If you are intending to stay after your talk, make sure you express this. People may be nervous, embarrassed or perhaps interested to ask you something but not in public. this opportunity is really a great way to network and offer more value as your time on stage may be limited.
  • Take contact details in the form of cards. Whether business or contact cards, they will give someone a physical token and reminder of your exchange.

I have put these in a kind of order of events that generally occurs when arriving at a venue for a speaking event or work related commitment. Sometimes refreshments and the ‘meet and greet’ take place before the talks. Be able to react to this and have yourself prepared for the stage as well as the networking opportunities.

 

Chasing Confidence

How Do You Tame The Beast?

Confidence is something you either have or you don’t right? You always see people going about their day or doing a certain activity with strong self belief and a ‘never say die’ attitude.

Everyone falls prey to this self doubting psychology occasionally. I can truthfully say, that I am one of those people. Truth is, that person is good at that, because they have rationalised the various nuances that make up a certain activity. Simply, it is knowing your safe space/bubble. Understanding where your left and right are and embracing the fact that you can only have a certain amount of control.

Knowing your subject should in-still confidence. Knowing your presentation piece should inspire confidence (Perfect Speakers Don’t Exist). Developing your speaking style so your safe space or bubble is reassuring and consistent. All of these things help raise the level of control you can have. Control is what gives you confidence. If you feel in control, it fuels your confidence.

Pack your own parachute and jump out of a plane. What control do you have? You can control the parachutes chances of opening and directly control the level of confidence you have in that parachute it’s ability to keep you alive. If you have never packed a parachute, I doubt you will be feeling confident as you jump out of the plane. The more parachutes you pack, the more control and confidence you can possess.

Confidence doesn’t grow in the background like your 401k or pension. You have to actively work at it. Speak publicly in order to grow from each exposure.

We live in a world of instant gratification, where our needs for information and results are fed to us instantly. This mindset doesn’t aid in nurturing and developing soft skills. Everyone can be impatient at times. Being mindful, and recognising these moments can help you master anything your heart desires. If you know you are terrible at eating healthily, you would aim to organise a meal plan so you avoid distraction and temptation. Mindfulness is a key skill in many aspects of life, public speaking included.

Public Speaking is an art. Like all arts, it never gets easier. You just get better.

Perfect Speakers Don’t Exist

Why Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect…

People seek perfection like they seek happiness. They are both mistaken as an ‘end state’, embodied in phrases like”I’ll be happy once…”. While it is correct to some degree that I will be happy once Monday is over. I shouldn’t forget that I should be happy throughout the day also. The Journey through something should yield happiness, not just the end state. This is just as true of ‘perfection’; If you desire it as an ‘end state’, I assure you that you will never have it. Why? I hear you ask…

Practice doesn’t make perfect. It makes permanent. To be great at an anything you endeavour upon, you have to practice. This is true of most things in life, public speaking is one those. The art of practice is to progress to a critical point whereby your results are as a consistent as can be, every time.

Take tenpin bowling for example, the perfect game is a total score of 300. People have achieved this. Through practice. For someone who has never bowled a ball before it would be extremely difficult to achieve. Golf on the other hand also has a ‘perfect round’. 18 strokes would yield you the perfect game. It has never been done and will never be done. But pro-golfers spend hours on the range and practice ground, being coached and exercised so they can achieve the best performance.

I see public speaking like golf. The end state of perfection is something these two disciplines do not have. Not to ruin your dreams. But what you are aiming for is consistency and accuracy. Both skills you require in order to be great. So when aiming for the perfect speech or golf round, aim to deliver the best. Consistency and accuracy will help you give your audience (scorecard) just that.

Your goal is to make YOUR speaking style the best it can be. That in it’s own right is perfect. As you have learnt who you are and developed yourself to a state of consistent excellence in a discipline. Great people always recognise where they can improve, then take action!

In Golf, a hole in one is the best score you can achieve. In speaking a performance can be perfect. But not the speaker, nor the golfer. But never stop aiming for a hole in one every time…