How to improve your public speaking, without breaking the bank
The Sheep Dip Approach
Early in my career, like many people working for a big company, I was sent on a few courses on public speaking and presentation skills. These one-day courses covered everything from breathing, posture and body language through to planning the structure and content of your speech and the use of visual aids. Towards the end of the day, everyone would have a few minutes of practice which was critiqued and then we went away with a note of all our ‘areas to work on.’
My bad habits include a tendency to talk too quickly, using filler words such as ‘um’, ‘ah’, ‘so’ and clasping my hands in nervousness. Like learning to drive or getting fit, it is hard to eradicate your bad habits and learn advanced techniques all in one go. You are more likely to succeed by learning new skills and embracing good habits over time with regular practice.
So, while I might have left the one-day ‘sheep dip’ training course with a list of good intentions, I didn’t really make an effort to practice regularly and take a more sustained approach to working on my skills.
The Slow Grow Approach
Several years ago, I was invited to speak at a rather important conference and decided to invest in some one-to-one coaching. The coach that I worked with was fabulous, and it was certainly effective for the speech that we were focused on. But it was quite costly, so only really an option for major events and I was not sure that it succeeded in changing many of my behaviours in the long term.
Then, a couple of years ago, I was invited to give a presentation in Poland to a conference of Polish and German lawyers. Delighted at the prospect of international travel, but daunted by the make-up of the audience, I decided that the cost of more coaching was a necessary investment. Then a friend mentioned Shropshire Speakers.
The Shropshire Speakers group, which is a member of the international Toastmasters network, offers members an opportunity to work on every aspect of their speaking skills at their own pace in a very supportive environment. The tried and tested programme follows a series of exercises, each of which encourages you to focus on one aspect of your performance such as body language or vocal variety.
As each speech exercise is around seven minutes long, it is not too onerous to prepare and rehearse. It is certainly long enough to stretch you and too long to wing it!
You also get to listen to other speakers (and pinch note their good ideas and techniques). As everyone shares the same objective, there is lots of support and constructive feedback. It is fantastic value for money, but the key benefit is that, with regular practice, over time you really do learn to suppress bad habits and develop new techniques.
I would recommend it to anyone who has tried the sheep-dip approach, and is wondering if a longer-term approach to continuous improvement might be more beneficial (and affordable).