Grow as a SpeakerDec 19, 2022
TALKING VERSE SPEAKING
It all started for me when I was 11 years old. My parents took us to a concert and at the end, the lead singer took some time to speak with the audience. I can still remember that moment! I loved everything about it. I loved how they held the microphone and how honest they were as they talked to the audience. It fascinated me to see that whole room lean in, so captivated by every word the lead singer spoke. That was 36 years ago and the memories are still so incredibly vivid. That was where the passion to speak with audiences was birthed in my heart.
Not long after that concert, I found myself building a stage in my basement so I could talk from it and practice like I had seen at the concert. I didn’t know anything about speaking, but I believed I needed a platform if I was going to speak, so I built one. I would spend so much time on that stage just talking to an empty basement. Occasionally my little brother would join in and heckle me, but I didn’t mind. I was doing what I loved.
As time moved on, I found myself in front of people all the time in high school. I would talk at assemblies, sports games and I would do announcements in many of the classrooms at my school. It was an incredible experience.
Fast forward to college and one day before a speech communication class (which I loved), my professor asked if they could have a word with me after class. I was so excited! I just knew that he was going to tell me how good I was at speaking and how great it was to have me in their class. Talk about being self absorbed!
Class finished and I walked up to the front to receive my dose of encouraging words and my professor looked up at me from his desk and said, “Jason, you’re really going to have to work at speaking if you’re going to become an effective communicator someday”.
Wait, what? I took a step back and he continued. “Jason, obviously you can get in front of people and talk, but you need to become disciplined in your approach to speaking and when you do, you will become an effective communicator”.
I was crushed! But the message he was communicating to me was incredibly important. If I was to grow and become an effective communicator, I needed to put in the work and be disciplined about my communication.
PUT IN THE HARD WORK
Here is the reality: speaking in front of people is not easy and even if you are gifted at talking from a stage, it is still incredibly difficult. You need to learn how to research, understand your target audience, ask the right questions, gather and organize information, clearly write your presentations, and practice. That’s all before you even step on the stage. It is a journey to keep growing as a speaker. It just doesn’t happen. You have to work and work and put in the hours.
In his amazing book, “Outliers: The Story of Success”, Malcolm Gladwell introduces the concept of the 10,000 hour rule. Gladwell explains that the key to achieving success and expertise in any skill is simply a matter of practicing in the correct way for at least 10,000 hours. The rule goes like this: it takes 10,000 hours of immersing yourself in the trade to achieve mastery of complex skills and materials. So, if you want to grow, put the work in to master your craft.
Gladwell tells the story of how it helped the Beatles become, well, the Beatles. He explains how they took every opportunity to perform live between 1960 and 1964 and that added up to about 1200 performances. It was during those formative years and accumulating the right practice and work that the Beatles fine tuned their craft and took the world by storm. They worked hard, immersed themselves in their art, and became the most known band in the world.
The same is true if you want to grow as a speaker. If you want to grow as a speaker, here’s the honest truth: You have to be disciplined. Everyday you can work on growing as a speaker.
It is going to be a lot of discipline to practice, write, speak, perform, and evaluate. As you work toward those 10,000 hours, the disciplines you embrace will help you grow as a speaker and become more effective.
DISCIPLINES FOR GROWTH
Here are five simple, but profoundly important disciplines that you can add to your routine to help you see giant improvements in your speaking.
- Read. Incorporating reading into your daily regime is incredibly important. And, don’t just count the scrolling on facebook or twitter. Put a scheduled event on your calendar and read. Even if it’s just 10 minutes, read. It’s been said that speakers are readers and reading will inspire you, increase your knowledge, and give you a wealth of information to use in your presentations.
- Study books about speaking. Purchase the best books that teach speaking skill sets. Study them. Learn from the experienced speakers who have come before you and have written these books. Highlight, underline and take notes. Build a resource library about the art and craft of speaking so you can always have it to reference. If you need a few books to get you started, here are some suggestions.
- Watch speaking how-to videos. Youtube is literally filled with hundreds of thousands of free videos for you to consume and digest. Carve out time every week to watch one, take notes, and then make improvements in your speaking. Here are a few suggestions:
- Capture your thoughts and ideas. Many people think that nothing interesting happens in their life and because of that, they don’t have any great real life stories to share in their presentations. This is not true! You and I have so many great teaching moments happen to us everyday. So, be on the lookout! Develop the discipline to recognize these moments and capture them. Use your phone’s notes app, or my app of choice, google keep. Write down anytime you have an ‘ah hah moment’, a potential story idea, or something funny or profound happen. Organize your documents in different categories in your app so they are easily accessible and then capture them. You are now building your own library of great ideas.
- Practice, practice, practice. If you’re going to grow and become an effective speaker, the reality is, you have to practice. The Beatles put in their 10,000 and become the best at what they do. There is nothing stopping you and I from writing presentations and practicing them. Stand in front of a mirror and watch yourself present. Ask family and friends to listen to your presentation and ask for honest feedback. The massive amounts of practice and preparation you put into your speaking craft will grow you as a speaker.
Discipline is your friend. So often it has a bad reputation. But, when it comes to growing and becoming more effective in your speaking and communication skills, discipline will help you improve.
I am so grateful for those early experiences that helped form my speaking and communication skills. It is so fun to remember how I would use my mom’s famous chocolate chip cookies to bribe my neighborhood friends to listen to me talk from the stage I built in my basement.
Cookies weren’t enough. Passion wasn’t enough. Talking wasn’t enough, I am so glad my Speech professor took the time to challenge me to improve my speaking skills. If he didn’t, I may have just continued along and not become the speaker that I am today.
It doesn’t matter if you are brand new to speaking or you have spoken from hundreds of stages. Adding daily, weekly or monthly disciplines into your life will have profound effects on your growth as a speaker. I encourage you to start with these disciplines and see where they take you.
By Jason Raitz - Founder of Speak with People & Communication Coach