At Moxie we work with some of the best speakers in the world. And you want to know a secret? They're constantly trying to improve. Every year they set new goals to get better: maybe it's developing better slide decks or projecting confidence or even just learning even more about the craft of public speaking.
Over the years we've noticed that the truly excellent speakers--the real masters of presentations--tend to work on a few simple practices. Luckily, they're practices you can learn too! We suggest making them three of your resolutions for the new year... we'll even teach you how to make sure they're resolutions you can keep!
1. Improve your practice.
You know what separates the good from the great? Practice.
The boring, banal work of doing the same thing over and over again. Churchill liked to say he put in an hour of practice for every minute of speech. You may call that excessive; I say call that "in the ballpark."
Experience has taught me that clients do best when they start rehearsing six weeks out from their speech. Play around by varying pauses, tones, and emphases. Memorize the words: work them into your bones.
When you practice, do what actors do: layer your practice.
- Start first by learning the words of your speech. Learn them backward and forward.
Then focus on how you're delivering the words: where to pause, where to speed up or slow down.
Then move to body language, interacting with your PowerPoint or presentation, and commanding the space.
When you're ready, put it all together. Record yourself practicing, take notes immediately after your dry run, and then review the video to see what else needs work. Ask for the help of friends, colleagues, or pros like Moxie's speaker coaches.
I've seen clients have great luck with spaced repetition: spreading out work on these layers to reinforce them at regular intervals: focus on one layer, move on to the next, but then keep circling back occasionally to make sure it's locked in.
It's impossible to master everything at once; just take it one layer at a time.
2. Push yourself.
Make a commitment to stretch your skills just a little next year.
Anders Ericsson invented the field of expertise studies. You've likely heard of the "10,000 hours to expertise" rule from Malcolm Gladwell; Gladwell took (and somewhat distorted) that figure from Ericsson.
Here's how Ericsson sums up his research: expertise comes from consistently pushing past what you thought was possible.
This is a fundamental truth about any sort of practice: If you never push yourself beyond your comfort zone, you will never improve. Get outside your comfort zone but do it in a focused way, with clear goals, a plan for reaching those goals, and a way to monitor your progress.
Goals + planning + work + expert feedback. That matches the success I see at Moxie; every day I watch deliberate practice and feedback transforming talkers into world-class presenters.
3. Perform with presence.
Elite athletes like Michael Phelps are different when they're competing from when they're walking around the grocery store. Yet none of us would say their athletic performance is a fraud. Why? We understand that different moments draw on different parts of ourselves. Some moments are casual; sometimes, we're called on to win.
Executive presence is what defines the performance of an elite speaker. They walk a little differently, speak more clearly, use words a bit more carefully than they do in everyday life. (In fact, elite speakers share many techniques with pro athletes: warming up, welcoming feedback, practicing focus, developing stamina, and doing daily visualizations.)
They're the Michael Phelps of presenters because they know how to pull together the elements of the speaker's persona and--as we at Moxie like to put it--lead from the stage.
So how do you make sure you stay true to these resolutions? I have some tips.
First make sure you set meaningful, measurable goals and then get some accountability. The goals part is easy, now that you've got the resolutions above. Just translate them into some specifics--e.g. "I'd like to push myself to make even better eye contact"--and get to work.
Second, find a friend or a co-worker or mentor or coach. Find someone who will hold your feet to the fire and remind you in July what you decided in January.
With good goals and good accountability, there's nothing that will hold you back in the New Year.