For many years, I’ve quietly mentored a few speakers in the industry. Nothing big, nothing formal, just periodically I’d find somebody that wanted to get in front of audiences and speak, and either they’d ask me some questions or I’d get the feeling that they were open to some suggestions, and things would sort of go from there. Now, as I start to wind down my speaking career (some), I thought I’d post some ideas and suggestions I’ve had over the years. One such tip: Record yourself when speaking. Then, actually watch the video.
Many conferences are doing this for speakers, in the belief that the video of speakers delivering their content is a value-add for the conference (and frankly, that’s a whole sidebar that should be its own topic, but I’ve had my views known on that for many years, and honestly I don’t know that anybody cares anymore). Thus, I suppose the tip really should be “Record yourself giving a presentation only if the conference isn’t”, but there’s actually a few reasons to record yourself even if the conference already is.
First off, it’s actually pretty easy to record yourself:
- Get an accomplice to do it. You’re not looking for world-class HDTV production-ready video, you just want somebody to hold a camera on you while you talk, so that you can see what you look like from the outside.
- Turn the video on, prop the phone on your laptop, and let it record you from there. Since a lot of technical speaking is done from behind a laptop, this will get you at least some idea of what you look like from the outside.
- Worst case, just bring a tape recorder or other audio recording device, and turn it on before you start. You won’t get the body language or the video, but you’ll at least hear what you sound like.
The reason for this is simple: We all know what we look and sound like from the inside, but it’s actually very hard to get an honest view of what we look like from the outside. This insight can be valuable.
True story: A number of years ago, I did an interview on .NET Rocks. (For those who don’t know, .NET Rocks is an Internet radio talk show that’s been around for nigh on a decade now.) What we talked about wasn’t really that important; what is important is the fact that .NET Rocks was in the habit, at the time, of doing a full transcript of the interview and posting it to their website. (This is yet another way of getting a view of what you look like from the outside.) I made the happy mistake of going to read the transcript.
And discovered, right? That I had this habit, right? Of using the word right, right? As my “crutch word”. Every. Single. Sentence. Ow. It was absolutely painful to read. Which meant, of course, that it was probably just as painful to listen to if you weren’t in the habit of ignoring my crutch words (as I was).
By the way, if you’re not aware of it, a “crutch word” is the term used by Toastmasters to refer to the little “space fillers” that we use in speech. Normally it’s “uh” or “um”, which is why many Toastmasters meetings will appoint someone to be the “Um Counter”, and whose job is to count the use of “crutch words” in a presentation.
(Sidebar: Part of the reason we use those crutch words during spoken conversation is because we are indicating to our partners in the conversation that we’re not quite done with our thought—that you’re thinking of what you want to say next, and it’s not yet their turn to start talking. When you’re giving a presentation, that’s not a concern. But more on that in another article.)
Unless you’re in the habit of bringing your local Toastmasters club with you to your technical presentations, you probably won’t have the luxury of an “Um Counter” for your talk. Using a phone camera or other recording device is likely to be the closest you’ll get. However, this brings up another point.
You have to actually watch the video.
It’s not enough to just record it; you need to set aside some time, long after the event is done, to actually watch your presentation. This can be the most painful part of the whole exercise—Hollywood actors have been known to avoid this, in fact. You will find yourself criticizing every little thing about your presentation. You will find yourself cringing at every moment during your presentation. Even if you turned in the best talk of your life, you will find things that you did wrong, because (news flash!) we are all our own worst critics, and you will be harsher on yourself than you will ever be on anyone else.
(Certain douchebags excepted, of course. Some people are just that far along the Dunning-Kruger scale.)
Point is, you still have to do it. This is how you are going to get an unfiltered look at yourself, and if you can set aside the self-judging (and self-flagellating) for a bit, and look at the talk as you would somebody else’s talk, you can find a number of fine-tunings that you can do to improve your own presentations.
And that’s a good thing. Right?