It’s common advice given to a lot of speakers: practice in front of a mirror. So they can see how they ‘perform’ and improve their body language. It’s a very logical way of thinking. In fact, it’s in the advice of many books and courses. Intended to make you look at yourself in real time and make instant adjustments. But is this the right way of thinking?
I believe it is a completely wrong approach. It can even lead to the exact opposite of what you want to accomplish.
“But wait, what are you saying? Are you saying that the advice others are giving is false?” Well, as with many things, my answer will be: that depends. It depends on how you ‘read’ the advice.
Let’s look at some of the reasoning behind the tip that you should practice in front of a mirror.
This is true, of course, you can see yourself. As I point out below though, it’s not your real self. But the essence of the advice here is good: seeing yourself will make that you can improve yourself. The question is if that has to be a mirror… But I’ll get back to that.
Some say that a mirror will help you look at your audience instead of at your notes. Where I agree that you shouldn’t look at your notes, I doubt that the mirror will have that effect. Eye contact is important. So you have to train yourself to look at different people.
I think this advice comes from the understanding that you need to practice without notes. But there are many better ways of doing that.
So why do I advice against it? There are several reasons you shouldn’t do this.
Even though you see yourself in the mirror, and the reflection is real, this is not reality. Practicing in front of the mirror doesn’t reflect what happens in real life. Because for one, in real life, you don’t see yourself. If you want to practice, you want to get as close as possible to the actual speaking experience. When you see a reflection of yourself, you will act on it right away. Change the way you look. But that is how you look in the mirror, not on stage.
You will not even see how you act on stage because you are focusing on your reflection. What you see is not what you get. This might also mean that you change things that don’t need changing!
When you look in the mirror, and you see something wrong, you will change it. But then the change has happened and you don’t think about it anymore. Where in fact, it’s a habit. So you need to address it over and over. Looking in the mirror fools you into thinking you ‘fixed’ your body language.
When you practice in front of the mirror, you are focusing on how your movement and gestures. You will see every movement that goes wrong. You will see every little thing. Your focus will be on your smallest facial expressions and gestures. This is distracting. Which then leads to too much emphasis on those little things and you will lose the focus on your story.
You want to focus on your story, not your gestures.
Looking at yourself in the mirror when practicing might actually make you nervous. When you look at yourself, you emphasize what goes wrong. You are much more aware of what goes wrong. Therefore increasing the likely hood of it actually going wrong.
If you see things going wrong you will start thinking about these things more and more. And that will make you nervous.
Is it always wrong to practice in front of the mirror? I would say yes in most cases. But, like with everything, there are exceptions. If you practice early enough, it will most likely not make you nervous. And you can do that, but only to practice certain gestures. To see if certain gestures work or not. Otherwise, I would advise against it.
But if it’s something that works for you, do it!
There are two other things you can do that will give you a much better insight into how you are presenting yourself:
Find colleagues or other people to see you talk. They can give you feedback as well. Remember to ask them for specific feedback on your body language and not on your story.
Grab a video camera (or your phone) and record yourself. Position the camera so that it has a broad view of how you move (which show your full body). Watch the recording, write down the two or three biggest things you want to change, and do another practice run.
Just be careful rehearsing in front of the mirror. It might not have the outcome you were hoping for!
Have you ever watched TV shows like ‘Idols’, ‘The Voice’ or ‘Britain’s Got Talent”? These shows are very popular. And for good reason. We love to see others show their often hidden talents.
But next to those that show their talents, there are also many who fail. There’s something interesting about these people. Something that has nothing to do with their (lack of) talent on stage.
When you watch the interviews before their performances, you might notice something. Most of those who fail have something in common: their moms. Broader: their families and friends.
These families all say similar things. “She has always been singing at home and I always get goosebumps!” or “We love hearing him sing in the shower!”. They are proud. Genuinely proud. They are entitled to be.
But they are not always right.
They say these things because they are family. Even though what they say might not be true. Because they don’t want to hurt their loved ones. But some also because see their relatives in a different way. They believe in them. You could say that they are in a bubble. One that will make the performer sound good. Even if they are bad.
To improve as a speaker, you need feedback. I’ve talked about getting feedback before, like in this video.
It’s crucial to get feedback. But not always fun or easy. You will hear things you don’t like.
But if you want to grow, you will need to treat the criticism as a gift. As something that will make you a better speaker.
That means you need to ask for feedback as much as you can.
But don’t ask your mom.
Like with the contestants of the talent shows, your mom, or your boyfriend or girlfriend, brother or sister, or someone else close to you, won’t be honest. They can’t. Granted, there are parents who are the most critical people you will meet. But most aren’t.
You will need to find feedback from those that have a certain expertise. Get it from someone with expertise of the content (someone from your industry). Or from someone who understands what it takes to be on stage.
When asking for the feedback, you need to be ready. Ready for the answer, but also to help those that give the feedback to give you the best answer.
In his book “Confidence 2.0” the author, Rob Yeung, highlights three things that are important when asking for feedback. I agree very much with them. They are:
1. You need to give those you are asking for feedback ‘permission’.
Permission to be honest and negative. Make sure you tell them you want to improve. That it’s ok, in fact even good, to get negative feedback. Because that will help you improve.
2. Anonymous feedback works.
If possible, get people to give written feedback. When they write things down, they will be more honest. And when they write it down, knowing it can’t be traced to them, they will be more honest. Most people are afraid to give criticism. By making it anonymous, you help them be more honest.
3. Thank them for the feedback
Finally, make sure you thank people for their feedback. You will have the urge to reply. You will want to explain or counter. Don’t. It won’t help and people will be less eager to help you out the next time. If you ask for negative feedback, you know you won’t like it.
Accept the feedback, use it and improve.
And I’m sure your mom, dad or loved one is amazing. And loves you very much. But be careful with their feedback!
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At The Inbounder in Madrid, Bas van den Beld spoke to Marcus Tandler about his experiences as a speaker and any tips he has for other (new) speakers).
We discussed several topics: from Google to Slidestorms (301 slides in 30 minutes!), rehearsing, anxiety, tactics and much more!
In the past few weeks, you have seen parts of the interview with Purna Virji being published on our YouTube channel and through our social channels. Today, you can watch the entire interview with Purna!
Public speaking for some speakers seems to be easy. They look confident on stage. They have a great story and a lot of knowledge. It seems they have no problem being on stage. Speaking for them seems to come naturally.
Often appearances are deceiving. These speakers work hard to get a presence on stage that feels so natural. And they too get nervous.
As a speaker, it is great to learn from other experienced speakers. To learn how they handle nerves. To learn how they first got on stage. In a series of interviews, we talk to these experienced speakers. To get insights from them that help you, as someone who wants to be a better speaker.
In this series, we spoke to Purna Virji (Bing), Marcus Tandler (Ryte), Cindy Krum (Mobilemoxie) and Melanie Deziel (consultant, former NYT).
In the interview with Purna, we talked about a lot of different things related to public speaking.
Purna has been speaking in public since early 2012. She still loves being on stage. Actually, the more she does it, the more she loves it!
Purna spends a lot of time preparing for a presentation. Including design and everything around a presentation, she spends about 100 hours preparing for a one-hour presentation!
She will start by thinking about which issues the audience is facing. What can she give them which is of most help? The key thing is, how can she add the most value. She will then go and do research about what is available and what is out there.
Her next step is to create an outline in Word. She will fill that in, almost like she is writing an article. In the end, she will convert it to Powerpoint.
Purna rehearses a lot for a presentation. She likes to get in at least three rehearsals for a talk. She finds that helps to get the talk to stick in her head and to know the flow.
Purna finds that if she hasn’t rehearsed enough, she will stumble and she will find herself say “uhm” too much. Rehearsal makes that her talks sound better!
Purna has an interesting approach to rehearsing. She doesn’t rehearse in front of a mirror. She rehearses to the wall. After all, the wall is a captive audience and never has a bad thing to say! She practices on her own, in for example her hotel room or her office.
The first rehearsal she does out loud. She then can adjust content and flow. And she knows how her time is! Purna can than adjust her slides accordingly.
Why Purna wanted to go into public speaking in the first place, is because she found it to be absolutely terrifying! She thought she would ‘die’ when she would get on stage. She hated it more than bugs or spiders. She wanted to conquer that fear.
For the first two or three years, she was still terrified. But the more she did it, the fear goes away.
Purna believes the fear isn’t a bad thing. The fear comes from caring how the audience perceives the talk and how they get value. Which is good.
To get rid of the nerves, she does things like deep breathing. She tries to change the nerves into excitement. She feels much more comfortable.
Purna’s advice for speakers who are just starting is to ‘just do it!’ If you give yourself time to think about it, you give yourself time to talk yourself out of it. If you feel there is something you have had a success in. If you have something you are proud of, know that you have value to add! Just go ahead and pitch!
Purna wants you to just go ahead and do it. The more diverse voices there are in this industry, the more the industry as a whole will benefit.
Want more advice from experience speakers? Subscribe to our YouTube channel to find more!
People have a tendency to compare. They compare products. They compare services. They compare people. And yes, they compare speakers. This is why at a conference, you will often hear the question “which speaker did you like most today?”. Heck, I’ve asked it quite a few times myself.
I’m not saying this question is wrong. But there is something about this question that you should know: it is misleading.
Why? Because it indicates that all speakers should be judged equally. Where they don’t.
Each speaker is different.
One speaker could be more of a storyteller, while the other is more about the facts. Or one speaker is doing a trend overview, where the other is trying to teach us specifically about a topic.
Someone in the audience is likely to be there for one or two of these reasons. Not all of them. So if you are hoping to learn details, you will find the storyteller less interesting. Or vice versa.
A lot of speakers compare themselves to others. And here the same problem appears. It is misleading because of the different intents of the speakers.
When you are speaking at a conference, do yourself a favor and don’t compare yourself to others. Compare yourself to… yourself. Do a better job than last time. You’ll be a better speaker for it!
This post is part of our email series.
How often do you say the word “uhm” or “um” when you talk? Probably a lot. Because many people do. These words are called “filler words”. But how can you fix this?
When you use filler words, you are thinking out loud. And that’s where the solution to stop saying “uhm” lies.
Bas van den Beld explains
Hey how you doing? “Uhhmm”, I want to talk to you about something that “uhhm”. Is something that “uhm” annoys “uh” a lot of people. When “uhh” you are on stage and “uhh” keep saying “uhhh” like I just did.
Now I know I exaggerate a little bit and I know that I even do that sometimes on stage. That I still say “uhm”.
That’s a moment where you’re thinking about “what did I want to say again?” You’re trying to grab your thoughts together. And because you don’t want people to think that you’ve lost whatever you’re talking about, because you’re not (lost).
That’s why you say “Uhhm”. Because you don’t want that awkward silence. To be honest, the awkward silence, isn’t bad at all. Every time you think you want to say “uh”, just pause. Don’t say anything.
It will sound less weird than you actually think. Because in your head it might sound like a long silence, where actually, for the audience, it’s a silence they kind of appreciate. Because if you take a short break, they can understand what you just said. So don’t worry about the “Uhms” too much. Just say nothing.
Have you ever wondered why you are nervous? If you want to handle nerves, you should first understand why you are. After that, you can handle them better! In this week’s tip, Bas van den Beld talks about where nerves come from.
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