Monday, August 29, 2011

A Week to Speak

"Practice makes perfect."
"Perfect practice makes perfect."
"The amateur practices until he gets it right; the professional practices until he can't get it wrong."
"The early bird gets the worm."

Wait! What? What do worms have to do with practice?

Actually, the worm bit does belong with this litany of aphorisms about practice. Get this. The key ingredient in practice is time. I can't prove it scientifically, but I've experienced it so many times and watched so many students and professionals preparing to present that I'll stake my flawless reputation on this rule of thumb: It takes a week to speak!
What does that mean? Simply this: If you want to sparkle, start early. Last minute preparation spells disaster.

This is what I know. If you practice until you've got your speech smoothed down in one session, you'll find that you can hardly remember anything the next day. It's gone. Vanished. Like you never even practiced the day before. And it comes back hard.

The third day, things start to fall back into place. By day five or six, things begin to feel natural.

What's happening as we learn? Obviously, I'm no neurophysicist, but I understand that much of learning and memory is a process of establishing connecting synaptic patterns within the brain (see this MNT article for a fairly simple explanation). Refining these neurotransmission patterns accounts, at least in part, for our ability to remember more quickly with additional repetition.

All of this is to say that it takes time for our brains to form the networks of association that enable us to quickly connect complex elements of information (like words and concepts) into a pattern that we can consistently send to the speech center for verbalization.

How long does it take? How many repetitions? Good questions. The process probably varies from person to person and with age and practice. But, having watched 600 students giving as many as 3,600 speeches over the past five years, I'm estimating that the average student will need five or six days of consistent practice to make things flow in a speech. Hence: a week to speak.

Those students who start early preparing and practicing their speeches will achieve the best performance, i.e., smooth and meaningful verbalization of their ideas.

So what?
So, if you want to become good at preparing and delivering knockout presentations, get in the habit from the beginning. Start early and practice over time. A week to speak. I'm betting your own experiences will prove the value of this simple rule. Try it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Me in 30 Seconds

Ever walk away from an unexpected encounter with somebody you'd like to work for, or somebody you'd like to win as a customer or client, wishing you could go back and have the conversation over again? Wishing you had known what to say, instead of trying to make it up while you were saying it?

That's what a"Me in 30 Seconds" statement does for you. This little jewel is prepared in advance and can be used at a moment's notice when you just happen to bump into somebody important on an elevator, in the restroom, at the water cooler, or standing in line at the book store. It's also a great way to begin a job interview.

It's a very brief introduction to who you are, what you're doing, and where you're going (in a professional sense). The statement is brief because 30 seconds is about all the time a listener will give you before he/she starts thinking about something else.
Your Assignment

Create, practice, and present your Me in 30 Seconds statement to the class. We'll hear these in class on Tuesday, August 30. Here are some suggestions.

1. Watch the sample video below. I'll show you how your statement can sound. We played around with this on the first day of class, so it won't be new to you, but could serve as a reminder.

2. Write out your statement. Three or four short sentences. Sentence one: what have you done to be proud of so far? Sentence two: what are you doing now that is important? Sentence three: how can your experience and abilities benefit your listener?

Important tip: Be sure that there is a clear connection between sentence one and sentence three. That will help your listener see how your past experiences have prepared you to benefit him/her. For example, if you plan to become a nurse, emphasize past experiences that will aid you in excelling as a nurse. Then finish with a clear statement explaining how your background and present pursuits can benefit the listener.

3. Time it. If it goes over 30 seconds in three or four recitations, cut it down. Remember, listeners will only stay with you that long. Anything else you say is wasted breath (unless you've got a story to tell that is truly gripping, gory, or bizarre, which might earn you another five seconds—but don't count on it).

4. Memorize it. Practice, practice, practice until it flows smoothly and conversationally. If it doesn't come out word-perfect, that's okay. It'll be close.

5. Try it out on everybody who cares about you (mom, dad, roomie, pet turtle). If you don't have a friend in the world (like me), record it on your phone and play it back (same with video). Then do it again. And again. And again.

6. Have fun with it. Nobody's going to be executed for stumbling on this assignment. go for it!

Watch the sample video below or on YouTube. It's what I would say if I were looking for work.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Changes in the Course for Fall 2011

We're going to try a few new things this semester that should strengthen the course and really pump up its practical value for students. The changes are based on student feedback from past semesters.

1. Less reliance on the standard text book. More reliance on pinpoint concepts in the course packet. The exams will feature questions taken from the course packet and classroom discussions. Students will not need to buy the text, though it is great supplemental reading.

2. More short speaking assignments to give students more opportunities in front of the class. We'll add a "Me in 30 Seconds" assignment to sharpen job interviewing skills and an Impromptu assignment to provide tools for "on the spot" speaking. These will help you in other classes and in the tight job market.

3. More in-class feedback for immediate learning from your own strengths and mistakes and from classmate presentations.

Again, don't buy the text until we talk in class. Be sure to pick up a course packet for Comm 1020, Richardson at the bookstore.