It’s back-to-school time! For many of you out there, you or your kids have returned to the classroom for another year. Even for those of us who aren’t in the literal back-to-school rush, the start of the fall season usually bring up new energy, bold new plans, and a bit of internal fire to try something new.
If you’re feeling this sort of energy, I want to encourage you to do two things:
- Take on a speaking challenge.
For most of you, the best place to find a speaking challenge will be through your work. It doesn’t matter what job you have or industry you work in, there are opportunities for you to speak. We always, always need to share information with co-workers, and your “talk” could be anywhere from 30 seconds to 30 minutes. It all counts. Ask to deliver the departmental report at an upcoming company meeting. Offer to present some new information or resources at a staff meeting. In a more hands-on, less talky-talky type job? You could ask your foreman if you could add something to your morning on-site safety meeting – maybe a quick note of some problem equipment or a hazardous area on the worksite. Propose a new way of setting up a retail shelf display to your store manager.
Or maybe you have an opportunity to speak in a more social setting. Give a short speech at an upcoming social event (hey, September is a popular time for weddings). Do you volunteer on a committee or in a club? Share information that would be relevant or interesting. If nothing else, you probably have to convince a family member or friend of something, so approach it a bit like a presentation – take the time to plan out what you want to say, practise it, and then “present” it. The people you’re speaking to don’t need to know you are actually using this as a speaking challenge. Guerrilla speech practice is one of my favourite activities.
2. Experiment with your speaking, and don’t be afraid of not getting it right.
Often, fear of failure is what holds us back from trying something new. This is especially true with speaking, where many of us get tongue-tied at the thought of saying or doing something wrong.
But here’s the thing: really good speakers experiment a lot. We try out new expressions, tones, gestures, stories, and ideas. And as it is with any experiment, not everything works. I’ve had jokes fall totally flat, given analogies that ended up being confusing and awkward, and have advanced ideas that weren’t quite the right fit for the audience. Heck, I’ve even experimented with ways of giving off different impressions of myself to others (my early “unflappable confidence” experiments just made me seem like an irritating ass. I’ve since modified my approach to projecting confidence, natch).
Experimentation is what lets us figure out what kind of body language or vocal tone or turns of phrase suit us. But you have to be willing to get some things wrong if you’re going to figure out how to do it right. Yes, it can be uncomfortable and even slightly embarrassing, but the more you do it the easier it gets and the better your speaking becomes.
And just as with the first challenge, you can conduct ‘guerrilla experimentation.’ Don’t tell your co-workers that you’re trying to hold yourself differently and use bigger gestures…just do it and see how they react. Don’t tell your partner that you’re trying out the famous “yes, and…” improvisation skill – just do it and see what happens! If something isn’t working, don’t beat yourself up – just try something else out and revel in the fact that you learned something new.
These two challenges go hand in hand. Taking on a new speaking challenge will give you opportunity to experiment with what you say and how you say it. You can do them in tandem, or you can do them separately. If you are a keener and want to take on a new challenge and experiment with your vocal variety at the same time, go for it. If you can only handle doing the speaking challenge and don’t want to experiment with technique because it will make you too nervous, that’s totally fine. Just do that first challenge and leave experimentation for a later date. A big key with both these challenges is not to overthink them – look for small, everyday places where you can try these out.
If you really want to jump into the spirit of these challenges, consider taking a speaking or acting or improvisation class. Any of these will give you loads of opportunity to take on a new speaking challenge and experiment with speaking methods and techniques at the same time.
Take a deep breath, let that crisp fall air and back-to-school vibe give you a rush of energy, and take the plunge. You can do a lot when you seize the learning opportunities in everyday life.
I’m going back to school, too! Yep, even pro speakers need to work on their skill and technique, so I’ve signed up for a stand-up comedy class (eek!). Are you trying out a new class or activity this fall? I want to hear about it – click here to tell me on twitter, or if you are more of a Facebook person, click here to share your activity on my Facebook page.