A few years back I was asked to speak at a Student Ministry Retreat in upstate New York. Now, for years I had done weekend retreats in similar settings but this one caught me off guard. Amidst the 2008 financial crisis, the camp in which the retreat center was being held at decided to cut costs by not using the heat. Not a bad idea if your retreat center is in a southern climate, however this was upstate New York in the middle of January. Just to give you a point of reference, the outside temperature didn’t get above 5 degrees Fahrenheit all weekend. Burrrrrr. The teens and the young adult leaders didn’t seem to mind. They thought it was fun. I however did not. After sleeping fully clothed in my sleeping bag with a stocking cap on my head all weekend, I was done. The weekend went well, however after returning home and a short trip to the doctors I learned that now I had pneumonia. My 35 year old body was now teaching me some new lessons in regards to what I need in order to speak well.
This past week while reading Confessions of a Public Speaker I was reminded of some key areas in which are extremely helpful for my personal improvement in the area of public speaking. The following four areas are key to my development as a public speaker.
Practice Makes Perfect… In seminary I remember the words of my preaching professor, “practice, practice, practice.” We were given exactly 15 minutes to deliver our full message. Our professor said, “If you can’t deliver your thoughts in 15 minutes, you should never be given 45 minutes!” So true. Over the years, I have found that I place a great amount of time into prepping my outline, content, visual aids, videos, etc., but almost never take time to practice. Practice, practice, practice.
Less is More… Over the past 8 years I have taught/spoken on average 8-10 times a week. To be honest, it’s to much. I find that when I speak less I have more energy as well as something to say. It seems that when I speak less, I have more time to prepare, more that I bring to the table and more time to process after each delivery for critique. I am currently trying to lesson this load, for my own personal health but also for the quality of my overall public speaking.
Invite Critique Before… Great speakers often allow others to see their outlines and prep prior to speaking, allowing helpful critique in making the content and delivery better. For the last eight years, I have been simply to busy for this important step to take place. In addition to cutting my speaking engagements, I am going to place pre-time in my schedule for the purpose of inviting critique.
Take Care of My Body… Just recently I have been noticing that my body wants to be treated well. What I mean by this is that if I don’t treat it well, it will bite me. In a speaking engagement this past Spring, after making a three day push up until the event, not eating well the morning of and running around trying to nail final details just prior to the event, when I went to speak my voice/ throat closed up. It was bizarre. I am realizing, I have to take care of my body. In my prep, it is vital that I have healthy rhythms prior to speaking as well as having my heart rate, emotions and mind in a healthy place.
Also, no more retreats in New York!