The Best Self-Evaluation Tool in Speaking

Video on Phone
You probably already have the best self-evaluation tool in speaking . . . your cell phone (or tablet), assuming you can use it to take videos.Last week, I held a presentation skills workshop for a small group, in which each of the six participants gave a 5-7 minute speech, which I video-recorded on my iPad.  Immediately after each participant’s speech, the participant watched their video (privately, with headphones), then the other participants gave brief evaluations, followed by my brief coaching.

Many of the participants dreaded watching themselves on video, which is one reason I had them do it immediately afterwards.  I knew from my own experience and from working with others that very few people will watch themselves later.

However, the participants were mostly pleasantly surprised.  They weren’t that bad, even if they were their own worst critics.  They also noticed things that they didn’t even know they were doing, such as saying ums, smacking lips, swaying, wringing hands and other things that distracted from their message.

I’ll never forget the first few times I saw myself on video.  The first time was when I did a stand-up comedy routine in front of a live, paying audience as part of a stand-up comedy class.  I couldn’t believe how busy and distracting my patterned dress was.  Of course someone could have told me, but seeing it for myself made it unforgettable.  From watching my video that day, I learned that clothing does matter!

The next time I saw myself on video, I noticed that I kept hitching up my pants!  I didn’t even know I was doing it.  From watching my video that day, I learned, yet again, that clothing does matter (wear a belt on loose pants!).

When I work with clients, getting them to take my advice is so much easier if they can see the need for change without me saying anything.  I had one client who, in the first 3 minutes of his presentations had 30 ums.  I could have told him we needed to work on reducing the ums, but it was so much more effective to have him watch the first 3 minutes of his presentation, turn to me and say, “I say way too many ums!  How can I eliminate them?”

People are much more motivated to change when they can see the need for themselves.I know it can be painful to watch yourself, but if you really want to change you will do it.  The best athletes study their performance, shouldn’t you?

At your next presentation–at work, at Toastmasters, or elsewhere, ask a friend or coworker to video you (or bring your own tripod, like a table top tripod) and then, within 24 hours watch it.  If you have time, watch it without the sound, too, to focus on the visual elements of your presentation.

What are YOU doing that you don’t even know?  Know thyself!

Pinch Hitting in Speaking

Step up to the Plate

I was about to enter the meeting, when Jennifer walked up to me and said, “I can’t believe this, but I have to go home.  My cat had a seizure and my boyfriend can’t handle it.  I was supposed to give this educational presentation tonight.”  Jennifer showed me her typed speech notes and extensive handouts for a 10-minute educational talk.  “Could you give my speech?”

What would you do?

Odds are that if you speak enough, you may be faced with “pinch-hitting” for another speaker. Will you step up to the plate?

After reviewing the material for half a minute, I said, “I could give this speech tonight on your behalf.  It won’t be as good as what you would have done, but I’m familiar with the material.”

With that, Jennifer left and I walked into the room and let the person in charge of the agenda know that I would be substituting for Jennifer, with the same topic.

Fortunately, I was on the agenda as the second speaker, and there were a few preliminary matters in the meeting that allowed me to briefly look over Jennifer’s speech notes, typed in outline form, with a few inspirational quotes written out.  I also paged through the handout.  I made particular note that Jennifer had chosen an analogy to open and close with.  As the first speaker spoke, I noted how I could weave something she said into the opening analogy.

I developed a quick plan in my head:

  1. Address the situation humorously
  2. Move into the opening analogy and tie into the first speaker
  3. Preview the material with the audience, crediting Jennifer for the material
  4. Ask some relevant questions of the audience, for interaction and engagement
  5. Distribute the hand-out and give the audience a minute to look at it (which allowed me to look at it more closely to determine what I would highlight)
  6. Go through the points, give examples
  7. Intersperse the written-out quotes as appropriate
  8. Close with revisiting the analogy

The key to my acceptance of the task of giving another person’s speech was that I was familiar with the material and knew that I did not have to resort to saying her exact words.  Also, I quickly developed a plan.

If you are faced with a similar situation, consider the following:

  1. Do you have a grasp of the material?
  2. Are the speaker notes easy to follow? (or can you create your own structure on the spot?)
  3. Would it be better for the speech not to happen or better for you to do the best you can? (Which is better for the audience? Nothing or your best attempt?)

If you can say “yes” to the above questions, then be the meeting planner’s hero. Step up to the plate, be a pinch hitter and hit it out of the ball par

Speaking at Funerals and Memorials

Clara and Britta at Urn

The older you get, the more opportunities you will have to attend and speak at memorials and funerals.  A heart-felt tribute to the deceased is a compassionate gift to the bereaved.

I recently had the opportunity, on December 28, 2014, of speaking at my father-in-law’s funeral.  My short memorial speech will follow a few tips on speaking at memorials and funerals.  The picture above is of my daughter and granddaughter visiting my father-in-law’s urn at the memorial.

Tips for speaking at memorials or funerals:


Reflect on favorite times, memories, phrases.  Talking with family members may bring back memories, as can photos or old letters (or even the person’s Facebook timeline).  Sometimes, a meaningful prop, such as a favorite possession can give you inspiration and give you something to show while you are speaking.

Prepare to speak from the heart

You may think you can just “wing it,” but you may be overcome with emotion and forget what you want to say.  So, take some time to organize your thoughts.  Write out what you think you want to say, and then reduce it to bullet points on note cards (or on your phone or tablet).  You can either have them out to read from or have them handy “just in case.” You want to speak conversationally, making eye contact with the other attendees as much as possible, for an emotional connection. You don’t have to say things exactly the way you planned to, but that’s OK, because no one but you will know.

You will want to open your speech by explaining your relationship to the deceased.  After that, one great approach is to have a “theme” for your memorial speech, such as a story or two that exemplifies an aspect of the person’s character or values, or the person’s impact on your life.  Everyone loves a good story and stories are easy to remember.  To make your story “come alive” you can add some dialogue or quote a phrase that the person was well known for.   A humorous anecdote will help ease the sadness and bring a welcome relief for the attendees. Refrain from telling outright jokes.

Usually 2-5 or so minutes is an appropriate length, unless you are a family member and want to go on a little longer.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Practice your remarks out loud at least 3 times.  Imagine speaking to the hearts of the audience in attendance.

Dealing with emotions while speaking

It’s OK if you cry during your speech.  A few tears are an honest show of emotion, but if you feel yourself going into uncontrollable wailing, excuse yourself.  It may be helpful to go up to the speaking area with another family member, who can support you, or even finish your remarks, if you have them written out.

Below is what I had written out to say at my father-in-law’s memorial (I didn’t say it exactly like this, but it’s close.  I went up without notes, as my remarks were short and I had organized the flow so one part reminded me of the next).

Diane Windingland’s Memorial Tribute for Clarion Windingland


I was lucky to have Clarion Windingland as my father-in-law. 

I was lucky because when you marry someone, you also marry their family. 

And, to paraphrase, Forrest Gump, “Life . . . [or marriage, or in-laws] . . . is like a box of chocolates.  You never know what you’re gonna get.” 

I was lucky because I got Clarion for a father-in-law. 

I was lucky because Clarion showed my husband, his son, Kim, a great example of what a husband should be. 

Clarion was kind, hard-working, thrifty, but generous and most of all, he loved his wife, Rose. 

Many years ago, when I was interviewing Rose for a short autobiography, I asked her about how she and Clarion met, in Korea. Clarion was sitting at the kitchen table and piped up, “When I saw her from across the room, she was the most beautiful girl there, but what really caught my eye was her eyes, her bright, shining eyes.”  Those bright eyes caught his eye and captured his heart. From that time on, he only had eyes for her. 

Clarion and Rose seemed to do almost everything together.  When I was a newlywed, I thought all that togetherness was a bit odd for an old married couple.  They were in their 40s after all! They even went grocery shopping together.  But for them, it wasn’t just about getting the groceries; it was about getting to spend time together. 

In more recent years, when Clarion’s health declined and he could no longer walk the grocery store aisles with Rose, he still would drive her to the store. He would wait patiently in the car and usually take a little nap.  He would say he was just “resting” his eyes.  But, when Rose came back to the car, he would open his eyes and the twinkle would return as he looked into the “bright eyes” of his love. 

It is my wish, my hope, that every woman has a man love her the way Clarion loved Rose.  For more than 56 years of marriage, Rose was a lucky woman.  And, I was a lucky daughter-in-law.  Thank you, Clarion.