Practice Makes Perfect


I was sitting through a presentation last month, suffering for my booth partner who was trying her hardest to make some sense out of the speaker’s intellibish (that’s gibberish mixed with plenty of big words and buzzwords in an attempt to pass for intelligent). Buried somewhere in the talk was some degree of expertise on the matter, but it was painfully hard to tease out. While it is a rare occurrence to face a speaker who does not know what he or she is talking about, all too often we translate veritable specialists who cannot even remotely convey a coherent message.

There are three reasons why speakers who truly know their subject matter still manage to utterly fail their audience: ludicrous speed, poor organization, and verbal crutches. Ludicrous speed means racing through 60 slides in 20 minutes, testing your listeners’ recall skills as the lag between your motor mouth and their normal processing capacity grows with each passing minute. Poor organization means thinking that the fabulous brainstorm of ideas will magically organize itself when you stand up to talk, giving artistic license for the 200 members of your audience to walk away with 200 unique lectures, none of which resembles the story in your own head. Verbal crutches: using more ums, ahs, you knows, likes and like you knows than actual words, prompting your listeners to focus more on your utter lack of verbal dexterity than the content of your discourse.

And there is one foolproof way to avoid all the pitfalls that make even the best expert an utterly ineffective speaker: video practice. Take it from a translator (who sees her fair share of horrible speakers and who has made the embarrassing mistake of not taking her own advice): stand in front of a camera, practice your lecture, observe yourself, tweak. Your audience – in any language – will thank you for a brilliant talk.

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