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Steps to Self-Criticism—Not Self-Destruction

In the public-speaking training courses I give, people look at videotapes of their speeches. When it comes time to give and get feedback, people are twice as hard on themselves as they are on other course members. When I ask what they think are their strengths and weaknesses, they list a long series of weaknesses right off the bat and are often unsure of any strengths.

For self-criticism to work, you have to be gentle with yourself and learn from feedback: If people say you were good, why not believe them? Coaching is criticism, but it is also developing your confidence by ignoring your insecurities and accepting positive comments. You have to be able to pick out critically the good things about your performance, the things you improved since the last speech. Be gentle with yourself and make self-evaluation an uplifting, not a negative, experience. Here are five ways to improve:

  1. Evaluate yourself. Record every speech you give and evaluate each one for presentation style, content, voice, and speech. If you have access to a video camera, you can also assess your gestures, mannerisms, and overall body language. Make a list of the things you did well and improved since your last talk, and list the things you still want to work on. Remember: Be gentle, not brutal.

  2. Have someone else evaluate you. It could be a colleague, your boss, or a friend, depending on the situation. Ask them to be honest and to write down their reactions as you speak. You can use this technique in rehearsals and in the actual presentation.

  3. Provide evaluation forms after each presentation. Pay attention to the evaluations, even if they are painful. Listen to criticism, adapt if it's appropriate, and you will be stronger the next time around. Once I was told my visual aids did not look professional; after that I had them done by a graphic artist and felt much more confident about the entire presentation.

  4. Evaluate other speakers. At the end of this chapter is a form listing some of the criteria speakers are judged by. Use it when you attend presentations, and you'll get a much better sense of where you, too, need improving. You'll also become more aware of exactly where and how other speakers score points, because the form breaks down a speech into its parts and makes evaluation a step-by-step process.

  5. Practice speaking as often as possible. You don't have to wait for corporate presentations to hone your skills. Join a local Toastmasters chapter; volunteer to give speeches to local groups. The only way to reap the benefits of your coaching and to continue to grow is through more speaking.

Keep practicing at meetings and get evaluations there too. At the end of each presentation, large or small, ask yourself what you did well and what you need to improve. Before any presentation, single out one or two things you are going to work on and improve, and note them on confidence cards. Practice those improvements over and over; it takes at least seven dry runs before these changes become a comfortable part of your delivery. Realize you only improve a little at a time—it does not happen all at once.


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