'The Game' and 'The Swing' of public speaking.
Updated: Nov 25
Speaking is a skill not unlike tennis. To master the skill, it helps to break it down into two fundamental parts.
Think of any moment in time during which you demand excellence of yourself as a game-time event: an interview, a presentation, a speech. In tennis, it would be a tennis match. In the game of speaking, variables change depending on the situation: number of listeners, topic, in-person or virtual, etc. You make decisions based on these variables: your attire, stand or sit, slides or no slides, etc. The most important set of decisions is in regard to content. What are you going to say?
There is a coordination system to speaking that does not change with game-time variables. In tennis, we would call this coordination system your swing. You cannot be great in a tennis match without a sound swing.
You cannot be great in the game of speaking if you do not have a sound speaking 'swing'.
Because we all learn to speak by mimicking and imitating people around us, our swing is often riddled with less desirable behaviors: fragmenting, rambling, up-talking, vocal-frying, etc. A sound swing features, among other things, us talking in clean, concise sentences from first word to period with a downward emphasis on the last word.
Work on your swing.
A tennis player will set aside time to hone their swing. They'll hit a ball against a wall or use a ball machine in a very deliberate routine that allows them to experiment with their coordination system and discover the mechanics that release their power and accuracy. To work on your speaking swing:
Set aside five to ten minutes to practice in a quiet corner of your home.
Prop up your cell phone in video-selfie mode right next to a framed photo of someone.
Choose a topic you find easy to talk about like what you do for work (content isn't the focus when practicing your swing).
Record yourself for about 30 seconds talking to the face in the framed photo.
Review the video looking for one micro-skill that you can improve.
Record again while focusing on that one micro-skill.
Most of us have no idea how much our speaking swing is holding us back. We tend to focus on content and other game-time variables, but less desirable habits, some of which I mentioned earlier, take a constant toll on our power and ability to engage listeners as we speak.
The bottom line: you have to assess your swing and practice it from time to time if you are ever going to be great at the game of speaking.