The saying goes “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail”. The thing with “just speaking” is we think that we can do it. That if we have the words and the reminders in front of us it will be fine. We are all born communicators so think it’s OK to just open our mouths and talk.
I came across the idea of rehearsal when I was part of a pitch for a BBC Radio programme. The production company I worked with made us all sit in a room and rehearse. It wasn’t scripted, we just spent the day before going over and over the content till we all know what we were saying and why we were saying it.
It was an incredible experience, and an approach only a skilled presenter (our boss at the time) would have suggested. We got to practice the words we were going to say, not just point at each other and say “you do that bit and I’ll do that bit”.
I’m not going to lie to you – it was weird and awkward sat with my colleagues revealing what I was going to say in that “sell yourself” voice I use in a pitch! The best thing about it was it gave them the chance to give me feedback (“don’t use that voice Kate”), tweak what they were going to say, and it became like a performance.
When we got into the pitch it sounded natural, and we were all able to back each other up. We coped with all the questions (yes we rehearsed those too). We were able to walk out of that pitch and truthfully say we had done everything we could have done. Thankfully we won it. And I would put the rehearsal time as one of the key factors to that.
Rehearsal means you can cope with anything.
From the first time you talk in a meeting, to the pitch being shortened all of a sudden, to reading the script handed to you, and even that break up you have planned – rehearsal can really help.
So how do you get the best out of your rehearsal time?
Say it over and over and over again. I tell clients that you need to rehearse your piece at least 6 times before you perform it. If you are reading it takes that many read-throughs before you even start to sound natural. And by putting a number on it – it makes you think about how you manage your time right?
In reality, there is a good chance that you will get your words sorted the night before and at that point, I would suggest that you at least read through once or twice so that your performance is not the first time you say it!
By rehearsing like this you are giving yourself the opportunity to set it in your mind, but most importantly you are giving your face the chance to get its muscle memory sorted! Getting your mouth around your thoughts and words as they come out the first time is tough. Give yourself the opportunity to focus on what you are saying rather than stumbling over your thoughts.
2. Secret Rehearsal
This is my favourite. This is rehearsing in front of people and they have no idea.
For example: If you want to get rid of your “erms” then practice avoiding them while in conversation today. The person you are talking to will have no idea!
A mate of mine confessed that when she realised she had to get better at presentations she would stand with her family in her kitchen and try things out, without them knowing. She’d experiment with body language, expression and words! It’s a great technique to see what works and feels right for you. And it means you don’t always have to wait for the house to be empty to start talking to yourself.
3. You Don’t Know There Until You go There
Are you afraid you are talking too fast? If so, try speaking slower. The idea of it often feels so weird that you don’t even try it. So by rehearsing speaking so slow, it feels super super weird then it enables you to discover that actually speaking at a good pace, feels more comfortable than you thought.
If you’re afraid of telling stories, in your rehearsal tell wild stories that you would never do in your pitch, just because sometimes, you might discover something you can use.
You don’t know that until you go there. Use your rehearsal time to discover quirks, fix your own limiting beliefs and talking bugs. No one will know, so just try it.
I know. You hate hearing your own voice back. I hate to break it to you: I meet very few people who are comfortable with the sound of their own voice, let alone like it. The people who do are the ones who have been broadcasting for a long time. So I need you to face into the pain of hearing yourself back because one of 2 things will happen: either you will think “that wasn’t as bad as I thought” or you will think “right I know how to make that bit better now”.
That wasn’t so tough, was it?
A lot of the time our lack of confidence is rooted in what we think we look or sound like. We think everyone can see how nervous we are. That everyone can hear the voice in our head saying “you are talking total rubbish and no one cares!”
Actually, once we see/hear ourselves our self-awareness improves and we see that no one can see that bundle of nerves rattling around inside our tummy. And that no one would have known that you made a mistake. We see we are competent, and that builds confidence.
I heard on a documentary about Prince that he would say to his band: “Novices practice. Professionals rehearse”
Reviews used to solely be the rulers of the Theatre, Movies and Restaurants, with the “reviewers” in the newspapers given the credit of expert holding the success of their reviewees in the tip of their pens. In the 90s characters like actor Joey Tribbiani (yes, from Friends) were seen marching the streets of New York at 1 am, desperate to read the review of his play except: “Joey Tribbiani was able to achieve brilliant new levels of…. Sucking!”
These days everyone can review anything. And in the podcast world, those reviews are (currently) vital to the algorithm that helps the new audience find your podcast.
The issue is that to get people to review your podcast you have to ask them to. And that feels weird. It’s not in our nature to demand things for ourselves. It turns out though, you really can be quite demanding before someone will get mad at you! So after 4 months of asking nay BEGGING for reviews, I managed to learn and observe a few things to get it to work better:
Don’t Be Afraid To Ask – And Keep Asking
When you work in commercial radio you become accustomed to repeating your message – especially the more sales type ones. The idea being that not everyone is listening all the time to the linear broadcast format, and repetition means your audience remembers what they have heard. As a programmer I often winced at the number of times we would run premium text competitions in one day – but the audience would never fail to take part and the more we said it… the more money we would make (I know, makes you want to puke right?!)
So how often should you ask for reviews?
The answer – every episode. Oh, wait no, that’s not true.
Everyday Positivity is daily, and it usually only runs for up to 2 minutes. We recognised that we needed more reviews to get the Flash Briefing in front of more people. Every day asking for reviews, with a sell that sometimes ran to 60 seconds worth of instructions. The reviews went rocketing up and we started to grow the audience.
Then the inevitable happened:
Through reading the reviews I discovered that the repetition and lengthy way of asking for the reviews was not going down well with the audience:
“This is about 50% positivity and 50% fishing for reviews. Annoying.”
The solution has been to drop to 1 review request every 4 days and to keep it sharp. This means we are getting a steady flow of reviews, and (when I just checked while writing this) the number of irritated reviews has dropped off.
So context matters – if you do a weekly 30-minute podcast, a 1-minute review request is pretty harmless every episode. Every day for 2 minutes – a lighter less frequent review request works better.
2.What’s In It For Them
I have heard some podcasts give random prizes for reviews and I’ve seen articles about how that doesn’t work for the audience. Again I think it depends on your podcast and your audience as to whether this type of incentivisation works.
What is essential is that your “why” should be clear. Communicate your intent. I want everyone to know about Everyday Positivity because I want to help as many people as I can. So I say that when I talk about the reviews. “Leave a review and together we can make the world more positive”
Why should they review your podcast? Are they part of something if they do? What is the impact of their review?
3. Read Some Out
This week I started reading out reviews. It’s the social proof that your listeners need to know that this is what other people do too. They aren’t “weird” for doing it
I recently sampled The Property Podcast who did their review request about two thirds in. In reading the reviews they not only told other listeners that their podcast was great, they also sounded like they were talking to their audience by answering any questions that came up.
Oh and their line which I thought was nice: “Thanks to your reviews, we remain the most popular property podcast”
4. Give a strong call to action
Reviews aren’t easy to do. They may be easy to click through, but your listener is only going to want to go through it if they have absolutely nothing better to do. (See “Why”)
So make it as clear and easy as possible, and from time to time put the directions on how to review in there too.
5. Make It Fun
The Eggchasers Rugby Podcast (highly popular Rugby Podcast) will use their reviews as an opportunity for their listeners to be funny. They read out and encourage the listeners that leave a 5-star review and tongue in cheek joke about how awful the podcast is! This causes fun and hilarity all-round.
I’ve not worked out how to do this for my short form pod yet but I always think about how creative it is and think about how I can make the reviews read more fun.
My favourite thing about getting reviews is that you can really hone your podcast. It encourages you to try and so you do a bit, and then get some feedback, and if you use that feedback wisely you can streamline your podcast into a really bright, marvellous programme with a growing active audience.
Content Ideas are the elixir of any regular Content Creator: when you have them it’s easy to create amazing content, when you don’t it’s hard work.
Firstly – let me clear this up – you are a Content Creator if you are presenting to anyone about anything on any platform. So yes, that’s you.
Now for the ‘hard work’ part.
When I run out of ideas, I don’t just run out of ideas and think “it’s OK Kate, you’re just having a bad day”… I have a catastrophic crisis of confidence.
Last week I sat down to write this blog…with nothing. I put it off for 3 days and nothing came to me. I then thought about not writing it at all. Then the evil inner voice started telling me that this was always going to happen, that inside you’ve known all along that you’re not really that good at this and everyone is going to find out. Then I had an adult tantrum, had some gin and went to bed.
I finally talked to my colleague who said “what about a blog about coming up with ideas?”
Which shook me out of my strop to go through the process I always go through (and had forgotten) when I need inspiration for new ideas.
Use Your Life
I say this all the time. Finding the best way to connect with your audience is to find a common bond. And the most basic common bond is that we are all human. What makes us human? : The personal, the quirks, the niggles, the crazy, the silly and the obsessive. Loves, hates, passions, relationships, and emotions.
Look at what has happened to you recently to pull out some stories from there. Dig deep. If it helps, comedian Steve Martin suggests sitting in a coffee shop for 3 hours and making a note of all the things you see, think and feel. That should be plenty to get you started!
On the search for inspiration, sometimes the outside world can help. When I record my Everyday Positivity Flash Briefing I record 5-10 at a time. I keep a note of significant dates, events, film releases, TV shows, birthdays, anniversaries and use them in my content.
I did a whole 2-minute episode about how I love mountains because they are something that you view from far away, and if we look at our life from far away, maybe it would look just as great! I do genuinely think this but the content starter for it? It’s International Mountain Day that day.
While topicality can create ideas, it is mostly useful for relevance. For example, I talked about Black Friday as an example of using positive language on the 23rd November 2018 Black Friday episode. The episode was about using “and” rather than “but”, with the punchline “I bought loads of amazing things in the Black Friday sales AND I saved a load of money”…
3. Do a Mind Map
No really. Just get writing.
I love a mind map, but I like to do them on my own! I relax my mind and the start listing ideas. Then I add associations, then opposites and then more associations and opposites and it usually throws up something I’d not thought of.
4. What does your audience NEED?
The best content is the content that adds value to your audience. I have heard the words “pain points” being bandied around recently in business. Find your client’s “pain point” and then give them a solution for that, is the advice. I guess the best thing to do is be useful to them.
And sometimes just asking your audience for what they need can create the best content. What do they struggle with? What would they like to know?
When all else fails though – I will always recommend sleeping on it.
You know the idea that comes to you in the shower or on the sunbed – there’s a scientific reason for it. You need to let your brain state drift and it will pop ideas in.
Last week when I did the Content Mind Map I slept on it, and then while driving the following morning last week’s blog about Script Reading popped into my head!
So maybe fill yourself up with inspiration and then have a lie-down!
Here’s the thing: people can tell when you are reading.
I should caveat that with: people can tell when you are reading unless you have done the work to be sure you don’t sound like you are reading.
My personal preference is that you should go without a script where you can, but the reality is that you will be reading a script at some point.
So if you are going to read from a script – how do you sound like you are talking rather than reading??
Check the Words
This is key to it sounding like you aren’t reading. The aim for all presenting is that you sound like you’re talking to your audience as if you were in the pub plus 10%. The language you use to write is significantly different to the spoken word.
When we write we use lots of words we don’t need. When we speak we get to the point quicker. We also write in the first person (I / we went to the pub) or the third person (she went to the pub). We we speak we use the first and second person (you).
When you write you tend to put descriptions up front and the subject last. When speaking the subject goes up front and then you may add some description after.
Written: However, this week the dynamic and hairy lead singer of the Foo Fighters, Dave Grohl, did go to the post office
Spoken: “Dave Grohl, the lead singer of the Foo Fighters, went to the post office this week – which was surprising…”
It is worth going through your script and checking that it reads in a way that you would actually talk.
2. Read, Read, and Read Again
Chris Anderson says in his book “TED Talks: The official TED guide to public speaking” that most TED speakers write then memorise their talks. The rehearsal process of repetition makes it sound like you are speaking. And this is the case for those that purely rehearse rather than script too.
You will need to read a script at least 5 or 6 times before it sounds like it has become part of your spoken word.
3. Work Out Your Emphasis and Intonation
With reading written word, ironically, you need to put the natural emphasis and intonation back in. When I played the flute in orchestras we were regularly making notes all over our music, and for reading the written word, you need to do the same.
There is a fantastic technique called The Hudson Voice Technique, developed by the BBC voice over artist Steve Hudson. His technique includes two elements you can use really easily.
Firstly, pause at the end of your sentences (and even more so at the end of your points) and energise the beginning of the next sentence (point).
Secondly, mentally break the script up beyond the punctuation. In a sentence you are likely to find a bit of a natural lull every 3 to 4 words, then get your pencil and draw a line in hose breaks. This will help you slow up your reading so you are not racing ahead, and it will get you to think about where the emphasis is in a sentence.
Mostly, you need to find your natural voice rather than your natural voice, and to do that you can watch my video about finding your authentic voice here: https://youtu.be/ltnQy744B9g
In summary the pros of scripting is that you can remember what you are going to say, you can shorten your prep, and you can even delegate the writing part.
I wanted to leave you with this. I used to think that no script for speaking in public was the thing to aim for. Then I saw this great performance from Richard Huntington at Next Radio in 2016 https://youtu.be/8UIVpD5V0Xs and his energy made me wonder if you could do great presenting with a script in your hand.
“I am not good enough at this,” is what usually goes through your mind at a certain point of any creative project.
Usually right before the deadline.
When I am recording my Everyday Positivity links and I think “ugh why on earth is anyone going to like these?!”, or when I am halfway through a painting commission and I think “gah this isn’t how I wanted it to look! Why can’t I do it like Picasso?”, or most likely when I get to rehearsing my presentation so many times and I think “this just does not feel new enough – no one is going to like it!”
Inevitably on all counts, I make the piece, I show it to the audience and the feedback is great. I had nothing to worry about.
The problem: You get too close, and you get too saturated in it
In her book “Running Like A Girl” Alex Hemingsly recounts a dinner where her friends are asking her about the running she is doing for the book (for which the deadline is looming) and she loses it, having a massive strop about how she never wants to run again.
She got too close. She got too saturated.
Countless podcaster friends and event organiser friends and writer friends and broadcaster friends all tell of the moment where they think “I never ever want to do this again”!
They get too close. They get too saturated.
Inevitably they push through the feeling, and they create something wonderful with a huge adrenaline surge that makes them want to do it again (rather like giving birth where you forget the pain so you do it again – big THANKS hormones!)
An artist friend of mine once gave me some great advice about this feeling. She told me whenever I created a piece of art that I shouldn’t look at it for 6 weeks. “Art gets better in the drawers,” she said. Funnily enough writer Stephen King says something similar about the art of writing, in his book ‘On Writing’
If what you are doing feels like it’s rubbish, then it’s time to put some space and time between it. I record my Everyday Positivity a little in advance so when I hear it go out it could be a week since I recorded it. I am always pleasantly surprised by it – that it is much better than I thought it would be. Mostly because I have forgotten what I’ve said during the recording!
Space and time allow you to give yourself some useful feedback. Use it to get confident in your ability, to get self-aware, and improve your self-belief. Nine times out of ten a speaking client will watch themselves back and say “oh that’s not as bad as I thought it was going to be”. Space and time provide objectivity, it helps you to forget the nerves you felt in the cock-up, and look at how you could have dealt with it better.
So, if it’s not got better in the drawers, then you know you can work on the craft some more. If it has, you can stop berating yourself in the process.