23 December 2011

Is there still time to learn from a video of yourself speaking to an audience?


Caught on camera
Browsing through YouTube the other day, I was suprised - and not sure whether to be flattered or annoyed - to come across this clip from a lecture I gave in Copenhagen last year.

Yes, I may have spent decades making, collecting and commenting on videotapes of other people speaking. But, like so many others, I don't much like watching myself in action - which raises the question of why I've decided to draw attention to it with this post?

The short answer is that it made me realise how very few clips I've ever seen of myself actually speaking to an audience. So it gives me a chance to treat my performance as data and to analyse where there might be room for improvement - if it's not too late for that.

It also gives anyone else a chance to do the same - and especially those of you who've had to put up with my feedback on your efforts during courses or coaching sessions. It only seems fair to let you have a chance get your own back on me.

For what they're worth, here are a few of the things that occurred to me.

Pluses & minuses?
Eye-contact with the audience was better than I'd expected, and I was gratified to hear a few laughs from the audience so close to the start of the lecture, when getting their attention is so crucial.

The pace of the delivery also rather surprised me. I don't know whether I pause as often or for as long as I do here when I'm speaking to native speakers of English, but did wonder whether it was rather too slow and ponderous. I was, however, very conscious that almost everyone in this particular audience was a native speaker of Danish.

Mumbling monotone?
There were moments of mumbling that took me back to my first attempts at lecturing more than forty years ago. I was aware then that even the remnants (?) of a Yorkshire accent can come across as flat and monotonous to those who come from anywhere else, and that sounding a bit livelier was something that I was always going to have to work hard at - on this evidence: "still room for improvement."

Where's his jacket?
In a previous blog post (HERE), I recalled a course that I'd attended more than 4o years ago:

"... while I was being video-taped doing a lecture on a course for new university lecturers, the studio lights were so hot that I took my jacket off. At the feedback session, it became a matter for discussion: the tutor stopped the tape with the words, “Here’s a speaker who really means business.” Though nothing could have been further from the truth, the realisation that some people might see it that way has made jacket removal a routine prelude to almost every lecture I have ever given since then."

I still don't know whether speaking in shirtsleeves gives the impression that I "really mean business". What I do know that it helps to keep the sweat under control, which makes me feel marginally more comfortable than would otherwise be the case.

Nor, until or unless someone makes a very strong case that I shouldn't do it, is it something that I plan to do any differently in the near future.

Retirement beckons?
And a near future is all that's left to one who's already qualified for the old age pension and a bus-pass. Gone are the days from a distant past when I used to worry that audiences would think me too young to be taken seriously.

Today, the problem has become the opposite: how are you to know if and when an audience thinks that you're past your sell-by date and really ought to pack it in forthwith?

On the basis of this video clip (aided and abetted by the bias of my own eyes and ears) he doesn't look or sound too much like an old fogey (yet).

But will he ever know when to stop and how will he ever know when that time has arrived - unless he starts to forget crucial points he was planning to mention, falls off the stage or comes across as a doddering old fool?

For all he knows, he may be already there - and might even have been there for quite a while.

So maybe the answer should come from the world of sport - where the sensible few retire before they start losing (or get dropped from the team) - in which case, the safest option may be to call it a day sooner rather than later...

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