Using Video to Improve Your Speaking

Twenty-five years ago, we began videotaping our students’ speeches in college public speaking classes. As faculty, we thought that incorporating this technology was fairly advanced for the time and were rather proud of ourselves. Cameras were installed in the ceiling corners of all speech classrooms, cabinets were built with VCR shelves inside each lectern, and video viewing labs were opened to provide opportunities and equipment for students to watch their own recordings. All was well in the world of learning and speaking, that is, with the exception of one slight problem.

Students hated watching themselves on video.

In the world of human experience, I think you will find this to be a common sentiment. There’s something about listening to yourself on the phone, watching yourself in movies, or worse yet, viewing yourself present on video. On the other hand as you may have guessed, there really is no better substitute for seeing yourself as “others see you” – which is the affordance this tool provides. Over time, some students discovered this insight for themselves. If students actually took the time (and it was required) to view their presentation from the lens of an “audience member,” they too, saw strengths and opportunities in their abilities and techniques to which they were not privy before.

I recently participated in a training certification which required each speaker to present a number presentations over the course of several days. Once again, all presentations were recorded on video and we were required to view them. Now with the tables turned, I too, dreaded the task of watching myself on video. However, I must admit that watching those tapes was invaluable. For example, my sister has often remarked at how fast I talk. Over the years, I’ve thought my pace was not that fast; however, after viewing several of my presentations on video over time, I see how I do have the tendency to speed up during certain phrases at ends of sentences. Add repetitive gestures to this list, posture opportunities for improvement, removing vocalized pauses, strengthening transitions, etc. and soon enough, very specific professional development goals become very clear.

There really is no better way to improve your speaking performance than to watch yourself present on video and see yourself as the audience sees you. This lesson crosses many genres as well. The best actors I know understand what it’s like to sit in the back of the auditorium and not be able to see actors’ gestures and movement on stage. Good actors maintain a stage presence and mind’s eye that keeps this audience’s perspective in mind, and reminds them to match the size of their gestures to the size of the theatre. Additionally, a good teacher knows what it’s like to be in a classroom as a “student” themselves with no prior knowledge to connect to the content being taught. So the skilled teacher creates a context or shares a metaphor to which students can connect, always keeping that new student perspective in mind. And the list goes on . . .

With so many technological advancements at our fingertips now, we have no excuse for not leveraging tools to help us improve and sharpen skills. This is true whether you’re a speaker, presenter, teacher, trainer or leader. Even recording a presentation on your own computer camera and viewing it over time is one way to advance your presentation skill set with the help of technology.

Professional speakers, teachers, and presenters can always improve, always grow, and always continue sharpening their saws. But in the process, be careful not to rule out video. It may just be . . .  your best improvement tool.

What say you?