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The Toughest, Fastest Improvement for Presenters

Recently I was coaching a group of graduate students at MIT in Boston on public speaking. We discussed body language and voice dynamics, revealing your personality and tips on holding an audience’s interest.

One participant asked, “what is the fastest way to improve?” I held my iPhone up and said,” video yourself.”

The room grimaced like I had suggested crawling through mud.

In broadcasting, we call this air checking, and many avoid it. It is hard, like most things that are good for you. Nothing is more difficult than seeing or hearing yourself.

The secret to making air checking less painful and more effective is coaching yourself positively.

We tend to be self-critical, focusing on weaknesses and beating ourselves up for mistakes. Negative reinforcement, whether from a bad manager or yourself, always has a counterproductive effect on performance. Stop doing that.

Use a pen to beat back your inner critic. As you review, force yourself to write down all the positive things you did well, no matter how tiny. Keep writing authentic self-compliments until you absolutely cannot think of one more.

Then, and only then, are you allowed to write ONE improvement that you would like to make, along with a specific action that will achieve that goal.

We automatically judge ourselves harshly. Praising ourselves is not automatic. This process of mindfully writing down kudos counters that mindless inner negativity and reinforces good performance.

It will still not be “fun.” After all, air checking is work, but this way will feel less tormenting and will be enormously more productive. And keep in mind that the emotions you feel while reviewing are key to your improvement.

There is no learning without emotion. According to neuroscientists, stronger long-term memory and habit formation happens when you are emotionally engaged. Positive emotions assure that you repeat good behaviors. You must give yourself high fives and a pat on the back.

Set an appointment for regular self-evaluation of your video and audio. If it is not on your calendar, it will not happen.

Some presenters schedule a short, intense air checking challenge for themselves, once a day for five or ten days. We recommend reviewing a segment or two once a week as an ongoing practice. Any more than that can throw you off your game.

The next time you grab your pen to aircheck, begin with this well-deserved compliment for yourself and write it in big, block letters:

I AM AIR CHECKING.