A Must-have Tool for Improving Two Key Conversational Skills

Note: This is a modified post. The original post appeared on 15Dec2011.

Do you want to be a better public speaker? Could your phone skills be better too?

If you want to go after either of these skills in a serious way, I would offer this relatively low-cost suggestion. Invest in some technology to help you identify your strengths and weaknesses. Invest in and use an audio recorder.

I’m a huge believer in soliciting feedback around anything that I’m looking to get better at. As for public speaking, this awareness first came to me as a student engineer while in college.

I’ll never forget the stress and anxiety of delivering my first project presentation to the factory leadership team where I worked. Beads of sweat were running down my face as I walked them through each transparency on the overhead projector.

That was the day I realized that lots of feedback, and lots of practice, are both critical elements of preparation before delivering an important presentation.

Throughout the 30+ years since, I’ve regularly used a recorder to help me improve various conversational skills, to capture random ideas and to even internalize new information. Here are five ideas for how a recorder might fit your needs:

  • Preparing to deliver workshops or speeches. As communications coach and author, Jerry Weissman, reveals in this post, practice is one of the keys to engaging an audience with your final delivery. When practicing for upcoming programs, I often let the audio recorder be my audience.
  • Learning from past presentations. With the client’s permission, earlier this year I recorded a two-day workshop I delivered for them. The resulting audio files were invaluable as a feedback and review tool.
  • Improving phone skills. Earlier in my career, I would sometimes set a recorder on the desk as I spoke on the phone. My half of the conversation was all that was needed to help me eliminate annoying habits such as pauses, “ums” and “ahs”.
  • Capturing random thoughts, to-dos and ideas. On long drives, a hand-held recorder provides a safe and easy way to capture the good stuff that pops into my head.
  • Studying and internalizing new information. Recently, I recorded myself reading a friend’s new book which he and I plan to design a workshop around. With the audio files now on my iPod, I can absorb the book’s content while running or traveling.

Unlike mini-cassette recorders of the past, today’s digital recorders make the process of recording, downloading and listening incredibly easy. The Olympus model WS-700M is what I use. It satisfies my needs for MP3 audio files, ease of use, and for an internal USB connector.

Of course, stand-alone handheld recorders aren’t the only option today. A better fit for you may be one of the many different smart phones currently on the market.

But no matter what your choice, by combining today’s easy-to-use recording technology with your eagerness and desire to improve, you can quickly put yourself on a path to better conversational skills.

“Practice is the determining distinction between the novice and the master.” Tracy Goss (author)

Question: How are you using a handheld recorder or other technology to improve your public speaking, phone or other conversational skills?