You’ve been tasked to give a speech and you want to do a good job. So you ask for advice (or advice is given to you) on how to best prepare for a speech and someone tells you to practice your speech in front of a mirror. On the surface, it sounds like a great idea – after all you can see how your body movies and what you look like when you speak. But in reality, speaking in front of a mirror can actually cause you to develop bad habits and can add to your discomfort if you already find speaking to groups difficult.
Before we get into the alternatives, it’s important to understand why a mirror doesn’t help you – there’s a lot of bad speaking advice out there making the rounds, so it’s important for you to learn to distinguish good advice from speaking myths. Here’s a couple reasons why speaking in front of a mirror can do more harm than good:
- If you’re self-conscious, your mind will be focusing on your flaws while you’re practicing your speech. This can subconsciously associate negative feelings to the speech that you’re preparing and you could find yourself less and less enthusiastic about your talk.
- Watching yourself real-time while giving your talk is a distraction because you’re not only speaking, but evaluating yourself and trying to make changes while doing so. This often makes you look unnatural.
- The mirror limits your physical movement (unless you’re practicing in a dance studio) as you’ll (often subconsciously) try to remain in view as you practice your speech.
Now I’m in no way suggesting that you toss your mirror out – there are still a lot of good uses for mirrors in public speaking. The most important use is to give yourself a quick look over before your talk to make sure your appearance is neat. But there are some better alternatives to using a mirror.
The video camera:
If you have a video camera and are able to watch a video of yourself speaking, then this is the best way to practice. You can watch your expressions, your movements, your gestures as well as listen to your language and how you use your voice. You can record multiple instances of you practicing and compare them and if you’ll be speaking frequently in the future, you can archive it so you see how you’ve grown through the years.
Like a mirror, you might find yourself focused on the camera which, again, can restrict your movement. Try to ignore or have someone operate it so they can follow you around the room.
People often laugh when I say that stuffed animals make a great mock audience. But it’s true, you can set them up anyway you like and unlike small children and pets, they stay still. An added benefit of stuffed animals is that you can also practice you’re eye contact with them as you have multiple sets of eyes to connect with.