Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Winston Churchill also can be blamed for advice about rehearsing in front of a mirror

In a recent blog post titled Never Imagine Your Audience Naked (and other speaking myths debunked) Aileen Bennett said that: “…Churchill apparently never gave a speech without practicing in a mirror first...” When I commented that he also gets the blame for imagining the audience naked, she replied that much of the public speaking advice in the UK is rightly or wrongly attributed to Churchill.

Is that old practice habit used by Sir Winston Churchill good advice? Not really. It wasn’t a terrible idea for seeing what your gestures and body language look like, back when filming yourself would have required a camera operator and a long wait for processing.

On page 77 of The Confident Speaker, Harrison Monarth and Larina Kase say about practice to:

“Make it as realistic as possible. The mirror is also a helpful tool, but to see what you really look like, a video camera is better.”

On page 70 of his book, The Elements of Great Public Speaking, J. Lyman MacInnes says:

“Do not rehearse in front of a mirror. You’ll spend far too much time and energy looking at yourself rather than concentrating on content and delivery, all the while forgetting that you’re actually seeing things backward in any event.”

You can play back a video recording repeatedly to focus either on looking at your gestures or listening to your voice. In another post I pointed out that Stephan Pastis even made fun of using a mirror in one of his cartoons.

Maybe the only way to get rid of that advice about practicing in front of a mirror is to point out that Churchill’s old nemesis, Adolph Hitler, also: “…perfected his delivery by rehearsing in front of mirrors and carefully choreographing his display of emotions.”


Pam said...

Did you know that Winston Churchill stuttered? He is one of the many "famous people who stutter" featurted on posters by the National Stuttering Assocation (USA) and the Stuttering Foundation of Amercia.

I am sure the British Stuttering Association also credit's Churchill as a role model for stutterers and impassioned public speakers.

It is said that Churchill practiced his speeches dozens of times until he could deliver them without stuttering (or stammering as it is referred to in Europe). That is probably why he used the mirror - to look for smooth and tension-free delivery.

I loved that you mentioned this. He was one of the finest orators, and stuttered.

I record a lot of my speeches, to see if my stuttered speech is visibly noticeable and if there is anything I can do to reduce the tension. I consider myself a very effective communicator, whether I am stuttering or fluent.

Richard I. Garber said...

There is a long alphabetical list of famous people who stutter at:

Pam said...

Yeah, I know, wasn't sure if you or your other readers knew! Personally, I prefer ordinary people who are leading extraordinary lives, despite having a challenge of some sort!