Multi-tasking, a word no one used a few decades ago, is now firmly ensconced in our everyday language and has become a way of life for many of us. Generations X and Y in particular are known for the ability to speedily produce a surplus of results while working on many different tasks at the same time. Sending a text, writing a document, surfing the net, making dinner, feeding the dog, and having a conversation can all happen simultaneously. Multi-tasking spans across every industry and segment of society. In the world of public speaking, knowing how to multi-task is critical. When you give a presentation you must be able to stand up and deliver content that you may or may not know well; use your physical, vocal and verbal skills effectively; relate to the audience; run the PowerPoint and keep the technology and your own performance organized and on track. In other words, to be an effective speaker, you must become adept at doing many things at once.
While multi-tasking is essential when you’re delivering your presentation, it’s not the most effective approach when it comes to improving your skills or developing new behaviors. In fact, the best way to develop your skills is to “single-task”—to work on just one skill at a time.
For example, let’s say you are working on improving your eye contact. Does it make sense to work on your eye contact and your facial expression and your gestures and your posture all at once? Of course not. That would be like going to the gym and trying to strengthen all your muscles at the same time. Any athletic trainer will tell you that the best way to build your muscle tone is to focus on one muscle group at a time.
Just as it’s advised to tackle one muscle group at a time, it’s also recommended to focus on developing one public speaking skill at a time. Therefore, decide which skill you’d like to work on today. If eye contact is the chosen skill, you set up the room by putting sticky notes on various chairs around the room or by putting a few stuffed animals in the chairs so you can make eye contact with actual “eyes.” Then give a few lines of your presentation and focus on your eye contact only, making sure to look at one sticky note or animal for a full three-to-five seconds as you speak before moving on the next. The next day you may decide to focus on gestures. In that case, you could give your presentation standing in front of a mirror and practice perfecting your gestures. The point is to focus on just one skill for a long enough period of time so you feel progress at the end of the session.
By focusing on one skill at a time your mind will be clear, your attention will be focused, and you will be calm and collected. No anxiety, no worries—just solid skill improvement. Then, when it comes time to give your presentation to a real audience, you can rest assured that your focus on single-task practice will result in your ability to handle the demands of a multi-task presentation.