The Art of Deconstruction: Building Better Speaking Skills

My husband and I have a summer house in Sedgwick, Maine with a big, 200-year-old dilapidated barn on the property. Its roof is caving in, several huge hand hewn beams have collapsed and the heavy front doors recently blew off in a windstorm. Saving it is too expensive so we decided to have it taken down. I’m talking to an excavation crew to do the work. Simultaneously I’m talking to a barn builder and architect about saving some of the priceless old beams and hardware, the cupola and the large barn doors and reusing them in a new barn we will one day build. But before that time comes we have to face the difficult process of deconstruction. What does the process of deconstruction have to do with public speaking?

Becoming a better presenter often requires initiating a particular and sometimes painful process where you have to deconstruct what was once newly created so that you can develop something new. This is the process of growth.

For example, if you were coached and trained a few years ago, the public speaking techniques you learned took you to a new level. That phase served you well but now it may be time to grow again. And to do so, you may need to take your speech style, performance techniques and content structure and deconstruct them, much like we’re doing with the barn in Maine. It’s time to tear it down but hold on to a few of the most valuable pieces—the key components and special features that make you and your message unique and powerful—and reuse them in a new form. This is not an easy process but it’s one you will need to embrace if you want to move your speaking skills to the next level.

Here are a few tips to help you during the deconstruction process:

  1. Resist the urge to resist change: Don’t let your ego get in the way; be open to new ideas and techniques. Resistance may seem more efficient in the moment but in the long run it holds you back and keeps you from reaching higher levels of performance mastery. If your barn needs to be torn down, let it go and rebuild.
  2. Get back to ‘Beginners Mind’: This concept in Zen Buddhism refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level. “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few,” says Shunryu Suzuki. No matter how advanced you are there is still room to challenge yourself to achieve higher levels of performance.
  3. Deconstruct your technique: Whatever your technique, break it down to the simplest fundamentals. Put your performance skills under a microscope. Look closely at your method of delivery, your content structure and your behaviors. When you investigate and refine each skill you will feel uncomfortable at first, but this awkward stage is critical for perfecting your technique and creating a new plateau.
  4. Seek and acquire new methods: Seek out new skills, behaviors and techniques to take your performance to a new level. Watch the pros, read books by successful speakers, ask questions and study with master teachers. Most of all set goals to acquire new skills. With careful, consistent practice this challenging phase will pay off.
  5. Put it all back together: When you live through the deconstruction phase and put in the hard work required to put it all back together you will create something better, fresher, more relevant and more professional. It will all come together and your presentations skills will reach a new level of excellence.

 

Ultimately, when the old no longer works, when the barn is falling down, it’s time to let go and rebuild. Granted, when you deconstruct you may lose some fluidity, smoothness, and comfort. But keep in mind that this process isn’t an end in itself. You will soon put it back together again and create something even better—for you and your audience. It may be time for a good old fashioned barn raising.