What do PDCA and speaking have in common?

PDCA is one of the best methods of improving your speech or presentation. Except that I did know anything about PDCA until I came to Japan. If you are Japanese you probably know what it is Plan, Do, Check, Act/Adjust.  If you know are familiar with Agile programing or the Toyota way you may have also come across this word. But, really? what would make program method and a manufacturing method have anything to do with speaking?

Glad you asked. Almost everything if you want to become a great presenter.

Mostly like you will not be like Steve Jobs, Tony Robbins, or even Ken Robinson (the man who gave the most watched TED talk) immediately. Some of you may even think that is an unreachable level. But, it is not.

It just takes a plan.  Because if you are not planning to become a great speaker, then you are planning to become a lousy one. What does that mean?

Suppose you want to be a world class bicyclist. If all it took was riding a bicycle for 10,000 hours, then every neighbor kid in the world could enter the Tour de France. This obviously is not the case. You have to deliberately push yourself, so you are better, faster, and stronger. Simply coasting every day at the same speed on the same course well not cut it.

Further, those that successfully compete at the Tour de France know a whole list of micro-skills that is needed to not only survive by thrive at such a tough competition. They are good at time trials and good at climbing. They know how to quickly fix a flat and know how to maintain their nutrition levels for such a grueling race.  Those that win have a very specific schedule and a very specific set of tasks to keep leveling up so that they can do well at the race.

However, the thing is the Tour de France is a very clear cut. You know if you won or not. You know that place you got, and you know your time. In the speaking world it is not that clear cut at first.

First off you actually would need to define what kind of speaker you want to be. Not only that what would a “good” speaker be? I have mentioned this in a different blog article, but if you do not know what kind of speaker you want to be then it is really hard to know what you need to learn to be that kind of speaker. It is even harder to know when you actual became a “good” speaker. So, take the time and define that in as specific terms as you can. This doesn`t have to be a final definition of what you consider to be a “good” speaker. You have my permission to feel free to change at any time later in the future. But you still have to start.

If you haven`t done that yet. Carve out time in your schedule preferable today. If you have not done so, do so now. This article will still be waiting. If you really need help just go to my Facebook page and send me a message. I will be more than happy to help.

Back already? Great! Congratulations you have just started on an incredible journey for planning, using the PDCA cycle and improving your presentation ability!

After you have done that then take a little bit of time to do some analysis of where you are and where you want to be. For example, you could look at yourself and determine how you fit on a 0 – 10 point scale in:

  • Creating Logical Content & Composition
  • Managing Your Health and Mental Energy for Best Performance
  • Using Body & Facial Expression to Add Impact
  • Analyzing Your Speech and Performance
  • Choosing the Most Effective Words or Phrase
  • Using Effective Vocal Variety
  • Telling Powerful Stories
  • Building a Relationship with the Audience

You could come up with another set of categories what this one work well for me. In any case, you decide where you are from 0 being completely hopeless to 10 I am a super genius.

BTW, once you do that activity.  Try asking yourself why you did not score yourself lower. You may be surprise at the skill and talent that you already have. Most people do not take the time to think and notice what they already have, so this exercise is good for getting that established.

For example, suppose you picked a 3 for “Choosing the Most Effective Words or Phrase.” Most Japanese do not have a lot of confidence in their English, even if they can speak or write it very well. But, even if you do not have a lot you are reading this.  There probably are some good reasons for not picking a 2 or a 1.  You may have spent a lot of time studying news words, read some poetry, studied some famous speeches etc.

In any case, please do make a note of why you did not mark yourself lower. Try to be specific in the reasons and give yourself as many as you can. You should find this part very motivating. You may even raise your score one you have done a full inventory of what you have accomplished.

The next thing would be to look at what would a 10 look like for you.  I do not mean, “Really Great at Working with Words” It is generally better to be as specific as possible. Just like I said when talking about becoming a “good” speaker, please imagine in as much detail as possible what a 10 would actually look like for you. If you do not, it will much harder for you to determine if you achieved that 10 or not. If you have a hard time imagining, then ask someone who is closer to your 10 and as them.

You could think of great word smiths and copywriters. These are people who get clear results with the words that they choose. You might think of Brain Clark who founded CopyBlogger, or you may think of the eloquent Winston Churchill. One many build a great business empire on the power of words. Another kept the hearts and minds of an empire together through a very tough war.

Or perhaps you could think of the ease at thinking of and using different rhetorical techniques. There are many like the chiasmus. The most famous chiasmus is the “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.

Here you could substitute the “country” for something else like, “Ask not what parents can do for you, but ask what you can do for your parents. Or you can even change the verb or other parts while keep the same mirror pattern if you feel more adventurous. “Be not the first to take but be the first to give.”

In any case it helps to have a clear goal in mind, so you can break it down and have something concrete to aim for.  Also, please to not get caught up in coming up with a perfect crystal-clear solution. You will probably change your mind several times as you get closer to your initial goal. That is ok, life changes, people change, and objectives changes. But if you don`t know where you want to go, then any path is the right path.

So, now you have clearly imagined what kind of “good” speaker you want to be.  You have considered where you are against your own criteria and you have considered where you want to be if you were to take a 10.

The next thing to do is to prioritize. You can prioritize against the time, difficulty and impact of making the improvement. For me, it probably better to start of considering the near term.  What improvements can get you quick wins. In other words what changes would have the biggest impact in the least amount of time with the least amount of difficulty. Once you have gotten started then you can always move to more longer term strategic considerations.

After you have gotten that done.  The next phase is to plan out what you need to do. You may decide that in six weeks you will give a presentation in front of 70 people. The biggest problem you face is controlling your nervousness. So, how are you going to deal with that?

One way is to simply consider why you are nervous in the first place. I am sure you can come up with rational reasons (worried that projector will not and then I will not know that to say) to the irrational (what if I forget my lines and people throw tomatoes at me!). Whether rational or irrational the fear is real, and you can come up with specific ways to deal with the problem before it occurs and when it does occur.

So, for example you might set up a schedule for brainstorming on the topic, creating the concept, writing the draft, reviewing the draft, and practicing the presentation. You may also pencil in time to talk to a presentation coach or someone with experience in presenting in front of a larger crowds. You may schedule time to do research on controlling nervousness, set up some time to do smaller practice runs in front of smaller crowds to see if those methods work for you or not.

There are a variety of ways you can deal with nervousness. Almost everybody seems to claim to have the answer. But, the reality is nervousness comes in all shapes and sizes and depending on the type of the problem the method may be more or less effective. I tend to use three basic methods that work for a vast majority of cases. But you really need to try them out for yourself in a close to real situation to see if they really work for you.

Remember even if the number of task for accomplishing anything seems overwhelming at first, you do not have to do all of it. In fact, you could consider 80% solution or the Who solution or some combination.

A lot of us think that we need to the perfect plan with the perfect solution. This animal does not exist. The simple reason is that we are not all-knowing and also things change. So, the best thing to do is simply to try your plan out even if it is not a 100% complete. In fact, 70%~80% may be perfectly fine. What matters is getting the momentum going.

So, what I mean by the 80% is simply if you do not have the time, resources, whatever to do 100% right away, then simply think would be the 80% that would provide the most impact? Then do that part. You can do the remaining 20% later if you have time, or if the 80% turned out well.

The reason I pick 80% is simple because of the 80%-20% “rule.” This is really more of guideline that rule, and there is no hard and fast data that it absolutely have to be 80-20, it could be 70-30 or 90-10. It is just that statistically 80-20 is generally more common. The question then become, well how do I know which is the 80% and which is the 20%.  Initially, you do not know. There is no magic formula that will tell you. So, you have make your best guess. Then send it out there and see what happens.

Also, if you want to take it to an even more extreme example you could think of the MVP (i.e. minimum viable product) of the thing and work from there. That way if you are really, crunched for time you have something to fall back into.

For example, suppose you were to do a 30-minute keynote speech. Since the average person speaks about 200~250 words per minute that would translate to about 6,000 ~ 7,500 words. Writing out the draft of that would take a little bit of time. Most people have a hard time even writing about 1,000 words in one day. So, it is going to take a while to get your talk written out. Even doing about 80% of that would still put you into the 5,000~ 6,000 words, but I am not talking about doing 80% of the words, just 80% of the effort.

The 80% would be brain storming the topic, writing the bullet points. Drawing out simple power point wire frame (if you really need power point, but the use and abuse for another time). Then talk for thirty minutes. Make sure you record it. Take your recording and place it back with Google Doc open and set to turn voice to text. You will then have your draft written in no time.

We tend to be faster readers than listeners, so once you have it on paper you can check for rambling spots, places that don`t make sense or simple have someone look at it for you. If you actually recorded with video you can also get a second opinion.

I know that many of us want to be riveting every second of the presentation. We want to dazzle and enchant. To make it feel like time stopped, and have the audience be surprised of the passage of time. However, if this this your first couple of times the smart thing to do is not worry about that. You simply do not have the time to worry about every single aspect of your presentation.

Most of what the audience remembers are at are the beginning and the end. So, you should plan to spend the most time on that. Keep the middle ok and you should be fine. Most people do not remember the middle part of anything very well. So, you do not need to spend a lot of time on it. Just keep it respectable.

Now all of this assumes that you will be going all the preparation by yourself. I also conveniently left out the all back and forth between you and the event planner, the creating of the Power Point (which will take a good deal of time if you have your draft mostly ready), and myriad other little details that goes into producing a good presentation.

One you have your plan for creating practicing and revising your presentation. You are off to the races. Except that you should note at this point that the example was for one presentation.  As was mentioned at the beginning you should be playing a much longer game. The goal here is to become a “good” and then “great” presenter. In order to do that you need to work at one presentation at time.

Depending on how skilled you are you may want to work anywhere from 1 to 3 different skill targets. This could be from upping up your Power Point game, to getting more audience interaction with activities and games, or even using humor. Just do not take any more risks than you can handle. You want the audience to come off with a great experience and the end. It is ok to have a couple of bumps in the middle of the presentation, if you can finish well. Also, it keeps the presentation alive and interesting for you. Nothing comes off flatter than an over-memorized presentation.

After you have executing your plan for preparation and you have executed your presentation. It now time for the check. Actually, the time for the check is before during and after your presentation. This may seem confusing. But it really depends on the scale of your thinking. There are smaller PDCA circles inside bigger ones.

If you want to reduce the risk of your overall plan for say one presentation, it is important to take baby step. For example, I will test market a speech or a presentation at a Toastmasters club or another casual event before giving it in front of a larger crowd at a more important event.

The same goes for any big professional standup comedian who works at the smaller comedy clubs checking which jokes work or not. You do not want to leave much to chance so it is best, to plan, do, check, and then adjust. First in front of smaller audience then in front of bigger one.

So, what do you check for? That all depends on what your goals was at the beginning of this presentation. If you a very clear on what you want out of the presentation, then it is really easy to check. Just check for that. If you wanted to do well in humor, then you make note of the where and how many laughed. Did they laugh where you expected them to? If not, why?  You could guess at this point or simply ask. There is nothing wrong with asking some members of the audience afterwards. In fact, it can be very enlightening. I wish more speakers did it.

So, to wrap up.  The PDCA cycle is a great way to improve your presentation skills. You can look at a large PDCA cycle comprising of your journey as a presenter. Each cycle is used to improve in skill and experience. You can use the same smaller time frame for a specific presentation and an even smaller one for practice and improvement for that specific presentation.

It all depends on how you set the plan and how you check and how you use the feedback to propel you forward. And the more you go around the cycle the better you will be. So, let`s get going and start planning. You may not like but the process will pay you back many times over.