For generations, practicing speaking in the mirror has been a staple of corporate training, sitcom moments, and speaking class advertising.  It even reared its head in the final episodes of “This Is Us,” as Kevin practiced a speech.  The instinct to give yourself immediate feedback by seeing yourself in action seems intuitively clear.  Except that it’s a terrible idea.

First, few among us are truly enamored with what we see in the mirror.  There’s that thing our hair does, that way our head moves, or that jiggle in the middle − all of which bother us infinitely more than our audiences, who aren’t thinking about any of this.  But when we see anything we don’t like, it distracts us momentarily, undermining the sentence we were on.  So it doesn’t come out as well.  Which our brain notices.  So it sends out unhappy thoughts.  Which undermines us further.  Repeat until depressed.

Second, it’s completely unnatural for performance day.  Think about it:  Will there ever be someone standing in front of you on speech day, approximately three feet away, mimicking your every move precisely?  No?  Then why rehearse with that happening?

I’ve even heard “experts” say that it’s a great way to practice eye contact.  Really?  If your audience is ever that close, you have some serious logistics to discuss first!

Instead, make your rehearsal more realistic by speaking out to as wide a room as you can.  I like to stand in front of my couch and speak to the turned-off TV across the room (and, occasionally, give eye contact to the nearby stereo speakers and front door, to practice actually looking around while speaking).  If I truly need to hear how it went, I record the audio on my phone to play back. I’ll still be too tough on myself, probably, but at least I won’t undermine everything by watching myself while I’m practicing the talk.

But what about the fact that I won’t see how I looked giving it? For the most part, even videotaping isn’t going to help much with that because we become self-conscious when we know we’re being taped. Really, the only good way to get reliable feedback on that is from another person. Ideally a coach; rarely your life partner.  🙂