Errorless modeling

Now that I've had a chance to listen to my talk at the University of Mary Washington's faculty academy in May, I'm willing to pass along the link. That talk, which touches on a number of the themes woven through this blog, was a longer and better version of ones I gave at ETech and Yahoo! back in March. Since I'm more naturally a writer than a public speaker, I'm always reluctant to hear myself unscripted and unedited, but this talk sounded pretty close to how I'd hoped that it would. That's mainly because this was the first time I've been able to refine a talk over the course of several events. Prior talks had been relatively few and far between, for very different events and audiences, requiring unique presentations that were given exactly once. More often than not, in those cases, I wrote a script to ensure coherence while sacrificing spontaneity -- not a great tradeoff.

How do people learn to be both fluent and spontaneous on a variety of topics? While there's surely no substitute for lots of public speaking experience, my Friday podcast series -- and in particular, the process of editing those podcasts -- has been extremely helpful.

As my friend (and InfoWorld contributing editor) Peter Wayner remarked the other day, verbal fluency can be a challenge for writers like us. The editing machinery that runs in our heads doesn't normally have to work in realtime. When we try to make it work that way, the results are often frustrating both for us and for our listeners.

Listening to my own recorded speech, as I work on these podcasts, has made me much more aware of how my editing machine gets in my way. Just listening hasn't helped me to fix the problem, but editing has. Another friend, the psychologist Larry Welkowitz, has a theory that explains why: errorless modeling.

Larry works with kids who live somewhere along the continuum from Asperger's Syndrome to high-functioning autism. Effective and appropriate social performance is a major struggle for these kids. Larry's idea, which he's written up in a couple of blog posts, is that you can help them by recording awkward performances, editing out the awkwardness, and then playing back the edited versions so they can see and hear themselves performing fluently.

It seems to be working for me. My original rationale for editing my podcasts was simply to improve the experience for the listener. And while the techniques of the audio digital darkroom do raise interesting issues, none of my interviewees has complained. Everyone likes to sound as fluent as possible. But in recent weeks I've noticed less need to edit myself. Is this the result of errorless modeling? If so, it's a nice bonus.

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