Wow! You’re a natural…
When I was young I wanted to be a good skier.
Not easy in England. We don’t have much snow and even fewer mountains. What to do?
I joined a ski club, which boasted the longest dry ski slope in England… a staggering 235m! I got to know all the best skiers in the club, had coaching, put in hours of practice, read books, watched videos and eventually I gave up my job and went out to the French Alps for a season.
For three years I worked in the UK during the summer and went out to the alps in the winter. Eventually I became a member of BASI, the British Association of Ski Instructors.
One day I was teaching a woman who was finding that skiing is not as easy as it looks. In her frustration she turned to me and said “it’s OK for you… you’re a natural”… I smiled.
“Everyone has the will to win; what is important is the will to prepare.”
So what’s the point of the story? The point is that we never look behind the final performance, we don’t see the hard work, the struggle, the soul searching, the self doubt. All we see is the final article.
When we see a professional public speaker, we can’t help but compare ourselves to them.
If you want to be good, you have to put in the time, you have to do the hard work… you have to practise.
Why you need to practise your speech
What’s the old saying? “It’ll be alright on the night.” Believe me, without practice it won’t be alright on the night.
The common reason we practise is to become familiar with the speech, the lectern and all the presentational elements of the speech, but there is another reason for practising… knowing that you have practised your speech will build up your confidence and help settle those nerves on the night.
“I only have stagefright when I did not adequately prepare. If I don’t take into account everything that could go wrong, I’m afraid that they will go wrong!”
Winging it will only increase your nerves… don’t do it.
Do Professional Speakers practise?
You bet they do, they practise like crazy.Tom Antion Professional Public Speaker and author of “Wake Em Up Business Presentations” gives us a feel for how much they do practise:
“I have a personal rule that I tell a story anywhere from 30 to 50 times before I tell it in a presentation. That applies to each part of my presentation whether it’s humorous or not.
When you practise parts of your talk that many times, a magical thing happens. All the ums and ahs disappear. Your volume and confidence increase. Your talk takes on a more conversational nature, which is exactly what you want.”
Take a look at that again, 30 to 50 times! You may not be a professional public speaker, but you do need to practise.
Getting ready to practise your speech…
Before you begin practising, there are a few things you need to prepare.
This is not the post to talk about what form of notes you should use, but whatever notes you will use on the night… those are the notes you should practise with.
On the night, you wll probably be using a lectern. Your notes will be on the lectern and your hands will be free, not holding your notes. So that’s how you practise.
OK buying a lectern is a bit much to ask… so buy a music stand with a solid top, about £30.
Make sure the angle and height of the stand can be altered so that you can find what works best for you.
How to practise your speech
You’ve got your notes, you’ve got a lectern… let’s get cracking.
Let’s start with the golden rule:
You need to practise your speech by simulating as near as possible the conditions you will encounter on the night.
If you can practise in the actual room using the lectern you’ll be using on the night… great. But that’s not likely, so you have to improvise.
Put your notes on the lectern and stand back about an arms length.
- Can you read your notes? is the text large enough?
- Is the lectern at the right height or do you have to drop your head to read your notes? Make sure that all you have to do to read your notes, is drop your eyes, not your head.
- Will you position your notes on the left and slide the finished sheet to the right? Practise and see what feels best.
- Are the sheets of paper sticking together because of the static? Do you need to roughen the sheets up a bit?
- Do you need to mark any pauses, gestures or changes in voice?
Don’t wait for the night… now’s the time to get your notes sorted!
Difficult words and consonant clusters
Are there any difficult words or combination of words that you struggle with?
If there are, get rid of them or change them to something easier.
Using your voice
Practise using your voice to add variety and interest to your speech.
If you make a statement, make it sound like a statement. If you ask a question, make it sound like a question.
Speed up, slow down, raise your voice, whisper.
Practise the voice music that keeps the audience interested and listening.
If you ask a question you’ll want to pause for an answer, so when you practise… pause.
If the audience are laughing you’ll want to pause, so when you practise… pause.
You may want to add drama by pausing, so when you practise… pause.
I mark pauses on my notes with………
Try it, or use your own notation.
Don’t forget your gestures.
They should fit naturally with the words, not look theatrical or mime like and they should add to the words or even replace words.
You probably won’t have an audience for your rehearsals but that’s not a problem. Practise looking round the room as though you did have an audience.
Deliver questions and punch lines to imaginary individuals in the audience. Get used to moving your head as you will for the actual performance.
Props can be a nightmare so I try not to use them, but if you are using props, practise using them.
Make sure you can get to them easily without interupting the flow of your speech and if the audience have to be able to see them…. make sure that they are big enough!
Give him a hand
With your notes on the lectern and you standing back… what will you do with your hands?
If you want to you can rest them lightly on the lectern, but that can give the impression that you are scared to let go of the lectern.
My advice? Stand back from the lectern and keep your hands in a neutral position, from that position you can make your gestures.
What’s a neutral position? Try and find one that works for you:
- Hands loose by your side.
- Both arms bent at the elbow and hands in front.
- One arm loose and one arm bent.
Practise until you find a position that looks natural and you are comfortable with.
After each practice
Can I suggest that during your practice, you don’t stop and alter your notes, get to the end and then revise your notes.
If you keep stopping it will interupt the flow of your speech.
What sounded wrong, which words did you struggle with… anything that comes to mind.
Then revise your notes ready for the next practice.
Don’t forget, there are no well written scripts only well rewritten scripts.
What about an audience?
Let’s face it… who wants to sit and listen to you practising your speech? Spouse? Kids? Maybe once maybe twice, but not every time.
My advice, get used to practising on your own and pretending you have an audience. You will soon become your own best judge of how the speech is going.
Perhaps when your speech is well polished you could ask some of the familly or friends to listen and give you some feedback, but not every time.
Time your speech
Even if you don’t have to speak to a given time, make sure that you time your speech. At some time in the future you will be asked to give a 15min or 20min speech, so get into the habit of timing all your speech practices.
Bottom line on practising your speech
That just about covers it for now. All you need to know about practising your speech.
A tourist stops a police officer on the street in Yew York City.
The tourist asks, “ How do you get to Carnegie Hall? ”
The officer says, “Practice, practice, practice.”
The more you practise the more confident you will feel and the better your speech or presentation will be on the night. Don’t forget, to make it look easy… you have to work hard.
How do you practise your speeches?
Let us know how you practise your speeches. Leave us all your hints, tips and even your secrets in the comments below.
Look forward to hearing from you.
My thanks and gratitude to Elana for her photo “Alice in waterland”