Practice, practice, practice…

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.”
Bobby Knight

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!”
Tom Ogden

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.

Your notes

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.

A lectern

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.

Your notes

Put your notes on the lectern and stand back about an arms length.
Check out:

  • 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.

Eye contact

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.

Using props

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.”

Bottom line?
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”

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  1. Even comedians practice their jokes time and time again to get the timing right. And they don’t get the luxury of notes.

    When I was returned to college [the first time] I dreaded speech class. Fortunately for me my teacher was a bit unconventional. We had debates and other methods of public speaking as well as at the podium in front of everyone speeches. I loved it, some complained. I avoid public speaking whenever possible, but know if the need should arise I will be prepared.

    • Hi Ann
      Great point about comedians not using notes… and they are always word perfect.
      Comedians are superb Public Speakers plus they have the added pressure that if we don’t laugh… their speech has failed.
      We don’t have that pressure.
      Please keep in touch.
      BTW Love the photo.

  2. I’m not one that loves standing in front of crowd so I would never aim to be a professional public speaker, but if I had to stand out in front of people I would be practicing like you wouldn’t believe.

    I only ever done it once, on my wedding day, and I was as nervous as all hell, and the only thing that got me through it all was that I was well prepared.

    I tweeted this post as I think there would be a lot of people out there who would appreciate it.

    • Hi Sire
      Being well prepared will do it every time.
      The wedding day speech is probably the classic speech that people remember… or perhaps don’t remember. Glad it went well for you.
      Thanks for tweeting my post… my first tweet!

    • Keep writing like this Keith and I’m sure it won’t be your last 🙂

  3. All this is excellent advice. Being certain of what you want to say is paramount and feeling comfortable gives you confidence.
    Another point to consider: should you memorise every word? No! An interruption, e.g. from the audience or a door opening, or camera flash, could completely put you off.
    Perhaps we should include interruptions in our practice! We have a section on ‘heckling’ in the Speakers Guide of ASC, so maybe this would help.

    • Couldn’t agree more Lilian.
      Never memorise your speech.
      I think that I heard you make the point once that if you deliver a speech that you have memorised, it is the same as reading your speech.
      Because you will be reading it from your memory!
      Know it well… but don’t memorise.

  4. Well done. I found your post great. It provides me with useful information to improve my public speaking skills. I think, being prepared and focused on your goals are the key to make a succes in this field.

    Thank you
    .-= Abohadi´s last blog ..Five Hot Tips to Communicate Effectively to a Big Crowd =-.

  5. Hi Keith. Excellent article and very detailed.

    I haven’t had to give too many speeches in my life, but one day I see myself teaching some classes on WordPress in a convention setting. Even though I’m not a regular public speaker, it’s good to know this stuff because one day down the road, it’ll probably come in handy.
    .-= John Hoff – WP Blog Host´s last blog ..My Take On Blog Posting Frequency and Making Money =-.

    • Hi John
      Good to hear from you.
      Having watched lots of your videos, I can just see you teaching classes in WordPress.
      You have a very relaxed manner and a great voice… the sexiest voice on the web!

  6. I don’t rehearse as much as Tom Antion says, but I will run through my presentations at least 5 to 10 times, mainly to get down the timing aspect of it all.

    Depending on the topic and the group, I’ll either memorize everything, which freaks people out, or I’ll use one of my infamous outlines as a guide to spark my memory as to what I want to say and do next.

    One presentation I sprinkled many images of parrots, which helped me break things up from time to time by telling a parrot joke, since the topic was deeply technical and I wanted to lighten things up a bit here and there.
    .-= Mitch´s last blog ..Marketing Or Advertising Your Business =-.

    • Hi Mitch
      Great point about “the topic was deeply technical and I wanted to lighten things up a bit here and there.”

      Lots of technical presentations are so dull. Lightening things up a bit allows the audience to relax and prepare for the next piece of technical info.

      I’m just thinking how many parrot jokes I know!

  7. I knew I was in the wrong business. I should be a “voice model”. LOL
    .-= John Hoff – WP Blog Host´s last blog ..My Take On Blog Posting Frequency and Making Money =-.

  8. Just so you know, I had 8 parrot pictures, one with me in it. lol
    .-= Mitch´s last blog ..Pot Odds In Internet Marketing =-.

  9. Hi Keith
    Another great article – thanks so much for the tips. They are really useful and a good refresher for some pitch presentations that I have coming up. Also good to have new tips to work with as I think I may have got a bit complacent over the years.
    Love this quote from Robert H Schuller and thought it fitted with what you had written:
    Spectacular achievement is always preceded by spectacular preparation.”

  10. Many thanks for this Keith.
    It corresponds with advice given to me when I started speaking to groups.
    ‘Know your subject,
    know your audience,
    know your speech.’
    In my previous home, I used to practice speeches in the bathroom! Why? Because there was a big mirror in there. It felt odd at first, but it allowed me to see how my visual impact needed improving. These days most of my notes consist of key words in the form of a mind map. I colour code the sections and this seems to draw my eyes back to the section I last looked at.

    • Hi Tony
      I’ve never rehearsed in front of a mirror.
      Dare say… if I was as good looking as you, I’d give it a go LOL

      BTW good to see you in Matlock earlier this month – liked your speech.

  11. Keith, your statement about never looking behind the final performance really caught my attention. We should all aspire to be so good that we look like naturals and to get there does take preparation. I do a lot of pre-work for my presentations, but I don’t practise the words as much as Antion recommends. I know my facts, audience and the three main points and can adjust as needed.
    .-= Karen Swim´s last blog ..Has Your Fire Fizzled? =-.

    • Hi Karen
      Knowing your facts, audience and three main points sounds perfect to me.
      Like you, I usually go with three main points in my speeches… what is it about the number three?

  12. Keith,
    I always hated the lectern even in school taking speech class. I would prefer to be on the move and interact with the audience. I can use a powerpoint or just a one page outline to keep me on subject if need be.

    Thanks for the tips. Very good.

  13. Hi Keith,

    I like how you started off this post; telling us how by practicing we become “naturals”.

    That’s so true. Those who know their craft can make it look easy, but we forget they spent many hours to hone it.

    Although I don’t do public speaking and have no plans to, your advice here is solid. You’re a natural. 🙂
    .-= Barbara Swafford´s last blog ..Blog Sex – Is It A Reader Turn Off? =-.

    • Barbara
      Sounds as though you have actually read the post. LOL
      I think you have succeeded in explained my post in two sentences!
      Would you like to write my next one?

  14. My dad taught me to memorize the introductory sentences — two or three. (Otherwise, he said, my mind might go blank.) Then to have prepared and practiced a flow of three points that I could see in my mind.

    After the intro, just describe each point as I watched it move in my mind. If I had a story, tell it and give it action. Relate it to those listening, allowing them to make those points applicable to their lives.

    So that’s how I practiced — each time it came out a little differently, but basically the same. As I practiced, I mentally wrote the points out large on an imaginary wall behind the audience so that, on the day of delivery, I could ‘read’ them. 🙂
    .-= Barb Hartsook´s last blog ..Do Sports Teach Kids How to Live Life Beyond the Game? =-.

    • Hi Barbara
      Your dad was a wise man.
      Eye contact at the beginning of your speech is so important, so you don’t want to be looking at your notes.
      Always memorise your opening sentences and deliver them slowly.

  15. Hi Keith,

    I did. But will pass on the next one. 🙂
    .-= Barbara Swafford´s last blog ..Blog Sex – Is It A Reader Turn Off? =-.

  16. Great article. I have found videoing when practicing can help to identify any areas that could be improved in delivery of your speech such as fidgeting, mumbling etc that might not be picked up.
    .-= Michael Edward´s last blog ..About Presentation Slides =-.

    • Hi Michael
      Video sounds like a great idea… if your ego is not too fragile. LOL
      You know, I’ve never been videod giving a speech but I have been videod skiing.
      I’ll be over to take a look at your “Presentation Slides” article shortly.

  17. Some excellent points there and I really liked the ski metaphor. My brother lives in England now and I don’t think he would agree with the “not much snow” assessment 😉
    .-= Anne Moss´s last blog ..Are You a Blogger or Webmaster? =-.

    • Hi Anne
      Never thought of that, but your brother is right. We’ve had lots of snow this year.
      Where abouts in England does he live? We might be able to persuade him to join a Speakers Club… see my next article on Sunday.

  18. Mary Spencer says:

    Great to have such detailed and practical tips about practicing. Always interesting to know how other people go about it – what they get up to in the privacy of their own home – before we see the polished version.

    Your idea about using a music stand for a lectern is good. It is difficult to simulate the hands free lectern situation otherwise.

    • Hi Mary
      Glad you found it helpful.
      If you buy a music stand, make sure you buy one with a rigid top and plenty of room for your notes.
      Please keep in touch.

  19. 30-50 times for a speech? That’s dedication!

    I think eye contact is probably the most crucial thing to an effective presentation. Not only does it add a “personal” touch to what your trying to say, it keeps the listener a lot more focused on the content at hand.

    Looking forward to more articles, Keith!
    .-= Brad Ney´s last blog ..Further Accelerate Your Blog – MaxCDN is offering 1TB of Bandwidth for $10 =-.

  20. Keith — Thanks for the visit. I like your site, especially your opening about public speaking. You made me smile:~) Given how I feel about public speaking, that’s pretty amazing!

    A long time ago, I had a job that required me do public speaking. I didn’t last long. To be perfectly honest, I was a terrible public speaker. My comment cards would back me up.

    I wished I had read this post back then. It might have helped me see public speaking as a skill that could be learned with the right kind of practice.

    The suggestions you’ve given in this post are excellent in their simplicity:~)
    .-= Sara´s last blog ..Romancing the Happy Ending =-.

    • Hi Sara
      Glad I made you smile.
      Yes, Public Speaking is just another skill… but with a bit of tension thrown in to keep you on your toes!
      BTW love your Avatar.

  21. Hi Keith,

    This is a post that all presenters can benefit from. Your skiing analogy is right on. Every professional who is excellent at their craft has put in extraordinary amounts of time practicing.

    When I coach clients, I use video so they can see what they really look like. Sometimes it helps them see strengths they weren’t aware of. Sometimes it shows up their flaws. In either case, the video won’t lie.

    Keep up the great work!
    .-= John Watkis´s last blog ..Is Your Speech Any Good? =-.

    • Hi John
      Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment.
      I’m a big fan of your site, particularly liked the “Are You a Green Eggs & Ham Speaker?”
      Unusual informative and entertaining post.

  22. Don’t forget the value of reading aloud. Rehearse your speech a few times in front of a mirror with no one there. BUT, be careful not to sound OVERLY rehearsed.
    A good outline should help. Remember, your introduction, 3 main points and your conclusion makes for a good speech.

    Cheers to your success!

    • Hi Speaking Guy
      A great summary of a speech outline.
      Introduction, three main points and a conclusion.
      Can’t beat it.

      BTW I removed the links within your comment.
      Please feel free to leave comments linked to a URL, but no internal links or advertising please.

  23. Hi Keith,

    I will definitely implement your public speaking strategies, as soon as I plan to do workshops about internet marketing:).
    I used to speak publicly and it was not easy at all but when I prepared well and practiced – most of the stress was gone!!
    .-= Justyna Bizdra´s last blog ..5 Best Creative Thinking Techniques to help your business thrive =-.

  24. I’ve always felt somewhat uncomfortable speaking unless it is in regards to something I feel really strongly about. I still tend to write down an outline for client meetings and even phone calls. I found the more times I had to do it though, the stronger my confidence got. Although I still might not be the best public speaker, the more I did it, the more comfortable I became. I also found, the more prepared I had myself, the more comfortable I would be. Practice might not make perfect, but it definitely can improve a skill drastically.
    .-= Ryan Cowles´s last blog ..Taking a Train Across the Country – Part One =-.

    • Hi Ryan
      Thanks for making the point about your confidence improving the more you prepared.
      No way can you be confident if you haven’t prepared!
      Keep in touch.

  25. Hi Keith,
    I am not surprised… you have always been so neat at your work in public speaking.

    I sincerely appreciate this initiative and am sure it will help not only the beginners but also many senior speakers!


    • Hi Vishal
      great to hear from you… we still miss you at Sans Souci Speakers Club.
      Are you working in the UK or are you back in India?
      Wherever you are, I hope you are still involved with Public Speaking.

  26. I have a routine where I practice my talk at least 10 times before giving it. Sometimes more….

    In particular, I’ll know by heart the opening line and the ending line. Everything in between is practiced, but I don’t use notes so it sounds unrehearsed but smooth!

    This is a great article you wrote. Thank you!
    .-= Maria Brophy´s last blog ..ARE YOU A SHEEP OR A WOLF – ANOTHER CHOICE YOU MAKE =-.

    • Hi Maria
      I’ve read some of your Public Speaking articles, so I take your comments as praise indeed.
      Thanks for making the point about learning the beginning and end of your speech.
      The two most important parts… the times when you need perfect eye contact.
      Don’t be a stranger, please keep in touch.

  27. Some say that “practice makes perfection” and I am convinced that this is so. Unless you were in fact born a natural, there is no substitute for practice, practice a little more and the practice again:)

    I’m not an expert in speaking publicly as my line of business does not really require it, although I do make presentations and that’s as close as it will get. Anyway, If I were a “speaker” then your article is definitely a must read.

  28. I don’t recycle my powerpoints. Every time I give a new presentation, I work off of or rebuild a powerpoint presentation from before. I look for case studies, success stories and build those into my presentation. Once it’s done, I practice!

    I usually pace around the room, remote in hand and walk through my powerpoint as if I were speaking to a live audience (which reminds me, I should buy new batteries on that remote soon). Anyway, I rehearse the presentation until I remember every slide in it. I do this because I want to be able to know where I stand in my presentation without having to look at the screen as I’m presenting.

    It’s not necessarily the Tom Antion approach of 30-50 times but I find that it works for me.

    Keith: great write up of tips to follow in preparing for a presentation!
    .-= Ricardo Bueno´s last blog ..Be A Curator =-.

    • Hi Ric
      Thanks for a great contribution to the comments.
      Interesting that you say:
      I usually pace around the room, remote in hand and walk through my powerpoint as if I were speaking to a live audience…
      A great way to practise, as though you are speaking to the audience.
      BTW – don’t forget those batteries.LOL

  29. Thanks for the tips. Knowing the material is important. Another tip is: If they ask you to speak, you are the expert, so act like one.

  30. Keith,

    How true this is for any and all ventures we try and tackle. Whether it be public speaking, losing weight, or heck even to learn and ride a bike. It just takes practice and eventually it will all fall into place.

    Thanks for the words and keep it coming!

    .-= Patrick Hitches´s last blog ..A Meaningful Ride for MS =-.

    • Hi Patrick
      Unfortunately, no shortcuts only hard work and lots of practise.
      BTW – love your avatar, should help attract lots of comments from the ladies. LOL
      Appreciate you taking the time to add to the discussion.

  31. LOL! Thanks Keith… I like to think it grasps the overall message of continued hard work/practice (btw, we spell practise/practice differently across the ocean here! I didn’t know that until I just wiki’d it) and what you can accomplish. If it attracts the ladies… Ahh, so be it! ha

    Talk soon!
    .-= Patrick Hitches´s last blog ..A Meaningful Ride for MS =-.

  32. It’s been good to read the many comments on this site – – and reminds me of many happy, challenging and rewarding years in Sans Souci Speakers’ Club.
    Re Practice – I have to agree with all that’s said – and would also emphasise the value of practice with informed, respectful, support. One piece of advice I was given in the early days, still relevant, is to learn the opening few words of a speech so that you launch yourself with confidence and are free to leave notes whilst maintaining eye contact with the audience from the beginning – they seem more relaxed if you are confident. Also there is benefit in learning the last few words – so you can again conclude your speech with confidence and, of appropriate to the subject, with a smile – let them know you also enjoyed the experience!
    I found I couldn’t learn public speaking from a book – the regular visits to Speakers Club were invaluable – providing authentic opportunites to present speeches – whilst knowing that the feedback./evaluation would be
    Informative (e.g. “you spoke with clarity which was good – but try slowing down a little at the beginning . . “).
    Respectiful: the feedback was never patronising – praise was honest, advice always construutive and accessible.
    Support: e.g. “Try this strategy to help slow down at the beginning – maybe practice in front of a mirror . . . with a friend or many members at the club will help”.
    And – it works!!
    With informed, respectful ,supported practice – it’s a delight to observe new-comers progress through the many stages of the Speakers Club Manual and become confident Speakers.

    • Hi Sian
      Good to hear from you again.
      You are sadly missed at Sans Souci – you should visit us sometime.
      Thanks for a thoughtful comment.
      Hope you keep in touch.

  33. I must say that because I’m too focus on my work online, I usually stutter now. My reason? Well obviously, lack of practise! The only way to improve my speech again is for me to read something aloud. In that way, I can exercise my tongue and improve my voice. Hopefully, I can continue this activity.
    Mike Ramsey´s last great post ..Tips On How To Stop Excessive SweatingMy Profile

    • Hi Mike
      Thanks for your comment.

      I don’t know much about stuttering but if you are in the UK I can put you in touch with someone.

      Let me know if you would like some details.

  34. I like the tips on getting ready to practice your speech. They’re helpful. I wish I’ve read them in college.