You may not aspire to be the Andre Agassi equivalent of the speaking world, but this quote rings true with anything we want to succeed at, remembering that we must strive for progress and not perfection.
Practise is a necessary part of preparing to speak in public, and when you put the time and effort into it, the rewards will be there for you
Not enough time. I thought I could wing it. I’ll rely on reading from slides. What excuses have you come up with to justify your lack your public speaking practise?
As a Speaker Coach, I have heard plenty of reasons people don’t put in the practise. Often someone will seek help after they have delivered a presentation that they were not happy with (ideally if you are want to improve, get the help before your talk).
Perhaps someone gave them honest feedback that their talk missed the mark, lacked engagement, or the flow was out of kilter. Or maybe upon self-reflection, they know that they want to do better next time.
Why is it essential to practise public speaking?
So you know that it is essential for you to get comfortable with speaking up as part of your career, and if you are ready to commit to learning to improve, then the discipline of practise will be pivotal to your progress and success.
When you allocate time to become familiar with your content, and how you want to deliver it using your style, voice and body language, you are setting yourself up for success.
Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers, says,
“Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”
It is natural to feel some nervous energy, or maybe you experience a level of anxiety as you are about to speak, but if you have put in the effort beforehand you can take a deep breath and trust that it will help you get through.
To be an engaging and compelling speaker, focus your attention on the members of your audience. A prepared speaker projects credibility and authority and will create a solid first impression.
Aim to start strong. Practise until you feel so comfortable with your material that it becomes internalised.
I don’t enjoy the practise part of public speaking either! I’d much rather be doing something else. Despite the lack of motivation at times, I commit to rehearsing as I want to bring my best to what I do, and there are no shortcuts.
Here are 11 tips to help you get the most out of your public speaking practise
Public Speaking Practise Tips
1 Allow the time for practise
If you want to reach mastery, then dedicating practise time is key. As a public speaking coach, I often find that people spend most time developing the talk’s content any accompanying slides, and leave insufficient time for practise. Whilst there is no general rule about how much time, factor it in and the more practise the more comfortable you will feel.
According to Carmine Gallo when a complex keynote appears effortless, hundreds of hours of planning, designing and rehearsing made it look good. He goes on to recommend a 20 for 20 formula. For every 20 minutes of your talk, practice it 20 times.
2 Record your talk
A straightforward tool available at your fingertips to give you real- time feedback is your smartphone. As part of your preparation to present, record yourself speaking. Initially, I suggest that you talk in a neutral tone as at this stage, you are listening to how the content sounds. Does your content make sense? How does it flow from one point to another? Are there clear transitions? Are there any clunky parts that need editing or removing?
Once you are satisfied that the talk flows well, the next step is to record the talk again adding vocal inflection, pitch, pace, and pausing to bring the talk to life with your voice. When you work with a speaker coach, learning to get the most out of your voice will be part of your improvement.
3 Practise with a buddy and seek feedback with care
Run through your talk with a trusted friend or peer, someone who will give you helpful and encouraging feedback. So that you don’t get overwhelmed by feedback, or get bland and unhelpful tips, be specific about the feedback that you are seeking.
One area that I like to focus on is the emotional impact of the talk. Gauge the person’s reaction and find out what they felt when you started, as you spoke, and at the end of the talk. Was that the emotion you intended to elicit?
There are times when you may not be actively seeking feedback, such as an hour before your talk!! But you want someone to be present and listen, there are plenty of times I have practised in front of my dog, but a human is best.
Remember criticism is not helpful, and you may prefer to steer away from feedback for those who have never been in the arena. I recommend watching Brené Brown’s talk that mentions the famous Roosevelt quote.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt, the Man in the Arena. Delivered at the Sorbonne (Paris) on April 23rd, 1910.
Ask for specific observations rather than general. Remember to be kind to yourself when reviewing your performance.
4 Don’t always start from the beginning
The beginning of your talk gets over-rehearsed. You begin to practise when you have a spare thirty minutes, then the phone buzzes or you get distracted. So you stop. Next time, you start from the beginning. It’s great to have the beginning of your talk nailed but not at the expense of neglecting the other parts.
Try starting from the middle or the end, for a challenge, even work backwards; know it inside out without memorising. This is also a key component of step 6.
5 You can practise in different places
Mixing up the location where you practice is an excellent way to keep it fresh. Some of the places that I find work well include the car, especially on long drives and sitting in heavy traffic, the bathroom and even the shower under hot water as the acoustics are great, and finally, practise as you are walking or taking exercise. There is something powerful about walking and talking. If you want to develop a strong memory technique, try the Memory Palace technique to anchor your talk to a physical location.
6 Practise reducing filler words
You can improve a lot by honing in on a particular aspect of speaking in public. Filler words are a common pesky habit that is worth reducing or eliminating. Begin by identifying which filler work is your habitual go-to. When are you likely to slip in these unnecessary words? Can you include a pause instead? Awareness is key.
7 Practise the timings
Keeping to the allocated time is critical for anyone embarking on public speaking. You won’t be highly regarded if you take up more time than you have been given. Honour your audience’s time. Run through your talk from end to end so that you know what the time is. Then consider whether you allowed for questions, what about pausing for reflection, laughter or activities. Best to come in short than go over. Consider what parts you can trim if it is tight fit. Don’t hope for the best. Where can you cut if need be?
8 Practise for the unexpected or unscripted parts
How will you deal with unexpected distractions? It could be catering staff, questions from the audience or even heckling. Don’t let it throw you off track; consider how you will deal with this situation as part of your practise routine. Consider what questions may come up. This is also a good time to work with a buddy so you can formulate your answers
9 Practise correct breathing
Breathe fully and with intention. The power of your voice depends on the quality of your breathing. Try to breathe into the belly and as you take a breath in, allow your belly to gently rise. Then as you exhale, you belly sinks back. If you are new to diaphragmatic breathing, the best way to get used to how it feels is to lay on the floor with your hands resting on your belly.
10 Practise visualisation
Visualise yourself giving a successful presentation as if it is happening now. Notice how you look, feel, and sound. What clothes are you wearing? How are you standing? And how are the audience reacting? Many public speaking coaches are trained in Neuro-Linguistic Programming and can share with you some powerful anchoring techniques.
11 Practise in the space where you will be presenting
If possible, arrive early and use the actual space to work out steep up and stand down.
If you feel ready to say yes to more opportunities to speak and you want to get help, then finding a public speaking class near you is the first step.
How do you practise public speaking? Do you plan ahead? Or are you one of those who cram it all in at the last minute?
I have a range of courses, programs and workshops on offer in 2022.
Lisa Evans helps professionals to craft compelling business stories and become exceptional speakers. Lisa is a certified speaker coach, TEDx speaker coach, four times author, NLP practitioner, graphic recorder and visual storyteller, improvisational actor, and host of the Business Chat Podcast.
She has coached thousands of leaders across a range of industries, including resources, banking, finance, engineering, retail and sales as well as not-for-profit and community associations.
If you wish to take advantage of a complimentary session in order to chat about how you can become an exceptional and successful speaker with a stand-out brand, then use this link to book a time to chat. Download my e-book – How to Build Confidence and Overcome Nervousness.