How to Practice Public Speaking

Here are five tips for how to best practice public speaking:

  1. Don’t look in the mirror
  2. Use your smartphone to record your talk
  3. Practice public speaking in front of a live audience
  4. Visualise yourself giving a successful talk
  5. Never memorise your talk

The only time you need to look in the mirror is to check you haven’t got spinach in between your teeth as you go on stage.

There is some bad advice around about how to best prepare for your next public speaking opportunity.

A staple yet unhelpful piece of advice is to practice public speaking in front of a mirror.

I hadn’t heard this in a while. I thought perhaps this stale tip had been finally laid to rest – along with the ‘picture them naked’ advice, but this week a client told me he was going to get his old full-length mirror out of the shed and practice public speaking.

It sounds logical. You can see yourself live and you can fix up what you don’t like the look of. There are many books and public speaking coaching tips that will suggest this. I don’t agree with this approach. There is a better way.

Don’t get me wrong. I am all for practice. It is essential. Winging it is not a strategy! However, there is a better way to practice public speaking and it is far more realistic.

Here is why public speaking practice in front of the mirror is a bad idea.

1. Your audience will not be that close to you.

If you stand in front of a mirror you will probably be able to see every hair up your nose or how coffee-stained your teeth have become, and that is not helpful. Your audience will be at least a few metres away from you.

2. It may have an opposite effect to the one you want

You thought that by using a mirror you would be able to improve your public speaking by seeing yourself move and gesture. Instead, you have noticed that your hair needs re-colouring, that outfit doesn’t suit your skin tone and so on! This is not helpful because your speech is not about you. It’s always about the audience, so it’s not the time to self-indulge.

3. You will start auto-correcting

When you look in the mirror and you pick up on a particular facial gesture or another form of non-verbal communication, you will most likely go into auto-correct (you may get even over-correct).  This will take you out of your heart and into your head, and you will become absorbed in your self. That’s not the point of speaking.

4. You may not focus on what needs changing

The mirror doesn’t lie, right? But does what you see in the mirror and what you feel compelled to change impact on your speech and overall performance? The answer is probably not.

5. Your audience probably doesn’t care

An authentic speaker who has excellent content that is delivered in a way that is engaging and dynamic is better received than a super polished speaker who has planned every move an ends up looking like a robotic version of themselves.

Here is a short video where I share how you can practice public speaking

What to do instead to get better at public speaking

Use your smartphone and a small tripod (I have one of those take anywhere flexible ones), and record yourself speaking.

Watch the recording and identify what you do well. Keep doing those things. Then choose one or two things that you want to improve to take your talk up to the next level. Incorporate the change and hit record, review, and tweak again as needed. Rinse and repeat. Your mirror is not going to help you improve but a video recording is invaluable.

If you see some quirky thing that you do with your body when you speak, such as standing on one leg or fiddling with your clothes, it is likely to be a habit rather than something you can fix instantly. When you review you talk on video, you will see those habits and can work towards eliminating them for good.

Practice in front of a real audience so that you can get real-time feedback. You can see how people react to your talk and you can ask them for specific feedback. A mirror can’t match this.

Finally, include self-care and mindset preparation as part of your public speaking practice. Visualise yourself giving a successful presentation as your very best self, to an audience who is eager to hear what you have to say.

When you have taken the time to practice you will feel more prepared as you head to your speech. Just before you head out the door, you may now like to check the mirror.

Lisa Evans is Perth’s leading Public Speaking Coach. Offering a range of Public Speaking Courses, Public Speaking Training, and Private Public Speaking Coaching, Lisa will help you take your presentation skills to the next level.